Have you ever had such a barrage of misfortune that it felt like you were under attack from some unnamed invisible force? Next steps in life are often hard to take as immobilizing questions arise. Was it a test from God? …An attack from Satan? …Or, maybe just coincidental forces of nature?
Let me tell you a story about how that happened to me one time in Lebanon.
August 2000 – Tyre, Lebanon
The phone rang and woke me up early in the morning. I waited for the extra ring so I could try to jumpstart my brain out of dream-mode.
Brianne was hysterical, “Nate! Dad fell down on the roof and he’s unconscious. Please come. We don’t know what to do. Hurry!”
“I’ll be right there,” I said, and hung up. I was awake, grabbing clothes, throwing on the nearest pair of shoes. I was only a block away; I could get there quickly. Grabbing my keys, I flew out the door and down the stone stairway.
Four steps above the first landing, my right foot caught on a jagged edge of broken marble and my ankle turned. I fell fast because of my momentum, but my memory always replays it in cinematic slow motion. I grabbed for the cement banister to brace myself. It kept me from falling completely, but the rough, painted concrete scraped my left forearm deeply.
I stopped to take inventory of my injuries for a second or two and recover from the initial wave of pain. My arm was on fire, but the blood that came to the surface of the abrasion wasn’t dripping. Testing my ankle on the landing, I continued on at a slow and wincing hop-a-long pace. My two flights of stairs went okay, but I worried about making it up Denis’ four flights to the roof…
Meanwhile, Just Around The Corner…
Denis had gotten up early that morning to exercise on the roof. On the hottest days of the year in Lebanon, even mornings were scorching. Denis usually spent his morning workout times in solitude and prayer, but Brenda had joined him that morning to enjoy the rooftop garden he had created in planters.
Sit-ups… pull-ups… Push-ups… His workout was almost finished when Denis blacked out and collapsed.
Brenda saw him fall. His head hit and shattered a ceramic pot on the way down. She ran over and swept away the broken shards. After ten agonizingly long seconds he came around. But when he tried to sit up, he passed out again, this time with convulsions. That’s when Brenda frantically called down the stairs to their daughter, and told her to call me.
When I finally made it to the top of the stairs I found an emotional scene. Brenda had hosed down her husband to try to cool him off. Denis had regained consciousness, but didn’t feel like sitting up yet. Together, we laid him on a lounge chair in the shade. Fifteen minutes into the ordeal we came to the conclusion that Denis would be okay. He had heat exhaustion, but was recovering already. The cuts on his head were superficial.
Just When You Think Its All Over…
As things calmed down, we replayed our individual harrowing tales. I showed off my swollen ankle and raspberry forearm as trophies of my heroism, while Denis drank water and slowly came back to life. He asked for some electrolyte solution from their medicine cabinet that he remembered getting from the pharmacy.
Brenda came back with the citrus powder mixed with water and he tasted it. “Are you sure you mixed this right?” he asked with a grimace. He kept working at getting some of it down, and then finally said, “Let me see the wrapper for this. There’s something not right about it.”
The label was written in French, and Denis was the only one of us able to read it. He quickly realized that the reason it didn’t taste so good was that it was not electrolytes for replenishing lost nutrients, but electric coffee pot cleaning solution. He had been merrily sipping on a glass of sulfuric acid!
He drank milk to mitigate the harmful effects of what he’d ingested, and later we bought him some charcoal tablets that we learned would be good for the situation.
In the words of one of my favorite childhood books, it had already been a “terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day,” and it was only 9:30 in the morning. After hanging out and sharing lunch with my friends, I hobbled back to my apartment to ponder on the spiritual influences behind the events of the day.
Making Sense of Suffering When You’re Trying To Do Good
Part of me thought that God was inflicting punishment on us for attempting to work against the curses he himself had put on Tyre. He goes on and on about it for almost three chapters in the book of Ezekiel (I had just been studying those passages). I didn’t want to believe that, because each of us had felt God prompting us to move there and bless the community. An attack from the enemy then? Not having a clear answer discouraged me.
I’ve started asking God directly if I don’t have clear biblical precedent to guide me. “God, what do you want me to know about what happened today?” Then I stop and listen, with the expectation that God speaks to his children. I don’t hear an audible booming voice, but clarity comes as ideas formulate or pictures emerge.
Do you believe that God can literally answer your questions in prayer? What do you do to make sense of the curve balls that are thrown at you in life?