Saturday, April 8, 2017

In the Arms of an Angel: Joanne's Story

"Pastor, can I ask you a question?"

Walt was deeply troubled.  His granddaughter had just been in a serious automobile accident.  She had been running an errand for her father and had lost control of the vehicle along Highway 200, west of Thompson Falls.  The little pickup she was driving rolled down a steep embankment toward the Clark Fork River over the rip wrap of large rocks that had been placed there to stabilize the bank.  The truck came to a rest just short of the river, out of sight of the road.

Joanne was thrown out of the vehicle.  She was bleeding profusely from a wound on her head, enough that the blood was getting in her eyes making it difficult to see.  More seriously, she had broken her back and was unable to move her legs.  A passing motorist had seen her lying beside the road, and had stopped to help her and get the emergency medical help she needed.  

After Joanne was safely in the hospital, Walt and Gary, Joanne's father, had returned to the accident site.  Walt related the what they found there.

Down the embankment, near the vehicle, Walt was certain that he knew where Joanne had landed after being thrown from the vehicle.  There was blood on the rock, and based on the shape of the rock, he was pretty certain he knew how she hit, and how the injury to her back was caused.  

As they were standing there, surveying the site, curiosity got the best of Walt and he started to wonder how on earth Joanne, unable to walk, had made her way back up the embankment to the side of the road where she was found.  It was a difficult enough task for Walt and Gary to negotiate their way over all the boulders down to the crash site, let alone for Joanne, paralyzed from the waist down.

Walt was an experienced hunter.  He prided himself on being able to track a wounded elk through the thickest of woods, with or without snow on the ground.  He was trained through a lifetime of experience to be able to pick out the faintest dot of blood on the ground and vegetation.  And so, wanting to know how she got back to the road, his immediate reaction was to simply follow the blood trail.

Bare rocks.  It would be an easy task to pick out the drops of fresh blood.  Except there were none.  Walt and Gary scoured the embankment looking for even a drop of blood as evidence of the route Joanne had taken up the hill.  There was none.  

"Pastor, I know where she was lying beside the truck, there was blood there.  And I know where they found her beside the road.  But how could she possibly have made her way up that embankment to the road, paralyzed as she was, without leaving even a trace of blood along the way?"

Its been over twenty five years since that day.  And my mind has returned to Walt's question time and time again.  The rational side of my brain looked for an answer.  Perhaps, though her back was broken from the impact of the accident, the damage to her spinal chord didn't occur until she had made her way up the embankment to the road, a journey fueled with a deep survival instinct and a rush of adrenaline.  That the spinal chord damage occurred as she climbed back to the road seems like a logical explanation, though there remains the question of the blood.  Even if she still had the use of her legs, making her way over those rocks, climbing back to the road without even shedding a drop of blood on the ground seems like a stretch.

And then there is the faith question.  Could it be that God still comes to the aid of his people?  Do we have the will to believe?  The Bible speaks of angels.  An idle tale of a pre-scientific world view?  Or reality?

I spoke with Gary, in the days following the accident.  "Gary, I don't know how, or why, but I am convinced that Joanne didn't make it back to the road under her own power."  "Thank you for saying that," Gary replied, "I've been hesitant to even speak of it lest people think I'm a religious nut, but I believe that too."

Could it be that God is still actively engaged in our world?  That God's saving activity is not restricted to the past tense?  And do we, in our modern scientific mindset, still possess the will to believe?

The most troubling question for me, as I wrestle with the will to believe, is this.  "If Joanne, why not Alison, or Paul, or Jazz, or any number of young people whom I buried over the course of my ministry?"  I don't know the answer to that question.  I probably never will.  

But I am convinced that God has not forgotten our world.  

This coming week is Holy Week.  The message of Christ's resurrection has been proclaimed for nearly two thousand years.  He who once was dead, now lives.  The tomb was empty.  Angels shared the good  news.  He appeared to the disciples.  In their presence he ate and drank.  They felt his wounds.  And on that day, everything they had believed about life and death changed forever.

It is no idle tale of a day gone by when people, for lack of understanding, chose to believe.

Jesus lives.  Today, yesterday, and tomorrow.

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