Grant showered and changed into a fresh set of clothes, he’d received from the Saint Jude Community Closet, the night before.
“That might be the best night of sleep I’ve ever had,” Grant told Jairus as they walked to the kitchen on Sunday morning.
“I haven’t been this well-rested for months.”
Waiting in line for the breakfast buffet, Grant stumbled into Marissa. He couldn’t help but being drawn into her smile.
“Morning Grant. Sleep well?”
“Wonderful, thank you.” Grant stuttered. Marissa made him nervous, partly because she was the epitome of his cruel past and the redemption he hoped to retain in the future. Add in the fact he couldn’t deny the physical attraction. Marissa is gorgeous. “Your speech about peace, provided me with food for thought. I’m sorry to hear about your husband, Trevor. Do you mind my asking how he died?”
“In combat,” Marissa bit her lip. “It was a difficult time. The time we shared together was golden, and I accept Trevor’s death, knowing the peace of the memories we shared.”
“Mom, seriously I don’t want to be here.” A teenage boy tapped incessantly on Marissa’s shoulder.
“Zeke, use your manners. I was in the middle of a conversation.”
“With a hobo,” Zeke muttered under his breath.
“Apologize, now.” Marissa’s face turning crimson red.
“Sorry, man.” Zeke shrugged.
“It’s no skin off my back.” Grant would be lying to say that Zeke’s dig hadn’t chipped away at his ego. Then again, Grant could see himself in the teenager, desperate and determined. “I’m Grant Spaulding.”
“This is Zeke, my eldest,” Marissa spoke on behalf of her son.
“Do I have to stay?” Zeke nagged. “I want to go home and play video games.”
“It is Sunday, the Lord’s Day and you can forfeit a few hours of your time to serve others.”
“Helping a bunch of old folks, who barely know their own names?” Zeke beyond irritated.
“You dad founded the Senior Brunch. He committed at least one Sunday a month, cooking meals and volunteering as a waiter.”
“Dad’s not here.” Zeke’s words intended to sting.
“Zeke, your mom is a great person and deserves respect,” Grant tried to reason with the teen. “You are helping people in desperate situations. I used to hate volunteering, closing myself off, but I’ve come to know the joy of service. Cut the sour attitude, embrace it with positivity and who knows, you might have fun.”
“Yeah, sound advice coming from a homeless man.”
“Zeke, you are testing my patience.” Marissa embarrassed by her son’s behavior.
“I spent years living in a penthouse, with wealth and authority. I was selfish and it cost me the greatest wealth at all, loving one’s neighbor. I know it sounds trite and cliché, especially when video games are waiting at home…you might be surprised if you let go of your frustration and enjoy the opportunity of service. You can play games at home later.”
“Whatever,” Zeke rolled his eyes, stomping off.
“I apologize if I overstepped my bounds,” Grant realized it wasn’t his place to give advice, especially to Marissa’s teenage son.
“It’s fine. I appreciate your concern. Deep down, Zeke is a great kid. He just has a thick veneer.”
“I can tell. He’s just being a teen, trying to exert his authority, when in truth his anger is just a front, to hide the fact he needs you more than ever.” Grant had been that teen in Shuskan. In some ways he still is, belligerent on the surface, secretly in need of love and guidance. “Be patient with him, he’ll come around.”
“I hope you’re right,” Marissa managed a smile. “He took his dad’s death hard. He fuels his sorrow into anger, rebelling against me at every turn. I have tried giving him space, still I cannot standby, and watch him throw his life away. He sneaks out, hanging out with known druggies.”
“You are a great mom. I can tell. Trust your instincts and be patient. He wants you to care, even if he fights your love at every turn.”
“Thanks for your insight, Grant,” Marissa knew she shouldn’t be burdening a man rebounding from homelessness with her son’s teenage drama, she just felt comfortable talking to Grant. They had an unwritten chemistry, as if they’d met before. “I better track down my other two angels, Joel and Sarah.”
After breakfast, the participants congregated in community room for their small group session. Today’s topic – patience.
“Patience is fueled by peace; it allows us the fortitude to endure suffering with positive trust that light will break the darkness. Patience is a multi-layered virtue and gift, it can relate to the ability to wait and endure, as well as patience to go on when our prayers or worldly aspirations are not met based on our human expectation. Patience is something we combat every day. We get annoyed by long lines, rude people, the weather…we are prone to snap and be negative. Patience helps us take things in stride, able to understand the complexities around us and our internal struggle. It grants us perspective to see the entire picture, that life is an endurance race, not a sprint.”
Grant lived life as a sprint, a race to beat the competition, cutting down anyone who got in his way without a second thought. He always relied on the next big thing, instead of long-term proven practices.
“Patience is a gift and virtue I certainly lack. I’m impatient with people, myself and even in this experiment. As grateful as I am for this experience of living as a pauper, I’m anxious about the end, instead of the journey.” Grant thought silently as he listened to other sage thoughts by his fellow group members.
Rosalia talked about patience in terms of her faith. “God is patient with us, he understands we are slow-witted, yet still works to rescue our hearts, cleansing our souls, healing our burdens.”
“I used to pace the floors, screaming curses at God for not acting, unanswered prayers and slowness to hear my call. After years of distance between the crisis and my state of mind, I came to realize God answered prayers the best way for my soul, not based on my desires. In that understanding, I glimpsed into patience. I found fortitude in knowing that this strife is temporary, the eternal life, is the end goal. Everything in between is full of lessons and gifts, even in the dregs of life.” Brenda mused. “I always remember 2 Peter 3:9, ‘The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.’”
The words resonated with Grant. “I am just coming to grasp the nature of God, it is mystery that will not be fully revealed, yet in my limited revelation, I have come to find that he words patience into us through trial and does this out of love. If I hadn’t endured this test of patience, I wouldn’t be a good man. I don’t claim goodness now, but I at least can recognize my faults and turn my heart onto the light of God’s peace.”
The group reconvened in the kitchen, where they worked with Chef Buddy Sawyer to prepare the feast for the Senior Brunch. Grant isn’t a very good cook. He tried to cook a chicken once and the stove caught on fire. Needless to say, Buddy’s ease in the kitchen, and patience as a teacher, made the process fun. Grant even successfully flipped pancakes.
The Senior Lunch is held in the main wing of Saint Jude’s CC in the Jugan Room. This welcoming space is defined by lush hanging plants and colorful artwork. The Jugan Room is the center of Saint Jude’s Senior Community Activities. The Senior Brunch is held every Sunday morning at eleven o’clock. The meal services eighty hungry souls. The elderly are on severely fixed incomes, many living in small one room sublets. This meal offers them a delicious wholesome meal and the ability to socialize.
It is a test of patience dealing with elderly who are disabled, their senility and communication impediments an obstacle. Many show lack of respect, unleashing their frustration, while the seniors are anxious because of their limitations. It isn’t easy on a soul to lose your grasp of memory, your ability to walk, loss of vision. It is a struggle for all involved. People often get so caught up in their selfish impatience that they fail to realize that patience and love with the elderly is a lifeline.
“The elderly we are serving today are dynamic people, who have for various reasons fallen into financial stressors, which makes it all the harder on them to deal with physical and mental health problems they face. Missie Simmons joins us every Sunday, dressed in her best outfit, a smile on her face. She is crippled and has poor sight, still her smile is full of happiness. Missie’s husband divorced her when she was seventy. He had squandered their pensions and even though Missie worked as a nurse her entire life, helping other people, in her old age she was left destitute. Missie was an active volunteer in our programs before her divorce and health deteriorated. We helped her get into an apartment. It isn’t much, but at least she has security. Her kids have all but abandoned her. They live on the east coast. She lives a lonely life and having this brunch, sharing bread with friends and strangers, is her joy in life.” Marissa told Grant as they prepared to serve Missie.
“Why would her kids abandon her?”
“They got caught up in their own lives. It isn’t so much abandonment as forgetfulness. They do send some money and Christmas cards…all Missie talks about are those phone calls and cards. One week her son didn’t call, and she was really worried, tearing up. We think forgetting the plights of others makes us immune…it only stifles interaction and hurts souls. Yes it can be difficult to deal with seniors, some that come here get impatient and angry, confused, but our patience in love for them is essential. They are dependent on the help of others, helpless to feed or clothe themselves in many instances. Then there is the layer of loneliness, even if you are functioning cognitively, to be cut off most of the week, isolated…”
“I used to see that was a blessing, I shunned human interaction at any cost, unless it yielded a cash profit…now I can see I was flawed.”
Grant took time to sit with Missie for ten minutes, listening to her life story as a nurse.
She had been a nurse in the Korean War and told about her romantic meeting with her husband, who later betrayed her, though she focused on the good times, the love…she talked about her children and how much she loved Seattle, her days wandering the market and hiking Mount Rainier. Grant was enthralled with the conversation. He found patience in her warmth. The tests of dealing with the elderly, spilling food on themselves, their frustrations – the helplessness – Grant for the first time could relate to that trial of dependency and the need for patience and kindness.
“This was such a fulfilling experience,” Grant confided in Marissa. “I used to be so opposed to helping people, always frustrated with the elderly. I nearly ran down a lady with a walker in my car, just because of my impatience. It is nice to finally see the other side of life. It is far more peaceful.”
“I need more patience.”
“I think you have more than you realize. The way you deal with people, the compassion in your eyes. Your persistence is patience.” Grant knew firsthand the inner fortitude and endurance of Marissa Bright.
“Do you have any family?” Marissa cautiously inquired.
“No,” Grant lied. All morning he’d carried the burden of guilt, thinking about his parents and how he’d neglected his family. “I was a wayward son, more concerned with the career ladder than family. I forsook them and now they are lost to me. I have wandered too far.”
“Remember in the end the prodigal found his way home.” Marissa compassionate, sensing the deep pain Grant clutched in his soul. “If you’re in the wrong, then better to reach out and seek forgiveness. Sometimes I understand it isn’t that cut and dry with relationships. Sometimes walking away is an act of forgiveness or preventing further feuding…still if you have any regrets, better to risk apology than keep running in guilt. You’ll never escape the questions.”
“I wish it was that easy.” Grant sighed.
“It is easy as you make it.” Marissa encouraged. “I promised to take Joel and Sarah to the zoo this afternoon. Zeke is going to have the afternoon to himself to play video games. I wish I understood his fascination with that machine. Many are just too violent. When I was a kid, we were content to play board games or play outside, climbing into the treehouse.”
“New technology is always working to usurp the status quo. Sometimes it propels us forward in good, other times it is a futile three steps back.” Grant thought about his obsession with technology and how he’d forgotten to understand value. He was so impatient to jump time that he failed to understand the value of what would be lost in the process. “Have a great afternoon, Marissa, you deserve it.”
“See you tomorrow.” Marissa blushed. She felt foolish for having a crush on Grant. It is just she hadn’t felt a spark like this since Trevor. She never even thought about romances or even fickle crushes, until Grant. She couldn’t wrap her mind or heart around it. They had barely spoken, yet there was something deeper than words, a strange connection. “He is a client.” She whispered, pulling back her emotions.
On Sunday afternoon the participants received three hours of training to help their transition out of homelessness. A minister from a neighborhood church led vespers in the community room after dinner.
Grant spent the remainder of the evening relaxing in his room, meditating on his journey. It took all his patience not to question when, or if, he would return, sent back to his former existence. Did he even want to return? Questions about trying to predict the future of this journey, instead of the task at hand, only left him listless.
Staring into the wall, Grant noticed two beautiful pictures, one of Olympic National Park’s Hurricane Ridge, the other, a painting of a vibrant scene of a diverse mix of people in the public market. Each image was attached to with bible verses.
“I know the plans I have for you declared the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jeremiah 29:11”
“But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Romans 8:25”
Grant paused, pondering the verses. It seems that hoping for something unseen is a trivial hope, a ‘maybe’ attitude, yet hope in Christ perhaps it was guaranteed hope of life, knowledge that if you are alive there is a chance for redemption and in that redemption renewed life. You must be patient in receiving this. Growing in understanding.
Grant felt that patience isn’t just about waiting for things to come, but also being able to be patience in perceiving what is already around you. In Pike’s Place Market, he always saw chaos, driving his impatience, yet looking at that painting, he understood the life of the market even in chaos, the patient peace. Perhaps patience is more than just the act of waiting, it is a fortitude of searching and the ability to receive the truth when you encounter it.
The buzz of the alarm clock roused Grant from an unsettled sleep. Peaceful as he was at The Labre Center, he still carried the burden of his past transgressions. He guarded them with an iron grip of fear and shame. It is easy to acknowledge a mistake or flaw in character, perhaps easier to change than it is to let go of the burden of guilt. There is a security in reminding oneself of their wickedness, as a painful guard to remind the soul against future misconduct as well as the power attached to that guilt.
Grant recalled a sign in the community room, with a quote: ‘Forgiveness is given by God to those who act, grace is a gift, the act of repentance is a choice to both seek grace and to adhere to change inwardly, even if you stumble, God will guide your steps. Repent for the kingdom is at hand.’
Grant still wasn’t prepared to ask for forgiveness. With each day on ‘the outside,’ he realized the depth of his malice and hate. It takes time to peel back those layers. He felt release with each lesson as well as the burden of unworthiness.
Drowsy eyed, he glanced at the wall calendar. December 29. Five Days since he entered this new life. Grant had begun to accept it as his own identity.
Jairus woke up early to do a devotional with fellow recovering addicts in the community room. Grant used the privacy to shower, allowing the cleansing water act as a healing force as he meditated on his internal state, and the mangled soul within.
After changing into clean clothes, provided by St. Jude’s, Grant headed to breakfast. Chef Buddy, grilled ham, and egg on buttermilk biscuits with fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Small groups met during the meal for their daily meditation. Today’s themes centered on acts of kindness and the nature of goodness.
“To me kindness is stepping out of yourself to do something nice, no matter how small to help another person. It is something purposeful, but also an act that comes naturally, it isn’t forced to try to improve your ego. It is selfless.” Jairus put forth. “Like when I was on the street and was freezing. I was just sitting there cold, without a sign or any asking for help. Suddenly this lady takes the coat off her back and gives it to me. I told her I couldn’t accept and she insisted, saying ‘God bless and good luck.’ No one was watching. She had nothing to gain. I still have that coat. It kept me warm many nights. I pray for her every night. Her simple act of kindness, saved me from freezing to death.”
“On Christmas and I went to Saint Nicholas Church, confused and lost. Teresa, an usher, offered to let me use the church shower and she gave me some new clothes. It was completely out of compassionate kindness. Then this guy, Wilson, who has been on and off the streets, took me under his wing and made sure I got a meal. Even in his own troubles, he reached out to help me. That kindness sparked love, and I think kindness is a merit of love.”
“It doesn’t matter how small it is, even the smallest act of kindness, it keeps life worth living,” Rosalia joyous in her assessment as she recounted personal experiences with kindness.
“I never thought much about the difference between kindness and goodness. They always seem to be interchangeable. The chaplain at one shelter I went to, told me that kindness is an act of love with no expectation, it is a compassion for the other, like the Good Samaritan. Goodness goes deeper, it reflects God’s truth. Goodness isn’t about being kind, as much as reflecting the truth and spirit of God. That means admonishing in love when someone is going against well. You do that out of love, because out of goodness you know they are going astray.”
“Like when my wife got upset with me for stealing. It wasn’t out of hate, but out of love.”
“God is all good, that doesn’t mean that he doesn’t execute justice. That justice is based on love and goodness is a form of justice. If we are good, then it is doing what’s right despite our own desires.” Jairus tried to put the elusive meaning into words.
“Was it God’s goodness that put me in this state of repair?” Grant found the concept of goodness confusing, yet he longed to understand. “It is about spiritual comprehension and action of truth and justice versus something being ‘good’ to the senses, good to the touch. It isn’t a superficial goodness, but a deep determination to do what is right, not only for oneself, but for the other.”
In the morning session, participants trained with Jump START, a program that offers training geared towards reentry into the workforce for homeless and disabled individuals.
“You scored off the charts on the aptitude tests, particularly in business,” trainer Reeves McKenzie, was impressed by Grant’s results. “I’m confident Saint Jude’s and Jump START can place you in an office job, temp work or a permanent position by the completion of your work in the Labre Program.”
“At this point I’d take any job, even working as a cashier or bagger. I just want a job.” Grant downplayed the results.
The group was given a ninety-minute break before counseling sessions with staff psychologist Amy Willard, who would then make any psychiatric referrals to Dr. Hawthorne, who comes on Tuesdays.
During this time Marissa worked with Reeves to review the test data. This information is one of the tools that helps inform her process of acting as a career placement agent. Marissa evaluates each person and analyzes their talents, not solely relying on the test. The test yields certain jobs that fit the participant. The Labre Center’s goal is to pair the participant with a job that they enjoy and fits their talents.
“Mr. Spaulding’s scores were off the charts. I think he should be placed in an office setting if possible. He obviously has a background in business. His typing was 120 words per minute, he knew how to run programs and comprehends accounting.”
“He claims he has a Masters…” Marissa bit her lip. “Degrees from Yale and Stanford. I’m not so sure.”
“He is good a business, highly literate and qualified in a grad level.” Reeves held. “Do you know how he wound up homeless? Drugs?”
“No, he’s sober as they come. He claims that he owned a company, fell into greed and lost everything in the process.”
“Greed is a dangerous vice. I’ve seen my shares of executives wind up in jail or on the streets, because they put profit and greed above everything else. Suddenly they’ve overextended themselves, the business takes a turn, and they cannot pay their bills. Cautionary tale…At least Grant has a second chance, thanks to the kindness of people like you.”
“God is the grace of second chances, I’m just a liaison.” Marissa not willing to take any credit.
“Mr. Spaulding. I’m Amy Willard, staff psychologist. Dr. Walker mentioned in her report that you have symptoms of high stress. I understand that what you’re enduring, not having permanent housing, is a shadow, a pressure that yields anxiety. I do have some meditation and cognitive therapies to help keep stress in check, even in difficult situations.”
“I really feel fine.” Grant always thought of psychologists and psychiatrists as quacks. He didn’t like the idea of someone getting into his head. Now he feared being picked apart, his past transgressions in the open for analysis.
“Your blood work indicates otherwise. You have high CRP levels, an indication of an inflammation in the body, which can lead to heart disease, even a sudden heart attack. Dr. Walker thinks this inflammation is a result of stress responses.”
“I’m not yet forty. I doubt I’ll have a heart attack.” Grant dismissed.
“Stress and anxiety is a negative force on the body. Add in environmental factors from life on the streets, the risk is higher. You can reduce your stress naturally through diet, exercise and in your case mental exercises, to calm and bring peace of mind.”
“What do you suggest?” Grant unleashed a heavy sigh.
“Breathing is a way to start. Breathing exercises can be used to calm the nerves and reel in stress.” Amy showed Grant several exercises. “Counting down from 10 slowly simples foolish, but it has been proven to work as a de-stressor.”
“Seems more like pseudoscience,” Grant muttered.
“Ask for help in prayer. Even if you lack faith, the act of praying gives you an outlet. It enables you to voice your fears and concerns and to ask for help in a way that sets your soul in peaceful rest.”
Amy continued to brief Grant on dietary factors that complicate stress, including highly processed foods and artificial colorings, with can spike cortisol and adrenaline levels, impeding the body’s natural ability to deal with the stress.
“These are the type of foods I wanted to replace with quality food at NWTC because it was cheaper. Now I see the price of trading in quality wholesome food for artificial junk.” Grant thought, disgusted with himself.
After the psychology session, participants had an hour of free time before dinner.
“Tonight, after our meal, we are going on a mission to deliver our KIND meals to homeless in the neighborhood that struggle to get to soup kitchens or fear leaving their location because items might be stolen. This outreach shows kindness to our kindred spirits with the gift of a sack meal and tonight we will donate coats and socks. Each of you will be prepare ten meals, which you will then donate at our KIND stop in Volunteer Park here in Capitol Hill.” Noelle explained.
It took forty minutes to make the sack lunches, which included several meal options from turkey and ham and cheese sandwiches to chicken breast and broccoli, accompanied by organic chips, apple slices, milk, and juice to drink. Each sack included a prayer and a list of information about area services, including medical clinics, shelters, and pantries.
The group walked the one-half mile to Volunteer Park. The expansive park is home to countless trails, gardens and green space. It also has a population of residentially challenged people lost in the fray of the metro area. The KIND station set up its coat disbursement on the corner of Prospect and 14th Streets, while the rest of the group used flashlights to enter the park, handing out food to those hiding in bushes and sitting on park benches.
Jairus and Grant were in one dark corner of the park, distributing the sacks when something made them stop dead in their tracks. Two kids, no older than fifteen, were holding a gun to a man, threatening to kill him if he ‘didn’t give them all this stuff.’ The man cowered handing them two bags of a fine white powdery substance…that Jairus recognized as heroin.
“Damn it,” Jairus held his tongue. “That’s the E-Z unit. They coax homeless people into being drug runners, either to feed their addiction or promise food. They are violent people who nearly killed me. We need to go tell Benny, get him to call the police.”
“Those were just kids?” Grant stunned to see teens so wrapped up in criminal activity.
“They are thugs. Those boys aren’t your typical struggle street story either. They come from middle class backgrounds. That tall gangly kid, his street name is Big Mouth.”
“Doesn’t sound threatening for a street name. Amateurish if anything.”
“He got the name for forcing people to swallow merchandise and then putting a gun up their mouth threatening to shoot…anyway his dad is a dentist, he used to be…got in trouble for selling prescriptions on the street, numbing agents, pain meds…he is in jail now. Big Mouth works with this big time dealer Rox, who never comes out on the street. He tries to recruit kids, mostly orphans and fosters, promising them money and housing…some of the kids are good deep down, just lost. But Big Mouth and his partner in crime Jax are trouble, malicious, bad fruits, and rotten kids.”
Jairus tracked down Benny while Grant risked his safety to check on the man who was beaten and attacked in the encounter.
Grant stayed with the man, comforting him until the police arrived. The homeless man, named Joe Fisher was taken to a nearby hospital. Grant prayed he would heal and could be put into a recovery program.
“Officer Santos,” Grant flagged down the familiar face, who was called to the crime scene.
“Grant Spaulding.” Santos was glad to find the homeless man in better circumstances.
“I wanted to say thank you for your kindness.”
“I didn’t do anything, except my job.”
“Regardless, the right to Saint Nicholas…it helped a great deal more than you or I could have realized at the time.”
Jairus remained shaken up all night after witnessed Big Mouth and Jax threaten Joe. It brought back horrible memories of his torment on the streets and internal fight against addiction.
“I relied on people like Big Mouth and Jax to get my prescription pain killers. They manipulate and harass, mind games including throwing you into the Puget Sound to drown or burning you alive in your sleep. They steal your soul bit by bit.”
“God has your soul in hand. They can try to harm you, yet your soul is entrusted in God’s goodness, trust his protection and the goodness he yields.” Grant tried to comfort Jairus, who was covered in a cold sweat. “Remember that peace you told me about. The peace of God that is good and just. Don’t let fear of evil oppress the goodness in you, don’t let them prevent you from rising above the pain.”
“Thanks man, I needed that. Every day is a struggle to remain sober and seeing what we did tonight brings it back to me. Even if I do come out of this alive, what about the rest of those who become victim of these thugs? I mourn for them; I fear for their plight.”
“My dad always harped that ‘goodness is at work against even the darkest evil.’ Hopefully good will win out against thugs like Jax and Big Mouth.”
As Grant fell into sleep, he realized how broken the world is, yet the peace of God’s goodness and kindness of strangers left him with a deeper understanding about suffering. It is an ordeal to suffer, still it does not obstruct the good, rather it refines those who seek goodness to embrace kindness even in desperate times, and the bitter fall into hate. He only had immense gratitude for this second chance.
“Saint Nicholas, you haven’t popped up in a few days…still I know you can hear me. I’m grateful…” Grant still nervous to speak directly to God, he felt unworthy, though the love of light shone into the dark places of his soul, with a living hope of redemption.
Please excuse any typos
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