When good news finds you

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It is terribly easy to find tragic news stories. Just open the paper, turn on the news, check the internet.

To find good news, you might have to search like an investigative reporter.

Margaret Evans covers the war in Ukraine for the Canadian Broadcasting Company. When author Louise Penny asked about the Ukrainians she had met, Evans showed a picture of an elderly organ grinder. This gentleman had a Santa Claus beard and a pipe clenched between his teeth. Instead of a monkey, a pet rabbit sat beside him. There was a paper bag by his feet that read “Kindness Everywhere.”

Imagine believing that message in a country torn apart by war.

Sometimes you rely on others to inspire you; other times good news all but kisses you in the face. My friend tripped on an uneven sidewalk and managed to steady himself by grabbing a telephone pole. Hugging the wood, he read a small sticker right in front of his nose: “You Are Beautiful.”

Another friend, who is having a difficult time, happened to glance down and see her favorite flower, wake robin trillium, blooming in an otherwise desolate parking lot.

Is receiving such a message just luck? Coincidence? God? I know people who flip the Bible open at random, hoping for an answer to their questions or problems. This seems a little like a Chinese fortune cookie approach to faith. But who am I to judge?

Perhaps there are messages just waiting to be discovered in sacred texts or even telephone pole stickers. Maybe good news is found in the grass and sky, in trees and parking lots. Maybe even in offhand comments by complete strangers.

My kids and I are huge fans of the writer Beverly Cleary, including all of the Ramona Quimby books. (We actually named our dog Ramona!) Those familiar with Cleary’s work may already know that the little girl Ramona originally appeared in novels about Henry Huggins, her neighbor on Klickitat Street. One afternoon, Cleary realized that Henry and all of his neighborhood friends had no brothers or sisters. She needed to create a sibling. But what would be her name? Cleary was sitting at her writing desk before an open window. From the street outside, she heard a stranger’s voice, “Ramona! Ramona, come here!” A literary hero was born.

Was this mere luck? Just coincidence? Or maybe a Divine Muse? Readers can answer such theological questions for themselves.

I call our attention to Cleary’s story because it strikes me that, if there are messages just waiting for us, the key is what we do with them. I’m not suggesting that everyone will write novels.

Perhaps more of us can relate to my friend who stumbled into that telephone pole. He read the sticker: “You Are Beautiful.” He couldn’t help but wonder: Who, me? Is this real? But then he felt a bit lighter. The sun shined brighter in a bluer sky. As he walked more carefully down that sidewalk, he watched for more good news, hoping (as C.S. Lewis once put it) “to be surprised by joy.” This kind of thing happens all the time; kindness really is everywhere.

Andrew Taylor-Troutman is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church. His newly-published book is a collection of his columns for the Chatham News + Record titled “Hope Matters: Churchless Sermons.”

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