Thursday, August 28, 2008

ever wonder . . .

It began, as they did back then, with handwritten letters to a stranger, someone who just wanted a friend from another country, sharing their lives. My wife's sister has had a friendship with a woman from England for probably over 40 years now. They began as pen pals while in grade school, lost touch for a little while, and then started communicating once more. They finally got to meet some years ago, with Heather going to England for a visit, and Sue and her family visiting here on several occasions. Wonder of wonders, after 40 years, they have a good and solid friendship.

In today's world, of course, it is all done via the internet, email, instant messages, texting. We can communicate with folks we have never met, complete strangers who can become good friends, simply through the process of sitting down at a keyboard, and sharing one's life. Of course, there are risks we have to keep in the back of our minds, but by and large, we meet good, decent, and caring folks.

Madeleine and Megan first met by chatting on, a website for expectant mothers. Ironically, coincidentally, their respective daughters, Lileth (Madeleine's) and Rowan (Megan's) were born on the same day. And so, as folks do in today's culture, they maintained their friendship through emails and posting pictures to one another.

While looking at a picture of 1-year-old Rowan on the website, Madeleine noticed a white shadow in the baby's left eye. Now, she didn't have a bit of medical training, but finding the shadow curious, she began to research the web. And she discovered that the shadow could be a symptom of an eye cancer known as retinoblastoma. Reluctantly, hesitantly, she sent an email to Megan, expressing her concerns, trusting that if there was nothing wrong, then no harm was done. As it turned out, Megan made an immediate appointment with her doctor, who referred her to a specialist who, indeed, discovered a cancerous tumor growing on Rowan's retina.

Rowan will lose her eye sometime in the next few months, and will have to go through several rounds of chemotherapy. But, by Madeleine's simple wondering, her concern for a friend's child (even though they had never met), her willingness to seek more information, the cancer was discovered early, and Rowan's prognosis is good.

Now, some will say that it is all a coincidence, a quirk of fate, a lucky chance that the white shadow only appeared in a flash photo that was later posted on an internet site.

But the Book tells us that God works in mysterious ways, wonders to perform. And since God seems not to trust to luck, or believe in fate, or rely on coincidences, God chooses to work these wonders, to perform these things we call miracles, through us.

Through experts and doctors, yes. But more often than not, especially through people like Madeleine, who simply cared enough to wonder.

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman

Friday, August 22, 2008

nudge . . . nudge . . . nudge

Several weeks ago, a friend sent out an email
about 'bags of grace.' He had heard about this
way of ministering to the homeless on our streets
from a devotion in a journal, and since he had
been wondering and wanting to do more than
just decide whether or not to give someone cash,
he decided to try it. It is a simple concept. A
little bag holding several items of food - 16 oz.
bottle of water; a can of sardines. a can of vienna
sausages, 1/2 sleeve of saltine crackers, and a pair
of white cotton socks (a homeless person told
him once that socks are like 'gold' on the street).
You could carry a bag in your purse, your coat
pocket, your briefcase. When someone asks you
for help, you hand them a bag of grace, which
also contains a card or list of agencies, shelters,
medical clinics, etc.

Nudge . . .

Then, I received the latest issue of 'Life and
Work' the magazine of the Church of Scotland.
In it was an article about Street Pastors, volunteers
(laity and clergy in several cities in Scotland, as
well as in Britain). Wearing high visibility jackets
and vests with 'Street Pastor' clearly marked, they
go out in pairs on Saturday night, to walk the
streets. They are not out to convert or preach,
simply to be a presence - to engage in conversation,
to assist people with practical help, to be hope
and compassion on streets not often filled with
these gifts. It's simple things they do - talk with
a young person who approaches them, offer a
pair of flip-flops to young women who have
taken off their dress shoes, picking up discarded
bottles (which can easily become weapons in
tense situations). In the neighborhoods they
have walked, crime has decreased, and people
respond positively to their presence.

Nudge . . . nudge . . .

And last Saturday night in Pittsburgh, while Bonnie
and I were walking back to the hotel after dinner,
we met a man in a red shirt who was looking at a
map. We stopped to ask if we could help, and he
smiled and said 'no, just learning my way around.'
He was a worker in a unique program, a partnership
between the city and downtown businesses, to offer
assistance to the homeless in the city. He carried a
walkie-talkie, a flashlight, some medical supplies
in a small bag on his belt. His job was to simply
walk the street, to check up on the homeless, to
see if they needed any assistance (medical or
otherwise), if they needed to know where they
could get a meal, or find shelter. A trained nurse,
he was now using his skills in a 'hospital on the
streets,' so to speak.

Nudge . . . nudge . . . nudge . . .

i wonder if God is trying to offer us new ways of
thinking, of serving, of being with the people who
are on our streets at night, whether they are folks
out for a good time, folks walking home after
dinner, folks who have no home only sidewalks
to walk on, sleep on, live on.

nudge . . . nudge . . . nudge . . .

(c) 2008 Thom M. Shuman