Thursday, December 27, 2012

Grace? Or Just Mind Games?

I hope your Christmas was good. Frankly, ours was a mess.

We had Boness stay with us over Christmas.  It was his first experience at seeing lightening strike up close and personal. (A first for us also....).  Basically at about 11 a.m. on Christmas morning, when I mistakenly thought my biggest problem was getting the ham warmed up, the deviled eggs finished, and the green beans ready to take to my sister-in-law's house for Christmas lunch, I found out I was wrong.  Priorities changed...

While I was sitting at the kitchen table, wondering if I had the right amount of salt and pepper in the egg mixture, lightening was about to hit the house right behind us.   We share a utility pole with that house and why our house didn't catch on fire as Butch's did, we have no idea.  

We never heard any rumblings or warnings of what was to come. We never even saw a flash of light. My sister-in-law who  lives just up the hill from us saw lightening at ground level on both sides of her house and heard a weird rumbling  but as far as we knew, one minute everything was fine and the next there was a huge explosion which shook our house momentarily, caused light bulbs to explode inside the house, and took out half our power.   The next thing we knew, smoke was billowing from Butch's house and then, before the fire trucks could get there, flames were shooting up over 8 feet above the roof.  It was a scary time.

God protected all of us.  (Windows cracked two houses down from Butch on the side away from our house. Also, neighbors on our street, three houses down, had light fixtures blown from the ceiling. All in all, we think as many as six houses, in an L-shaped pattern, were affected by the lightening strike).

These are some things that keep running through our minds as we process all this:
1.  Butch is elderly and has chronic health problems which are affecting his personality.  He probably shouldn't be living by himself.  There is a glass shop across from us and its owner,  Jason,  is the only neighbor who has regular contact with Butch now.  Also, Jason has contact numbers for some of Butch's family.  Although Jason runs the glass shop, he's often off-site putting in wind shields, etc and is almost never at the shop on weekends and holidays.  He just ran by the shop  Christmas morning for whatever reason and his visit just happened to coincide with the lightening strike.  He was able to contact Butch's family immediately and found out that Butch had recently been re-admitted to the hospital. This hospital visit not only saved Butch's life but the knowledge of his whereabouts  kept Phil, David, and Jason from having to run into the house to rescue Butch, something they were ready to do.  Being in the hospital is not something we normally think of as a good thing but in this case, it was.

2.  Our kitchen is small and I had been sitting directly under two light bulbs that shattered. Seconds before the strike happened, I decided to put the mustard in the fridge, stood up, opened the door, and leaned toward the lower shelf in the fridge.  Phil said that when I opened the door, he could see the refrigerator light was dark so the strike must have happened at the exact moment that I opened the door.  This was sort of important because the glass hit my back; otherwise, it would have rained down on my face and head.  As it was, I had on a thick sweatshirt and although I felt the glass pelting me, I didn't get a single cut.  Even now, I can't remember opening the refrigerator; I just remember putting my hands over my head, screaming and running into the next room where I suddenly realized that Phil was yelling at me, trying to find out if I was okay.  Even at that point, neither of us knew what had happened.  He thought the refrigerator light had blown up, cutting my face.  It was, for a few seconds, chaotic.  But the bottom line is that we were right there and neither of us got hurt.

3.  Boness was here on his computer in the spare room. He had his laptop plugged into the wall.  It ruined his charger and burned out his overhead light.  But the ceiling light didn't explode, he didn't get hurt, and his laptop still works, amazingly enough.  

4.  David was in the library with his headphones on, playing video games. He felt the room shake, thought, "Okay, I should be fried...", and turned off his electronics. Although electricity apparently arced through half our house, taking the power down with it, it did not touch the library.

5.  It destroyed our phone box outside and scorched a small area on our metal fuse box, destroying one fuse completely, but nothing caught fire.  And the only fluorescent that shattered was in our bedroom, a room we didn't stay in because our first thoughts were to check and see that the outside of the house was not on fire.  So any mercury that would have been released from it would have dissipated before we actually got into the room to clean it up.

6.  And, hard as it is to believe, the strike fried our surge protector on our computer (literally melted the inside wires) but our computer works.

Phil and I are both still processing this as I've said and probably will be turning it over in our minds for some time to come.

As I said, my biggest concern at 11 a.m. was getting the food finished asap.  We had decided to move the family meal up from 1 p.m. to 11 a.m. so that Phil's older sister, Mary Ann, could make it back to Hot Springs afterwards before the ice and sleet came.   We thought we had things all figured out and were erring on the side of caution!  In retrospect, the cautious thing would have been to have  ditched the green beans and then  booked it  to Linda's house at 10:45, Christmas meal be hanged!

If we had known to ask God to protect us from a lightening strike, we would have asked!  But it never occurred to us to do so because we didn't even know there was any danger of that happening.   We were asking God for travel protection for Mary Ann, not knowing that within thirty minutes there would be four emergency vehicles blocking our street, lights flashing, and that  after an hour, some of us would be carrying wrapped presents and plates of food in the wind and the rain to the nearest street corner where Mary Ann had her jeep, ready to take us to Linda's house.

As I've thought about this, I've wondered: should I be afraid of next Tuesday?:)  As I blogged earlier, someone set off a pipe bomb last week, on Tuesday, a couple of houses away from us. Now this Tuesday, the house behind us gets a direct lightening strike.   I'm kind of half-kidding about being afraid of Tuesdays but I can honestly see why people can get caught up in superstition.   We won't be covering  ourselves in lucky rabbit's feet for the New Year but we will be asking for protection for our neighborhood as people break out the fireworks (and in some cases, possibly gunpowder) in this area this upcoming Tuesday.

I've also wondered: if I had known the lightening strike was going to happen (ditto for the pipe bomb...)  and I had asked for God to stay His hand and prevent the bolt from ever touching earth (ditto the pipe bomb..:), would God have granted it?  I don't know.  I do know this: His power and goodness are not dependent on what happens to us personally. He's good because that's His nature. And someday we will stand in the presence of that goodness, all doubt removed.

But still, in the stress of the moment, questions arise.  When Phil told me point blank that it had to be God who caused me to decide, just at that precise moment on Christmas morning, to put the mustard jar into the fridge, is that the case?  Does God work through such simple things as putting up mustard jars?  Can I say, like a prophet of old,  God told me to put the mustard jar up!!  No, I really can't.    And I can't really argue with those who would say,  "Are you kidding me?  Lightening set the house behind you on fire and messed up the fixtures in your house and you think God was in all that???  If He was there, why didn't He prevent the lightening strike in the first place??  

I know (some) of the theology as to why bad things happen to Christ-followers, the primary one being that we live in a fallen world where lightening strikes, Godly young men slip and fall while hiking, and crazed individuals go into elementary schools and shoot up innocent children. But the question remains:  if He plans to bring good out of the bad that touches His children, why does He allow the bad in the first place?  Or maybe even more to the point, am I kidding myself? Am I clutching at straws to prove God was with us when... really He wasn't? Am I babbling about mustard jars and fridges when the lightening strike alone proves it was all just a freak of nature thing?

Basically, I'm asking if we're playing games when we say, "The tornado blew the house over the county line but God is good because Grandma made it out alive..."  I know many would say, "If God is so good, why doesn't He get rid of tornadoes altogether?"

I think it's a valid question.

I ran across a quote many years ago, after my mom and dad passed away from cancer, that goes like this:   a grace applied within a grace denied (John Piper).   What it means is this:  sometimes God doesn't "gift" us  with the big things but within that large grace gift denied, He gives us smaller things. Piper puts it this way.  Suppose we are getting ready to go on a road trip and we ask that our trip will go well. But along the way our car breaks down, our request for a smooth trip is denied. We don't get the larger blessing. But what if God brings along a total stranger with a tow truck to help us?  That is a "gift", a matter of grace given and received, only on a smaller scale.

Going back to the Christmas day lightening strike we can see that God gave us  multiple "smaller graces" which, in retrospect, seem not so small at all. Preserving David and Boness from harm while they were on electronics.  Preserving me from being cut in the midst of falling glass.  Preserving Phil who was in the kitchen but never felt any glass falling or even realized the bulbs were broken. Preserving Butch's life and also, once again, protecting Jason, Phil, and David by giving them crucial information that kept them from having to run into the house.  Even preserving all our major appliances - we don't even think we'll have to make an insurance claim.  Granted, we'd rather not have the trauma of a nearby explosion at all.  But still, we know we received grace  in time of trouble.

 As for Austen's family,  I can't speak for them  - and I don't have to.  They are maintaining an awesome testimony to God's grace even in the midst of their grief. They may not use the term, a grace applied within a grace denied - and their loss is huge -  but they are living the truth of that phrase.  If you haven't gone to the FB page, Prayers for Austen Elders, you might want to check it out. It's very encouraging.

 And I clearly can't speak for the residents of Newtown, CT. At all.

But I can say for us that in the midst of a larger grace denied, we personally received multiple "smaller" graces applied that in the long run add up to so  much more than we could ever hope to deserve.

Truly, it's all grace.

And  we are thankful.

Maybe it wasn't such a bad Christmas after all....

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