Resurrection: A new life for Brad Grabs

By Brad Grabs

“So, are you OK with death and resurrection?” asked Fr. Ed. I looked down at the table between us. I took a drink of my iced tea. Then, I glanced up at him. “Well, I love the idea of resurrection. It’s the death thing that I have a hard time with.”

Months ago, I shared lunch with my friend, Fr. Ed Hays, as I explained to him my plans to move on from Shalom Catholic Worker House, a homeless shelter for men, after 10 years of living and working there as a volunteer. Though I felt fairly certain that I was being called to leave, I still dreaded the thought of leaving behind my life in the community that had been my home for most of my adult life.

My decision to leave Shalom House was affirmed by Miro, our young volunteer from Germany. Knowing that I was struggling with my decision, Miro made this observation: “Shalom House is a place where people go for help to become a better person. Maybe Shalom House has helped you all that it can.” The more I reflected on his words, the more I recognized the wisdom in this statement.

During the past 10 years, I have grown and changed in ways I would never have imagined. I have been shaped and formed by extraordinary experiences and countless good people. Shalom House has truly helped me to become a better person, and has taught me invaluable lessons.

Struggling to be patient and charitable to Alvin, a homeless man who is bitter and abrasive, has taught me a bit about unconditional love, and how truly difficult it can be.

Sitting through the horrific murder trial of a former guest, whom I consider my friend, has taught me a lot about the complexity of each human being.

Assisting an undocumented guest in court to sue a crooked slumlord has taught me a lot about vulnerability, and about greed.

Watching our teenage neighbor wither and die in our street after being shot by the police has taught me a lot about power and control. Seeing what his family went through afterwards taught me about the lack of it.

Seeing the cruel rejection faced by a guest who told his mother that he had AIDS taught me how incredibly blessed I am to have been born to compassionate and loving parents.

Treating cuts and bruises of undocumented immigrants who just jumped off of the freight train after a harrowing journey across the border has taught me how devastating some laws are, and how real their consequences.

Standing on street corners in protest against injustices of many kinds has taught me that there is value in resistance, even if it has little apparent effect.

Accepting monthly donations of $10 from a poor widow who wants to participate in our ministry has taught me a lot about providence and generosity.

And living in community with people of all ethnicities, backgrounds, abilities and disabilities, ages, strengths and weaknesses, has taught me much about the beauty and wonder of our Creator.

Clearly, living at Shalom House has taught me a great deal and made me a better person. Moving on from Shalom House after 10 years truly felt like a death in many ways. It was not easy and not without pain and regrets. But as Fr. Ed Hays reminded me at lunch that day last spring, if one wants to experience resurrection, one must endure death.

I have been gone from Shalom House for over a month now, and the feeling of death is still present. Even so, I am slowly seeing evidence of resurrection in my new life. I live in a house near Shalom and continue directing a neighborhood learning program for inner city kids and operating a small tree care business. Every day, I see new opportunities to apply the lessons that I have learned over the past 10 years to other areas of my life. And I see resurrection slowly emerging in unexpected ways in my life after Shalom.

~

Shalom Catholic Worker House continues its 26 year old ministry of providing breakfast, dinner, and a safe place to sleep and call home to 20 homeless men in Kansas City, Kansas. The current live-in community of volunteers, Dawn Willenborg, Pedro Olvera, Miro Heyink, Rusty Bailey, and summer intern Matt Lynch continues the day-to-day operation of the house. More volunteers, especially live-in volunteer staff, are needed. With human resources stretched thin, Catholic Charities of KCK has offered to hire someone to assist with house operations and case management. It is everyone’s wish that Shalom House, which is the only men’s homeless shelter in Wyandotte and Johnson Counties, could continue to be run by volunteers. But it appears that keeping Shalom House operating to its full capacity will necessitate a change in operating structure, perhaps with a hired staff.

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