Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 11)

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Chapter 20:

            “How are you holding up?” Grant voiced his concern for Jairus.  Neither had gotten much sleep after witnessing the assault. 

“It takes all of my self-control to rise above that part of my past.  It is a scar that will never fully heal, still I can have peace in the mercy that God provides.” Jairus admitted, his hands trembling. “Even if those punks are caught, who is to say another thug won’t step in and replace them?  It is an endless cycle of violence, victims lured in, left dependent, fighting in the drowning water.”

“I don’t know much of anything with certainty.  Still, I can say with confidence that good overcomes evil, and it can heal.  I know because I used to act as an evil man, goodness works through me.  I’m still flawed.” Grant’s voice drifted off. 

He thought about the concept of self-control.  His father always said it was a virtue.  Grant wasn’t so sure.  He had used self-control for his own gains.  It was a powerful manipulative tactic and a set of controls to cope and accomplish his desire.  To him self-control was more a mastery of manipulation, controlling himself and others, a set of strings wielded to his worldly devices.

In the case of Jairus, self-control was a pointed abstinence, against the vices that obstruct his way forward.  Self-control was a virtue in Jairus, in Grant it was an avarice, a crippling force.  Control was a power grab for Grant instead of a tool for good, both as a person and as a leader.  He wondered if he had exercised virtuous self-control regarding NWTC if he would have come to experience this new reality.  His version of self-control meant my way or the highway, whereas if he had exercised virtuous self-control, his greed would have been checked.  The FLEX Plan was the epitome of Grant’s greed and controlling, manipulative ways.  He hoped if he ever returned to that life of luxury, he hoped to set all the wrongs, right.  He feared it was too late. 

“Self-control is the antithesis to greed.  It isn’t about control as much as a humble submission to God’s will, and a self-restraint not to act in one’s negative desire, desire that harms yourself and others, but to actively seek to act in goodness, kindness, gentleness and mercy…” Grant continued his silent thoughts over a breakfast of cereal and juice.

“It is just horrible what happened to Joe,” Noelle lamented over breakfast. “Thank God he is going to make a full recovery.  Joe had started becoming a drug runner in exchange for food.  The drug cartel got him addicted to heroin as a security measure for their enterprise.”

“They had me enslaved for the better part of a year,” Jairus shook his head in a resigned anger. “Shame.”

“I phoned a friend who works at a treatment facility, who has agreed to help Joe.  Hopefully this incident will find a good ending.”

“Did they find the catch the kids who did this?”

“Unfortunately, no,” Noelle lamented. “Your eyewitness testimony enabled the police to draw sketches of the teens.  We can only hope that someone will recognize them and come forward.”

“What is heartbreaking is that they are only kids, nearly our nephew Zeke’s age,” Benny sighed.

“We have a serious emergency,” Marissa stormed in, her face flushed, as if she had been crying and her voice hoarse as if she’d been screaming at the sky.

“What’s going on?”

“Better to discuss this particular setback in my office.” Marissa tried to sound upbeat in the presence of program participants, still it was obvious that something gravely upset her. “It regards our loan applicant and the Peterson-Hoffman bequest.”

Grant sensed this ‘setback’ had to deal with Saint Jude’s major benefactor, the Peterson-Hoffman Trust, which donates millions annually to Seattle non-profits from the estate of deceased Seattle entrepreneurs, husband and wife business team, Alice Peterson and Grafton Hoffman.  The P-H Trust’s former director was pushed out after mishandling the funds, using cash for his own exploitations, meaning beneficiaries would face losing critical financing. 

The situation another haunting reminder of Grant’s own selfish control of profit and greedy desire to do away with the Shelton Foundation. Although a business isn’t liable to donate any profits, they should be held to the standard of ethics and moral code, coupled with kindness and mercy.  If anything, it makes for sounder business practice.  In eliminating the Shelton Foundation, Grant wasn’t thinking about the company, he was selfishly thinking about his own desire for more wealth.  He neglected the impact the funds have on the community.  He had acted with callous, spiteful intent.  He ignored self-control and gave into consumption of greed, all the while sugar coating it as good business sense.

            “The Saint Jude’s Community Center is essential to this community.  They do so much.  Without their mercy, I’d still be on the street,” Grant racked his brain, seeking a solution. “I promise if I ever return to my job as CEO of NWTC, I will ensure that I act in self-control, putting others before myself with mercy.”

~

            That morning the Washington DOT came to The Labre Center to provide state issued identification cards to those without photo I.D.  Grant nervously got his photo taken, still uncertain as to which identity was his?  Grant, the CEO or Grant, the transient.  “Maybe, I’m a little bit of both,” he gauged.

            The rest of the morning, many of the participants saw psychiatrist Dr. Dymphna Hawthorne.  Grant spent the hour volunteering to assist Marissa with paperwork in the office.

            “I could use help stuffing envelopes, and making a few copies,” Marissa appreciated the help. 

            Grant glanced at the form letters, as he stuffed them into thick manila envelopes.  Each letter, requesting an urgent need for donations to Saint Jude’s, particularly The Labre Center.

            “I know it is not my place to inquire, still I feel it is my duty to speak on this behalf.  Judging from these letters, you are severely underfunded and might have to shut down.”

            “That’s nothing for you to worry about.  We are working to get additional funding and your stay this week is not in question.” Marissa tried to sound reassuring, still the edge in her voice remained rife with fear.

            “I have a strong background in finance, and fundraising.  I’ve written and successfully received numerous grants.  I also gave millions in charitable donations as a CEO and understand the process inside out.  I can help.”

            “Even if you could, we are going to run out of money by January 6, for The Labre Center anyway.  We have enough funds for the rest of Saint Jude’s through June.” Marissa hesitant to accept Grant’s help.  Although he had no criminal background, his self-admitted past as a CEO who fell into greed, made her question his trustworthiness on matters such as this.  On the other hand, the center was in desperate need of intervention.  It would take personal intercession by Saint Jude himself and God above to fix this problem.

            “We can at least analyze the options.  You might not be able to receive the entirety of budget in grant form by then, still we can work on a piecemeal approach.  If you could even secure funding through January that will buy you additional time to formulate a long-term plan of action.” Grant’s business mind going to work with finesse and determination. “Although mailing flyers to supporters for donations can be affective, you need a cash influx from the public at large.  PR, Marketing can be utilized to ask the public for help.  Press releases, people hitting the streets with information flyers, petitions, television features…buzz…perhaps St. Jude’s can even center this campaign, this rally call around an event, something at the center.”

            “We don’t have money for advertising, let alone a fundraiser.” Marissa had to admit she had given up hope.

            “PR can be free if you work the sources properly.  The paper loves outreach stories, and if they refuse to run with the story without an ad, offer then an in-kind sponsorship – coverage equals a plaque at the center or being listed as a sponsor on your site.  You can pull in donations from area businesses this way too, all the while careful not to do a tic-for-tack.  The payment is a spot of the website, but they aren’t on the board, so you don’t compromise the organizations ethics.  If we schedule a rally, KSEA’s Browder Anderson will show up.  Real Change can be a source of help.” Grant full of passion for the cause. “As for grants, there are a few that I think might be willing to meet a January 1st deadline.  I also have some ideas on philanthropist donors who are particularly concerned about homeless outreach.  I’ll comprise a list with contact information, and we’ll create a proposal packet, complete with your mission statement, funding requirements, list of programs, etc…”

            “You weren’t kidding when you said you understood this?” Marissa pleasantly shocked.

            “My name is Grant, after all,” He laughed off the bad joke, lost for a in Marissa’s green eyes. “What do say?”

            “Let’s get to work.”

~

            They spent the next four hours working on their campaign.  The motto ‘Desperate Hope.’  They drafted a press release, which Noelle fast tracked approval of.  The PR was sent to all the contact at area media.  With Grant making follow-up phone calls to key contacts.  They send out an email blast to the 5,000 contacts on Saint Jude’s registry.  Also creating a social media platform for ‘Desperate Hope-Light calls out of Darkness’ to raise awareness about the urgent need for donations and the mission and the mission of the non-profit organization.

            With a working PR plan in place, the pair worked tirelessly to draft a corporate proposal for grants and sponsorships, each tailored to distinct business markets, corporate to small enterprises.  Noelle and Benny pooled volunteer resources to drop off plans at neighborhood business and community partners to contribute to their ‘Small potatoes, make the stew, so spread the Love’ fundraiser.  The concept that even small donations, $50-$5000 make a big difference to Saint Jude’s.   

            “I cannot believe we accomplished all that work in only a few hours.” Marissa caved into her chair. “I think you are an angel.”

            “Far from it.  I hope our efforts yield a just reward.  This center saves lives and brings people together.  Even if the corporate sponsorships and grants don’t come to fruition, I think the power of the people, the neighborhood support will go the distance, at least in the interim.” Grant prayed the center would survive this.  “St. Nick, we need help here!” He whispered.

            “We had already planned to use this afternoon and evening’s work requirement to stuff envelopes and make phone calls to fundraise.  Community supporters like to hear from those who benefit from our programs and interact with them.  In turn the office experience of calling our community members and preparing the mailings equips our participants with office experience.” Marissa explained.

            “What if we have a phonathon on New Year’s Day?” KSEA said they will do anything to help. “They could film the fundraiser live, with cut-ins into programming.  We could tie it into our New Year’s Eve Party as a drop the ball, game.  We have a globe, with each donation, it weighs down, the idea is to ‘drop the ball’ to achieve a goal, say $5,000.  It’d be fairly affordable since the NYE Party is already funded.”

            The New Year’s Eve Party is focused on providing fun for foster and abused children without temptations of drinking and drugs.  It includes games, music and kid-friendly food including pizza and root beer soda, ice-cream.  The Labre Center residents are trusted with decorating and chaperoning the event. 

            “It could work.  Do you think we could set that up on such short notice?”  Marissa expressed skepticism.

            “We can certainly try.  It depends on KSEA.”

            Marissa returned twenty minutes later with an update. “He is game. New Year’s Eve work’s better for their on the ground coverage as there is a big football game on New Year’s Day.  His suggestion is running the telethon at lunch and during the six o’clock news hour.  They’ll follow up at the ten o’clock news to see if we made our goal.  They admit it is short notice, in terms of advertising, still we’ll have a media outlet and can get our message to the public.’

            “I think we should draft another press release, mentioning the telethon and work on a social media event listing.” Grant paused. “We could put up some posters about the ‘Drop the Ball’ concept, around the neighborhood.”

            “I’ll get to work the press release.”

            “I’ll handle the poster.” Grant liked worked with Marissa, they make a good team.  He only wished he’d realized her value as an employee and as a person before he fired her.  He hoped his efforts on saving Saint Jude’s would rectify his errors. 

~

            “You two have accomplished so much.” Noelle impressed.

            “Even if we don’t reach our end goal, hopefully we can raise enough money to keep the Labre Center open through January.” Benny held. “I suppose we should fill in the rest of the program participants about the telethon and work on distributing posters.”

            “Thanks Grant, for helping us take this initiative.”

            “I didn’t do much.  Let’s pray for this to be a success.” Grant downplayed his involvement.  It is easy to promote something as good and just as the community center.  They are a gathering place, a hope for the desperate and lifeline to the needy.  If he had learned one lesson it was to help others with love’s compassion was far more important than anything in life.  Before he squandered away riches on selfishness.  Now he was determined to give what he could and fight to preserve Saint Jude’s Community Center for others in need.

Chapter 21:

            On New Year’s Eve, rays of the resilient sun pierced the gray dreary clouds.  For Grant, his thoughts were conflicted-divided by regret and resolution.  He had to change.

Grant didn’t have time to ruminate the past year. In his current state he felt like a ghost, straddling two dimensions, the past full of regret, while he embarked into the future with a trepid hope.  It took Grant being thrust into a life of poverty to understand true blessings of life.  For all his regrets he felt gratitude, a humbleness of spirit that gave him strength, a strength to turn his life over to God’s will, a desire to humbly seek redemption, to let go of his regrets, confessing his sins and humbly hoping for the grace of God’s forgive.  Still Grant hesitated in his confession, not for lack of want, but he continued to feel unworthy.  Grace may be a gift, not of merit, but out of God’s love.  Still, it is someone one must prepare themselves to receive.

            “The decorations look phenomenal.” Marissa taking in the festive scene in the Community Center’s Grand Hall. “It is going to be a magical night.”

            “We’ll need a little bibbity bobbity boo to reach our goal by midnight.”

            “I think we have some saints and angels looking out for Saint Jude’s,” Grant spoke with confidence.

            “Saint Jude is the patron saint of desperate causes.” Marissa beamed; her soul filled with hope. “We have momentum in our campaign.  All the major media outlets picked up our press release and many neighborhood bloggers are spreading the word online.”

            “Saint Nick has a vested interest in this too, it is the seventh day of Christmas after all.” Grant smiled knowingly.

            “I just got a commitment for $5,000 from the Capital Hill Donut Company.” Benny raced in with the news. “They are going to be on hand tonight giving out New Year’s Sparkler Donuts, Dutch Oliebollen fried donuts and the Classic Hill Cake Donut, to anyone that gives a donation of $10 or more, as well as free donuts to party attendees and volunteers.”

            “What wonderful news.  A true blessing.” Marissa’s eyes lit up. 

            “We still are short $45,000 for our annual operating cost goals for The Labre Center, still it will help us run through most of January.” Benny hopeful, but also realistic. “At least it buys time.”

            “The day is still new.” Marissa and Noelle optimistic.

            “The grant applications to corporations, are still being processed.  We’ll can accomplish this.” Grant encouraged.

            “Thanks to you.” Marissa’s smile caught him off guard.

            “Don’t be ridiculous.” Grant genuinely humble.

~

Labre residents worked hand in hand with nearly a dozen volunteers to prepare the Great Hall for the New Year’s Eve bash and corresponding telethons. 

Program participant Sammy Fuller set up ten phones, routing through the main line, to serve as the telethon call centers.  Sammy is a certified electrician, who fell into homelessness after his house was destroyed in landslide. His insurance did not cover the damages.  Shortly thereafter his contractor laid him off and he came to Seattle looking for work.  Only to fall into homelessness and severe depression.  His children live with his parents in Yakima while he gets his life together.  The Labre Center is his last lifeline. 

“Everything seems to be in working order,” Sammy analyzed. It empowered him to contribute to the cause, using his expertise as an electrician and contractor. 

Noelle had trained the participants in the calling center.  The system was designed to be easy and functional, providing residents experience with the confidence to meet the challenge ahead.  Ten residents work the phones during the noon broadcast, answering each call with a friendly ‘Thank You’, asking their pledge amount, address and phone number.   Donors wishing to use a credit card were placed on hold until one of the accounting volunteers stopped by, using their cell-phone apps or laptops to insert the information. 

“It is a miracle we got this up and running with such short notice.  Thank you for your help, Sammy.”

            The television crew from KSEA arrived on site just after ten o’clock, setting up for their live broadcast.

            “Browder Anderson of KSEA,” The assertive, sympathetic, reporter approached Marissa and Grant as they hung streamers. “I’m honored to be part of your fundraising challenge.  Saint Jude’s and similar organizations in the Emerald City, are critical to the foundation and strength of our community.  I did a series on homelessness in King County, and it changed my preconceptions about poverty and transients.  It opened my mind and I started to understand this is a plight that affects people and the value of every individual.  Since then, it has been my goal as a reporter to focus on community stories on a deeper level, from the random acts of kindness to complex social issues.”

            “I’ve always appreciated the sincerity and focus of your reporting.  Thank you for taking time to make this happen, especially on such short notice,” Marissa shook the reporter’s hand.

            “It is the least I can do.  Saint Jude’s has helped so many people, people from all walks of life, it is a foundation of community. You give constantly, now is the opportunity for the community to help you continue your outreach.  It is time for the community to step up and help.  If they don’t everyone will suffer the loss of this neighborhood center.  You do everything from provide affordable childcare, assist single mothers, battered women, theatre and arts events, homeless and senior outreach, the depth and expanse of your work and commitment to help this community is expanse.”

            “We don’t do it for glory.  Our patron saint, Saint Jude, is an example of helping the most desperate.  Knowing that even in the darkest moments of life, there is a soul of love that can kindle a living hope and achieve extraordinary measures even out of desperate circumstances.  We do this out of humble love, compassion and understanding.  We give because we too have received.  We love as Christ first loved us.  The mission of this telethon isn’t to laud Saint Jude’s Center, but to bring attention to these desperate needs and call on the community to help us in that mission of humble and gentle service.” Marissa spoke with a zeal of passion. 

She didn’t get into Human Resources and Social Services for promotions and awards, she did it to actively help others.  That humble love and bold hope inspired Grant.

With the cameras set up, Browder and his crew taped interviews with staff, residents, and volunteers.

“In our phone and email conversations, you said that a sudden loss of a grant left the center in a desperate shortfall of cash for the operating year?” Browder posed his question to Marissa.

“Unfortunately, our long term grant partner, Hoffman-Peterson, issued a statement yesterday that due to unexpected financial restraints their trust would not be able to fulfill their promised grant of $50,000, which funds 80% of The Labre Transitional Program’s annual budget.  As our fiscal year starts on January 1 and the donation was to be disbursed on January 6, we have been put in an impossible situation.  It is extremely difficult to receive grants, and most are awarded months to years in advance. A bank loan is difficult to receive and still puts the center at a loss, drawing on our property value to repay the loan.  The city council occasionally awards subsidiary grants or loans to shelters and non-profits dealing with homelessness, yet once again this process takes time, time that we do not have. With barely six days until our budget for The Labre Program runs out, we are in a desperate need of donations.  Some would say $50,000 in less than a week is an impossible task.  Saint Jude is the intercessor, a light in impossible situations.  With Christ all things are possible.  We must hope, not foolishly, yet with trepid confidence that together our community can raise the much-needed funds for this critical program.  We are asking the community to help us ‘Drop the St. Jude’s Ball of hope.  With each donation, be it $5 or $5,000 you can help us reach our goal. In dropping the ball, we are stamping out desperation, looking to hope and love in the New Year.  Indestructible love that makes the impossible possible.  As one we may seem small, yet even the smallest act good builds a bridge out of desperation.  The momentum is starting to build.  Over the Hill Donuts just signed on to donate $5,000, while we’ve garnered nearly $500 online through our website.”

“Tell us how the community can donate?”

“Call the number listed below, and our Labre Residents will gladly assist you in making your over the phone donation.  If you don’t have a credit card, don’t worry, we can take pledges via phone.  We have also set up a website: DesperateHopeSJ.org, where you can donate online.  You can also drop by the center now through midnight to give us your donation in person.  Over the Hill Donuts will be on hand to provide refreshments.  Tonight’s New Year’s Bash is a great way to interact with our staff, residents and volunteers.  It is a reflection of the work we do year out.  The party is a fun safe haven for children to kick back and celebrate the New Year, without pressures of drugs, alcohol and violence.” Marissa went on to describe the event. “In addition to monetary donations, we are willing to accept gifts of time, volunteering, and goods such as coats, food and other necessary items that service the needs of our residency and outreach goals.”

“You mentioned the telethon is sparked by one of your current residents.”

“Grant entered our transitional housing program on Saturday after struggling with homelessness.  He helped rally the troops and organize this event.  Our residents make such a difference in the lives of so many people.  They come from troubled, desperate pasts, yet they are imbued with the spirit of hope and determination.  Working with our residents I understand the complexity of homelessness and poverty and the need for us all to step up to the challenge, with humble hearts to address this issue.  Homelessness is not a pest to sweep into the sewer, an annoyance, it is a problem that affects people, just like you and me, who need a hand up, love of neighbor and respect of other with selfless humanity.  Our drive is a chance to transition into love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control with humble hope.  It only takes a simple act of love to bring light to the dark and to make the world a better place, even in the worst of suffering.”

            Browder requested to interview Grant.  For the first time in his life, he felt nervous and uneasy speaking to a reporter.  Grant used to crave media attention, and when media opposition tried to focus on his greed, Grant attack with vicious brazenness.  He didn’t want recognition for his role in this project.  He didn’t deserve credit for saving something that a week ago he sought to defund without as much as a second thought, let alone empathy.  He had cursed programs like this. 

            “What sparked your idea for the Desperate Hope campaign?”

            “Saint Jude’s has been a light for me out of a very dark place.  They gave me food and a bed, have provided residents with health care and career counseling.  As residents we are required to work fifteen hours a week, which is then used as a job reference on our resumes. The work broke down my own selfish walls and helped humble my spirit.  The work is involved with Saint Jude outreach, including the Senior Brunch, providing meals on the streets…when I learned that Saint Jude’s might not be able to continue their services to others in desperate situations, I knew that we all needed to act.  I am one man, unworthy and flawed, yet among me are wonderful people that fell on hard times and Saint Jude’s gave them a second chance, grace and mercy, love and hope.  Having slept on the street, been in shelters and relied on the goodness of strangers, I have come to understand how one small act of love can make a world of difference.” Grant paused.

            “Mind giving us a background on your story?” Browder followed up.

“I used to be a wealthy man by worldly standards, running a top company and living off greed.  It took being thrown into the gutter of life, begging for a meal, desperate, to face the power of humility.  Humbleness cleared my dark desires with a new hope, a hope not in profit of greed, but love of people and a desire for the wealth of agape love.  It took me being brought low to understand the power of love.  It is a light that can outshine any darkness.  I don’t think I deserve credit in helping Saint Jude’s organize this.  They deserve credit for their merits of virtue that helped me understand what makes life worthwhile.  Call it penance and gratitude, the work that I am doing.  I am simply using my talents and skills for a greater purpose, a purpose for good that is not about me and my selfish desires.  Even if you can only donate a few dollars.  It helps.  That is why I’m donating my last $7 to this cause.  I have been rescued from darkness, because Saint Jude’s CC seeks out the lost, not forsaking them, but loving them with the gentleness of Christ’s love.”

“There you have it, love is an act that gives back, and humility is wealth far greater than gold.  Help Saint Jude’s bring hope to the desperate.”

~

Noelle coached the first round of telethon representatives in the half hour leading up to the noon broadcast.  There were nerves, particularly for those who lacked office experience.  Noelle calmed the mood, encouraging the residents and empowering their abilities.

            “Browder Anderson, broadcasting live from Saint Jude’s Community Center in Capitol Hill.  This critical non-profit is in desperate need of your support.  Pick up the phone or go online now to make a donation.  Every bit helps in the fight to keep the doors open for Saint Jude’s Labre Transitional Housing Program as well as fund countless other programs from childcare and elderly outreach…” The reporter continued to detail the profile of Saint Jude’s CC and their specific needs and focused on the New Year’s Eve Drop the Ball Bash.

            Cheers of gratitude, erupted as the first hour of the telethon concluded.  In the span of a single hour, Saint Jude’s had netted over $7,000 in donations.”

            “$12,000!” Marissa exclaimed. “That guarantees The Labre Wing will stay open through at least March.”

            “Sweet music to my ears,” Noelle let out a sigh.

            “Thank God for that,” Benny said a prayer of appreciation.

            “My crew will be back at 4:00 to prepare for second telethon hour,” Browder noted. “Hopefully you’ll double that $12,000 tonight.”

The energy remained infectious throughout the afternoon, as volunteers and residents put the final touches on the party décor and ball drop.  It was decided that drop points for donations would be centered in the alley sidewalk, hoping to pick up traffic from those out and about on New Year’s Eve, as well as the entrance foyer and the main drop center in the Grand Hall. 

            The focus of the night still remained on providing a fun and safe alternative to toast the New Year.  The attendees would include foster kids from around the city, including Saint Joseph’s Group Home and Kids Hope, as well as street kids who come from abusive backgrounds or face homelessness.  These kids are the most desperate as they don’t have a foundation and face temptations such as joining gangs, drugs and robbery.  Saint Jude’s is the foundation for many of these kids, active in youth outreach.

            “Mom don’t are cookies look awesome!” Joel and Sarah enthusiastically entered the Great Hall with Buddy.  They had spent the day baking party snacks.

            “I love the Space Needle cookies.”

            “I did the frosting on those,” Joel satisfied. “Rusty did the ‘Clock Cookies.’” Rusty is Buddy’s oldest son and Joel’s best friend.

            “They look delicious.” Marissa tempted to steal a cookie.  All this running around left her hungry.

            “They are for the party, mom.” Joel scolded.

            “I think we can spare one,” Buddy relented. “We have a great banquet of food for the kids tonight. In addition to the cookies, I baked New Year’s Tea Cakes.  The cakes are light and airy with cream and sparkles in the middle.  Jemima made her famous firecracker cupcakes and Stone Soup.  We have organic chips, fruit and trail mixes.”

            “The coolest thing is that to drink, we get to have bottled root beer or sparkling cider.” Joel gushed. He and his sister always enjoyed baking and participating in Saint Jude parties.  Marissa wished Zeke felt the same way.

“What’s even cooler is that the drinks will be served in champagne glasses.” Sarah stumbled over the word champagne.  Noelle had found some affordable biodegradable plastic flutes in an area party shop.  Kids enjoy the chance to celebrate with ‘grown-up’ glasses.

            “We have lots of noisemakers too!” Marissa noted with a certain amount of caution.  Her younger kids loved to blow the noisemakers constantly, running through the house and yard with unabashed energy. “Where is your brother, Zeke?”

            “He left ten minutes ago,” Joel bit his lip.

            “What do you mean he left?” Marissa filled with worry.  Zeke had been pestering her for days to allow him to go to a friend’s house for a New Year’s Eve party on Lake Union.  He swore that there would be supervision and no drinking, still Marissa didn’t trust him at a strange friend’s house.  Especially when Tony and Jax were going to be at said event.

            “I tried to stop him, Marissa, Zeke just ran out.  He muttered something about an errand to run and he’d be back soon.”

            “I love that boy, but he is determined to test my last nerve.”

            “Is everything okay?” Grant entered the conversation, sensing the tension in Marissa’s voice.

            “Zeke has disappeared.” Marissa tried calling his cell, to no avail. “No doubt on some fool’s errand with those deadbeat friends of his.  I always see the good in people, but this crowd Zeke’s fallen into are a bad influence.”

            “I overheard him talking to Tony and Jax earlier,” Joel remembered. “He said something about Volunteer Park, and how angry he at you about not being allowed to go to the Lake Union Party.”

            “Tony and Jax…those are the names of the kids that assaulted Joe, the homeless man in the park.” Grant thought to himself. Not wanting to worry Marissa, he held his tongue. “I could seek him out at the park, try to find him.”

            “I couldn’t ask you to do that.  He is my responsibility.” Marissa teary-eyed, as if she had faced this challenge time and again. “I want to trust him; it is so hard.  He is so angry all the time and acts out.  He blames the world for his father’s death.  He is crying out for help.  I’ve tried everything, yet he keeps building up walls.  He sees me as an enemy.  I love him more than anything…I wish he could understand how his anger won’t bring Trevor back and is only tearing our family apart.”

            “Marissa, there is a Myra Nicholas, from The Seattle Toy Company, on line two.  She wants to donate gifts for the kids tonight.” Benny informed.

            “Myra Nicholas…” Grant chuckled to himself. She lives in my old penthouse…I suspect ‘Saint Nicholas’ has something to do with this.

            “I love the Seattle Toy Company!” Sarah jumped for excitement as she overheard the news. “They have live reindeer in the store every Christmas, giant gingerbread men and Santa’s mailbox.”

            “Seattle Toy Company has been generous in their donations over the years.  Tell Myra, I’ll call her back. Zeke has gone missing.”

            “You know how teenagers are.  They need space.  He’s probably just bumming around the block.” Benny downplayed the severity of the situation. “I know Zeke can be a handful, still he’s a good kid and not a troublemaker.”

            “Zeke is a good kid,” Marissa sunk her hands into her head, as a show of exasperation. “I want to trust him, still he is under bad influences from the gang of bullies he is hanging out with.  I caught Zeke with a knife a few weeks back because he was afraid, he might get beaten up by one of his so-called friends.  He wants to go to this party tonight on Lake Union, where I know drugs and alcohol are going to be present. I refused to let him go and he’s been angry all day.  He told me that he hates me.  I’m at my wits end.  I just wish he’d trust me and know I have his best interest at heart.”

            “Zeke loves you and needs you.  He is confused.  He is struggling with a range of emotions.  I think his stubbornness is fear and uncertainty.” Grant comforted Marissa.

            “It is hard.  I don’t know what to do.”

            “When you’re a teenager you want to be independent, and assert your authority, yet you still need guidance and your parents love, even if that love seems unfair. I remember cursing my parents for not allowing me to go on a ski trip. I later found out the reason was because there was going to be a blizzard and icy road conditions.  Two of my friends died driving back from that trip.  I still am at odds with my parents, yet standing here now, I realize how much I need them.  Zeke misses his dad, and I think he is afraid of trusting you too much because secretly he is afraid you might die or leave him too.  Even though he knows that you love him and are there for him.  He is turning is mourning into anger and anger is a poison that rots the core, leaving you empty.”

            “I cannot reason with him.  I love him so much.  I’ve been tempted to just give in to his demands…I understand lessons are often learned by making mistakes I know I cannot control every aspect of his life, nor should I, still as his mother, I cannot standby and allow him to make mistakes that will only bring him pain and put him in danger…” Marissa conflicted.

            “He needs your guidance, loving discipline that is for his own good.  In the end he’ll have to walk his own road, but that doesn’t mean you don’t give up on him or don’t try.  Look at God, he could have forsaken me in my rebellion, in love he pulled me back.  You don’t discipline to rebuke in hate, but love and desire to guide your child. Discipline is a form of teaching and loving protection.  It is gentle discipline, firm, but merciful.  Not blind obedience, but obedience because you have learned the difficulties that will come if they don’t follow this path.” Grant paused.

            “He just won’t listen.  He is stubborn.”

“It took my rebellion and loneliness to realize what I lost, the importance of my parents’ instruction…Zeke uses his anger as a crutch.  It is a reflection of the pain of loss.  He is afraid to let go of that anger, because he fears letting go of that anger is an admission that he no longer misses his dad.  If he moves on in a positive direction, he rationalizes that he is giving up on his father.  Nothing can be further than the truth, still I think it is that fear that is driving Zeke. He wants to wear that anger like a badge, not because he desires to be angry, but because it is a display of his sorrow and fear.  The more he rebels the louder that cry is.  I doubt Zeke genuinely likes hanging out with thugs like Tony and Jax.”

            “How do I break through?  I tell him to let go of his anger and he won’t listen.”

            “Make time to remember his dad somehow, remind him that you do miss him, while also reminding him how much his father would want him to enjoy life.  His father is with you.  Joy doesn’t mean you don’t miss the person, it means you can live with joy because of the impact they had on your life.” Grant never was good with advice, still he could relate to the need to rebel and be angry at the world.  “Be patience, persistent and gentle with him.”

            “Thanks Grant, your advice really helps.” Marissa wiped away her tears. “I’m still confounded how you just popped up in my life, knowing just what to say and eager to help.  You are a God send.”

            “No, I’m far from it.  You are a wonderful person Marissa; I wish I’d realized that before.”

            “Before?” Marissa puzzled.

            “It doesn’t matter.”  Grant bit his lip. “Let me go to Volunteer Park, try to find Zeke.”

            “I don’t know…I’d feel a lot better if I went with you.” Marissa wavered. She trusted Grant, but still didn’t feel good about allowing him to leave the center alone. She had a protective instinct for all residents and didn’t want them to be left in a vulnerable situation. On the other hand, she had thousands of things to do before the party and didn’t want to leave the center in case he returned.

            “You stay here in case he phones you or returns.  I’ll go to Volunteer Park to see if I can track him down.  If he’s there I’ll call you immediately.” Grant’s calm poise settled Marissa’s nerves.

            “Take your cell-phone.  Call me if you find him.” Marissa relented.

            Grant rushed to Volunteer Park, desperate to find Zeke.

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