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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What does the voice of God sound like?

I drive in Boston. It's warming up so not only must I dodge the potholes now exposed after the snowdrifts receded, but also all the bikers, runners, jaywalkers, motorcyclists, and scooters who come out from their hibernation.

Sunday I encountered a new variety of pedestrian.  An older lady on her walker.  Walking down the hill on Cambridge Street in Burlington, she reached a place where the sidewalk ends so she just kept her stride a going alongside all the cars.  I almost didn't see her the way the shadows ran.

When I drove past I thought of my Great Aunt Nancy who has been deceased four years now, and how much my mom would be yelling at her if she was racing the northbound Sunday traffic in the right lane of a main road in the Boston suburbs, Is this woman crazy!?  I then recalled my old Campus pastor from freshman year Kathleen Haines telling a story of picking up a woman walking a stroller with two kids in the street where there was no sidewalk.  Rev Kathleen would pick up people all the time. Then I just decided, "I'm going to offer this woman a ride."

I didn't hear a voice from the clouds like it was Monty Python and the holy grail, or even something crazy like a burning bush.  Just a split second decision to do something about this unsafe unnecesary act while recalling the examples of kindness I'd seen from previous chapters of my life when rides were given.

I turned around and pulled over.   It was awkward, the only place I could stop to wait on her was an intersection where a guy trimming bushes gave me funny looks for just idling there.  And I stayed in my car waiting for her to continue down the busy street to where I was, praying no one hit her while I just sat there.  It's crazy with vehicles, on short mistake and that could be the end.  As she crossed the side street in front of me I asked if she needed a ride somewhere.  She said "you can take me back to my apartment right down the hill here."  I helped her in the passengers seat and folded the walker.  I really felt like I was with Aunt Nancy or going to lunch with someone from Sunnyside assisted living home during my college days.

As we drove down the hill I said, "just tell me where to turn."  She said, "I live in ____ Apartments on Birchcrest street. it's right down the hill here." Still being unfamiliar with the neighborhood, I thought I'd just keep going and wait for her to tell me where to go.  We kept going, she told me she passed this store, and these buildings, and that one, and it's on her side just up here.   At almost 2 miles from where I picked her up I realized--and she realized--she was lost.  We drove back to the town common near where I picked her up to try and maybe ask at the town hall or police station for directions. But it was Sunday so that's all closed.

From what I gathered she got to the town common, a large park and got turned around and was walking down the wrong side street from the park thinking it was hers when I saw her in the road.

Oh Boston.

I drove her to my church and found Steven, the doorman, head of Sanctuary Security.  He told me where her apartments were.  I asked if she wanted to stay for church. She laughed.  I took her home.  She said to say a prayer for her.  The end.

I share that story first of all to say, I';m pretty sure I'll be a nasty mess to take care of when I'm older.  Friends, just shoot me when I get old and daffy.  Just hit me when I make it to the road in my walker.
wind up racing grannies
Image retrieved from http://www.racinggrannies.com/

Second I want to reflect on what may or may not be an experience of calling.

When I passed her I said out loud, "that woman is on a walker in the middle of the road what kind of place is this?" then those thoughts of Rev Kathleen picking up people in Harrisonburg, VA then I just turned around to ask.  No "voice of God" just a memory and the realization I could do something about this thing I saw wasn't right.

When she was in the car I thought it would be just one straightforward task, but I was just as lost as she was.  I don't know my way around Burlington very well.  I looked through my car and didn't have a map.  I had to make a lot of problem solving decisions.  Who do I call, where do I go, who should I ask???  Was I the best person to pick her up?  Thankfully, being Sunday, I had a congregation of long time Massachusetts residents at church to be a living GPS for me.

If I say this was "the spirit moving" like some people from church told me it was, I want to let you know that sometimes we may be pretty confused doing what the spirit wants.  And that's ok, just go along with it.  Sometimes God gives us the heart for something but maybe not a roadmap.  Maybe you'll be confused a lot of the time. The Bible tells us God provides (Philippians 4:19) .  But when it seems like God doesn't provide (you can't find the map) you see that God gives us community, other members of his body to recruit for help.  Other people are such an accessible resource.  Weather in a church, school, or just asking a random guy on the sidewalk for directions, God will give you all the resources you need to help.  Trust that.  God says, "I will never leave you nor forsake you"

If it wasn't the spirit moving...then what do you call the time lining up that I was late leaving the house and hit the right number of red lights so that I saw this lady at the one block where there was no sidewalk and she was in the street.  And I'm not one to pick up people often, it just kind of happened.  I even wanted to stop that day for some groceries on the way, but just felt like I should keep going.  If we don't call it the spirit, what else is there?  please answer that for me in the comments section.

Afterwards I wonder if I hadn't picked her up how far would she have walked along that street before asking for help or realizing it was the wrong street?  Who else would have stopped to pick her up that may have known the city better?  What other driver texting or changing the radio wouldn't see her and hit her?  You can go down the wild road of  scenarios on how the events would have played out otherwise, or how I could have done it better.  But it happened this way and I hope she's in a better place for it.

Is this the work of God? Is this just Alex doing something nice so he can write about it?  Does the motive even matter?  How do you tell the difference between your gut and the holy spirit?
In my attempt to answer these questions I acknowledge I don't have a seminary degree, but here's my best guess.
1. "Follow your gut and follow your heart.  God's in both of them"  My friend Hannah told me that.  2. If it is a voice telling you to show love, grace, and/or compassion it's probably the holy spirit.  Do it. That's my answer. 1 John 4 sais it pretty elequently.
"do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are of God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.  By this you know the spirit of God; every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God and every spirit which does not confess Jesus is not of God.  This is the spirit of antichrist, of which you heard that it was coming and now it is in the world already.  Little children, you are of God and have overcome them; for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world...we are of God.  Whoever knows God listens to us and he who is not of God does not listen to us.  By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.

All deep questions I think about in my spare time.  When did you respond to a voice from God? or a gut feeling to do something Godly?

Sunday, June 22, 2014

General Assembly 4: The church's work for serious mental illnesses

Thursday the 19th I was brought to tears at a dinner with the Compassion, Peace, Justice branch of Presbyterian Mission Agency at General Assembly.  One of their subgroups, the Presbyterian Health Education and Welfare Administration started giving awards to partner churches.

First Presbyterian Church in Danville, IL received one for starting a church group called "Comfort My People" named after Isaiah 40:1; an open place to talk about serious mental illnesses, specifically Bipolar disorder for all those affected by it.

The lady receiving the award gave a description of their group study, and progress on understanding and coping alongside several of their church members suffering from bipolar.

I was literally brought to tears and stepped outside to cry a minute before I realized I needed to go back inside and talk to this woman.  My close friend Gus had bipolar.  That condition led him to kill himself seven months ago to the day I was at this dinner.  Their church in Illinois designated May as mental health awareness month when they incorporate prayers for those affected by mental disorders into their worship.  Gus' birthday was in May.

I never ever felt comfortable talking with Gus about his condition, or talking to others about it.  The last day I ever saw Gus, I brought it up to him, and he got mad at me. Everyone saw Gus when he was ok, brightening up our day, saying something random, bizarre, caring, and loving.  Days when he was full of compassion and honesty.  He just made things better and life much more full to everyone around him. I wrote a lot about that this winter here.

I also saw him get bad because of his disease, and was around him when he just wasn't himself, but felt and continue to feel so helpless on what I can really do.  Too many times I didn't tell anyone about him fearing it wasn't my place, and I shouldn't talk about it.  How different it may have been if I were more comfortable talking about, like members of this church's group seemed to be, together.

Little did I know my denomination--The denomination of the church where Gus grew up, where I met Gus in confirmation class--has had studies and resources on how churches can deal with and talk openly about serious mental health conditions since 2008 and probably before.  There is a whole committee called Presbyterian Serious Mental Illness Network, a cousin in Presbyterian Mission Agency to the Young Adult Volunteers (who I serve in Boston).

The woman accepting the award, Katie, talked about how their pianist only signed on to play music for them because of the experience he had in their group.  He had bipolar disorder, and having that church who did a study of how to minister to and understand the stigma, the symptoms, and those dealing with bipolar provided the place of understanding this pianist needed.

The group used some resources from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Chicago.  They also used scriptures and discussion questions from the Presbyterian Church's statement on serious mental illness, and a study guide the denomination created for church groups.

It sounded wonderful and very meaningful to the life of that church. I couldn't help but feel regret that those of us close to Gus had trouble understanding and dealing with him sometimes and how maybe, just maybe, the church could have been a place for him to talk, and us to talk.  I never had a good open conversation about the really dark times until he was dead.  Gus' family and many of his friends have been blaming the state's failure to provide Gus with care. The state's system clearly messed up and didn't find him a bed when he needed it. Period. But I think we all let him down a little bit too. Many of us feel that helplessness that we individually didn't know what to do, and the things we did, didn't work.  I share access to these newly found resources for individuals and churches who are still dealing with such conditions that it might make it easier to understand and talk about.

Please consider these resources for your church, club, or small group and share them with others and families who may be interested.  The church is to be the salt of the earth, and the light of the world.  The church must be a safe place, especially when the state fails to be!  God can heal anything broken.  An honest community can heal most things!  

Helpful links and resources (please share other helpful resources you know of):

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

General Assembly 3

Monday all three food-justice overtures I was following made it through committee and will be sent to the main General Assembly body on Wednesday for the final say.  Please read my previous post "General Assembly 1" for more info.  Here are a few details.

Overtures 09-09 and 09-11 on the first 1,000 days of a child's life, and promotion of the principle of food sovereignty were sent to the committee on social justice (committee 09).  This committee also considered more controversial subjects like 2 overtures related to gun violence (09-01 on Reducing Gun Violence and 09-07 Preventing Gun violence) and one calling for further study on the church's stance on abortion, which I watched the open hearing arguments for.  The food-related overtures passed with relative ease.

There was no argument about the 1,000 days campaign, everyone pretty much agreed that nutrition for infants should be a priority.

The food sovereignty overture raised some questions.  One person didn't do his homework and asked about the definition of food sovereignty.  He feared it messed with our relationship to God, who is sovereign. Sometimes I forget that not everyone is as well versed as I am with these food terms like this that have been widely used since 1996.  There was a small change to the overture where they removed the clause about returning land from land grabs to original owners.  This was made in part due to confusion on how far back in history would the church push for land restoration (Native Americans and Europeans), and fear that the larger assembly would make it an issue about Israel and Palestine referring to land being returned to the owners.  They removed this language entirely in hopes it would not confuse the larger body who has the final say and keep it limited to food which is important.

In committee 15, the Committee on Immigration and Environmental Issues held an open hearing on overtures 15-01, 02, and 03.  One being fossil fuel divestment, 2 is consideration of the precautionary principle and sustainable development that I was watching, and 3 was affirming the stance of an Oregon group looking for a study on some coal projects in the area. During the open hearing anyone who signed up before the end of the day Sunday could speak for or against the overtures.

One wrench that got thrown in the socket was on the precautionary principle overture, one lady advocating  for the abortion study overture in the social justice committee spoke in favor of the precautionary principle because it would allow "careful consideration" of things that may cause harm to human life, which she interpreted as abortions.  Meaning the church might consider changing the current policy on abortion by forbidding it all together because it caused "harm to human life".  Another person argued that supporting the term "sustainable development" might suggest abortion as birth control in some rural villages in the developing world.  These seemed so far beyond the overture I didn't think anyone saw it coming except one other lady from the morning hearing on abortion spoke in favor of the overture.  She asked the committee to make sure they considered wording that did not suggest the precautionary principle would apply to abortion.  It was a mess.  Eventually it passed with a few amendments added, but this goes to show how crazy and literal people take this when they have an agenda in mind.

 That was weird because the precautionary principle as defined in the overture was specifically speaking toward new technologies, chemicals, and goods introduced to the market.  Following the overture, the church would advocate that these things be tested to show their safety and level of harm to consumers rather than the current system of putting something out on the market, and then keeping it there until it is tested to be unsafe.  It puts precaution over profit for new emerging technologies, toxins, and GMOs, and really doesn't speak to abortion which was definitely covered by the social justice committee. But when someone's got an agenda, they do their homework and they look for loopholes.

The two on food justice were passed with a more than 75% majority so they will be lumped together with other bills and overtures with such a majority in committee and voted on together on Wednesday.  The Precautionary Principle overture passed with a 60 something percent majority and will be voted on by the larger assembly on its own.  We should know by Wednesday if they pass the plenary session and become real.

On Tuesday I sat through the Environmental committee on the question of divestment from fossil fuel companies.  Stay tuned for more details.  That one was tough to sit through.

Monday, June 16, 2014

General Assembly 2

As a Boston YAV, I'm visiting General Assembly in Detroit following the latest policy changes in the Presbyterian Church USA denomination.  Please see my previous post on some food and environmental-related policies.

Sunday I learned more on the hot button topic, gay marriage.  I attended a worship service with More Light Presbyterians.  They are all about including LGBTQ people in the work of the church.  It stretched me a little, and I grew a little. I want to apologize for my naive understanding of LGBTQ and if I use terms incorrectly please tell me to change them, as I'm not well versed in sex terms.  But this isn't about sex, it's about compassion.

Compassion.  A word that reminds me of the unique perspective of a former colleague, Alex Zuercher.  Alex's example and message reflecting compassion along with Gus doing the same for honesty, made my last year's summer home of a bunk house full of rowdy boy campers a tame place.  A word which these fine men shaped into my own character.  A word I would have said described me until Sunday.

Compassion.  That's what I heard about from More Light Presbyterians.  Compassion they said is having a heart for someone else.  Back to the Latin roots it comes from compati, meaning to sympathize with:   com (with) + pati (to suffer).  It means to share, sypmpathize and really know what someone is struggling with.  The preacher used the story of Joseph's brothers selling him into slavery as an example of apathy, the opposite of compassion.  Not until they saw their father weep for days at Joseph's bloody coat did they understand their father's compassion.  If you have a few minutes please read or watch Anna Barclay's sermon here.

She told about the many times we create, "the other." Someone different than us, like Joseph's brothers did to him.  For us it may be the poor, the homeless, the hungry, maybe those on welfare, those on food stamps.  Maybe those who wear the rainbow scarfs at GA, those who use these letters LGBTQ to identify themselves. People we cast out.  People we are tired of hearing from that we want to throw into the pit like Joseph and get back to "normal life."  But if we have compassion would we make them "the other"?

Honesty moment.  LGBTQ is weird to me.  I'm a little uncomfortable around these people, I tend to make them "the other".  I consider myself sheltered, but becoming more open-minded, sometimes old fashioned.  I was called a grandpa just today.  I like females, I think that's normal, and I don't understand homosexuality.  I know sexuality is part of ourselves that we discover growing up.  I know and believe we need safe people in our lives to explore and understand this about ourselves.  I think our sexual drives can get us in big trouble and I associate these letters with being promiscuous, lustful and and wrong.  If I stop there, like I sometimes do, I create "the other" and throw out the letters LGBTQ like I understand what that means.

But I can't stop there.  We can't stop there and say we know.......Not if we have compassion.  So I'm sorry for the times I do.

I know there are parts of myself most people don't know, there are parts of myself even my closest friends don't know, and there are parts of myself that even I don't know.  So there is plenty of room for other people to have parts of their lives I don't know or understand.  And that's ok with me to a degree.  I don't know everything about the world.  I know the world is bigger than me.  The church is bigger than me.  God is bigger than what I think God is.  Compassion, is recognizing that it's more than me, my own thoughts, and what my great uncle is thinking right now as he rolls over in his grave hearing me breaching this subject.  Compassion is listening, hearing, truly understanding, and loving someone.  Loving someone so much that they aren't an "other" they are one with you, with all of us, with Christ.

In Anna's sermon she mentioned several other problems that exist in the LGBTQ and Ally community like poverty among queers, racism toward people of color in the LGBTQ community.  The fact that Anna herself feels more comfortable as an openly queer woman of color in a white crowd than she does in a black crowd.  That doesn't even scratch the surface of injustice, apathy, and lack of compassion among this group.  All this stuff we people privileged, "normal," "non-other," or maybe just too uncomfortable to bring up don't know about because we make them "the other" we get uncomfortable, scared, and don't talk about it.  We deny compassion and ignore them in the pit, or like Joseph's brother Reuben, we feel compassion but we don't speak loud enough against the injustice and apathy.

I work for "Food Justice" it's a loaded term, two trendy words put together.  It's Justice (read Isaiah, Amos, Micah, and listen to Jesus. You'll get it) and we do that through work with food.  My work shows me that God want's justice, and compassion, and we do it through the church so people know that God's church does too.  Christ knows those parts of ourselves that we don't tell everyone about, the parts we may not have explored yet.  Christ went as far as to feel compassion and empathy with us by living, struggling alongside us and dying as a human. But even further he rose from death and freed us from it.  That's compassion.

If the hungry, the poor, the broken, the widows, the orphans, the oppressed, the racially-discriminated, the LGBTQs "the others" can't find compassion in the church, what good is the church?  And there are some pretty stern warnings in the scriptures on what happens when you don't show compassion...

These issues are hard.  They ask sheltered, privleged guys like me to change the way things have always been, they get old fashioned people like me who like the status quo a little worried.  But I'm learning it's about improvement, not change.  Look at the Bible and honestly tell me things never change.  Look at the people in the last year in your life who have died, moved away, had kids, gotten married, divorced, incarcerated, employed, laid off, and tell me things don't change.  Things will change, and we need to get over it.  But through compassion we can change things for the better. Lets understand the people we make "the other" in our life, truly understand what they struggle with, and share what we struggle with.  Let's not throw them in a pit and sell them into slavery, but see the good, the value, the imago Dei (image of God) in them.  Lets create a system that makes compassion and understanding among different groups easier, better, and more loving.

May we all find compassion in our lives from those around us, and extend that to others who we encounter who may seem different, scary and make us uncomfortable.  God has compassion for them, why don't we?   Sunday I learned I don't have a clue about the LGBTQ community, but I hope compassion will get me to some understanding, and I hope GA and churches considering these tough issues start with compassion.  Compassion is as old-fashioned as it gets!


Sunday, June 15, 2014

General Assembly 1

So the YAV program sent us to Detroit, Michigan to the Presbyterian Church's 221st General Assembly to follow 3 food-justice related overtures.  We are learning how food policy, or any policy changes on a denominational level.  This is what we're following:  You can read the full text about them by clicking on the links.

One is on Food Soverignty from Atlanta that encourages members on all levels of presbytery to pray for support, study and promote projects that encourage food sovereignty such as stopping large land grabs and promoting agrarian reform.  This one seems vague but can have a lot of implications on having the national church force other churches and mission agencies to participate in a better food system like our church placements in Boston are doing.

A second one on recognizing the importance of childhood nutrition in the first 1000 days after a woman is pregnant to the child's second birthday.  It is here where the child needs nutritious food or they will develop incorrectly.  Premature death from malnutrition at this age is a huge killer in the developing world, and even effects women and children in the US.  Sponsored in part by Bread for the World, Libby's organization, this overture asks Presbyterians to learn, advocate, and recognize the importance of government support such as SNAP (food stamps) and WIC for women and children at this stage, and asks the clerk to write a letter to congress advocating for US policy reform to support women at this stage.    

The third one on Sustainable development and the precautionary principle.   This one is also very vague, but like the first it would force the GA to ask all levels of Presbyterians to consider the environmental impact of their decisions for their property, policy, and other decisions.

I'm also interested in one sent from the Boston Presbytery on divestment from fossil fuel companies.  Audrey's pastor Rob Mark is here as its official advocate.  There is a lot of debate on Israel/Palestine peacemaking that seems to be the hot topic for the week, so I want to watch that as much as possible also.

Overtures are sent to General Assembly from one or more presbyteries and they serve a similar function as a petition in the US government that says enough people support ____ so you should think about doing ___ with your political power.  Today I learned that individual presbyteries can send select people as overture advocates to go campaign for an overture.  Overtures get sent to a committee based on it's subject matter.  The committee holds an open hearing for outside comments, then designates a short time for the advocates to rally support for their overtures, and the committee discusses, maybe changes it, and votes.  The committee's vote, either yes or no gets sent back to the plenary floor for the commissioned ruling elders (elders) and teaching elders (ministers) to vote to either support what the committee says about it, reject the committee's decision, or bring it up in discussion again.  The three food related overtures all seem like good ideas people can get behind and I don't see much fuss happening.  Divestment from fossil fuel companies might have more conflict.

I will keep you posted on what happens with them, but you can follow the PCUSA twitter feed and facebook to keep up with all that's happening.

One thing about GA.  We went to the opening worship.  There is something really special about sharing communion with thousands of other people from all over the country.  That shows how large, open, and accepting God's table really is.  God loves the damnyankees from Boston just as much as the southerners, midwesterners, immigrants, Michiganders...even the ministers, elders, young adults, LGBTQ folks, white priveliged folks, old folks.  For some reason God sees value in all of us, loves us, claims us, marks us as his, and makes us who He created us to be if we just allow him to do this in our lives. We were reminded of this by the current moderator Neal Presa.  The church is changing and finally being more accepting of differences. May God's work continue, and may God's message of Love go beyond political opinions this week.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Here's to simple living

Here's to simple living.  I set this up in the winter:  The dryer was making a noise that sounded like a mix between an elephant and a weed eater.  It somehow fixed itself but to avoid what I thought was an expensive repair, I went for a nine dollar fix--buy a much needed rope and 50 clothespins and let the heat from the furnace dry the laundry as it heats the house. 

Now that it's finally above freezing in New England we can move it outside and laundry will dry faster saving both natural gas, electricity, and the external and financial costs of both.  If there were an ordinance against clotheslines (as there are in some places), we could hang them in the attic and the heat would dry them much faster than in the basement.

It is interesting to consider the cost of time spent hanging laundry vs tossing it in the dryer compared to the energy conservation.  I've had some late nights hanging it all up, and there isn't enough line to hang more than 2 loads if we're all washing.  Just like other things with simple living it goes best with proper planning and intentionality to set aside that time.

It does make a difference. After that furnace, the dryer is our highest energy-consuming appliance.  It is the highest electricity consumer in most homes.  Ever consider a clothesline in your yard, basement, or attic?




Friday, May 30, 2014

She's asking for money. What should I do?

In the city you see people begging for money.  The panhandlers.  Some people privileged enough never to have been in that position tell me they're liars that have their social security or veterans check waiting at home.  My uncle says you can tell they aren't poor because their shoes match.  Some people don't believe they are poor and needy.  I'll be honest, I don't know if they are.  Some may be, some may not be.

I'd say the first three months up here in Bean-town I kept ignoring all these people, but then I kept feeling guilty that I kept ignoring people that may be in need.  I've started to make it a point to acknowledge the panhandlers by saying hi, ask how they're doing and start a conversation.

I've seen personally, that a few are drunk, some sober, some have mental illness, some are just down on their luck, some are cheating the system, some just open up and tell you way more than you care to hear.  Most of them say it's embarrasing to beg like that.  Part of it's fun to throw them off by speaking to them, maybe even sitting down beside them, especially if I'm all clean shaven in my tie.  Somehow since they are seeking your attention it feels less awkward to talk to them than someone walking next to you.  But really, my thought is if they're on the street, they probably don't have a good support system, and since they're in Boston they get ignored by billions of people that pass without acknowledging them--most everyone here gets ignored by everyone else.

We're all part of God's body, the absolute least I should do is recognize another member of this body, right?    I'd even say we're called to feed, clothe, and take care of those without.  (Matthew 25 starting at verse 21) Lord when did we see you?..."When you do unto the least of these, you do unto me."

So why not start looking out for our brothers and sisters, especially those publicly claiming they need money?

Here is a story:

Wednesday walking to the train station from work a woman asked me very urgently, "Please tell me you got a quarter or something so I can get this bus"
I said, "I don't have any cash, but I can take you somewhere and buy you something to eat if you want."
"Can you tap me on this bus?  You going to Copley? Meet me at Back Bay." She rattled off as I almost walked away..  The bus pulled up and stopped.  I didn't even see it coming.

I didn't know what was happening, but the bus was going where I was walking, I had money on my bus card so I got on the bus with her, and paid her and myself.

She kept saying "I ain't got a dime to my name.  I just got back from burying my mother and the shelters aren't like they used to be around here."  She kept telling me she had 12 seizures in 7 days, she's been in the hospital for several weeks.  She showed me where she knocked out some teeth during her last seizure.  She's been begging for money but can't get enough to buy her seizure medicine.

I asked where she needed to go to get the medicine, she explained where the CVS was.  I said I'd take her there and pay for it.  She insisted I should just give her money.  I usually feel better buying something directly for someone than giving out cash.  Who knows what they'll spend it on, and the random times you give a beggar some hot Chinese food instead of a quarter, well it's interesting, ask someone if they need some food and go get them some if they do, you'll see--everyone likes food better than dirty old money.

I kept imagining what in the world I'd do if she had a seizure in front of me while I was helping her get to her medicine.  "Lord don't do that to me" I thought and maybe said out loud.

She kept saying she's been asking God to help her for days and nothing's happened. I said I go with her to buy the meds because I just have my card on me.  She said, "really?!" and kept reminding me of her situation and the seizures. I got a word in that I was sorry to hear about her mother, and she started to talk about how much she missed her mom. We found an ATM, she needed $13 for her seizure medicine so I withdrew a $20 and gave it to her.  While I was at the machine she kept pacing around the place saying "thank you Jesus" and offering praise.  She began talking on her phone to someone that seemed to be the pharmacy to see if the prescription was ready and it seemed to be.  She gave me a hug said thank you so much and walked away with my $20. That's a significant chunk of change as a YAV, but hey it's seizure meds and a reasonable meal if she spends it like I hope she does.

Part of my cynicism wonders if she was lying. I wonder if she'll spend it on booze, or other prescription drugs.  But maybe everything she said was true.  Maybe she'll get some seizure medicine and not loose any more teeth and maybe she found a place to stay tonight because it's cold.  Maybe I'm out $20, but maybe that's what I'd have spent on booze.  My job gave me the money and didn't ask me any questions on how I spent it, why does it matter how she spends it?

Sarah Miles has a lot of good things to say about urban ministry in California.  One thing I remember from one of her talks is, we see people in need, like this and we ask God to send some help, and we wait for someone to pick them up in a taxi, or money to fall from the sky, or whatever.  But maybe God sends us.  Maybe that's how God answers prayers, through us showing compassion. --That's my paraphrase of her in my memory.

Maybe that's what happened, or maybe I got scammed.  God only knows.  I know God's watching over me and this woman the same.

Do any of you readers encounter panhandlers on the street? What do you do? Do you have any certain way that you reach out as God asks us.  Does the idea that they might be lying bother you or hinder that call?  Let me know. I've got mixed feelings.