There are a lot of times when we would all like to "escape," which may be the reason for the high popularity of things like weekends and vacations. The idea is that we can somehow step away from the world and all its turbulence for a while, let our minds and our muscles relax, and let our spirits breathe.
The concept, of course, is one that was designed into us by our creator who even legislated (at least in the Old Law) a day of rest -- a day of re-creation. Mankind mucked that up by making sure the day was so filled with "don'ts" that the fear of doing something wrong must have made most people even more tense than they ever were at work. I can imagine people all over Israel (and indeed in many other countries) swallowing their food whole to ensure they didn't chew too much and break some obscure Pharasaic interpretation of keeping the Sabbath holy.
But I digress. God's intent, it seems to me (and I'm getting this from Jesus) was to give us a day of rest. The way Jesus said it was, "The Sabbath day was made for man, not the other way around." (LMG translation). Even if you didn't know all that, you did know that time off is a good thing because we need times of refreshing. And a time of refreshing is exactly what I had in mind back in late June, almost a month ago now, when my wife and I traveled to Virginia to see my brother and his wife and their ever growing menagerie.
No, I'm not referring to children in some crude fashion, I'm referring to real animals. More about them in another post. I was also going to play in a golf tournament as my brother's guest at his club. Now that wasn't, and still isn't, my wife's definition of an ideal vacation, but she is a wonderful woman and she went along. She needed some re-creation time, too, and she was pretty sure she'd get it in Virginia.
So we hopped onto one of her planes (she works for an airline) and flew to Dulles International Airport, where my brother picked us up. We hadn't seen him in a while and we had never been to their place in Virginia even though they'd been there two years, so this was going to be fun.
Bill (that's my brother) and Dee Dee (his wife) had both lived in Chicago for many years, so they were no strangers to traffic. But Bill's two years in rural Virginia had pretty much wiped all those honking horns and waving fingers from his mind, and one of the best city drivers I had ever known had obviously been laid to rest and replaced by a small town driver who only honks to get the deer out of the road and only waves with his hand in friendly greeting, and that to almost every car in town. I laughed about it, but it was pretty cool.
There were a lot of other cool things about Virginia and Bill and Dee Dee's farm, and I'm going to write about those in another posting, but for the rest of this one I'm going to tell you why sometimes we can't escape, not even by going clear across the country.
Bill, Dee Dee, Judy and I were in the car leaving their farm to go to dinner when I got a call on my mobile phone, and it was from Jeff, one of the youth pastor's at our church in California. It was early evening on the East Coast, so mid afternoon near Modesto, California, where I knew he was on a water ski trip with the youth group. He was calling to get a phone number from me, and since it was stored on my mobile I told him to hold. While I was looking for the number I got another call from a friend at the church, who said she had just gotten off the phone with Jeff. I told her Jeff was on the other line and she said, "I'll let you go" and hung up.
I reconnected with Jeff, put him on hold again, restarted the search, and this time got the number and relayed it to him. It was for the cell phone of one of my friends at church whose two sons were both on the ski trip. Something was definitely wrong.
Jeff thanked me for the number and then said, "Hey Lewis. Michael drowned."
All the time I'd been dealing with this call, the other three occupants of the car had been talking. My sudden silence made them stop. I asked some kind of question and Jeff said they were taking Michael to a hospital. I asked if he would be DOA. Jeff said he didn't think so, because they got him breathing again. I told him I was in Virginia but that he should call me if there was anything I could do. And then we lost the connection.
Life found me on vacation, and while the time for rest and re-creation did not end with that phone call, it took its own little vacation. Later that evening and the next day we were able to get some sketchy and only partially accurate details, but the most important one of those was that Michael was alive.
Michael is still alive, and he is going to survive this accident, but he had indeed drowned. No one can say for certain how long his brain was deprived of oxygen, but it was long enough to cause damage which may or may not be permanent. He is still in the hospital, and he has shown amazing signs of recovery but he is still not, to use the doctor's phrase, "purposefully responsive." (If you are interested, you can follow Michael's progress on a special page at our church's web site.)
My point of all this is that life happens, even when we think we've escaped. It happened to me in a fairly significant way, not just for the personal impact the event had on me but for the things that it added to my life as a friend of the family and as an elder and pastor at the church.
All of that is as nothing, though, for the life that happened to Michael and his family while Michael was off enjoying time with his friends. Michael's life and the lives of several others, including his family, were changed forever that day. What God will do with it all, how Michael will improve and when, and how we will all respond is yet to be seen.
Those who would ask how a loving God could allow such a thing are asking an unanswerable question. This is a broken world, and things in it go bad and break, including our bodies and our minds. When it happens to a strong young man like Michael it seems inconsistent with our experiences, but it is not inconsistent with this world. My belief is that such things will be inconsistent with the next world.
Nevertheless, I want to add that God was on the job the day Michael went under the water. One of the adults on shore "just happened" to see him go down. The strongest kid and best swimmer in the youth group "just happened" to be closest to Michael, and amazingly found him in 12 feet of murky water, face down on the bottom, on just his second attempt to locate him. One of the youth leaders arrived at the scene (an island in a lake) just as they pulled Michael out, and he had "just happened" to read an article the day before about what to do in such situations and was able to clear much of the water from Michael's lungs almost immediately.
One of the adults and one of the youth group started CPR, and just then a boat with a husband and wife, both trained in rescue (he a former EMT and she a former professional Lifeguard), "just happened" to arrive. They took over CPR and actually got Michael's heart beating and got him breathing on his own, something CPR is almost never successful at doing.
Many other "just happened" kinds of things happened that day, and because of them Michael was not DOA. I've seen him, and I've seen the faith of his family and the positive impact this event has had on many people. It is true that God can use even the bad things of life to bring about good, and that is a good thing.
Still, since that day I've been a little less worried about work and a little more fond of times of refreshing, times with family and friends, and times of reflection. I'd recommend that as a pretty good way to live life. Don't think of vacations and weekends as times of escape, because you can't escape life, but think of them as a very special part of the whole. A day of rest, or several days of rest, for your body, mind and spirit. And somewhere during those times of rest, even if it is just for a moment, be thankful for the grace you've been given.