Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 9)

Photo by Nicole Michalou on

Chapter 17:

            Grant struggled to open his eyes.  Fatigue was an understatement.  He was emotionally exhausted. 

            “Time to get going.  We have one hour to eat and pack up.” 

            Another day – living on the edge, facing the uncertainty of the streets.  

            Daylight barely crept through the clouds as Grant lugged his belongings down the wheelchair ramp.  He followed the neon glow of streetlamps two blocks soul to the corner of Capital and Vine.  Saint Jude’s Community Center spans two blocks.  It is a neighborhood hub, a true community gathering place. 

            Grant waited listlessly at the back-alley entrance of the Saint Jude’s Community Center.  The Labre Wing serves as the center’s nucleus of homeless outreach and their transitional housing program. 

            “Hopefully I’ll get in,” Grant relieved he was the first person in line.

The night at the shelter served its purpose, still it wasn’t a long-term solution.  His mind wandered, questioning how long he would be in this alternate reality.  Dwelling in that darkness, desiring things that had only filled his heart with hate, made Grant realize he could not rely on his former identity.  If he ever returned to his former life, he would be a changed man.

“This journey is about moving forward, to learn lessons” Grant heard the Holy Spirit whisper…Grant was finally starting to embrace this awakening as a blessing, although the road remained a struggle.  It isn’t easy to be pulled away from the feast of selfish desire into selfless intent.  It is a process, a conscious choice, a fight between flesh and spirit. Stubborn pride still held him back from relinquishing his selfish will fully into the selfless peace, God’s love provides.

Pacing by the door he noticed a plaque:

            Saint Jude CC – Labre Wing –

 Providing hope of love, a peaceful guiding light out of desperate situations

“Come to me, all that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest…For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…Peace be with you.”

            By seven o’clock the line, had fifteen souls desperate for help, praying that this would be the hand-up to bring them out of hopelessness to security. Each person, unique in their appearance, some dressed like middle-class people you’d never expect would be standing in a line for transitional housing on a wet Seattle morning, others bore their burdens in their furrowed expressions and ravaged clothes. 

            By eight o’clock, thirty people were in line.  Grant couldn’t help but feel that he wasn’t worthy.  The people surrounding him deserved help.

            “Who am I to deserve help when I forsook my fellow human being at every chance?  I deserve to grovel in the streets, not given a spot in this facility, not when so many others are at need.”

            With a hard sigh, Grant moved to the back of the line. 

            “God, I’m not one for prayer…I don’t deserve to even speak to you…not after the way I’ve acted.  I blasphemed your name, rebelled against your will at every turn, tending my selfish desires.  I don’t deserve forgiveness.  I’m still a reckless mess.  Still here I am desperate, I ask that you help each of the people standing her in line, take away their burdens.  I am afraid, I dread another night of poverty, still I know you provide for our needs.  I don’t deserve provision, still I beg you to have mercy on me.”

            Grant couldn’t let go of the guilt he carried.  He refused to repent, feeling inadequate and unworthy to receive forgiveness.  What right did he have to receive that measure of compassion, when he had sown only hate, forsaking humanity to feed his insatiable greed?  Grant could admit the wrong, turning his life towards good, but forgiveness?  He wasn’t ready to accept it.

            The doors to The Labre Center opened just after 8:00 a.m. Through the crowd, Grant caught a distant glimpse of Marissa.  He felt weak in his knees.  He chalked up his sudden anxiety to fear of being refused admittance to the program.  His heart paced with rapid beats, caught up in Marissa’s natural beauty.

            “This is not the time to get a crush,” Grant embarrassed. “Marissa is a former employee, one I was warring with a few days ago…now she is my link to receiving a spot in the Labre Transitional Housing program.  I am not in a position to tangle myself in romance, especially not with Marissa Bright.”

            The hopeful program entrants, were seated in a classroom, called into Marissa’s office one at a time to be vetted, in the order in which they arrived.

            Nervous, his thoughts plagued by worry, Grant decided to open the Bible.  A strange and new impulse for him.  The pages opened to a highlighted verse, Philippians 4:4-7.

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say; Rejoice.  Let your reasonableness be known to everyone.  The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds Christ Jesus.”

            “Peace. It was hard to find peace when you are forced to rove about in search of a destination, a home.” Grant sighed. 

            The clock struck ten o’clock when Grant’s name was called.  He cautiously walked into Marissa’s office.  Flashbacks of their last encounter fresh in his mind.  “How the tables have turned.  Last time I saw her face, I fired her, now I’m forced to rely on Marissa’s help to get me off the streets,” he thought silently. 

            “Mr. Spaulding.  It is a pleasure to meet you.  Betsy Horton mentioned that you would be applying for our program.” Marissa’s persona resonated warmth. “My name is Marissa Bright and I’m the social coordinator of St. Jude’s Labre Program.  Following the example of our patron saint, Jude, we work to bring light to darkness and hope to desperate situations.”

            “Nice to meet you,” Grant stammered.  His pride certainly walked out the door.  How could he hold onto pride in this situation?

            “The Labre Program is one of our many services focused on building a bridge across the troubles that face the residentially challenged and low-income communities.  We do this in the Labre Transitional Housing Program, providing applicants a one week stay in our group home.  In return we ask that you work fifteen hours over the course of the week, assisting our staff on various Saint Jude outreach projects.  This work will be listed on your resume as a job reference.  In addition to the work hours, we have training courses to prepare you for job applications and interviews.  We will set you up with the foundational tools you need for transitioning out of homelessness.  At the completion of the week, we will evaluate your case and arrange for you to go on a job assignment or to another transitional housing center.”

            “It would be an act of grace if you let me into the program.” Grant drawn into the sincerity of Marissa’s deep green eyes.  His heart felt unsteady, his nerves pinched by guilt.  “For the record I’m sorry, about firing you.”

            “What?” Marissa confused. She had to admit, Grant Spaulding seemed a far cry from the typical program applicants.  Even in his disheveled state, he had debonair edge.  She blushed, as she caught herself caught up in his good looks.  Goodness knows as a social worker, she didn’t need to be involved with a client, particularly not a homeless transient.  Still, she felt a spark, as if they had met before, the ghost of a connection.

            “Never mind,” Grant caught himself. “I would be honored to enter the program.  I’m recently homeless and I’m desperate to get back into the workforce.  I’m an able learner and I promise to be a good tenant.”

            Marissa reviewed Grant’s application papers. 

            “It says here that you have completed a graduate level education?” Marissa bit her lip.  Oftentimes applicants lie on their documents, hoping to beef up their credentials, to receive a spot in the program.  Others have created an alternate identity to cope with their low estate.

            “I have, or had…a Masters of Business Administration,” Grant doubted if his credentials were still viable.  “I used to run a Fortune 500 company. I became greedy, blind in my ambition and it cost me everything. I woke up on the street and in an alternate reality.  I have a strong background in tech, having dabbled in some computer programming.  I ran marketing campaigns for my now defunct company. I hope that my past experiences can be used for good in future endeavors.”

            “You’ll take an aptitude test during orientation.  That will gauge how we can best serve you in terms of training and employment applications,” Marissa paused, still trying to assess Grant’s character. “I think we can fit you into the program, granted that you agree to the terms of our program?”

            “Of course.” Grant felt a peace of spirit, knowing he wouldn’t be forced to return to the street. “Words cannot express my gratitude.”

            “Welcome to the program.  We’re thrilled to help. I look forward to getting to know you over the course of the week.” Marissa shook Grant’s hand, looking him straight in the eye with compassion and respect.  “My sister Noelle and her husband Benny will complete the intake process.  Lunch will be held in the mess hall, at one o’clock, followed by our program orientation.”

In the adjacent office, Grant was met by Noelle and Benedict Johnson.  Noelle is tall, with wavy dark bobbed hair, accentuated by her fair skin and high cheekbones.  Grant recognized Noelle’s familial resemblance to Marissa, through their soul penetrating emerald eyes. Benny stands six feet with a ruddy complexion. 

“It is wonderful to have you in the Labre Program,” Noelle addressed Grant as he sat down. “I am Saint Jude’s Director of Programs, Noelle Johnson.  This is my husband Benny Johnson, who serves as Director of Operations.”

“Pleasure is mine.” Grant

“The Labre Program is a bridge from the desperation of homelessness, the fear of being lost, navigating the unknown, alone and without an advocate to the security of independence that housing, and a job provides.  We are an outreach founded in the Christian faith, following Christ’s example to love and serve the lost, for we have all be lost in our own time.  We do not discriminate on gender, race or background, religion, or beliefs.  Saint Jude’s is a haven, a place meant to shine light in the desperation of darkness and offer peace to the weary soul.  A cornerstone for a new life.” Noelle prefaced. “All we ask is that you make a commitment to this change, an internal volition, a willingness to accept healing, compassion and to take steps forward.”

“Many who have not been able to come out of homelessness is not because they enjoy living that life on the streets, but they fear failure or the uncertainty of a life out of dependency or trauma.  We offer counseling services and a network of support to help make this transition as easy as possible.” Benny explained. “A little about the center.  The Labre Center is a gift of the efforts of The Shelton Foundation.  Horace Shelton, former head of now defunct Northwest Trading Company, was actively involved in the creation of a transitional housing center.  In life he was an advocate of the poor and oppressed, using his company’s profits to strengthen community.  A selfless man, who is sorely missed.”

“Horace Shelton is dead?” Grant struggled to hide his grief. In their tumultuous past, the men sparred over policies, Grant always eager to trump his authority over Horace.  Still Grant, maintained immense respect for the man.  Now in this lost state of disgrace, Grant perceived his own blind ambition, and could understand that Horace’s advice was sage and just.

“Sadly, he passed away last year.” Benny didn’t offer any details. “The center has twelve bedrooms, each with two beds and an attached bathroom.  Each week we accept twenty-five persons into our program.  You’ll be expected to work fifteen hours over the week, in outreach capacities. For instance, tomorrow you will be working in our community kitchen, serving meals to low-income seniors.  Each day’s work will not only give back to the community, but also train you with invaluable experience to help buffer your job skills, equipping you to transition into a permanent job.”

 “You will receive training, housing counseling, substance abuse counseling, a physical, and networking opportunities.  One of the greatest joys of the week is the bonds formed as a community at St. Jude’s, from relationships with fellow participants and staff.  Each night after dinner we host fun activities, encouraging socialization and relaxation, including board games, movie nights and even karaoke.  Our hope is that this week won’t be drudgery, rather a practical and rewarding experience.”

“It sounds wonderful.”

“As part of the program, you will receive a cell phone with a one-year contract free of charge.  It is equipped with 100 minutes per month.  This phone is a critical tool for opening doors to opportunity.  Employers require a phone number and address on many job applications.  In addition to the phone, you will be able to use the Labre Center’s address on applications and our staff as a job reference.” Noelle continued. “On Tuesday, a representative from Washington DOT will be on site, to issue state issued IDs to those lacking identification.  On the completion of the program, you will be issued a bus pass, which will assist with transport to and from job interviews.”

            “Marissa will file paperwork for your petition for Medicaid.  It may take a few weeks to process, and we will contact you with the status,” Benny explained. “Doctors Kelly Walker and Dorothea Alder will be on site this afternoon to conduct physical exams, ensuring your immunizations are up to date.  Our staff psychologist Amy Willard is on site Monday through Friday.  We have a psychiatrist, Dymphna Hawthorne, who comes on Tuesdays for consultations.”

            “Here is a program packet, including a map of the facilities, tentative schedule of events and other pertinent information.  You will be staying in the Assisi Suite, with Jairus Daniels.  He is just out of rehab for prescription pain killers, after coping with severe back injuries after a work-related accident.  I tell you this because he needs positivity and encouragement in his fight to stay sober.  He is a great guy who actually volunteered at the center many years ago with our afterschool program.”

            “I look forward to getting to know him.” The hardest thing for Grant in this process has been the fear of interaction.  He has become so accustomed in life to isolating himself and shunning socialization, that suddenly being thrust into situations requiring him not only to interact with strangers, but to forgo the privacy of his own bedroom, sleeping near others he barely knew was uncomfortable. 

            “I’ll give you a quick tour of the facility then show you to your room.” Benny led Grant down a narrow corridor, to a common room with a television, three computer workstations, bookshelves, and educational games. “This is the recreation room for our guests, a place you can relax with a good book, watch the game or surf the web.”

            “What a nice space.” Grant is accustomed to high-tech luxury, and in his past life would have shunned the simplicity of this space.  In his current state of destitution, the mere thought of having access to a television and computer was a blessing.  The Christmas decorations, including a festive tree with handmade ornaments and tinsel, and wreaths adorned with colorful ribbons.

            “Around the corner is our community kitchen and mess hall.  Our chef, Buddy Sawyer, is a top-notch maestro in the culinary arts.  He prepares wholesome nutrient-rich meals twice a day.  Breakfast is from 7-8, Dinner is at 5:00 every night.  The kitchen has a snack cabinet in case you get hungry at off hours.  Today we will be having a special lunch at one o’clock in the Mess Hall, prepared and served by last week’s graduating class.  During lunch they will be on hand to answer any questions about the program before they are transitioned into their new job and housing situations.”

            They continued through a set of doors before reaching the dorm complex, which includes twelve rooms, each with a private attached bathroom. At the end of the hall is a laundry facility. The Assisi Suite is located midway down the hall on the left. 

            Stepping inside the dorm, Grant was surprised to find a clean and inviting space with two queen size beds, two desks, ample storage, a telephone, and a private bath.

            “Grant, meet Jairus, your roommate for the week.”

            “Nice to know you.” Jairus greeted.

            “See you in two hours,” Benny exited the room.

            Grant started to unpack his limited belongings. He was dressed in his only set of clothes, which needed to be washed.  He stored his backpack under the bed.

“A real bed,” Grant whispered. Strange how something as ordinary as a mattress on a utilitarian frame could invoke such a sense of peace and security. 

“It is a blessing to be in the program.  The peace of being in a safe place, with resources to help fight off our demons.” Jairus concurred. “I still wince, thinking about those lost nights, cold and alone on the street.  I was in a bad state, dealing with some seedy underhanded manipulative people.  I thought they were helping me; truth is I was being used.  They gave me the drugs I needed, and I had to sell my soul, in a manner of speaking, getting involved in petty crimes. It took me getting beat up by a gang of unruly teenagers to wake up to the direness of my state.  I knew I needed to sober up, not only for myself, but for my family.”

“You have a family?”

 “I’m divorced and haven’t seen my kid, a twelve-year-old, basketball all-star, for a year.  I was deemed a danger to your own kid by social services…they said I was a bad influence.  I’m not that man anymore.  God-willing I’ve exorcised that darkness.”

“Benny mentioned that you were involved in a workplace accident?”

“Two years ago, a crane at the loading dock at the factory where I worked, collapsed, dropping a 500-pound crate on my back.  It is a miracle I survived, let alone can walk.  I fractured the spine.  It took a year of rest and rehab to heal.  Still my spirit was broken, a shattered soul.  I couldn’t work again, at least not as a foreman, and not being able to provide for my family, it left me bitter.  The pain from my injury was excruciating.  I had a lot of complications.   I got addicted to pain medications.  At first it was to mask the pain of the injury, then it became a compulsion, a mask for emotional turmoil and anxiety.  I wanted to be numb.  I started using aliases when my doctor refused to prescribe any more narcotics.  I even stole a prescription pad.  My wife kicked me out of the house when I dropped out of drug rehab.  I wound up on the street, spending all my disability money on black market painkillers.  Living as a shell of a man.  I tried to get part time jobs, half the time I was so doped up, I couldn’t function.  I got fired for stealing $400 from the till at a cashier job, just to feed my habit.  I lived on the street for around a year.  In my former life I used to volunteer at St. Jude’s as an intermural coach.  Benny helped me get into rehab.  I am two months sober.  This my first foray back into the world.”

            “I am sorry. I know that substance abuse can be difficult.”

            “The accident nearly killed my flesh, the painkillers a slow suicide, finally I said I wouldn’t this addiction destroy my soul.  I stood at a crossroads and decided to rise above the pain, guilt, agony and trust in the peace of God.  It is that peace that quiets the soul and gives you the strength to persevere against all odds.”

            “I’ve always struggled with faith.  If anything, it is tumult and chaos.” Grant spoke honestly.

            “The Peace of God doesn’t make you immune to suffering, the tumult of life’s woes, rather it gives you the internal strength, to have a serenity of spirit, to rest in the peace of love during circumstances that can be nerve-wracking, stressful, hurtful and desperate.  I see the peace of God as a ray of light that pierces the clouds.  It doesn’t erase the conflict of the world but gives you the peace to know that love is eternal, and God’s love is a peace that transcends this realm.” Jairus spoke with composure, rooted in his faith of spirit.

            “I pray for that peace,” Grant honest.

            “In rehab meetings we say The Serenity Prayer.  ‘God, grant me the serenity to accept things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference; Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardships as a pathway to peace; Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will; That I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy in the next.’”

            “I am the type that pushes through every obstacle kicking and screaming.  In my past life, that mentality normally yielded results.  I was a man of authority and power.  Waking up on the street, I realize how powerless I really am.  I’m just a man, walking a narrow path, never knowing tomorrow’s struggles.” Grant continued to grapple with this fate. “How can you have lasting peace when you know that the world is cruel, and as humans we are driven by selfish futile desires that corrupt and destroy?”

            “In the world, you have countless tribulations, yet the peace of Christ overcomes the world.  You know that his light shines even into the deepest darkness.  His love will not forsake you, even if you forsake yourself and curse him, he will continue to search out the lost, guiding us with light.  It isn’t easy, trusting that peace, let alone accepting it, but until you rest in that peace, you will continue to be broken, lost in pain and despair.  Dependent on the world’s chaos instead of the peace only God provides. Faith isn’t an easy road; it is a crossroads worth taking.”

            “I don’t know about peace that surpasses understanding.  At least for the next week I have the peace of secure room and board.  It is a gift I never understood the value of until I lost everything.”


            The aroma of a delicious homemade meal filled the air, as The Labre Program participants entered the mess hall.  The humble space is comprised of a buffet station and seven tables. 

Waiting in line, the group surrounding him, proved to be a unique mix of backgrounds, proving that the face of homelessness cannot be stereotyped and ridiculed into a narrow scope. 

Grant filled his plate with moist tenderloin, squash, corn, and mashed potatoes, topped off with a melt in your mouth chocolate chip cookie for dessert. 

Former participants in the program, led the group in grace, ‘We are thankful for the harvest and bounty of this meal.  Bless this food, and let our hearts be opened to the spiritual food of your peace and love, so that we may let go of the anxieties that plague us, resting in your spirit, allow us to grow in strength and hope together in the breaking of this bread.’

Around the table, Grant broke bread with strangers, sharing the common bond of hunger and thirst, desperate need in turmoil, and hope that the peace of this second chance would provide a way out of dark pasts.  Each participant held close to their grief and anxiety.  Some used it as a motivator, their personal testimony, while others longed to escape the nightmares of the past, still haunting the present.  Grant felt joy and regret.  He didn’t deserve this mercy, let alone the peace to enjoy a meal.  He regretted his past, analyzing it with acute derision.  Grant’s FLEX Plan proposed cutting off donations to places like Saint Jude’s, refusing to give monetary grants or even leftover food, left unsold on his shelves.  Now he was feasting on the generosity and mercy of strangers.  How could he have been so cruel?

Savoring each bite of his meal, Grant got to know his fellow participants.  There was Caleb, who after graduating in May with honors from the University of Minnesota, had driven west, working as a seasonal employee at Olympic National Park.  After completing his contract, his car died, and he couldn’t find steady employment.  He had spent two months in shelters and temporary housing, working when he could.  His parents died his sophomore year in college, leaving him without family.  Caleb is drowning in student loan debt, marring his credit score, preventing him from getting an apartment.  Any money he earns goes to make loan payments, leaving next to nothing for housing or food.

Rosalia, a beautiful girl of Mexican descent, speaking in a light accent, told her story of addiction, recovery, and hope of finding permanent housing. Rosalia has struggled with bi-polar disorder most of her life.  Treatment has been a struggle.  She has gone through periods where she manically refused treatment, leading to her initial gambling addiction.

“My husband was an attorney; we had a beautiful house in Queen Anne.  I stayed at home with our kids.  My depression was severe after the birth of my son, post-partum mania. I started drinking heavily and started gambling online.  It was my coping mechanism.  Instead of therapy and Lithium, I used gambling to calm my anxious nerves and feed my consumption.  I was able to hide it at first, then when my husband found out, he kicked me out and I wound up on the street.  I started pulling cons just to gamble.  It took a night in jail and a lot of hard self-reflection to realize that wasn’t the life I wanted.  It has been a trial of wills.  I’m learning to trust the peace of God’s will over my selfish desires of the flesh.  It takes courage to trust, yet I grow strong and resolute in that peace of spirit, a hope against all hope.”

Jemima fell into homelessness six months ago. “I lost my job as at a local factory.  They decided to ship production overseas to save money.  I had worked there twenty years, and suddenly without so much as a thank you, we get two weeks’ notice. I lived off my savings for three months, searching for a job, but as a woman in her fifties, lacking computer skills, it proved to be an arduous road.  I couldn’t pay my rent.  I slept in my car for a while but ended up selling it to pay for food and clothing.  I used that savings as my lifeline, going from shelter to shelter at night and searching for jobs during the day.  The opportunity of entering this program is a blessing.  I hope I can transition into a job, or at least semi-permanent housing after this week.”

After lunch, an orientation was held in the Labre Conference Room.  For two hours, Marissa, Noelle and Benny detailed the ins and outs of the program, discussed the week’s activity schedule, work assignments and more.  As part of the program, every day after meals, participants are divided into small groups for a half-hour reflection and creative assignment.  These groups are a way to bond with fellow housemates while sharing experiences and providing insight.

“Today’s small group theme is peace against anxiety.  The hardest part of the transition from wandering in a state of confusion and fear, to finding security is the inability to let go of anxiety.  Anxiety is a paralyzing force that makes us blind and prevents us from having the courage and tenacity to move forward in a positive direction.  Anxiety causes us to doubt our self-worth, it maligns our character and tramples the spirit.  Peace is the antidote to anxiety.  In order to accept peace, you have to let go of anxiety and negative thoughts.  That doesn’t mean you disregard the difficult of a situation, but you don’t let it have power over you.  Not all of you come from a background of faith, still I can say with pure confidence that it is Christ’s love and grace that can fuel a complete peace of spirit. This is a spiritual gift, ready for us to take advantage of, but we must learn to trust God’s peace and accept it, casting all anxieties on him.” Marissa spoke from her soul.  “My husband Trevor died three years ago.  I lost faith then and only felt anxiety – anger – despair…it took rebuilding that trust in God, accepting His peace to understand the beauty of life even within its fragile state.  That peace gave me a will to rebuke anxiety and move forward with courage, courage of hope.  I pray you may all find that people, so that even in trouble you may know security and love.”

“Peace,” Grant sighed, making his way to his small group. “It must be the theme today, love, joy and peace…”  Each of the group members was to be forthcoming with their anxieties, followed by their knowledge of peace and aspired hopes.

“My anxieties are about money, not having cash to pay my bills and worrying constantly about money for food and housing, fearful I will never have enough money to provide for the essentials.  It is a real worry.  I haven’t worked in a year, and I haven’t had stable employment since before NWTC laid off its entire workforce.  I hate sleeping outside, but the anxiety of being infected by disease in shelters, gave me a tremulous peace on the street. I worry that I’ll fail in this program and will be forced back into a life of forsakenness, left to beg for a spot on a park bench, praying I don’t get a citation, worrying about a shower and doing laundry.” Brenda McGee, a forty-two-year-old breathed out, her hands shaking. “I know peace in the kindness of those who have shown mercy to me.  I’ve learned that mercy is giving the person what they most need, even if it isn’t what they want.  I am still alive and nourished today because of strangers, Good Samaritans who cared about me with selfless love.  That is peace.  That is where you truly see Christ, in the selfless acts of love, committed even in the shadows of night.  I pray for that peace to continue to surround me and light my path on this journey.  I’d be lost and bitter, if not dead without it.”

“I have a lot of regret, anxiety about my deeds.” Grant struggled to put emotions into words. “I had a lot of hate and anger, I still do…my past anxieties were all about greed and selfish desire, now they are about survival – will I have access to food, a bed, a shower.  I hope that I fight peace to endure and to learn, and hopefully forgiveness.”

Following small groups, participants enjoyed granola bars and apples before waiting in a queue for their physical.  Most had not seen a doctor in years, and if they had it was in an emergency room or low-income clinic. Grant always despised doctors.  Even with his high salary, he flinched at spending money on his health, content to believe that he was an iron guard, an impenetrable force. 

“I am Dr. Kelly Walker,” a thirty something with blonde hair and a calming smile approached Grant. There was a strange familiarity in her eyes, as if they had met before.

Kelly briefed herself on Grant’s limited medical history, before taking his vitals.

“You have high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat.” Kelly’s analysis somewhat of a shock to Grant.  “Do you have a family history of heart disease or any other illnesses such as diabetes?”

“My father had a heart attack…I’ve always been healthy.”

“This could be related as a stress response.  High-stress and anxiety causes as much damage long term as many diseases.  Your body under stress is constantly in a combative mode.  I know living on the edge, filled with constant uncertainty can make any of us cling to stress.  Add in diet limitations that force you to eat high processed food, it does wear on you.  I recommend breathing exercises.  I also want to draw a blood sample to run additional tests.  Just to ensure there isn’t anything more serious going on.  I also am recommending a consultation with St. Jude’s staff psychologist.  I don’t think you are suffering from severe mental or substance abuse issues, but stress and anxiety need to be dealt with.  Peace is a powerful tool for your physical as well as your spiritual well-being.”

Grant had spent his life operating on adrenaline, crashing, and burning after countless hours of high stress, only to start the process all over again.  He wondered if it had a lasting effect on his health.  The idea of his being sick, was incomprehensible. He wondered if did suffer a chronic condition in his uninsured state, even with Medicaid, could he afford to treat the illness.  What about the disabled and chronically ill with limited access to health care?  Fear of lack of coverage pushed up his anxiety. In that fear he understood that his anxiety wasn’t merely a result of physical woes, but a broken spirit.  He felt fractured, desperate for peace that surpasses all understanding. 

The jarring difference between the irresolvable despair of the drastic realities of the world, set against the intangible, yet firm foundation of peace in Christ, was too great for Grant to come to terms instantly.  He remembered the serenity prayer, a reminder that peace is a light in the darkness, tranquility that heals fractured souls to rise above anxiety, knowing that with God’s help they can accomplish peace to move forward in hope. 

As if on cue, Grant noticed a poster on the wall:

‘Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not let them be afraid. John 14:27.’

Grant pondered the words, resting in their meaning the remainder of the night.

“Is Peace the lesson I must wrestle with?”

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