Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 18)

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Chapter 30

            “Earl, you have been so generous with your time today.  Here is a small token, use it to treat yourself to a nice dinner.”

            “Mr. Spaulding, I cannot accept this…it is too much,” Earl shocked as he opened the envelope with cash and plane tickets to his home town.

            “It is from Saint Nicholas.  And you cannot refuse his Christmas cheer.”

            “Hats off to Good Old Saint Nick,” Earl chuckled.

            “I’ll give you a ride to the airport, on my way to Shuskan.”

            “You aren’t going to drive that stretch of highway tonight, alone?”

            “I will be fine.  I am due for Christmas dinner at my family’s farm.” Grant hoped his family would accept his apology. 

~

            “I do not know why you insist on setting a place for Grant.  He is not coming.” George expressed his frustration to his mother as he prepared the table for Christmas dinner.

            “Christmas is a time of renewal and hope.  I know in time Grant will return to us.”

 “He has made it perfectly clear time and again he wants nothing to do with us.  He is a killjoy, poisoning every step of ground he treads on.”

            “Do not talk about your brother that way.” Marie trembling.

            “My brother is dead to me.” George fired back. “His ghost haunts this house.  You are more concerned with a son that is lost to you than the family who loves you, the family here before your eyes.”

            “I love you all with my whole heart and I thank God to have you in my life.  Still a piece of the family is missing, a void.  That doesn’t mean I love you less.  I simply want Grant restored to us, for him to return from his life of darkness into the light love.”

            “In case you missed the news yesterday, your beloved son is on a heartless crusade to fire nearly one million workers and do away with his company’s charitable foundation, I doubt a heart of stone beats.  A heart of stone certainly doesn’t have a conscience.” George dismissed.

~

            With not even a suitcase for his travels, Grant sped east three hours, winding through vast prairies and curving mountain roads, lingering the shadow of the snowy Cascades to Shuskan. 

            He arrived on the outskirts of town just after eight o’clock.  The darkness, sparkling with starlight.  He turned left on North Fork Road.  He rumbled over the gravel for two miles before reaching the entrance to his family’s farmstead, The Cascade Gulch Ranch.  He stopped at the gate, vacillating.  He had spent the past three hours pondering what he was going to say.  Words couldn’t express his regret.  He pressed on, determined to make amends.

~

            The Spaulding family was enjoying desert of buttered pumpkin spice pie and hand churned ice cream when the doorbell rang.

            “Are we expecting someone?” Bill asked.

            “It is probably Madge Morrison,” Marie assumed. “I left an open invitation to join us for dinner.  She said she would stop by if she got home from her son’s place over the ridge in time.”

            “I will see who it is,” Elsie volunteered. Opening the front door, she nearly fell to her knees. “Grant?”

            “Sorry I am late for dinner.  I got tied up in Seattle.”

            “If you are here to stir up trouble…?” Elsie searched his faith.  She desperately wanted to believe Grant’s motives were rooted in love and pure hopes of reconciliation.  She loves her brother.  In love sometimes you have to make difficult decisions.  She struggled between embracing him, welcoming him inside as a long lost treasure that had been found, to forbidding him to enter the house.

            “I have be blessed with a Christmas epiphany.  I have seen the light of love.  At first it blinded me, I have become a creature of the darkness, it took a process of revelation to finally submit myself to selfless love and to be moved by the Holy Spirit to follow God’s will.  The cost of broken trust is hard to repair.  I do not expect forgiveness. I do owe the family an apology.”

            “Apology?”  Elsie tussled with emotions.  Reaction told her to slam the door, still angry for his past transgressions.  Instinct told her to open the door to forgiveness. 

            “I cannot undo the past.  I can apologize and actively work to be a better man in the future.  A man guided by the light of selfless love.  Anger, even justified only weighs down a spirit in despair and darkness.  It obscures hope.  If reconciliation is not possible, allow forgiveness to heal the wounds I have inflicted on this family.  I deserve judgment, it is not your burden to bear.  I do not expect pity, remorse, I come solely in the name of love and the grace that stems from Christ.” Grant spoke with a humble sincerity. “There is a plaque in the laundry room, here at the farmhouse, ‘I do not consider that I have made it on my own.  But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.’”

            “Philippians 3:13-14…” Elsie’s voice trailed off.

            “I came to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and to apologize.” Grant desperate in hope.  “At least give me the chance to say I am sorry.”

            “I accept your apology.” Tears rolling down Elsie’s cheeks. “It is strange…I had a dream…you were homeless and at a community center in Seattle and you came with a contrite heart, and we forgave each other…the dream felt so real.  I have not been able to release it from my mind.  Perhaps it the dream served as a premonition a sort of acknowledgment to accept your apology…to strain forward in love, healing step by step.”

            “The dream you had…I had it too…” Grant paused. “Elsie, I know I let you down by not giving you the loan for the bed and breakfast.”

            “I understand, it is a risky business…Shuskan is not booming with tourism.”

            “It could be though, a positive tourism geared towards eco-friendly travel and excursions into the Cascades, and the northern wine country. You deserved my ear and help.  I denied you because I harbored a dark anger at the world.  I acted selfishly.  Money cannot right a wrong.  Still I want to give you all the cash you need, no conditions, no loan, just a selfless gift to help make your dream come true.”

            “I have to think about it.” Elsie treading cautiously.  Even if he has changed, she could not blot out is unscrupulous business savvy. 

            “The offer is open. A gift, and I’m willing to sign documentation to that degree.  I want the cash to be an open door to give you freedom to pursue your business goals, not a burden or manipulation tactic.”

            “Mom set a place for you.  She does every year…hoping and praying, tear drops in her squash soup that you’ll return.  Mom and dad will be thrilled to see you…”

            “George…I fear I have done irreparable damage to our relationship.  I only hope he can accept my apology, even if we cannot mend our relationship.”

            “You pulled a number on George.  You let a void in him, a void he filled with bitterness and anger.  That plot of land…it was our family’s future and you insisted on selling it for a quick inheritance.  Now the ground is polluted with genetically engineered grain…” Elsie gentle, yet blunt in her assessment. “I say this because you need to tread carefully with our brother.  He wants to reconcile, still he is stubborn and has reason to distrust you.  Love can build and tear down mountains, it can kindle a flame in the darkness.  My advice, be patient with George, act in good faith and back up your apology with action.  Not handouts meant to dust off the pain of the past.  Money cannot buy forgiveness.  Rather listen to his concerns and do what you can in love to build a bridge to a future of healing.”

            “There is nothing except love that can heal the poison of anger and the hate of betrayal.  I am patient and respect his wishes, even if that means he never wants to see me again.  All I want is to apologize.  Where that road leads is up to the rest of the family.   Forgiveness in itself is an act of grace.  I can prostrate myself in confession, active in my atonement, the forgiveness comes within.  If we carry anger, even justified it is a burden, that harms the victim.  Forgiveness is as much about internal healing as forgiving the executor of injustice.  I am more concerned about releasing the burden of anger from the family than receiving reconciliation, because I am not worthy for forgiveness…the family deserves to let go of the pain I caused them.”

            “No time like the present to face the firing squad.” Elsie smiled. Grant missed her smile.  She led her brother through the familiar hallways to the dining room located at the rear of the century old farmhouse.  “It seems we have a late arrival for dinner.”

            “Merry Christmas.” Grant spoke earnestly.

            “Grant…” Marie rushed to embrace her son, with tears of joy and praise. “My son, you have returned home.  God has answered my prayers.”

            “Welcome home, son,” Bill shook Grant’s hand.  The pain of the past washing away.

            “What the blazes are you doing here?” George confrontational.

            “I came to apologize.”

            “You think you can waltz in here and receive our forgiveness.  You made our lives a living hell.” George austere.

            “I don’t expect your pardon.  If reconciliation is given, I will joyously accept that living grace.  I don’t deserve forgiveness.  You do deserve my apology.  For years I have wandered in darkness, fuelled by anger, consumed by anger and selfishness.  My soul toxic with hate and self-desire.  I became so entwined in the darkness, that I was blinded by light and love, truth and compassion.  It took God’s grace, the spiritual gifts of Christmastide to reawaken my soul.  I am a new man.  I cannot change the past, I can strain in active love towards a future of healing and compassion.”

            “So says a man that is going to lay off a million workers and supports agricultural practices that poison our land.” George scoffed.

            “I am reversing my business model at NWTC.  We are locking in all current jobs and moving forward with an initiative to add another million jobs, mostly in transitioning to U.S. manufacturing.  NWTC is making a commitment to only sustainable food, organic produce and meats.  We are going to become an industry leader in green business.  I would be honored to hire you as our new head of Organic Distribution.”

            “I do not believe you can change so quickly.”

            “Christmas is a season of miracles.  By grace I finally saw the light.”

            “You have our forgiveness.” Marie and Bill, as well as George’s family stated.

            “Anger eats away at you George, at least give him the benefit of the doubt,” George’s wife Tara interceded as peace maker.

            “How can I forget, when this man, my own brother stole land from me and polluted our legacy.  He has only acted in malice.  His word is poison, I cannot swallow his truths.” George pushed back.

            “You are right.  My word to this point has been poison.  I cannot fix the past.  The farm is sold and the ground tainted.  I ask you not to forget, as much as let go of the anger.  Not for me, but for your own benefit.  You do not deserve that cloud of darkness hanging over you.” Grant pleaded.

            “He is right.  Anger is a prison in your mind, it bars you from life’s light.” Tara gentle in her advice. “I believe Grant.  Healing takes time.  Open your heart to that process.”

            “I will open my heart to forgiveness, though it won’t be easy.  Not with so much residual negative energy.” George relented.

            “I understand forgiveness is often a journey, a process of revelation, acceptance and chipping away at anger bit by bit.  I am willing to be patient and to submit to your wishes.” Grant on his knees. 

            “You might as well sit down for a piece of pie.” George answered. “After dinner perhaps we can discuss Northwest Trading Company’s organic and sustainable product focus.”

            “I would be honored to hear your ideas and use your wealth of experience to move NWTC is a more eco-friendly direction.” Grant and George taking their first steps towards reconciliation.

            “The light of Christmas has never shined so brightly in this house.” Marie praised God.

            As Grant enjoyed the delicious homemade taste of his mom’s pie, he saw the profile of Saint Nicholas in the window.  Grant hurried to catch the saint, to thank him for his intercessory help. By the time he reached the window, Nicholas had disappeared.  A star ornament, a reminder of the journey of Grant’s Twelve Days of Christmas.

            And from that day forward, the once miserly Grant Spaulding, actively sought to serve in love, embodying the spirit of Christmas all of his days.  He created jobs, putting people above profits, utilizing conservation tactics.  He grew in wealth and stature, yet he remained humble and generous.  A friend to the poor and desperate and servant of God.  And on a clear, star-filled Christmas Eve, three years after his great awakening, Grant married Marissa Bright.  He loves her kids as his own. 

            God continues to search out the lost, hearing the prayers of the oppressed and weak, spreading light into the abyss of the world.  He sends his angels to keep watch over all creatures of this earth and the saints his servants in heaven. 

On a silent night or in the bustle of the world’s noise, you can hear God’s voice, he cries out to all of creation, he knows everyone by name and they are a joy to him.  He desires reconciliation and works against desperation to fill hope through love’s light in the world.  Christ, a living testament.  So listen not to the world, but wait for God’s voice.  See his face in humankind, acting with mercy and compassion, calling out the lost and wandering to their journey hope. Look to the stars and remember his guiding light.  Let the fire of Christmas sustain you all your days, a journey of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, grace, faith, hope and wisdom.

The End!

Hope you enjoyed. This was written in 2012 – and I’ve grown as an author, but still enjoy the story.

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 17)

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Chapter 29:

            A ray of sunlight stirred Grant from the depths of sleep, as twelve distinct bells rang joyously, the air filled with the echoes of carolers spreading cheer.  He opened his eyes with trepidation, feeling hypnagogic, aroused from the strange realm between dreams and reality.

            He sat up, shocked to find himself back in the penthouse.  The fireplace roaring, crackling with a new light.  The mantle adorned with fresh evergreen and red ribbon and holly. 

            “It cannot be.” Grant in a state of confusion.  “I must be dreaming…last night I stood at Saint Jude’s no more than a pauper, sharing in the feast of Epiphany and today…I rise to find myself back in my former life – and yet changed in spirit.”

            He searched the penthouse, desperate to fathom his circumstances.  He put his hand to the fire, feeling the scalding heat, the burning sensation singing his index finger, Grant knew this wasn’t a dream.  After twelve days of journeying as a pauper, he found himself miraculously restored to his former estate. 

            Overwhelmed by conflicting emotions of dread and joy, Grant fell to his knees weeping.  He had grown to love in the other life, a life of promise and faith.  Returning to his worldly possessions, he felt empty.  In this world, he lived as a tyrant, a miser, snuffing out the light of Christmas, hateful and angry.  In this life, Marissa despises him. 

            “What if redemption is a bridge to far for me to cross here?” Grant crouched over in fear.  As he lay prostrate on the floor, his eyes noticed a humble, yet hardy Christmas tree in the corner of his bedroom.  The evergreen, meek in stature, reminded him of the journey he’d traversed, it filled him with hope and faith, overcoming the shadow of doubt with light. From the branches hung twelve ornaments, each representing one of the twelve gifts he’d received in his sojourn.  Underneath the tree, he found a box, a gift, wrapped in             colorful paper with images of Saint Nicholas and crosses.  He hesitated before opening the gift.

 Inside the box, a red book, the same red book, he’d kept inside his backpack during his life as a transient.  Sifting through the pages, he found the story of his sojourn, retold as a fairytale, each event chronicled by illustrations and poetic verse, revealing the hardships and lessons of the journey.  Each spiritual gift in renaissance style calligraphy with a corresponding verse.  The title of the leather-bound red book, ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas,’ by Grant Spaulding.  At the back of the book, Grant noticed an inscription.

‘To Grant, remember the light of Christ and actively pursue to live by the twelve gifts of Christmas; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, grace, faith, hope and wisdom.  Help is here, all you have to do is pray – Saint Nicholas.’

            “It was not a dream,” Grant revitalized.  “I have been given a second chance.”

            Invigorated by redemption, he turned on the television to find out the date.  December 25. 

            “Merry Christmas to all our KSEA viewers.  There is temporary reprieve for the nearly one million NWTC workers at risk of losing their jobs.  In an eleventh-hour move, Grant Spaulding, dubbed ‘The Grinch of Seattle,’ postponed the vote to initiate his unpopular FLEX Plan until January 6.

One can only pray that The Grinch of Seattle is being moved by the spirit of Christmas, love, and goodwill, and will have an epiphany over the next twelve days.  Browder Anderson, reporting live from the NWTC headquarters.”

            “I can fix this,” Grant moving at a frenzied pace. “I am not the man I once was.  I have seen the light of Christ.  I will spend the rest of my life actively working as his servant, spreading the gifts of Christmas all my days.”

            Picking up the phone he dialed Teresa’s cellphone.  It went straight to voicemail.

            “Teresa, this is Grant Spaulding.  Merry Christmas.  I am sorry to bother you.  I need your help.  It is imperative that you call me back.” Hanging up the phone, he sent for Earl. “I need you to pick me up at the penthouse as soon as possible.”

~

            “Merry Christmas,” Grant got into the limo, full of joy. 

            “Are you feeling okay sir?” Earl never knew his boss to be so cheerful. Frankly he found the behavior bizarre.

            “Better than ever.  I have received the Twelve Gifts of Christmas.” Grant gushed. “I am grateful for your services Earl; I know you would prefer to spend Christmas with your family.  I wouldn’t have phoned you if it weren’t an emergency.  I promise that you will be rewarded handsomely for your help.”

            “It’s nothing sir, my family lives on the east coast.”

            “I’ll give you next week of and pay for you to go see them.”

            “Sir, you don’t have to that.” Earl shocked by his boss’s kindness.

            “I want to.  You have been a loyal employee, and I have treated you poorly.  I promise from this day forward things are going to change.  I am going to be a better man.”

            “Merry Christmas Mr. Spaulding.” Earl smiled, still skeptical about the transformation. “Where can I take you?”

            “Saint Nicholas Abbey in Pioneer Square.” Grant instructed.  On the way to church, he made a series of phone calls, including tracking down caterers and various non-profit entities. “Wait in the alley.  I’ll be back within the hour.”

            Stepping inside the abbey, Grant kneeled before the cross, thankful for the selfless mercy and love he received on a Christmas past, the Christmas that ignited his spirit to seek the light. 

            “Mr. Spaulding?” Teresa astounded to find her miserly boss kneeling before the cross.

            “Merry Christmas!” Grant’s jovial demeanor caught her off guard. “I came to thank you for your service as my secretary.  I have been a tyrant; it took the light of Christ for me to understand that Christmas is selfless love.  You taught me the first lesson of Agape love.  Your mercy a light in the darkness.”

            “I am at a loss for words.” Teresa mouth gaping wide.  She believed in the power of prayer, but this was miraculous.

            “I know that you want to remodel the basement at Saint Nicholas Abbey to turn it into a transitional housing center for families suffering homelessness.  I know this cannot fully atone for my past behavior; it comes from my heart.” Grant handed Teresa a check for $500,000 made out to Saint Nicholas Abbey.

            “Mr. Spaulding, I am in a state of shock.  As gracious as this gift is I do not know if I can accept it.  It is too generous.”

            “It comes from love.  In the remodel, I ask that new showers are installed.  Also, I don’t want any recognition for the donation.  No plaque, no accolades.  It is born out of mercy not satisfying my ego.”

            “Of course…” Teresa weeping with joy, overwhelmed by her boss’s transformation. “Saint Nicholas Abbey is grateful for your selfless donation.”

            “Saint Nicholas inspired me step into the light of Christmas.  It is an honor to help.”

            “Won’t you stay for Mass?”

            “No, I have business to attend to at Pioneer Place.  I’ll see you tonight at the Christmas Feast at Saint Anthony’s”

            “You’re coming to the outreach dinner?” Teresa surprised.

            “Tomorrow I need your help to roll out a revised proposal of the FLEX Plan.  I have tweaked a few points on Marissa and Michael’s plan.  I am suspending layoffs, rather reinvesting in our workforce, including opening a new factory for our Made in America line.  These factories will be built in depressed economic areas, creating jobs, and making NWTC the most sustainable company in the U.S.”

            “God bless.” Teresa shouting praise, grateful to God for igniting a light of compassion in Grant’s soul.

~

            “Merry Christmas,” Grant rushed over to Pioneer Place, where the homeless gathered for their humble Christmas meal. “Peace be with you.”

            “God bless you.” Wilson answered with his gentle disposition.

            “You don’t remember me.  When I was hungry, you fed me, and helped me find a place to sleep.  You taught me the lessons of selfless love and joy, kindness towards another.  That light in the darkness, gave me hope.  I will always be indebted to you.”

            “I don’t remember your face.” Wilson moved to tears. “Your words uplift my soul.  I am glad I could help you.”

            “A caterer is on their way with a great feast for you and the group.  I am also giving you each $1000 gift cards to Northwest Trading Company for food.  It is not much, hopefully it is a hand up.  I also am willing to hire anyone who needs a job at my company.”

            “You are a Christmas miracle.”

            “I am a humble servant of the father above.” Grant dismissed. He searched the crowd. “Jepson.”

            “Yes?” Jepson scrutinized Grant’s face. 

            “I hear that you are in need a job.  My name is Grant Spaulding.  I am the CEO of Northwest Trading Company.”

            “The Grinch of Seattle?” Jepson blurted out. “Sorry, I thought your company is firing thousands of employees?”

            “Christmas made me realize the value of employees.  I have decided to expand our U.S. production.  I need a construction foreman.  You will find the terms, in this folder, along with my business card.  As part of your employment package, you will have access to an apartment, all expenses paid.”

            “Mr. Spaulding, I am shocked.  This is a miracle from heaven.  How did you learn about my credentials, not to mention my current situation?”

            “Let’s just say that we met in another life.” Grant smiled. “I hope you will accept the job.  We would be honored to have you on our team.”

            “Absolutely I accept.” Jepson humbled. “Your kindness has saved the life of my family.  I promise you won’t regret hiring me.”

            “Here is the key to your apartment.  It is in NWTC Tower.  See you in my office tomorrow morning?”

            “Bless you, Mr. Spaulding.”

~

            “Where to now?” Earl asked as Grant reentered the limo.

            “I need you to take me to Horace Shelton’s house.  I think you know the address.”

            “Does Mr. Shelton expect you?  He might be out of town, the holiday and all.”

            “Just take me there.” Grant insisted.

            The Shelton family lives in a quaint bungalow in the Queen Anne neighborhood.  The house has been in his family for years and is a warm and inviting space.

            Boldly Grant stepped onto the front porch, ringing the bell, and knocking heavily.  Minutes after banging on the door, Horace Shelton appeared, none too pleased to see Grant.

            “I do not have time for your angry tirades today.  It is Christmas and we all deserve peace and joy.  I will fight you tooth and nail on the FLEX Plan.  I insist you leave my property.”

            “Merry Christmas.” Grant keep his head down, ashamed for his past behavior.  “In a miracle of sorts, I have been blessed to receive the twelve gifts of Christmas.  I understand it is my duty as owner of Northwest Trading Company to serve.  People over profits.  I hope you will forgive my miserly ways.  I intend to spend the rest of my life working to selflessly serve, acting as a steward, following God’s will, not driven by my greed. I am no longer pursuing the FLEX Plan.  Instead of layoffs, I want to increase our workforce, reinvesting in U.S. Production, creating an organic product line, working hand in hand with small businesses and suppliers.  I also want to double our contributions to charity in the coming year.  It is a grand plan, and the board will be skeptical with expansion on this level. I hope you will support me in this job-creating initiative.  It will lead to soaring profits, putting people first.”

            “I’m stupefied, thrilled with your turnaround, this epiphany.  It is truly remarkable.  I fear I must be dreaming.” Horace seeing the old fire in Grant’s eyes, the fire of the young man he’d met years ago, the man with a conscience and will to serve.

            “You are not dreaming.  Meet me in my office tomorrow for a working lunch.  We can work out the new proposal.”

            “Of course.”

            “Merry Christmas Horace.  Thank you for believing I could be redeemed.  You always saw the best in me and called me out when I acted maliciously.”

            “This may be the best Christmas I can remember.  Merry Christmas to you!” Horace embraced his colleague. “Come you must have dinner with my family.”

            “As much as I would love to break bread with your family, I have a few pressing matters to attend to, namely Marissa Bright.”

~

            “Saint Jude’s Community Center in Capitol Hill,” Grant directed.

            “Mind my asking what business you have there?” Earl inquired, still perplexed by his boss’s transformation from the Grinch of Seattle to the goodwill ambassador of Christmas.  It is one thing to see the light, another to be blinded by it. 

            “Desperate hope…” Grant sighed, hoping that Marissa could forgive him.  The time they spent together forever etched on his heart.  Against the odds he had fallen in love with her.

~

            “You’re going to wear out the floorboards, not to mention break your favorite pair of heels.” Noelle incited her sister to sit down.

            “Pacing is good medicine; it relieves my stress.” Marissa’s heels clacking.

            “Anxiety never solved any problems.  You’ll find another job.”

            “I am not worried about that.” Marissa bit her lip. “It is Zeke.  He snuck out this morning.  I found him smoking with Tony.  I reprimanded him and told him not to see Tony again.  Zeke cursed me out and refused to open his presents.  He made Sarah cry.  I am losing my grip.  I don’t know what to do anymore.  I love my son more than life itself…he keeps building up walls.”

            “Love tears down walls.  Zeke loves you.  You are a great mom.  Be patient.” Noelle encouraged.

            “I had to drag him down to the center today.  He said I ruined Christmas.”

“You did,” Zeke entered the conversation. “Why should we have to serve meals to the homeless on Christmas and hand out toys to other children?  I want to be at home playing with my new X-box game.”

“Christmas is about love and giving.  The greatest gift is service.  You can play with your X-box later.” Marissa gentle, yet firm.

“Whatever.  We will be in the bread lines soon, seeing you got fired.” Zeke curtly replied.

“I lost my job standing up for injustice, I don’t apologize for that.  You should be grateful that we have food on the table when others have so little.” Marissa exasperated. Before further words could be exchanged, Benny entered the office.

“Marissa, there is someone to see you.  He is waiting in the Labre Community Room.”

“I will be right there.” Marissa flustered. “This conservation isn’t over Zeke.”

“It is for me!” Zeke stormed off.

“Give him some time to cool off.” Noelle suggested. “He cannot be in a foul mood forever.”

“I fear he will die trying,” Marissa sighed, hesitating before heading to the Labre Wing.  Much to her chagrin, she found her arch nemesis, the Grinch of Seattle himself kneeling before her.

“Merry Christmas Ms. Bright.” Grant wanted so desperately for her to remember the time they’d shared in these walls.  She had been a light in a dark place, a force of hope in desperation.  Only yesterday, she’d gazed in his eyes with tender affection, now her face swelled with hate.

 “What are you doing here?” Marissa furious.

“Give me five minutes,” Grant pleaded.

“Five minutes for what?  To gloat about how you plan to fire thousands of employees in the name of greed.  Or shall we discuss your policy to cut off NWTC’s charitable foundation that decision alone is forcing Saint Jude’s closure of our Labre Center and cutting off after school care in February.  Do realize the good Saint Jude’s does for Seattle?  It is a critical resource…”

“Saint Jude’s is one of the most important ministries in Seattle.  It is a core of the community that brings people together and offers desperate hope.  Saint Jude’s saved me from a dark place.  It gave me a light, revealing the twelve gifts of Christmas.  I want to donate 5 million dollars to the center; I also want to extend your program model and build additional community centers in Seattle.”

“If you are trying to buy me off!” Marissa’s temper flared.  She couldn’t perceive a man as spineless as Grant Spaulding making a 5 million-dollar donations, unless he expected nothing in return.

“I could never buy something as precious and dear as you, Miss. Bright.  I assure you that my intentions are honorable.” Grant’s voice meek and sincere.  Marissa questioned her instinct, could a man as hateful as Grant Spaulding be moved by the spirit of Christmas.  The transformation seemed more unlikely than the conversion of Paul or Ebenezer Scrooge.

“Five minutes…”

“I’ll cut to the chase.  I am not going through with the FLEX Plan.  It is selfish and would be morally and ethically wrong.  Instead, I’d like to enlist you and Michael Horton in creating a new proposal, focusing on implementing the technology, while also increasing our workforce, reinvesting in our infrastructure and building factories in economically depressed areas to create jobs.  This plan might sound sweeping and risky, yet I’ve punched the numbers and people over profits will ensure the longevity of our brand.” Grant detailed the new FLEX plan, a plan of hope, not despair and greed.

“If you have forgotten, you fired me.” Marissa still skeptical.

“You are rehired, double the salary.”

“You think I’m going to just walk back into NWTC after the way you treated me?”

“I’m sorry for the way I treated you.  I’m not that man anymore.  I’ve changed.  I promise I will respect you.  I respect you more than you realize.”

“I will consider your offer…still I have doubts.  How does a man so consumed by greed and self-ego, darkened by hate, transform into a kind and humble businessman overnight?  How do I know this act isn’t a ruse?”

“This transformation, epiphany, if you will, is not by my own merits, but stirred by the grace of God.  His light pierced my dark heart with love.” Grant paused. “Bear with me.  My speech might sound like riddles, still I am speaking the truth…once there was a man, filled with rage and consumed by the world.  He cared only for himself.  He was a cruel and malicious man.  One Christmas Eve, he received a visit, a supernatural visit from Saint Nicholas…”

“Grant, I don’t understand…”

“Saint Nicholas was sent by God, to intercede on behalf of this wretched man, lost in darkness.  The man rebuked the visitor and God’s call, still Saint Nicholas, carrying the torch of Christ’s love, persisted.  He promised to bestow twelve gifts of Christmastide, gifts to awaken the soul, calling the worst of sinners into redemption’s light.  The man, who found security in his worldly wealth, awoke transformed as a beggar, homeless on the street.  The man was humbled, in his forsaken state, he found Christ.  People, strangers showed him kindness, agape love.  This man perceived the struggles of his fellow human, and in his own struggle learned compassion.  He found faith, love, joy, and grace and hope here at the Labre Center, where a wonderful, kind, and beautiful lady named Marissa Bright opened doors from desperation to hope.  For twelve days the man lived in this alternate world, until awoke again in his own bed, a man of wealth and luxury, yet guided by a different purpose.  I am that man.  I cannot make you believe my experience; it is something magical and strange.  In that other world, I came to intrinsically learn the value of life and respect for the least to the greatest.  In becoming a beggar, I learned to serve for the king.  In this myth, a waking dream if you will, we were friends and your active kindness a door to forgiveness.  I know you don’t remember this fable.  I do hope you can see that I have changed, and I am kneeling before you today, begging for your forgiveness and understanding.  I understand if you wish to leave NWTC, I pray you will remain on staff.  I value you as an employee.”

Something in Grant’s story seemed familiar, like a forgotten dream.  The thought so distant, she couldn’t quite place her finger on it, until Grant, without warning leaned in to kiss her.  The moment so familiar, so perfect.  She didn’t remember all the details, but the essence of a kiss.

“I apologize for kissing you.  It was a gamble that you might remember…”

“We kissed before…the Space Needle…” Marissa confused. “For reasons I cannot explain I remember kissing you at the Space Needle.  Through the mists we could see Mount Rainier…I don’t understand.”

“It doesn’t matter, just know that kiss came from my heart. For reasons I cannot explain, we fell in love in another life…I don’t expect that now.  I only bring it up because I want you to understand how much I care about you and my commitment to following through on my promise to act with corporate responsibility.  You taught me that a life spent giving is worth more than the wealth of the world.  Come back to NWTC and help me restructure the business model to put people over profits.”

“Grant…” Marissa whispered, stirred by memories she could not quantify.  An eerie Déjà vu, filling the air.  She knew instinctively that a miraculous transformation had come over her employer.  “I will return to Northwest Trading Company, if you promise to that you will terminate the FLEX Plan and work towards a solution that does not lay employees.”

“My plan calls for expansion of the workforce.  Reinvesting in the company with a commitment to sustainable, American made products, as well as food that meets organic standards.  I want to start a ‘Back to Work Program’ where NWTC will train those living below the poverty line, including transients, giving them jobs.  It will be called the ‘Hand Up’ Program.”

“Your transformation is truly miraculous.  I prayed to Saint Jude, patron of the desperate, that you would have an epiphany…I thought you were beyond saving.  I am so glad I was wrong.”

“I owe this change in character to the light of Christ. He is an advocate of the lost,” Grant squeezed her hand. “I don’t deserve your grace, I hope in time you can forgive my past actions and learn to trust me, even call me a friend.”

“You are already forgiven.”

“I will warn you about Zeke.  He is running around with thugs.  Tony and Jax work as drug runners for a dealer named Rox.  They are very violent kids.”

“How do you know about my son?”

“The space between dreams and reality.  Zeke is a great kid.  He holds onto anger as a form of grief.  He is afraid if he lets go of his anger it means he is forgetting his dad.  He thinks mourning equates anger.  Let him know that letting go of anger is the best way to keep Trevor’s memory alive.”

“You are a God send?” Marissa suddenly moved to tears.

“Zeke loves you. You just have to be patient with him.” Grant handed her a handkerchief. “I’d like to stay and help serve the Christmas meal at St. Jude’s?”

“We can always use an extra hand.” Marissa dried her eyes. “Ironic how things have changed. I hated you yesterday.  Now, all I see is light and hope in your eyes.  Kindness and love. Christmas kindled something in you…”

“For the record I always admired your spitfire personality, not to mention your natural beauty.” Grant smiled.

“Don’t think flattery will get you very far.” Marissa teased.

“I’m patient.” Grant hoped someday, Marissa would fall back in love with him, he would be patient, respecting her wishes. 

Grant spent three hours serving meals at the community center.  He hated to leave Marissa and her kids, he still had work to do by the light of Christmas Day.

~

            “You’ll get another job Michael.  Have faith.” Betsy’s gentle voice consoling her husband. “God works in mysterious ways.  When he closes a door…”

            “Another opens, I know,” Michael sighed. “In the interim my stress level is sky high, especially now that you are expecting…”

            “Though we might walk through the fire of the world, God is with us, refining our spirit and strengthening the soul.” Betsy ever the sage optimist. “Now stop wallowing in self-pity.  Worry never solves anything.  Active love, is a gift that gives back.”

            “Michael,” Grant entered the church gym.

            “Mr. Spaulding?  What are you doing here?” Michael shaking in fear.

            “I came to apologize for my behavior.  I know my behavior is inexcusable, still I hope that you can accept my regrets and will be willing to return to work at Northwest Trading Company.”

            “You are giving me my job back?” Michael dumbfounded. What spurred this change of heart?

            “Actually, I’d like to promote you.  I want you and Marissa to personally help me spearhead a new proposal, where no layoffs occur, we increase US production, focus on organic products…we can discuss the details tomorrow in my office.”

            “You are not going to go through with the layoffs?”

            “No, Christmas has taught me the value of people, and our employees are very important to the success of our company.  I was a stubborn, a selfish fool. I have seen the light and I will spend the rest of my life working to serve others.”

            “God always searches out the lost and rejoices when they return to his stead,” Betsy spoke, having overhead their conversation.  “My husband is grateful for your apology.  Thank you for giving him his job back.  It means a lot to both of us.”

            “Michael is one of the finest business minds I have had the pleasure to work with.” Grant held.

            “I know it is a humble affair, still it would be wonderful if you would stay for the feast,” Betsy invited.

            “Nothing would please me more, but I’m do back at my family’s farm.  I have arranged for gift cards to NWTC to be provided to each diner.  I hope you will also accept an anonymous donation to assist with further outreach.” Grant handed Betsy a check for $10,000 as well as 300 gift cards. 

            “Mr. Spaulding, this is far too generous.”

            “It is merely an act of love.  I won’t take credit for it.  Thank you for your service to the community.  Saint Anthony’s is a vital resource for those in need.”

            “This is a Christmas miracle indeed,” Betsy and Michael embraced Grant.

Stay tuned for the final chapters…

Please excuse any typos

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 16)

Photo by Jonathan Meyer on Pexels.com

Chapter 28:

            Grant struggled to sleep.  He kept thinking about Marissa.  He didn’t want to go back to his so called ‘real-life’ if meant losing her friendship. 

Heaving a sight, Grant stared at the ceiling. “What have I learned in these twelve days – I don’t think I can go back.” He let his thoughts wander, inviting the Holy Spirit to guide him. “When I first awoke on Christmas morning transformed as a beggar, I hated my poverty – the destitution.  I was the spirit of despair. My entire self-worth depended on worldly power and influence.  I preferred hell as punishment to feeble trust in God.  I rebuked salvation, desperate to return to the world.  In losing my material wealth and status, I felt trapped in the abyss.  Ironically, it took crashing down from my ivory tower, humbled and poor in spirit to recognize that true wealth and value is not rooted in possessions and worldly authority.  True wealth is a currency of selfless love and piety.  It took a reversal of the status quo to understand the beauty of humility and mercy. Spiritual wealth enriches by stirring a soul to serve and work for the benefit of others.  It took the grace of God, the light of the Holy Trinity to step out of the darkness of the world.  It took losing everything I valued to understand intrinsic value.  My journey is a living epiphany, an awakening and recognition, that my former life, with all the luxury of the world, was a life of darkness, an unforgiving abyss.  In humility I have found strength.  In forgiveness, redemption.  In love, a ceaseless sustaining flame.  Light can overcome the deepest darkness.  It took residing in the dregs of the world for the spirit of love to manifest within me and I will not be moved.  Darkness may obscure my path; the light of love will guide me to safety.”

            Readying for his last full day at Saint Jude’s before starting his new position, Grant carried a tinge of regret and fear.  Saint Jude’s has been his safety net, a foundation for his weary spirit.  He looked forward to serving as a foundation director, spreading love and mercy into the community, still his humanity left him with a certain dread.  It is not easy to step into the great unknown, relying on faith in the chaos of a nebulous future.  It took faith in God’s promise, the light of Christ’s example, and the sustaining presence of the Holy Spirit to guide Grant’s steps.  As creatures of habit, it is so easy to revert to worry instead of trust.  In the end worry only builds barriers and obstructs goals.  Trust gives fortitude to endure and move forward against adversity.

            Grant could not let go of his growing feelings for Marissa.  The feelings ran deeper than passion and lust.  Grant truly admired and cared for her as a person.  He found himself daydreaming about a future together – marriage. “I am walking a thin tight rope.  I cannot deny my feelings for Marissa.  If I pursue this, I could ruin everything.  I cannot risk losing her friendship and breaking that trust.”

            January 5th marks the Twelfth Day of Christmas.  It is a day of preparation for the feast of Epiphany on January 6th.  Epiphany commemorates the visit of the Magi to adore the baby Jesus.  It is the culmination of Christmastide.  It celebrates the faith journey of recognizing Christ as the light of the world, baptizing us in ceaseless wonder and trust in Christ as the Messiah, as an advocate and redeemer, a light that overcomes the darkness of the world.  The concept of epiphany resonates strongly with Grant.  The past twelve days, he had journeyed from cynical from doubt to joyful faith.  In grappling with suffering and pain he came to recognize the peace and love of Christ, and the true gifts of Christmas.

Each year Saint Jude’s Community Center hosts the ‘Twelfth Night Fair,’ a fun, family-oriented event, including games, food and a ‘Mystery Play’ performed by the center’s resident youth acting troupe.  The night is capped off with a vespers service led by Father Mark in the Saint Jude’s Chapel.

            “I enjoyed spending time with your family yesterday.” Grant told Marissa as they cut out paper lanterns shaped like stars.  These cutouts are used in the Twelfth Night Ceremony of Lights, an event that symbolically guides ‘The Magi’ to the feast, as well as send out a signal of hope and love throughout the world, announcing Christ as Savior and King.

            “Zeke and Joel are pestering me to invite you over for dinner.  Sarah insists you come to her Valentine’s Day ballet.”

            “Nothing would please me more.” Grant continuing to struggle with his emotions. “Of course, I would not want to impose.”

            “Epiphany is one of my favorite times of the year.  It reminds me of the fragility and beauty of life and the ceaseless light of love manifest in Christ.  It is an active reminder to serve with compassion and mercy, allowing the light of Christ to work through me.” Marissa casually changed the subject, still conflicted about pursuing a romantic relationship with Grant.  “Physics reveals that our body is composed of stardust, molecules of galaxies and the light of sun.  Our heart longs to search the heavens, to rise above the world.  We are also composed of the earth, bound to this realm, tempted by decay and greed.  We battle between our lofty pride and humble steps; death is of the world.  It takes faith to realize the true nature of stardust.  It isn’t about self-glory, rather acting in selfless light to blast out the darkness of the world. It is a reminder that God created us, yet we are humbled, fallen creatures of darkness, hungry for his life-giving light.”

            “We went on camping trips as a kid, into the depths of the Cascades.  In the darkness of night, I found both solace and fear.  Each rustle of the leaves a potential threat.  The wind never such a formidable foe as on the rocky precipice, resting in darkness.  The sunrise, it filled you with an unquenchable peace.  You could only rest in the majesty of creation, the glow of the sun, realizing the glory of life and the meekness of a human steps. I longed to climb above those mountains to prove my superiority.  Now I simply rest in light between the shadow, in admiration and trepidation.” Grant paused. “I won’t deny it is a struggle.  It takes being blinded by the light, to even acknowledge its existence, even then we are so caught up in searching for the extraordinary, and we fail to acknowledge the extraordinary in the ordinary, God’s revelation of heaven here on earth.”

            “The Star of Bethlehem, a wondrous, miraculous event, of light piercing the darkness.  The star so bright that it guided the Magi hundreds of miles to seek out the prophecy of Christ’s birth.  The star guided them, still it took trust and active faith to follow the star’s light.  Trust is an act of faith, a risk.” Marissa mulled. “My dad always said you cannot see the stars without darkness.  We often forget to look for stars in the darkness, yet even the dimmest star rising breaks darkness, and guides us by its position in the sky.  The North Star isn’t the brightest star, still it can guide the lost.  It seems simple, yet how awesome is that wonder that God created a world where though our sin might fester, light exists and is always present, even in the flicker of a distant flame of a star.”

            Working with the new class of Labre Residents, Grant spent most of the day setting up for the Twelfth Night Fair.  The carnival includes twelve activity booths each focusing on a different spiritual gift of Christmas.  Fair goers can try their luck in relay games, including camel races, pin the tail of the donkey and the charity dunk.  Booths serve Epiphany themed foods, including King’s Cake, Piparakakku, fish and challah bread. 

            The festivities kicked off at four o’clock, with the carnival booths and relay games opening to foster children and kids in need.  The group of 100 kids, aging 3-18 had the opportunity to do arts and crafts and leave their shoes out of the Magi to leave trinkets of gold (chocolate), socks, pencils and even gift cards for the teens.  The gifts are small, thoughtful party favors, meant to spread the Christmas spirit.  The kids also learned about Epiphany traditions from around the world.

            “In many cultures Christmas gifts are exchanged on Twelfth Night or Epiphany.  The history of exchanging gifts in Christmastide is rooted in the tradition of the Magi presenting the baby Jesus with gifts.  The act of giving and service is an act of love.  Epiphany is a recognition of Jesus as the son of God, fully human and fully divine.  Jesus sacrificed himself for our salvation.  Like the Star of Bethlehem, that led the Magi, Christ is the light of the world.  The true gift of Christmas is Christ, manifest in his love.” Noelle addressed the kids.  “Tonight, after the Feast of Twelfth Night we will light the star lanterns to guide the Magi.”

            “Will we see the wise men?”

            “Yes, there will be a visit from the Magi.” The ‘magi’ making their appearance during the theatre troupe’s original production of ‘O Gracious Star.’

            “How come there are no wise women?  It is insulting.” An astute seven-year-old girl demanded.

            “Mary, the mother of Jesus is very wise and kind.  Many Biblical saints in Hebrew scriptures and The New Testament are women.”

            Noelle recounted the traditions of King’s Cake and Piparakakku.

            “In Finland they bake a shortbread cookie for Epiphany.  You throw it onto the plate if it breaks into three pieces, you silently make a wish.  Luckily for you Saint Nicholas baked these cookies, so you don’t have to break them.  Just make a wish and enjoy this sweet treat.”

            “These cookies are delicious.” Noelle got the kid’s seal of approval.

            “To celebrate the arrival of the Magi, who tradition holds as kings, many cultures bake a King’s Cake.  Baked inside the cake are trinkets.  The person who receives a bean or a trinket of the baby Jesus in their cake is named ‘King’ or ‘Queen’ of the party.  In France the Galette des Rois is a puff pastry, while in England it is a fruitcake and in Latin America it is a thicker cake customized by region, known as the Rosca de Reyes.  In Portugal it is a rich fruitcake, Bolo Rei. In Louisiana, the King’s Cake is eaten on Epiphany to symbolize a period of carnival before lent.  Chef Buddy has baked Rosca Cupcakes, each with a trinket representing one of the twelve gifts of Christmas: Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Self-Control, Humility, Grace, Faith, Hope and Wisdom.”

            The carnival opened to the public at five o’clock.  Hundreds filled the Grand Hall and gymnasium to partake in the festivities.   Grant volunteered at the ‘Love’ booth, where kids of all ages could design ‘Star of Hope’ cards to be sent with ‘love’ to area nursing homes.  Kids could also design magnets and buttons, featuring inspirational quote about Agape Love: ‘No one has ever become poor by giving – Anne Frank,’ ‘Character is how you treat those who can do nothing for you,’ and ‘Love drives out fear.’

            At seven o’clock, 100-star lanterns were illuminated tothe darkness.  Father Mark said an epiphany blessing, to herald Christ’s birth and eternal light.

            “Because in the mystery of the Word made flesh, though hast caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to give the knowledge of thy glory in the face of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.  O God, who by the leading of the star didst manifest thy only begotten Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know thee now by faith, to thy presence, where we may behold thy glory face to face; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.”

            The Magi entered the Great Hall, following the lantern stars to the nativity, setting the stage for the mystery play. 

            “Plays and skits are a traditional celebration of Twelfth Night.  Shakespeare’s play ‘Twelfth Night,’ takes its name because it was performed for Epiphany celebrations.  Tonight, our talented young actors will perform an original play recounting the story of the Magi.” Marissa introduced the troupe.

            “O Gracious Star, arise, shine, for your light has come and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.  I am an Angel, come to tell you the story of the Twelfth Night. It was after Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men, Magi journeyed by the light of a star from the east to seek out the King of kings, the Messiah of prophecy.  They set out in faith, following the light of the great star in search of the source of the light of the world.  The star burned like a flame pointing the way to God, for unto the world a child is born, a light to enlighten the nations and bring love, peace, and grace to all peoples.  Now in those days Herod was in power over Judea.  He had anger in his heart and loved the world more than God.  He hungered in greed and would do anything for power.  In following the Star, the Magi passed through Jerusalem, where the encountered Herod.  The Magi asked Herod…”

            “Where is he who has been born of the Jews, the Messiah of prophecy? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”

            “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They told him…”

            “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet Micah, ‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”

            “Herod, power mad set out to have the baby killed, told the Magi to return to him with news of the Messiah’s location, so that he may ‘pay him homage.’” The angel narrator continued. “They followed the star, rejoicing exceedingly with great joy.  It came to rest over the place where the child was.  And going into the house they saw the baby Jesus with Mary, his mother and they fell down and worshipped him.  Then opening their treasures, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.”

            “Come let us adore him, for we have seen the light of love and the spirit of peace in Jesus, the Messiah.”

            “O’ Gracious Light, signaled in the rising star, manifest in Jesus, pure brightness of the ever-living Father in heaven.  O Jesus Christ, holy blessed.”

            “For my eyes have seen the savior, a light to enlighten the nations.  You are worthy at all times to be praised by happy voices, O Son of God, O Giver of life and glorified through all the worlds.” The Magi spoke, humbled and in adoration of Christ Child. “For we are merely kings of this earth, treading careful steps, you are God of heaven, King of kings.  Yet in your mercy, you as Divine King, humble yourself to this decaying earth, with the light of hope, the eternal love and grace from the Father.”

            “The Magi were warned in a dream not to return to Herod,” The Angel narrated, as the wise men acted out the scene. “They returned to the east professing and testifying the truth of Jesus, a servant king, a light for all the nations, counselor and redeemer.”

            “Mary, an angel of the Lord appeared to me in a dream,” Joseph told Mary. “It said ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’”

            “Joseph and Mary took the baby Jesus and fled by night to Egypt.  They remained there until the death of Herod.  This fulfilled what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet Hosea.” The angel spoke with clarity. “Go in peace and serve the Lord, guided by the example of Christ.  Bestowed with the gifts of love joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, grace, faith, hope and wisdom.”

            Saint Jude’s children’s choir sang two original hymns: ‘O Gracious Star’ and ‘Twelve Gifts.’

            “Gracious light of a desolate night, deep and dark, they followed the star at its rising from a country far, they traveled, out of the wilderness, into the light of peace.  Called to grace, they fell to their knees, in sweet adoration, recognition of mercy might, in the humble manager, they found the brightest light, the truth path to salvation, in Jesus Christ.  Gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to show their praise for the baby Jesus.  The true gifts they received, ceaseless love and a path to redemption.  The Magi traveled the world spreading the truth, the light has come, bright enough to dissolve the night.  Christ is born…”

            “A man of midnight, he wandered in the darkness, lost his sight, blind to life and love he abhorred. Midnight is the dark abyss, yet it builds a bridge to dawn.  Signals morning’s shift, to stir the lost on their journey home. Christ called this sinner out by love’s redemption song.  On a Christmas Eve, Saint Nicholas appeared before the bitter man by order of the Christ the King, bringing the Twelve Gifts of Christmas.   That man brought through the wilderness, a life without belief, stubborn, he struggled in poverty and hate, until love brought him to his knees.  Twelve gifts of Christmas, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, grace, faith, hope and wisdom.  The man rebelled, swore, and forsook Christmas, yet in his blindness, he saw a light, a guiding star.  He learned through hardship, the gifts of love, grace was given…Twelve gifts of Christmas…”

            As the children sung, ‘Twelve Gifts,’ Grant realized the song was about his journey.  “Saint Nicholas promised that I would be bestowed with the Twelve Gifts of Christmas…I could not comprehend the gifts until I learned through suffering.  It took being loved to love and lack to understand joy, peace cannot come from the world, only love can yield peace eternal, patience is born of love and trust, kindness and goodness are fruits of love and self-control is a recognition of selfish desire, and its detrimental effect, you are able to find self-control out of patience and peace.  Humility is the greatest lesson, it taught me to submit to love and accept grace, and to realize life is more than greed and power.  Faith, the trust to endure and hope is trusting that faith will be realized, and light always overcomes darkness, wisdom the discernment to lean on God’s understanding…”

            The Star of Bethlehem, a handmade twelve-point star, hanging from the ceiling, began to glow with a fire brighter than the sun.  Grant quickly realized no one else noticed the transformation of the star except him.  The light so intense, Grant fell to his knees.  Miraculously Grant could gaze at the powerful light without squinting, his eyes remaining wide open, able to perceive the presence of peace in the light. 

            In this wonder and awe, Grant found his surroundings dissolving, the plain of existence collapsing, only the distant sound of hymns remaining. 

            “Where am I,” Grant walked in the ethereal plain of light.

            “In the light you find love.  Among the stars greatest and humility, revelation of a divine creator and hope of reconciliation by grace.” Saint Nicholas appears, robed in a red garment and bearing a cross.

            “What is going on?” Grant confused.

            “On Christmas Eve, by order of Christ, I visited you by the light of the Star of Bethlehem, to intercede with hope and love, offering the Twelve Gifts of Christmas.  Your heart was lost and your sight blind, you could not receive the gifts without first preparing room in your heart, soul, and mind.  It took humility, life as a beggar for you to recognize your faults and learn to trust in love and accept the gifts bestowed on you.  You actively learned the lessons of Christmas, by your own volition, your choice to listen and hear God’s call to service and humble yourself to grace.  Though heaven guided your steps with a guiding light, your choice to walk forward and learn from this journey.  It took your active reliance on God to transform from a darkened soul to a man filled with light.  Though heaven placed you in a circumstance of poverty, it took your opening your heart and mind to see wealth in poverty and understand the wealth of the world decays and rots, the wealth of the spirit is eternal.  It took experiencing suffering to understand compassion and it took being poor to understand spirit of faith worth more than the gold of the world.”

            “Twelve lessons,” Grant recognized. “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, grace, faith, hope and wisdom…”

            “I have been ordered to send you back.” St. Nicholas informed, holding his staff as a guidepost.

            “Back?  Please don’t send me back to that life.  It was a horrible, deplorable existence.”

            “Have you learned so little?  The life you had wasn’t bad, it was the way you lived your life, filled with greed and anger.  As head of a corporation, you have it in your authority to act with compassion.  All authority you had is a blessing from God and it is your calling to serve others.  You are commissioned to take these lessons and actively serve as a steward.  Using the tools to fulfill God’s purpose in your life, not your selfish desire.”

            “Tell me what to do and I will do it.” Grant averred.

            “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  You shall love the neighbor as yourself.  In this lies the cornerstone of faith and the foundation of truth.  Trust in the Holy Spirit to guide you and actively seek to apply the lessons of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, humility, grace, faith, hope and wisdom.  When you are lost, look not inward at your own flesh, but to the light of Christ, the anchor of the soul and compass of life.  Remember these gifts…” Saint Nicholas’s voice faded away and Grant found himself increasingly tired.  His grasp on reality and dreams merging as one, until he fell into a state of unconsciousness. 

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 15)

Photo by Josh Fields on Pexels.com

Chapter 27:

            On Sunday morning, Grant woke up early to watch the sunrise. 

            “The Eleventh Day of Christmas – the eleventh day of my sojourn here.” Grant paused, remembering the lessons he had learned so far. He thought about his reunion with Elsie, opening a door, only forgiveness unlocks, a path from desolation to redemption.  

            “Merry Christmas season, Grant,” Nicholas appeared out of nowhere. “ I’m glad to see you reconciled with your family.”

            “You have got to stop sneaking up on me like that.” Grant startled. “As for my family.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to rise above the pain of the past, working to healing our schism through love and forgiveness.”

            “You have learned many lessons the past eleven days.”

            “The gift of this experience is a blessing.  A true Christmas miracle.” Grant didn’t dare ask Saint Nick about his fate – would he return to his old life or would he live the rest of his days in this reality?

            “I hope the lessons you have learned will carry forward into the future.”

            “I promise to rely on God’s will, when I miss the mark, I will repent and seek to right the wrongs I commit.” Grant steadfast in his statement.

            “Even if you were to return to your former life of luxury, you will hold true to the spirit of Christmas?” St. Nicholas questioned.

            “My former life is dead.  I am not the man I was.  I have been born anew by the spirit and hope of grace and a renewal of conscience.  How can I return to the darkness of pain and anger, allowing the seeds of greed to rule over me? If I were to rise in the ranks of business again it would be with a focus of responsibility, people over profits, conservation and quality practices.”

            “You have a new job now.  You are vested with the grace to serve, not the authority to rule.” Nicholas commissioned. “Peace be with you.  Our paths will cross again soon.”

            Just as quickly as he appeared, St. Nick vanished in an instant.

            “You look as though you’ve seen a ghost,” Marissa pulled up to the curb.

            “No ghost, a spirit of a lively and sometimes unpredictable saint,” Grant thought as he entered the car.

            “Zeke, it is great to see you again.  Thanks for inviting me.”

            “I kind of owe you one.” Zeke shrugged with a smile.

            “Hope you are hungry.” Marissa smiled at Grant.

            “We’re going to The Flying Pancake,” Sarah squealed. “They have the best cinnamon chocolate pancakes in the world.”

            “Sounds scrumptious.” Grant had never heard of the off the grid, Capitol Hill gem.  The thought of pancakes and maple syrup hearkened back to his days growing up in Shuskan.  His mom made the best buckwheat apple flapjacks and huckleberry waffles.

            The Flying Pancake is in a funky bungalow.  The eclectic and inviting décor pays homage to Seattle’s vibrant arts scene.  Flying saucers, mimicking the ‘Space Needle’ are a theme of the restaurant imbedded with slogans ‘Our pancakes are out of this world’ and ‘Extraterrestrial Pancakes.’ 

            Seated in a corner nook, they perused the versatile menu, which includes fifty pancake recipes, artisan waffles, omelets and home style Seattle inspired dishes.  Grant, with no money to his name, remained hesitant in ordering. 

            “Order whatever you like.  It is my treat.”

            “Only if you allow me to return the favor, after I start my new job.” Grant insisted.

            “Deal,” Marissa conceded. She had to admit she hope to keep in touch with Grant.  They had a deep connection – that she couldn’t quite understand.

            Conversation came easy for the diners.  Zeke and Grant chatted about sports, especially the Seahawks race for a Super Bowl run.  He patiently listened to Sarah recount her favorite fairy tale, ‘The Snow Ballerina,’ about an enchanted ballerina who can dance on ice.  Joel discussed his love of guitar and goal of being in a band.

            Following breakfast, the quintet headed to the iconic Space Needle.  This symbol of Seattle, rises 605 feet above the cityscape, offering a stunning panorama from its observation deck. 

            “Jessie Katz says that the Space Needle’s saucer landed here when a race of green aliens known as the Kuru, landed in Seattle.  And the flying saucer serves as an intelligence division on extraterrestrial research.  All outer-space aliens coming into earth’s atmosphere are teleported to the Space Needle, where they are processed by immigration and then sent to Area 51.” Joel spoke with such conviction, Marissa and Grant struggled not to chuckle.

            “Joel, hate to break it to you,” Zeke’s tone severe. “Mom adopted you from the Kuru.  You are an alien.”

            “Is that true?” Joel upset.

            “Don’t listen to your brother,” Marissa said reassuring, rolling her eyes at Zeke.

            “Will we see the Kuru in the Space Needle?” Sarah chimed in.

“Jessie Katz has an active imagination.  If extraterrestrials do exist, they are not at the Space Needle.  The symbol of Seattle dates to the 1962 World’s Fair, constructed by humans to be an innovative cutting-edge work of architecture.”

“Then why does it look like a spaceship up top?” Joel insisted on the validity of the extraterrestrial hypothesis.

“Its futuristic design complements the city’s skyline.” Marissa realized this may be a losing battle.

“I think the whole thing is a cover-up.  They built the spaceship at the top of the needle to house the Kuru, hidden from view.  Super top-secret CIA stuff.” Joel held.

“My brother the future conspiracy theorist.” Zeke sighed.

“What do you think Grant?” Joel asked.

“I am inclined to agree with your mom.  There are no Kuru in the Space Needle” Grant maintained. “I think the Kuru actually live in a tunnel behind the EMP, after all that is home to the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.”

“You’re probably right.” Joel mulled. 

The group boarded a high-speed elevator that climbs 520 feet in ten seconds to the Observation Deck. 

“The view from the top never disappoints.” Marissa reminisced about the fateful first date she shared with Trevor at the Space Needle.  Standing in the clouds, looking out at the city lights below, they became sweep up in love’s first kiss.  It seemed so simple and complicated now.  The reflection cut like glass, so distant, so close.

“Breathtaking.” Grant numbed by the stunning panorama of the cityscape, from downtown’s sleek steel high rises to the midnight blue waters of Elliott Bay and the Puget Sound, onward to the distant mountain ranges.  Mount Rainier permeates the horizon as guardian spirit.

“I love the mists enveloping Mount Rainier.  The mountain looks as if it is floating on air.” Marissa lost in the view.

“My dad always weaves tall tales and imaginary myths.  He has several stories about Mount Rainier.” Grant used to hate his dad’s silly stories, now he longed for the lore of those nights by the fireside, roasting marshmallows as he recounted stories of old. Dad said that God commanded Mount Rainier to rise as tall as the sky, serving as a lookout point for the entire world.  It is a sacred place, a reminder to revere nature and respect its power.  It is a mountain built of fire and earth…a reflection that even the most formidable of earth’s structures may corrode to ash, while God is eternal.”

“Wow, what a wonderful story,” Marissa felt her attraction to Grant grow as they stood, peering into the distance. 

“You have helped rewrite my story, Marissa.  In this life and…” Grant stopped himself. 

“I feel like I’ve met you before you arrived at St. Jude, but that’s silly.”

“I wish I’d known you forever,” Grant realized he sounded cheesy, but Marissa didn’t care.  The spark lit up into a flame. Caught up in the moment, Marissa and Grant fell into a subtle, potent kiss. 

            “I’m sorry.” Marissa pulled away, flustered.  “I shouldn’t have crossed a boundary with you, given St. Jude’s.”  Marissa struggled to breathe, her mind telling her to run far from Grant, yet her heart dancing at a fever pitch.  She couldn’t deny the sweetness of Grant’s lips.  His touch soft and gentle.  She searched for the kids, luckily, they hadn’t witnessed her moment of weakness.         

“Don’t be.” Grant squeezed her hand.  Neither wanted to let the other one go.   

“Let’s go!” Joel interrupted. Fortunately, none of the kids noticed the kiss.  Otherwise, the rest of the afternoon would turn awkward.

~

            After the Space Needle – they ambled through the Seattle Center, stopping for hand dipped tiramisu ice-cream.

            “Tomorrow is the Twelfth Night of Christmas,” Sarah announced between messy licks of her melting ice cream. “It means – the Wise Men visited the baby Jesus and gave him gifts.  It’s called Epiphany.”

“Tradition holds that on the Twelfth Night angels fill our shoes with candy and on Epiphany we exchange gifts and bake a King’s cake.” Joel added in.

            “I’m interested to learn more about Twelfth Night and Epiphany traditions.” Grant barely knew the spiritual meaning of the church celebration of Epiphany. 

            “There are many traditions regarding the holy celebration of Epiphany.  It varies by culture.  In Spain they bake a Rosca de Reyes, a king’s cake.  Trinkets are put inside the cake, each with a spiritual meaning,” Marissa elucidated on varying traditions. “To celebrate Epiphany, on the Twelfth Night we host a fill the shoes event.  It provides new shoes filled with fun candies and gift certificates for kids living in the shadow of their parent’s homelessness.  We celebrate with a cake and camel cookies and games.  It is a fun and spiritually uplifting way to celebrate Epiphany.”

            “This entire Christmas season has been an epiphany for me.  I have been transformed by love and hope, even in desperation.  All of you have played a huge role in my transformation.”

            “No credit here,” Marissa dismissed. “The Holy Spirit kindled your soul’s flame to see come out of the darkness into love’s light.” Marissa insisted.

            They capped off the magical day venturing into the Pacific Science Center, which is located a stone’s throw from the Space Needle and EMP.  The museum delves into science, math, and technology through interactive exhibits.  The highlight of their museum tour included a stroll through the museum’s Tropical Butterfly House, where hundreds of colorful butterflies’ dance midair and quietly perch on passerby shoulders. 

            Grant pondered his own metamorphosis.  This sojourn forced him to a cocoon of sorts, where his past transgressions were examined under the scrutiny of isolation, his heart healed by love, emerging anew as a butterfly out of the cocoon, transformed into a beautiful graceful, albeit delicate creature, a symbol of life and change, desperation to hope.  Science’s grandest demonstration of the power of change, God’s work to use science and reason to lead each wanderer back to the intangible, yet strong foundation of faith.

            “My soul has taken flight, emerging anew from the darkness of my past.”  He thought as he watched the butterflies.

Grant pondered the effect of his past greed.  It did irreparable damage, yet he had to accept the lessons learned even in the darkness, a perspective of why greed is a sin.  It isn’t just a spiritual sin, rather an active betrayal of nature, the natural rights of others. 

The consequences of sin are real, not merely as a blocking of one’s entry into heaven, which is critical and should be a focus; sin in the world affects lives in a negative tangible way, inflicting pain on all creatures, from something as small as a butterfly or bee to fellow humans. 

“Thank you for inviting me.” Grant expressed his appreciation as Marissa dropped him off at Saint Jude’s.

“Our pleasure.” Marissa rosy cheeks turning a deep red, she couldn’t forget their kiss. “See you tomorrow.”

“I count the hours.” Grant also lingering on the kiss. He has developed feelings for Marissa, deeper than physical attraction.  It is love for her personality, enjoying spending time with her kids…the notion excited and scared him. He decided to keep silent, not wanting to further complicate a friendship he valued.

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 14)

Photo by RODNAE Productions on Pexels.com

Chapter 24:

The resolve to live a life of faith transformed by selfless love, continued to kindle, Grant’s heart as he awoke on New Year’s Day.   He felt a peace beyond understanding, a peace from trust in God’s providence in the future.

            Residents were invited to a blessing ceremony conducted by Father Mark, a priest from Saint Jude’s partner parish, Saint Bartholomew’s Church.

            The service included prayers, hymns and a blessing of holy water and oil. 

            “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”

The service concluded with a recitation of the eight beatitudes and a prayer.

            “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the land.  Blessed are those you hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.  Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called children of God.  Blessed are those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  

            “Happy New Year.” The Labre residents, broke bread together during a hearty brunch. The meal included and eclectic feast of ‘good luck’ foods to bring in the New Year, included black-eyed peas and collard greens, cornmeal cakes, organic pork sausages and buttered raisin bread.  Together they shared stories of the festive evening, stories of hope, love and kindness.  It empowered them to know that even in their destitute wayward state they had been part of something to help the community.  It gave each resident confidence to move forward on their journey, an inner strength to step out of the paralyzing darkness into the light.

            “My family traces its roots back to Ireland.  My great-grandparents emigrated from Cork in the early 1900s.  They lost everything during the potato famine and hoped to find a new life of prosperity and peace in America.  They eventually settled in Seattle, my grandfather working as a tradesman and my grandmother as a teacher.  They never forgot the hardship they faced, still they accepted it as a blessing, a perspective in which though they suffered they maintained happiness in love and could empathize with the broken and oppressed.  Great-Grandmother Maureen helped found Saint Jude’s.  I know she is looking down on each of us today, with blessings of hope and peace even in adversity.  Last night, thanks to your efforts, Saint Jude’s can continue our services through The Labre Residential Program.” Marissa expressed her gratitude. 

            “Thank you for taking a chance on me.”

“In Ireland, they celebrate New Year’s Day by placing a loaf of buttered bread outside their door as a symbol of the absence of hunger.  Traditionally this bread is not to be eaten.  Grandmother thought that tradition needed an update. She believed that loaf of bread should be shared with one who did hunger, so that they would receive the gift of nourishment. Every New Year’s Day Saint Jude’s bakes over fifty loaves of Irish Butter Bread and distributes the slices to those who hunger, along with an Irish Prayer Blessing.”

“What a wonderful tradition.”

“This afternoon, we will divide up into three groups, I will lead a group to Pioneer Square to donate the bread and food packs, while Noelle will escort the Capital Hill unit and Benny will go to Pike’s Place.  This a fun and rewarding activity, that I hope will cap off the New Year festivities.  The next two days we will focus entirely on job and housing placements.”

            The teams left at one o’clock, armed with buttered bread and food sacks. Grant requested to go to Pioneer Square, where he first faced the obstacle of homelessness, a fear of uncertainty that still tested his nerves. It was there that he Wilson had shown such kindness to him.  Grant hoped that in the small act of distributing butter bread, he could give back to those who even in their lost state, showed him active love and compassion.

            A rare blue, cloudless sky defined the Seattle skyline with majestic Mount Rainier outlined in the distance.  The sun warmed the air to an invigorating fifty-two degrees. 

            “My man Grant, good to see you back in the neighborhood.” Wilson embraced his friend. “How has life been treating you?”

            “I’m doing well, great actually.” Grant brought Wilson up to speed on the past week. “I am so grateful for your kindness.”

            “Love’s symphony is kindness in perfect harmony.  I received friendship in getting to know you, Grant.  I am grateful I could be there for you, spreading light, as those that lifted me out of darkness, when I was alone and afraid.” Wilson humble.

            “I’ve been thinking about Jepson, Cassie and their daughters.  I spoke with Marissa, and she has a contact in human resources at The Seattle Toy Company that might be able to help.  I don’t know the details.  I do have the contact information.  It might not be an ideal job, still hopefully it can tide Jepson over until he can land construction work.

            “I’ll pass the message along,” Wilson promised.

            In the next hour, the group distributed fifty slices of buttered bread and ham sandwiches.  Marissa counseled transients on resources available to them in the community. 

            “Teresa Martin, volunteer coordinator at Saint Nicholas Abbey has invited us over for the parish’s New Year, Fresh Start seminar about rising above homelessness, following the interactive class, the church is hosting a soup dinner.” Marissa informed.

            “Teresa saved my life on Christmas Day.  Her compassion gave me a will to embrace selfless love and let go of my anger.” Grant told Marissa as they walked to the church.

            “The Martin family is active in outreach.  Teresa mans a lot of programs in Pioneer Square to aide and address the homeless population.  Dr. Walker, our volunteer physician at Saint Jude’s is her daughter.”

            “The world’s smaller than you think.”

            “’One act of kindness goes beyond six degrees in measures of love,’ My mom used to say.”

            “How is Zeke doing?” Grant’s concern genuine.

            “We had a long discussion; things are on the mend.  On Sunday, I’ve arranged for our family to enjoy a day touring Seattle, everything from the Experience Music Project and Space Needle to a cruise of the bay, dinner on the waterfront.”

            “Sounds like a blast.  I know the kids will have fun.”

            “I owe a lot of that to you.”

            “I owe everything to people like you.  If it weren’t for Saint Jude’s I’d still be on the street…” Grant remembered his promise to find his family. “The other day you told me the parable of The Prodigal Son.  It got me to thinking about my family and how I forsook them in my quest for greed.  I think it is time to rectify that wrong.  I don’t deserve their forgiveness, but they deserve my apology.  Problem is I don’t know where they live now that they sold their farm.  I did an internet search and it yielded little in terms of results.”

            “I will do what I can to help,” Marissa promised.

~

            “That seminar gave me a lot to think about,” Jairus mentioned to Grant as they waited in line for hot pumpkin spice soup, focaccia bread and salad. “Recreating the definition of home and going boldly in the direction of finding a home, instead of living in the fear that comes with the loss of one’s home.  I know this year is going to be a good year.  Obstacles await, still I’m staying positive.  I’ve got to fight darkness with light and get back to my kids.  I hope I get a job placement tomorrow.”

            “You deserve a fresh start, a new beginning.”

            “A reawakening, a repurposing of my soul to trust in love and not allow my pain to lead me astray.  I was a good man before this trial, I hope to be better man after this fire.  Still my main concern is for my ex-wife and my kids.  I know needed me and I have been absent.  I am determined to remedy that.”

            After the meal, Grant took time to thank Teresa for her kindness. 

            “You saved my life on Christmas, an angel on earth.”

            “I’m glad things are looking up Grant.  I’m here as a friend and advisor whenever you need me.  As for being an angel, I think you overestimate me.”

            “You were an angel to me in your acts of kindness.”

            “Just remember to help others in need and to continue in bold hope even in desperate circumstances and we’ll call it even.”

~

            Back at Saint Jude’s, Marissa assisted Grant in locating information about his parents.  They spent the better part of an hour searching online databases, phone records, social media, and newspapers for any leads. 

            “There is the article about the farm sale…then nothing. I’m hitting a dead end…” Marissa confounded.

            “Thank you for trying,” Grant visibly disappointed.  He desperately wanted to mend things with his family. 

            “Don’t give up hope yet.” Marissa optimistic. “Persistence goes a long way.  It will workout.”

            “Only one more day until our assignments.  Even if I don’t get a job…or extended housing, I want to thank you for all your help.”

            “The center has been blessed to have you as a resident.  Your initiative and energy sparked the Desperate Hope campaign.  I know it is selfish to say this, still I regret you’re leaving.  Of course, I am excited for the next opportunity in store for you…it has been wonderful getting to know you.  I hope you stay in touch.”

            “I can’t forget you.” It took every ounce of Grant’s self-control to restrain his urge to lean in and kiss Marissa.  He genuinely cared about her.  She was the girl he imagined spending a life with. It would be presumptuous to assume she felt the same way about him. Even if Marissa cared for Grant, he wasn’t good enough for her.

            “I’m due to pick Joel up from basketball practice.” Marissa checked her watch.

            “He is a hoopster?”

            “Trevor had a basketball scholarship in college.  I guess the kids inherited his genes.”

            “I played basketball in high school for a year, all-state in my division.  I’d love to run drills with him sometime.”

            “They would like that.” Marissa cut herself off.  She couldn’t get attached to Grant. “I’ll chase down possible leads, see if I can drum up any information on your family.”

            “That means the world to me.”

Chapter 25:

            “Congratulations St. Jude’s class for completing the Labre Transition Program,” Noelle applauded the residents at breakfast. “Shortly, you will receive your next housing and job assignments.  You will continue to check in with Marissa weekly via telephone for six months to ensure a smooth transition.  Each of the employers and housing situations provide a wealth of services to help support you on this journey home.”

            “Our core mission this week has been to build a foundation, easing your transition from homelessness into a stable environment.  The road again will be met with difficulties, remember the lessons of trial, and grow in resilient trust.  Wisdom is a powerful gift.  Listen to advice and accept instruction that you may continue to grow in knowledge.  Wisdom is more than facts and figures, of course education is important, and I recommend you always work to improve your skill sets and pursue academic opportunities, still the wisdom I refer to is the gift of insight.  I hope that we have provided you with wisdom this week, wisdom to know your personal value and wisdom to help others, wisdom to endure and wisdom to persevere.  Your hard work and courage has taught each of the staff countless lessons this week and we are grateful to be part of your journey home.”

            “This afternoon, following your assignments, we will hold a graduation ceremony in the sanctuary, followed by a banquet.  Tomorrow morning you will help service a new class of residents a meal before departing for your next stage on the journey home.” Benny followed.

            After breakfast, the residents waited in the community room, talking about their experiences at Saint Jude’s.

            “This desperate hope, it awakened my focus, it pulled me out of my distress, to a new hope and faith in the future.” Jemima spoke. “I know the road ahead won’t be easy, but praise God, he is there beside me as I take these first steps.”

            “I am determined to stay sober and get my life back in order, not only for myself, but my kids.” Jairus spoke with bold determination.

            One by one, each of the participants nervously entered Marissa’s office, eager to learn about their job and housing placement. 

Grant pondered his future with a peaceful resignation.  This journey isn’t by his design.  He is an active participant in the soul’s trek, yet he alone could not control fate, this was after all an existence formed by Christmas magic. 

In this journey, Grant recognized that wisdom is more than acquired knowledge.  His reflection of the world, based on his own ego, instead of ethics, morality, virtues, and the knowledge of God’s grace. 

Wisdom is the ability to comprehend the depths of love, to embrace peace and to weigh the scientific and mystery of faith, through the spirit of both reason and the universal truths, which science claims are hidden, but is love not a truth, known in the soul, is kindness not an active expression of love.  Wisdom is humble and grows in knowledge.  In this glimpse of wisdom’s breadth, Grant couldn’t help but be humbled and thirsty for true wisdom from the spirit.

            “The anonymous donor who contributed $11,000 is a man named Patrick Dismas.  He runs a multi-million-dollar tech and marketing firm.  He was so impressed with your grant proposal that he offered you a job helming the newly formed Dismas Second Chances Foundation.  There are some formalities to take care of, still it is a wonderful opportunity, and your skill set will go to excellent use.”

            “I’m honored for the opportunity.” Grant expressed gratitude; all the while conflicted about working in a corporate atmosphere again.  He worried he might become tempted to return to his old manipulative ways.  Still the opportunity to work on organizing a foundation that would help countless people in need was exciting and humbling.

            “You’ll start work on January 6th.  Until then you can continue to stay on at Saint Jude’s.”

            “I’m overwhelmed.” Grant genuinely at a loss for words.

            “I have some additional news.  I reached out to a private investigator friend of mine, who was able to locate your sister Elsie.  As fortune would have it, she lives in Seattle.  Here is her contact information.” Marissa bit her lip. “I called Elsie this morning and she wants to meet with you tomorrow.”

            “I don’t know what to say.” Grant quarreled with himself as he internalized the news of seeing Elsie.  He wanted to meet with her, to apologize for his past actions, yet fear kicked in, fear of rejection.

            “You told me that your family deserves an apology, even if they don’t offer you forgiveness.  I spoke with Elsie, and she is sympathetic and wants to see you.  I understand the fear of confronting this dark part of your past – but it is worth the risk. Repentence is a step forward into the light.”

            “Where does she want to meet?” Grant daunted.

            “I invited her to lunch at the center, one o’clock.” The gentleness of Marissa’s voice calmed Grant’s nerves. “Elsie loves you and wants to make amends.”

            “You keep showing me compassion and understanding.  I wish I could say more than thank you.”

            “Thank you is more than enough.  Gratitude after all is the gift that keeps giving.”

~

            For all his accolades from top-tier universities, Grant never felt more pride than receiving his graduation certificate from the Labre Program. The sense of achievement in being part of something bigger than himself, the selfless lessons he learned offered a bold humility.  He hoped to use these lessons in humility and love to move forward in a positive direction, not bound by the selfish greed of his past.

            He applauded the accomplishment of his fellow participants, who he had come to accept as friends and equals.  The experience offering a window into the struggles others face, and an understanding that each creature has worth, beyond temporal materialism.

Grant vowed that he would never act with such disregard for humanity, the earth, and its creatures again. 

Following the graduation ceremony, the residents feasted on a celebratory banquet of sautéed pork chops and onions, red rice, and cornbread.  Marissa baked a three-layer chocolate cake for dessert.

“A toast to our graduating class,” Marissa handed out fortune cookies with Bible verses inside. Grant read his verse

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. James 3:17

“St. Nick, I appreciate this gift…and I pray God gives me wisdom in this life and well…my alternate reality.” Grant knew he needed to constantly seek out wisdom from others, leaning on the Holy Spirit to guide him with each rocky step.

Chapter 26:

            Grant paced nervously as he anticipated Elsie’s visit, agonizing over what he should say.

            “Sorry, it is such a simple word, it takes a human will to complicate it.” Grant facing down his regrets. 

            Lost in remorse, he wrestled with the petty feuds of his realized past, a past in which he forsook his family, rejecting their love, in his quest for greed.  He did not care who he hurt.  Grant set his sights on ascending Babel, even if it cost him love in the process.

            He thought about his brother George.  Growing up they were best friends, spending hours exploring the surrounding forests, hiking the backcountry, active in 4-H and teammates on the basketball team.  Somewhere done the line, Grant began to resent rural life in Shuskan, a life his brother loved.  George’s heart rooted in the land, the soil entrenched in his soul, the mountains his shield. Grant and George feuded, breaking the bond of friendship, slowly decaying into distrust.  Grant instigated the antagonism, gloating about his desire to get ‘the hell out of Shuskan, a living prison,’ cursing it to the ground.’ 

            The brothers maintained a tedious relationship, civil conversations, veiled their animosity.  The rift became a bridge too far, after Grant selfishly betrayed his brother’s trust, over something as trivial as a small piece of land inherited from their grandfather.  The land left to the two brothers.  Grandpa Elmer Spaulding wanted the land to stay in the family, a continuation of the farming legacy. 

Grant uninterested in cultivating his inheritance, investing his energy, tending the soil to bear the fruit of future harvests, insisted on selling his share of the land.  George opposed this.  Dividing the land would make the plots too small for agricultural use and disturb grazing rights the family possessed. George offered to purchase the land from his brother for slightly less than the appraised value.  Grant, selfishly refused, because he wanted supremacy over his brother.  He wanted to win, even if the division inflicted suffering and misery on his family. He forced the sale of the land to a company testing GMO crops and bioengineered pesticides on corn, which made George’s dreams of expanding the family’s organic farm business impossible.  Grant dissolved his relationship with his brother for a paltry profit, while George remained cheated out of his legacy by his brother’s avarice ways.

            “Elsie and my parents might offer leniency, pardoning my transgressions, but George?” Grant awakening to the wrongs he committed against his brother. “I burned that bridge to ash.  I fear my actions did irreparable harm.  The profit of selling the ‘Promised Land,’ our legacy, cost me dearly.  It poisoned the blood between my brother and me.  How often I have chased down material profit, with no regard for the other.  My focus so myopic, that I failed to see the forest for the trees, the galaxy for the stars.  I have cultivated a life of shortsighted consumption, a life bearing fruits of anger, hate, lust, greed, malevolence and pride.  It would take a thousand years of acts of contrition, and that soil still toxic.  How can George forgive me?  I struggle to forgive myself, resting not on my own merits, but in God’s grace alone.”

“Deep in thought?”

“Marissa?” Grant caught off guard by her presence.  “I thought you were in the office, preparing for the next class of residents?”

“I wanted to see how you’re holding up.  Jairus said you barely slept a wink, tossing and turning, muttering about regrets and unforgiveable offenses.  I suspect you’re anxious about with meeting your sister.”

“I am scared.  I want to apologize, I need to apologize; still I dread digging up pain, a past buried so deep.  Bringing it to the surface is hard, like a dormant volcano that suddenly erupts.”

“Trust me, I understand family feuds and reunions can be explosive.  Still, you don’t have to turn this into Mount Saint Helen’s.” Marissa’s smile cut through the tension. “Humbly approach this with a sincere apology.”

 “I hate the man I was; I understand the wrongs I’ve committed.  I fear Elsie won’t accept my apology.  Forgiveness is her choice.   Is it even my right to ask for forgiveness?  I am afraid of looking her in the eyes, seeing the residue of pain left from my sins.  She shouldn’t have to face that.  Part of me wonders if it is better to keep my mouth shut, cancel the meeting, because I don’t want to upset her.”

“The intent of the apology much be sincere and honest.  It shouldn’t be riddled with excuses and explanations.  Otherwise, the apology is useless, becoming an expression of your ego and self-pity rather than contrition. The truth hurts.  You lived your life as a mercenary, selfish and cruel.  You drifted in dark places, profaning the ground beneath your feet.  You have turned to the light of love and are filled with the volition to change.  You have to acknowledge the mistakes of your past and be willing to accept accountability for the wrongs committed.  That doesn’t mean you should suffer revenge, rather a willingness to submit in love and in that love taking up the consequences, with a hope of a peaceful and loving future.” Marissa put forth. “Is this apology for your ego or is it driven by true repentance, remorse for the transgressions you committed?”

“Remorse,” Grant adamant. “I do not deserve pity, nor do I expect it.  My sole desire is to apologize for my past hate. I understand an apology only begins to heal past wounds.”

“Letting go of the anger, even if you were wronged, can free the soul from the dark burden of revenge and bitterness.  Forgiveness is as much for the victim as it is for the transgressor.  Be honest and be patient with your family.  They might not enact instant grace, let your apology open a door to the process of healing.  They deserve your heartfelt confession, even if your humble apology falls on death ears, be at peace that you acted to amend the wrongs committed and move forward in the wisdom of this experience.”

“Thanks Marissa, you always know what to say.” Grant squeezed her hand.

“Far from it.” Her light laugh calmed his nerves. “In fact, your advice penetrated Zeke’s psyche so much, he insists that we invite you along for our day on the town tomorrow.  We’re going to The Space Needle, EMP and the Pacific Science Center.”

“I don’t want to impose.”

“Zeke will be disappointed if you can’t come.” Marissa careful with her words.  She knew you shouldn’t get too close with a client, every day she is more drawn to Grant.  With Zeke viewing the former transient as a mentor, a father figure of sorts, it complicated things.

“I’d love to spend a day with you and the kids.” Grant wished he could spend the rest of his life with Marissa.  In his former life he screwed up every chance at love.  His impatience with children, caused him to swear off fatherhood.  Being with Zeke, Joel and Sarah, Grant could only think about becoming a father, loving a child with selfless care.

“I’ll pick you up tomorrow at nine o’clock.” Marissa’s heart skipped a beat.  Her defenses tumble down every time she looks into Grant’s eyes.

~

  A final breakfast with fellow residents, further quelled Grant’s anxiety.  The friends discussed the week’s experiences, including personal struggles to overcome their shadows and goals for the future.  The perspectives reminded Grant on the necessity of apologizing to Elsie and making inroads towards reconciliation. 

Following the meal, residents cleared out their rooms.  Grant assisted the housekeeping service in vacuuming and scrubbing dorms for the better part of two hours.  The work served as an outlet to occupy his troubled mind. 

At noon, Grant, and his fellow residents, capped off the week, by prepping and serving a welcome lunch for the new class of Labre Participants.  The lunch, a bittersweet occasion, marked by the joy of serving the desperate with hope, and the receiving the gift of a step forward in their own journey home.  Though filled with a spirit of gratitude and faith in the future, Labre graduates, regretted leaving the peace of the center, which had strengthened them in love, patience, kindness, goodness, self-control, and bonds of friendship and resolve to move forward out of their personal darkness into the light of life. 

With each passing second, the clock wound down to Grant’s confrontation with Elsie.  He prayed for guidance and strength.

“God grant me the will to apologize for the wrongs I have committed against my family.  I also ask for the resolve to let go of my anger and to forgive.”

Grant set aside his own worry as he served the destitute as they humbly came to the table, hungry and weak, finding hope and gratitude for the warm food and company of strangers.  Grant saw a reflection of his own strife in these men, broken and alone, full of fear, regret, anger and desperate desire for grace and mercy.  A conflict of paradoxes rages in everyone.  If this experience taught him one thing it is that every man is broken and in need of love and compassion.  He thought about a quote Jairus resigned to active memory.

“One must see God in everyone; for God is love and gives mercy to the lowly and strengthens the spirit of the weak, he guides the lost and kindles the souls of the selfish for his purpose, transforming them with the cure of selfless love.”

Caught up in service, interacting with the incoming residents, Grant found worthwhile distraction in conversation, learning the backstories and trials and joys of another once nameless group of transients.  He saw humanity in their eyes, and it forced him to reconcile his own need for humility and grace.

Grant froze in place, as he spotted Elsie enter the mess hall.  Petrified by fear and invigorated by hope, he struggled to breathe.  His heart racing, overwhelmed by joy to see his sister again after years apart. 

“I don’t deserve her forgiveness, but she does deserve my apology,” Grant reminded himself, as he pulled every ounce of his strength, ready to face this crisis head on.  

“Grant…” Elsie cautiously approached, gauging her long lost brother’s appearance, from the slight lines on his forehead to the fire in his eyes. 

She desired reconciliation, a ready hope to trust her brother again, still she treaded over the matter with restraint, holding close to her reservations. 

Can a person really change?  Elsie desperately hoped that her brother had turned his life around, all the while skeptical that someone like Grant, consumed by greed and seeking out for his own self-interest, could embrace humility and selfless love. 

As they struggled for words, Grant noticed the radiance in his sister’s blue eyes, full compassion. 

“I don’t deserve your forgiveness.  You do deserve my apology.  I am sorry for all the wrongs I’ve committed against you and our family.  I acted recklessly and hurt you all in the process.” Grant shattered the silence.

“I want to believe you Grant, but after seventeen years of not hearing a word, whether you were alive or dead, rotting in a sty somewhere, or at the bottom of a lake, it is hard to reconcile your apology with truth.  Do you realize the pain you put our family through?  Mom weeps every night.  Dad, he lost the farm because of the loan he took out to cover your college expenses.”

“Sorry is a word of action, and it only has meaning if there is active remorse, atonement and good faith in the gesture.  I can assure you that I am no longer the self-centered man, of my past.  I have had an awakening, a true understanding of the wrongs I committed and their consequences.  I cannot change the past, still I can move forward in the future towards a life of service to others, selfless love and compassion.”

“I don’t know if I can forgive you.” Elsie conflicted. “I do believe you are sincere, but…I carry the scars of the past you left behind.  It hurts

“You don’t have to forgive me.  I ask that you accept my apology as a path forward out of the burden of hate I sowed in the family.  I don’t want you to carry the load of my betrayal anymore.  You don’t deserve to dwell in that darkness because of my error.  Judge my actions as wretched, don’t allow my actions to guide your steps.  The hardest lesson in life, is apologizing when we’ve hurt others…we are prideful creatures by habit…perhaps it is even harder to forgive, not for the benefit of the other as much as for yourself.  We cling to that hate and revenge, allowing the betrayal to define us, instead of rising above those chains.  You don’t deserve that.  Take my apology as a release, let it be a path towards peace.”

“Grant…” Elsie still not sure what to make of her curbside philosopher. “I will forgive your past actions…it will take time to process the emotions attached to that forgiveness.  I wish I had the grace to just blot it out of memory.  Forgiveness will be a process, it will be a hard process, because it means sifting through buried emotions and conflict, if I don’t face that in the spirit of forgiveness, then it remains buried, and continues to fester in hate.  I love you Grant, I always will.  We need to take this one step at a time.  I can forgive you that is the cornerstone.  To rebuild our relationship, I need to trust you again.  That is the hardest task of all.”

“Thank you for even opening the door to reconciliation.” Grant wept. “I will do whatever I can to earn your trust again.  Just say the word and I’ll do it.”

“Time is what we need, time to get to know one another again.  I expect you to apologize directly to mom and dad, they miss you and despite everything your return will be met like the feast of The Prodigal Son, a celebration that you were lost and now are found, desperation turned to hope…”

“I want to see them more than anything.  I scoured the internet for details about their address or phone number and came up short.”

“They moved to Walla Walla, living in a basement apartment.  It isn’t much, still they can afford the rent and have enough for food.  George got a job as a farm foreman at a vineyard in the vicinity.  His wife Tara works as a pastry chef for an artisan grocer, while the kids are nearly grown.  George Jr. is headed off to WSU next year.”

 “I don’t expect George to ever forgive me.”

“Forgiveness…it is twofold, grace in forgiving, God’s grace, I think as human’s that is the initial step of absolving someone who has wronged us, yet even in grace there is action.  You must earn forgiveness with a sincere and penitent, humble heart, and soul.  Yes, you may falter, it is the intent of your goal.  George paid the hardest for your former sins,.  He thinks you contacted me just to get an infusion of cash, probably for heroin or gambling.” Elsie paused to read her brother’s reaction.

“I don’t want your money,” Grant adamant. “If anything, I owe you countless debts that I promise I will work to pay back.  Mom and dad losing the farm…George…what are you doing in Seattle?”

“I manage a locally owned boutique bed and breakfast in town.  My goal is to save up and open my own inn in Shuskan.  It is a pipe dream now; I keep banging away at it.” Elsie’s eyes lit up as she talked about her goals.

“You deserve every happiness, Elsie.” Grant recalled Elsie requesting a loan a few months back about buying a historic house in Shuskan and fixing it up for an inn.  He dismissed her goals as fickle and poor business sense.  Bed and breakfasts are not known for high income potential, still is $15,000 out of his millions so much to ask?  After all, Elsie has an M.B.A from the University of Washington.  Grant’s decision not to help his sister had been based more on control and the desire to hurt his family rather than protecting her financial interests.  “Have you looked into small business loans?”

“I’m working on it.  My credit suffered when we were pulling all the stops to save the farm.” Elsie looked to the floor. “In our old farmhouse, above the ironing board in the laundry room was a needlepoint with a Bible verse, Philippians 3:13.  It is mom’s favorite verse, it reminds her that you learn from the past, while moving forward towards a brighter future.  It is a call to rely on God’s grace and mercy, and a reminder of the difficulty we will face as we move out of crisis…’I do not consider that I have made it my own.  But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead.’

“Sound advice.”

“I forgive you, out of love and because I see the sincerity in your eyes and the will to move forward in a selfless, positive direction.  I pray God grants you strength to endure the tests and trials.  It is blinding to return to the light after wandering so long in the darkness.  Old habits die hard, let them die.  We can both resolve to let go of what lies behind and strain forward, inch by inch to what lies ahead, a cornerstone of grace and hope of building a bridge of love.  It will not be easy.  It will be worth the sacrifice.”

“I desire nothing more than pure reconciliation with my family, more importantly I hope that you can accept my apology.” Grant humbled by Elsie’s goodness and kindness.

“No time like the present to get started.”

For the next three hours, the siblings caught up on life, from Grant’s involvement with Saint Jude’s Desperate Hope fundraiser, and his new job, to the family’s Christmas in Walla Walla. They broached the murky waters of past wrongs, working to dissolve the hurt with love’s forgiveness. 

Elsie arranged for Grant to phone his parents.  Despite all the wrongs he has committed against them, years of injury and betrayal, they welcomed his voice with joy and gratitude.

“Our son has returned to us, praise God.” Marie shouted.  She knew the reunion would be met with difficulty as the pain of the past resurfaced, still she strained towards a future hope. “What was lost, is now found.”

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 13)

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Chapter 23:

            “This is Browder Anderson, reporting live from the Saint Jude’s Community Center in Capital Hill. Help us ring in the New Year by donating to Desperate Hope, a campaign to raise funds to keep Saint Jude’s doors open.”

Telephones erupted into a chorus of joyous chimes and clatter, as callers flooded the lines to make donations.  With each donation, the festive ball dropped slightly, an electronic monitor marking the countdown to the goal of $50,000.  By the conclusion of the second telethon hour, Saint Jude’s had netted a total of $23,800 in donations.

“The spirit of community, goodwill and mercy is alive and well in Seattle tonight.  Still the fight to keep Saint Jude’s open isn’t over,” Browder wrapped up the six o’clock news hour. “The phone lines will be open until midnight.  You can also make donations online or stop by the center with your donation.  Help us drop the ball, working on desperate hope, resolving to be work to love our neighbor and stand up for those in need, with selfless intent.”

Grant manned the ‘Drop the Ball’ donation tent in the alley for several hours.  Jairus suggested the station, mimic the accommodations of Seattle’s homeless population.  The tent a crude structure, while cardboard boxes and sleeping bags were set up.  Information sheets were handed out to passerby, including volunteer and outreach opportunities and list of issues facing those in poverty. 

In a span of two hours, the tent received an outpouring of benevolence, with $3,000 in cash contributions and various in-kind donations.

“It is remarkable that most donations are coming from those with hourly jobs, giving $5 dollars.  On paper that seems small, yet it adds up, $5 here, $100 from another donor…this is a grassroots movement from the community.” Grant spoke with humble recognition.  He had gravely underestimated the value of people and the impact of even the smallest act of kindness and mercy. “The local businesses, small entities, mom and pop shops are giving freely, stepping up to this challenge.  They care about their communities and understand the dynamic of business and community.  People over profits.  I wish I understood the value of people when I was CEO.”

“Glad to see you are learning from past mistakes,” a familiar figure appeared.

“Nicholas,” Grant whispered. “About time you showed up.”

“You’ve been busy.”

“I’m trying to be a better person.  I made mistakes, unforgiveable mistakes.  My actions here are not to be commended.  They are a show of humble penance.  I don’t deserve mercy or clout.  I’m just a broken man, desperate in hope.”

“Christ’s love absolves sin.”

“I don’t deserve forgiveness.  I’m a fragmented dark soul, unworthy for of pardon, let alone mercy.” Grant knew the road to redemption, he trusted Christ’s grace.  Still, he couldn’t reconcile himself to accepting the gift.  It was easier to hold onto the sin, allowing the burden and pain of that past to act as a tool of punishment, a scourge. He rested in his guilt, refusing to turn over that guilt to God. 

“God alone is judge.  Christ, incarnate from God, chose to die on the cross, sacrificing himself for our sins.  Sin is death, a poison, a burden that leads to death.  Christ died, carrying the sins of the world, in that act he killed sin’s power over the flesh, in rising from the dead, Christ offers us a new hope and the promise of grace.  Grace is a gift, not a result of our own actions, but a result of Christ’s love and desire to show mercy.  Grace is a gift available to all who ask.  In choosing to hold onto your sin, refusing the gift of grace you are accepting death.”

“Death that I deserve.  I’ve done horrible things.”

“Death by the world, is not God’s justice. God operates in the law of love, love that searches out to redeem and cleanse, to reconcile and to guide out of error into truth. It doesn’t abolish the law, which is good and just, rather the law becomes a guiding post, a fruit of the spirit.  Grace gives the gift of reconciliation to the Holy Trinity, so that even if we miss the mark, we are not forsaken, we can find new life and desperation transforms into a hope of faith that cannot be severed.  In the process of asking forgiveness, you are confronting the implications of your sin, recognizing the reason why the sin is a burden on the spirit and its destroying power.  It isn’t an arbitrary formality.  There is an awakening of the spirit in the act of forgiveness.” Nicholas spoke with gentleness and patience. “Unless you let go of the burden of sin, with a contrite and humble heart, accepting the divine forgiveness and love of God, then any recognition you have of your sin, will only hinder you and others around you.”

“I’m unworthy to accept such grace.”

“No one is worthy of grace under the shadow of the law.  Grace is from God, it is living mercy, and God’s judgment to choose love and gentle care for his creatures, despite their sin.  In grace we are sealed with love, and in that love the Holy Spirit moves us to act by the law of love.  Grace forgives your sins and offers eternal life instead of death.  It doesn’t mean that you won’t face consequences from sin.  The penance doesn’t act to cleanse the sin, grace does; penance works to reconcile human flesh to God’s purpose in our lives.  Penance and active forgiveness is a fruit of the spirit of grace.  When we are forgiven by grace, we seek to sow love and to endure justice for our crimes, because we understand the law, yet we are comforted in the grace and hope of redemption Christ provides us.  The road to grace is the flesh’s admission of the reality of sin and the pain it causes, the recognition that our acts of sin harm not only ourselves but others, who are innocent, leading to difficult consequences.  In seeking grace, we want absolution not as a get out of jail free card, yet because we crave the love of God and want to be reconciled to Him.  We wish to follow the example of Christ, learning through our sin, refined by that pain and the mistakes to accept grace, and in that grace to help others and to serve with a new purpose, a purpose of love not of selfish desire.  In penance to grow in faith, so that we can atone for the effect of our sins, while guaranteed through grace eternal life and reconciliation with God.”

“I want desperately to ask forgiveness.  I don’t know how.  I still struggle with faith, and I have a selfish heart. I’m still confounded why God cares about me, a sinner, whose heart, and mind have been set on malice and greed.  I deserve wrath, not love’s redemption.”

“Rend your heart and turn unto the Lord your God: for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil.  For the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.  Christ is the good shepherd that searches out the lost, comforts them in love and heals their wounds.  Sin inflicts pain, love and forgive heals.  Are you broken?  Of course, let the love of God heal your fragmented soul.  Yes, you will face trials and tests, the flesh will seek to break your spirit, yet you have a counselor and advocate.  I was sent by God to help you.  It is your choice by freewill, whether to accept the gift of grace.  God is patient and continually hopes and waits, working through all his creatures to bring them home, reconciling them to his love.  He will not forsake you, even if you wander in darkness.”

“I cannot forgive myself.”

“Forgiveness isn’t about ignoring the consequence of sin or the wrong committed.  It is letting go of the anger, the ability to turn to defense in love, not be guided by hate.  Forgiveness also tries to work to call out the best in people, hoping that those lost in the dark of their hate can be reawakened by the light of love.” Nicholas paused. “Zeke for instance, he struggled with guilt and hate, when love and forgiveness actually opens a door to a future.”

“I barely know how to pray.”

“God doesn’t care about the words as much as the soul’s intent.” Nicholas encouraged. “Go humbly in prayer and God will hear you, comfort you and forgive you.”

Nicholas disappeared in the crowd, before Grant could utter another word.

“I have something I need to take care of,” Grant told his fellow volunteers. “I’ll be back.”

~

            Saint Jude’s has a chapel, a humble and reverent space, adjacent to the alley.  He awkwardly fell to his knees.  Desperate, he anxiously wished to request forgiveness in the promise of grace, yet fear paralyzed his resolve.

            A unique stained-glass window serves as an inspiring motif to mission of Saint Jude’s.  The window is a vibrant mix of color, a montage of oddly shaped pieces of glass, from what resembled mason jars to hand blown artisan glass. The haphazard assortment forms a cross.  Each panel of the cross features a different theme, a message that is born as a fruit of Christ sacrifice.  The cross itself, is placed in the middle of a crossroads, redemption the road coming out of the cross.  Artistically written below the glass is the following quotation:

“Christ is an example of a crossroads, a choice between doubt and faith, the living faith rises above the oppression and depression of death into a new life.  Choose the road to life.”

Grant heaved a sigh as he stumbled into a pew.  He sat there listless, staring at the altar, unsure as to how to proceed.  He nervously picked up a prayer book, as if by a guiding hand the page opened to the prayer for ‘Confession of Sin.’ Grant silently read the prayer, reflecting on his remorse and desire for forgiveness.

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought word and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.  We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.  For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us; that we may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

Grant felt the Holy Spirit working through him as he read the prayer. 

“God, I’ve never been good with prayer.  I’ve blasphemed your name and gone against you at every turn.  You gave me the gift of this experience, life as a beggar, to understand my faults and I am trying to rectify them, with a humble heart. I don’t deserve your love and I don’t merit the gift of grace, yet I hope you will forgive my sins and help work through me, so that I can live through works of love and kindness, peace, patience, goodness, self-control, humility, gentleness and the hope of grace…I am grateful for this experience and the blessing to serve others as you would have me do, not my selfish desire to manipulate and exploit others for my own greed.  I still will falter, I am flawed, yet I trust in your mercy and forgiveness.  The light of your love is my guidepost in the journey out of darkness.”

As Grant spoke, full of regret and sorrow, he felt his spirit cleansed, a burden of guilt, anger and darkness lifted.  Without explanation three candles on the altar burst to light, a quiet sustaining fire.

“God, you have forgiven me.  I am so grateful.” Grant moved to tears.  “You have set your servant free.  I will go in peace by the light of your promise and act by the grace you have given with humble thanksgiving.”

Grant felt the chains were released he felt empowered by righteousness and fearless love. In that moment he could confront the darker areas of his past, things that had blocked his soul.

“My family. I don’t expect reconciliation, at the least I can offer my remorse.” Grant unsure if they would even recognize him in this life. Either way he resigned himself to the task of contacting them. “I’ll research their address and phone numbers, if I have to take a Greyhound back to Shuskan, I’ll find them.”

~

            Grant returned to the tent imbued with a steadfast spirit of joyous hope and a resolve to act by faith.  On the seventh day of Christmas, he understood the true meaning of the season.

            As the countdown to midnight fast approached, Saint Jude’s became closer and closer to their goal of ‘dropping the ball.’  By 11:55, the total donations should just under $39,000, enough to keep the center operational through at least September.  The donations came from across the board, including $5,000 sponsorships from local businesses to $1 donations by passerby. 

            “Thank you,” Marissa glowing as she addressed the crowd of supporters. “The support has been overwhelming.  St. Jude’s is humbled and grateful for every donation and for the volunteers who gave up their night to help man our ‘Desperate Hope’ campaign and chaperone our New Year’s Eve Party.  The youth have had a great time, dancing, and sing karaoke, eating lots of treats and playing games.  I give the first toast to our youth, a vital foundation of the Saint Jude’s community and mission.  My second toast is hats off to our Labre Center residents for their hard work in pulling this event together at such short notice.”

            After Marissa’s speech, partygoers hit the dance floor for the final waltz of the year. 

            “Mind if I have this dance?” Marissa asked Grant.

            “I have two left feet.”

            “Lucky for you, I also have two left feet, which puts us in perfect rhythm.” Marissa contended. Her smile broke down Grant’s defenses.

            “One dance, with you is a night full of starlight.  How can I refuse?” Grant took her hand, as they glided across the floor, caught up in the excitement of the moment.

            “I thought you said you couldn’t dance?” Marissa couldn’t remember the last time a moment had felt so right.  She had to remind herself that Grant is a colleague, a client…Her heart argued with her rational head.  Still she couldn’t deny the attraction and chemistry she felt with Grant.

            “I’m following your lead.” Grant smiled. He couldn’t remember the last time he felt so happy, the world in perfect rotation.  He knew Marissa was out of reach, still he allowed his heart to be sweep up in a moment of romance, not a fickle romance, instead the spark of love.  

            As the song ended, Benny used his microphone to begin the countdown to midnight.

            “I’m thrilled to announce, that we have received an anonymous donation for $11,000 with mere minutes left to midnight.  This gift secures our annual funding …Thank you all for your support.”

            “We did it!”  Without thinking Marissa, kissed Grant on the cheek, overwhelmed with emotion.  He shied away, secretly wishing that moment would not end.

The cheers of joy resonating through the room, as the ball dropped, to the floor.  Noisemakers and revelry filled the room, as the attendees broke out singing Auld Lang Syne.

            “Should old acquaintance be forgot, and never brought to mind?  Should old acquaintance be forgot, and old Lang syne? For auld lang syne, my dear, for auld lang syne, we’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

            The bells of Saint Jude’s tolled twelve times to signify the transition into the New Year

Grant was unsure what the future would hold in this reality or the next, on this winter’s night, a doorway from the darkness of his path to a future of humble promise.

Please excuse any typos/grammatical errors

Stay tuned for next chapter(s)

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 12)

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Chapter 22:

            Grant rushed to Volunteer Park.  The minute he heard Marissa mention the names ‘Tony’ and ‘Jax’ he feared that Zeke’s trouble making friends were part of the drug dealing thugs that had beaten up Joe, leaving him for dead. 

            The vast 48-acre park is a core of Seattle’s park system.  Designed by renowned landscape architects, The Olmsted Brothers, the park is beautifully laid out with ample areas for picnicking, hiking trails, a conservatory and cemetery as well as being home to the South Asian Art Museum.  The park is a gathering place of a diverse blend of people.  It is a popular recreation spot and a generally safe place, however like any public space there are threats lurking in the shadows. 

            The drug organization running certain operations in the park, usually acted in the secrecy of night or under the conspiring under the guise of the ordinary run of the mill daily park traffic. They operate under the radar, while in plain sight.  It is an issue that confounds police since these organizations are able to blend in and constantly act on the move. 

            Grant suspected that if Zeke was meeting ‘Big Mouth’ Tony and Jax, it would be in the vicinity where he witnessed their assault on Joe.

            Hearing loud voices as he approached the obscure location, Grant exercised caution.

            “Took you long enough to get your sorry self over here,” a voice heckled. “What Mommy wouldn’t let you go out alone?”

            “I got here as soon as I could.” Zeke’s voice, spoke drenched in fear.

            “Did you get the key to the facility?” Big Mouth pressed.

            “Look, I don’t like the idea of your robbing the money for the fundraiser.  I complain about my mom working at the center, just because you know it is kind of uncool on my rep…still Saint Jude’s helps people, and they really need the money.  It is money donated by countless people; it isn’t ours to steal.”

            “You are a coward.  The people who frequent Saint Jude’s are degenerates, half-blood vermin that don’t deserve a place in society.  We’re talking thousands of dollars.  Think of all the stuff we could buy.  It’d help Jax and I start our own syndicate.  That could lead to big money.”

            “Sorry man, my mom would kill me.  I can’t do it.  It’s wrong.”

            “I’ll blow your face in, killing you and your mommy, unless you help us break-in tonight after the party.”

            “Don’t threaten my mom.”

            “Hand over the key.”

            “I don’t have it.”

            “Search him Jax,” Big Mouth ordered. Realizing that the bullies were going to beat up Zeke and strip belongings, Grant decided to intercede.

            “Leave him alone.” Grant shouted, coming to Zeke’s defense.

            “Get out of our faces, otherwise we’ll beat your brains in too,” Big Mouth got in Grant’s face. Grant pushed him down to the ground in defense. “You are going to pay for that.”

            The sound of the fight luckily caught the attention of a security guard. Big Mouth and Jax fled the scene, the officer chasing after them, once he confirmed that Grant was unharmed.

            “Zeke, are you okay?” Grant voiced his concern for the teen, who suffered a bloody nose from Tony’s punch.

            “You shouldn’t have gotten involved,” Zeke shuttered. “I was fine until you showed up.”

            “They were threatening you and demanding you rob a non-profit.  You are the opposite of fine.”

            “You don’t know anything.”

            “I know those kids are bullies, with dangerous intentions.  I witnessed as they beat up a homeless man named Joe in the park several nights ago.  He is in the hospital.  They run drugs and manipulate people.”

            “They are kids from my school, my friends.”

            “Friends don’t force you to steal, nor do they threaten to kill you.  Tony and Jax aren’t your friends.  They are using you.”

            “Who is to say, I don’t want to rob the center.”

            “That is not who you are Zeke.  You are a good kid, just confused.”

            “You don’t know anything about me.” The teen chided. “Just leave me alone.”

            “I know you are angry and afraid.  I know that you miss your dad and are afraid that if you let go of your anger, it means giving up that sorrow.  Truth is you will always miss your dad.  Giving up the anger, is living a life by your father’s example, a life of love and hope.  Your dad wouldn’t want you to remember him with this anger, but to act out of love and to life a life of happiness.  That is a testament to your father, what you are doing now, is selfish.”

            “Yeah, whatever.”

            “It is okay to admit your fears.  It is okay to let down your guard.  I know about the destructive force of anger; I have lived an angry life.  Only I used greed as my crutch.  In the end it left me broken and only love and mercy could fill the void, healing my wounds.  This anger and rebellion only hurts you and those who love you, Zeke, it isn’t accomplishing anything and it certainly doesn’t honor your father’s memory.”

            “I cannot be, happy…my dad died, mom acts like life just moves on, she is always smiling, but how can life move on without him?”

            “I’ll have you know that your mother misses your father very much.  She maintains a strong front for your sake, but she is lonely and misses her husband.  They were best friends and had a beautiful life together.  She also recognizes that your dad wants you to live with his memory, not die in his memory.  Your dad is with you in spirit.   You need to live with his love, not let your spirit die in contempt of the loss.  Your mom loves you and is worried sick right now.  You father is in heaven, looking out for you, your mother is right here, willing to help guide you and be there for you.  Don’t take out your anger on your mom when she is trying so desperately to help you.  Don’t hang out with thugs like Tony and Jax.”

            “I thought they were my friends…I just wanted to be in their circle, because it lived on the edge.  It tested my limits.  It was an outlet for my fear and anger,” Zeke admitted. “I thought we were just goofing off, having fun, then they told me about their work as drug dealers and started manipulating me.  They want to break into Saint Jude’s and steal the money from the fundraiser.  I just couldn’t do that.  It’s wrong…now they are going to hurt my mom.  I’m scared.  They work with a rough crowd.”

            “Don’t worry.” Grant reassured the teen. “I have a contact in law enforcement, Officer Santos, he is a good guy and will make sure that Tony and Jax are held accountable, but also have a chance at rehabilitation.  From what I here they were raised in a very violent home.”

            “Their dad was a drug dealer…” Zeke shaking. “You’re right about the anger.  I started funneling my grief into anger.  I didn’t want to heal from the pain, because that pain was a reminder of missing dad, and I don’t want to lose him.  I don’t want to forget…”

            “You won’t forget, he is in you.  You carry his genes, and you hold close to those memories…and his spirit is watching over you.  Letting go of the anger, isn’t letting go of your dad, it is letting go of darkness and hate.  By letting go you are reconciling yourself to the love you shared with your father.”

            “I’ve been terrible to my mom,” Zeke admitted. “Horrible.  On Christmas Eve, I acted up in church and said I hated Christmas and it is stupid.  It really hurt her feelings.”

            “I did the same thing on Christmas Eve, the thing about the spirit of Christmas is that it has a hope against hope redemption.  It holds out, searching for people lost in darkness, to find the light, and in that journey, redemption. I went from being Mr. Scrooge incarnate to a humble man, with nothing and yet I found joy, letting go of that hate and anger, casting aside my selfishness.  Do I deserve a second chance?  Probably not, luckily God is always there to guide us out of trouble and able to forgive even if we struggle to forgive ourselves.”

            “I’m sorry I made fun at you for being homeless.  You’re actually a pretty decent dude.” Zeke apologized.

            “You are a pretty decent kid.” Grant smiled.  “Now let’s get you back to your mom.”

~

            “Ezekiel Bright, I could ground you for life the way you ran off, without as much as a word,” Marissa embraced her son. “I’m just so happy to see you.  I’m glad that you are safe.  Don’t ever do that to me again.”

            “I love you mom, I’m sorry.  I learned my lesson.” Zeke sincerity humbled his mom’s heart.  She held back tears, grateful that he son was finally letting go of his anger. “You were right about Tony and Jax.  They are bad news.  They almost killed me and threatened to kill you, if I didn’t agree to steal the cash donations from the fundraiser.  I told them no…Tony punched me…”

            “Oh my, poor baby,” Marissa’s maternal instincts on high alert. “Are you okay?”

            “I’m fine, thanks to Grant.  He protected me.” Zeke bit his lip.

            “You are an angel,” Marissa kissed Grant on the cheek.

            “I put in a call to Officer Santos.  He is on his way to take Zeke’s statement and agreed to keep a security guard on staff tonight.” Grant and Zeke explained Tony and Jax’s underworld dealings and threats against the community center.  Marissa, reeling in a state of shock, did her best to maintain her composure.

            Officer Santos arrived at the center within fifteen minutes of the report.  Zeke gave his statement and told the Officer where he could find Tony and Jax and what he knew about their illicit activities.  Within half an hour the boys were in custody.

            “Hopefully they can learn from their mistakes during their incarceration and with counseling and rehab be able to turn their lives around for the better,” Officer Santos hoped.

            “I’m really sorry,” Zeke kept saying repeatedly.

            “You are here now.  That is what matters.” Marissa beamed. “The party is about to get started.  I ordered a mushroom pizza just for you.”

            “You’re the best,” Zeke gave his mom a hug before running to the food buffet.

            “Thank you, Grant.  Not only did you save his life, but you are also the first person to break down his walls since Trevor died.  For that I am extremely thankful.”

            “Zeke loves you,” Grant downplayed his role, changing the subject. “It is nearly time for the second telethon.”

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 11)

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

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.

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 10)

Photo by Lynnelle Richardson on Pexels.com

Chapter 18:

            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.

Chapter 19:

            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

To help end homelessness I recommend:

Catholic Charities

Northwest Harvest

Twelve Days of Christmas Novel

The Twelve Days of Christmas Novel (Part 9)

Photo by Nicole Michalou on Pexels.com

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?”