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Street Smarts

Joe was parked in his friend's garage. After ten years of life on the streets, living under a bridge, staying in a garage was a substantial upgrade. Nonetheless, even for a guy like Joe who's seen so much worse, he'd had enough. He was 65 years old. He was worn thin from what had always been a tough life. He'd run away at age 15 after years of daily physical and emotional abuse. Here he was 50 years later, and he couldn't think of much good that had come from him walking the Earth for all those years.

He thinks about suicide, but frankly, it scares him. What if he bungles it? What if he doesn't? He believes in God, but not religion. He does not want to disappoint God in this important way.

Before Joe could think any more about it, he lands in the intensive care unit at Porter Adventist Hospital, exhausted and quite sick with severe pneumonia. As Joe starts to recover slowly, one  of his nurses calls a chaplain asking him to visit the patient. The chaplain stops by and he and Joe chat a bit. The next day, Joe and the chaplain are talking about where Joe finds meaning in his life.

Joe told the chaplain that he keeps it simple. He believes in God. He believes in relying on faith, love, hope and charity. They talked a lot about how to find courage to live, even on days when it was clear that life hadn't turned out the way Joe imagined. The conversation concluded with a prayer for physical healing, guidance for the medical team, courage to keep on, and the wisdom to find new meaning while living in a messed-up world. Even still, the chaplain continued to worry about Joe.

The chaplain comes back to see Joe again. Joe reveals that he was a medic in the military and that he often would help other street people who were having medical crises until the paramedics arrived. Pointing to his mouth, missing half his teeth, Joe said, "Now, I can't even smile. You know, Bucky Beaver was right in those TV cartoons: 'If you don't brush your teeth, they will fall out." Street Smarts The chaplain wondered aloud, "Hey, Joe. What if you could use your experience and your natural inclination to help those in medical need? What if you shared your story with people on the street, and you taught them how important it is to take care of their teeth, even if they don't have much else?"

Joe's face brightened a bit and he allowed himself a tooth-gapped smile as he considered this; they just might believe him.

The chaplain consulted with the nurse and the attending physician, who both concurred that helping Joe find some meaning in life again was an important piece of his recovery plan. Next, the chaplain called a longtime friend in an inner-city ministry, Barbara Martin. She leads City Healing Ministries in downtown Denver, offering spiritual, physical and addiction recovery ministries. She listened to the chaplain's idea and offered an inspired solution.
Barbara said she knew a dentist who volunteered services monthly and so she called the dentist. Next thing you know, Joe and the dentist are making rounds together. Joe has more than a great smile now. He's got meaning. He's got hope-and he doesn't feel like an ordinary Joe any more. All in a day's work for a hospital chaplain.

Sam Miller
Porter Adventist Hospital

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