Broke or Breaking

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Everybody needs to be broken in some way or another. It comes in various ways—some harsher than others. Some are mercifully simple—you lose a job or a friend. Some are brutal and vicious—a bad divorce or a decade of alcoholism. None of these things are easy; if they were merely trivial, it wouldn’t be called “broken.” We rarely remember the light tap on the shoulder; we always remember the feel of pavement after getting knocked down in a parking lot.

Sometimes, the asphalt can be our kindest mentor, for it saves us from the cliff.

I’ve never been one to take things on faith; I need to know for myself. I am the product of our scientific and cynical era—an era that has stepped past doubting faith and now doubts everything. Our fathers warn us, “Don’t drive that road, the bridge has been broken for years and the river is deep.” And we nod and smile and don’t listen to a word of it. Inevitably, we end up struggling frantically out of car windows as water pours in around us. The bridge is out. Now we know.

The danger in this is that there may come an accident and we won’t be able to get out of the car. We will sink to the bottom of the river, and we will never come up, and the only thing that will be left is the faint sound of bubbles breaking the surface. Then, that too will disappear, and the river will run along as always, disrupted only by the sound of screeching tires and splashes as more cars plunge in after us.

In my relatively short time on earth, I’ve gone through enough cars that I should know to listen to advice and heed the road signs. Perhaps it’s a function of maturity; after all, the older people get the slower they tend to drive. Some still hurtle down the highway and through back roads and over washed-out bridges, but many learn to slow down, to listen, to not trust themselves so much. I still drive faster than I should. I’m sure I’m still heading down some roads that will end in rivers.

I will either learn, or I will drown. There isn’t a middle ground. Time is a wonderful equalizer. Karma may be a cheap illusion, but common grace sure looks a lot like it. People who drive fast get in more accidents. People who don’t listen have to figure things out for themselves—sometimes in mid-air, with the sky above and the water below and gravity pulling the whole thing down frighteningly quick. Sometimes getting carjacked is a blessing. Sometimes being conscious enough to crawl out of a broken window is a blessing too.

And when we sit on the bank of the river and watch what is left of our car sink away, when we lay on our backs in a parking lot and the world is ringing and the lights above are spinning and crossing like a kaleidoscope—here is where we are blessed with the opportunity of choice, the chance of redemption. A wise man will fail for a moment; a foolish man will fail for a lifetime. Maybe the wise man fails again and again, but each time he redirects his course—he drives one road and asks for directions, he drives slow enough to stop before going over the cliff. A foolish man just drives—carpe diem.

When Jacob was wrestling with God, and his hip was dislocated, he realized he was overmatched and dealing with someone he could not best. He stopped fighting and held on for a blessing. Yet how often do we continue to wrestle, doing our best to ignore the pain in our hip?

Hopefully, we will break before this happen. If we are lucky or have a speck of wisdom, like Balaam’s ass, our bodies and minds will surrender and lay down before we meet the Angel of the Lord in the middle of the road. We will be remained of asphalt tattoos and broken bones, and we won’t careen down roads with no good end.

Even if we get on the right path, it’s still winding and narrow; we still need to ask for directions and read road signs. But there are guard rails, and there are others—creeping along, doing their best not to look down as they traverse this winding mountain road. They keep their eyes up, the light from a far-off city playing on bruised faces and scarred hands. As they roll the window down at rest stops, they all consult the same cracked, weathered guide book and the same wise, old men, and ask with saving humility, “Is this right? Is this the way I should be going?”

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Noah

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I have often heard people–namely Evangelical Christians– speak of America as a place where miracles no longer occur. Those who have been on mission trips to places such as Africa or other very underdeveloped countries will bring back stories of miraculous healing and those who listen will ponder at why they have never seen a lame man walk. They will attribute this to a whole host of things: lack of faith, faithlessness entirely, moral depravity, or my personal favorite–science. We have developed some measure of science and now God looks down on us in disdain for being so arrogant as to try to figure out the world. After all, science brought us evolutionary theory, clinical abortions, and that unbearable truth that hurricanes are not a result of failing to sacrifice a goat on feast day.

Science also brought us Noah, or rather brought him back.

Noah is a friend of mine, a friend who was in a rather terrible car accident. He was driving his truck without a seatbelt when he lost control, ran off the road, and flipped a number of times. At some point during the rotations, Noah was ejected through the windshield and came to rest a fairly significant distance away from the crash. It’s probably a miracle in-and-of itself that he wasn’t wearing his seatbelt; if he had been, the twisted steel frame of his truck slicing through the driver’s side would have killed him instantly. Or he would have had to have both his legs amputated to remove him from the mess.

But somehow, Noah survived–survived the crash, survived the windshield, survived the subsequent tumble across the grassy earth. He survived long enough for paramedics to reach him and get him to a hospital. He survived while doctors told anxious parents that he wasn’t going to make it–multiple times. And he survived long enough to go to a treatment facility in Colorado that helped him while dealing with some of the extensively traumatic brain and skull damage he had received. He survived long enough to have a conversation with me 7 months later at my little brother’s basketball game.

He showed me the pictures from the crash. He told me about what happened (or what he remembered of it), waking up in the hospital, the medically-induced comas, the excruciating pain, the skill of the people who had treated him. Noah had been an exceptional downhill skier; he told me that all of his previous surgeries and injuries had helped him cope with the physical and mental trauma an accident like the one he had produces. When I asked him what he was planning on doing, he told me that he didn’t know–only that he wanted to do something to support the facility in Colorado that had guided him through his extensive rehabilitation. “It’s an incredible place,” Noah told me, “Miracles happen there every day.”

Miracles happen there every day.

The reason we don’t have miracles in America isn’t that God has left us. It’s not that we have killed divine power with the power of science–as if the two aren’t interwoven. No, we don’t have miracles in America because we don’t have the eyes to see them.

Our gaze has wandered to other lands and we have seen the miracles there and we want them to be recreated here. We want faith healings and the blind seeing and the lame walking. But those things happen; they happen all the time. They happen with greater frequency in America than any other nation. They may not come about through a prayer or a song, but they do occur. And we say, “No, no, that’s not God, that’s science. What I’m looking for is real miracles.” To which I say: ye of little faith.

The paramedics that treated Noah kept him alive long enough to get to the hospital. Their whole training–their whole lives–had prepared them to sustain the breath in this one individual. Then when he got to the hospital, his doctor–despite doubting Noah’s ability to survive–kept a spark of life in him; a holy talent cultivated through decades of experience. This was a man with a family, a life, maybe even an embarrassing tattoo from a weekend in Vegas, and he was there to care for Noah and minister to his very specific physical needs at that moment. The rehab center in Colorado is even more remarkable; years in the making, millions of dollars in support, from perhaps just as many individuals, staffed with some of the best medical professionals in their field. All the money, all the time, all the knowledge and experience that was poured into the place was given to Noah at the exact hour of his need.

If that’s not a miracle, I don’t know what is.

Now, you can tell me all about how a miracle is defined as the suspension of natural law by the divine. I agree. I would, however, ask that you broaden your definition of divine, and don’t constrict it to Bible stories or rural Tibetan villages. What happens in those places is certainly miraculous; what happens every day in the hospital down the road from my apartment is perhaps more so. It’s not that God is no longer present and working here; he just doesn’t need to do everything himself. He has servants who he has given the Spirit to, and they act out his will.

They say when the Apostle Paul’s shadow fell on people, they were healed from their ailments; well, I can tell you personally, I have met Paul–and he is a family friend. He works in an emergency room in Anchorage, Alaska. I know another Paul who spends his vacation time performing surgery in the jungles of Burma; he gives sight to the blind and comfort to the sick. Paul was one man, but we have an army of apostles who have trained their whole lives to perform miracles–whether they know it or not.

It’s not that we don’t have miracles anymore, they’ve just become so commonplace, we no longer view them as miraculous.