Surrounded by Miracles
The other day, while I was scrolling through my social media feeds while at the airport, I came across this incredible story:
On August 9, 1942, Navy Signalman 3rd Class Elgin Staples was aboard USS Astoria (off the coast of Guadalcanal) when the ship was attacked by Japanese cruisers. The Astoria was ultimately sunk, and over 200 crew were lost.
Though wounded, Staples put on his life belt and jumped into the ocean before the sip went down. He was later rescued by a US destroyer and, after months of recovery, returned home to Akron, Ohio.
As he returned home, he examined the life belt that had saved him and noticed it had been made in his hometown. When he informed his mother of this, she told him she had gotten a job at that factory after he shipped off.
Upon closer examination, she saw something that shocked her. The inspector number on the life belt was hers. She tearfully told her son that she had personally inspected the life belt that had saved his life.
After reading this story, I was blown away by just how many odds-defying things had to happen for this sailor to return home alive because of a life belt his mother's plant had not only manufactured but that she had held in her own hands.
It's almost too easy to attribute this to Divine Intervention, and on the surface, it's hard to argue against this kind of incredible coincidence being guided by the hand of God somehow.
But when you think of the hundreds of thousands of mothers during World War II who were informed of the death of their sons and daughters instead of being reunited with them, the miraculous nature of this story loses some of its luster.
How does a grieving mother mourning the loss of her son read this story? What about the mothers of the 200 sailors lost on the Astoria the night that Elgin Staples went into the water?
Doesn't this speak to an arbitrary and perhaps capricious God who picks and chooses who is saved and who is lost and then punctuates the salvation with a too-good-to-be-true miraculous story---the kind of story that might inspire some but leave others feeling forgotten?
If you have ever listened to someone relate a tale of good fortune and against-all-odds survival, triumph, and the like and asked yourself, "Why didn't that happen to me?" you know exactly what I'm trying to say.
Why did their partner live, and mine died?
Why did their child become a success, and mine is an addict?
Why did their marriage survive, and mine didn't?
Why did I get this diagnosis when so many others are healthy?
The story of Elgin Staples and his mother is an amazing one, to be sure. It speaks to the power of connectivity, to the ways we do little things that might have an incredible impact on people, most of whom we never know.
Staples' mother inspected thousands of life belts that saved the lives of thousands of sailors. It just so happened that she got the chance to experience firsthand the importance of what she was doing because one of those belts saved the life of her own son.
Life is sometimes like that. We get surprised by the mystery of it. How we connect to the world, and the people around us overwhelms us.
And God is in the midst of all of it. God is in the miraculous moments and the moments of shock and dismay. God is with us when what could have been lost forever is restored, and God is with us when we feel like we've lost everything.
There isn't a single moment of our lives when we are not surrounded by the presence and love of God, no matter what we are facing. And there are miracles in those moments if we are brave and open enough to seek them.
Sometimes they are abundantly evident---right in front of us. Other times we must look harder, let go of our fear and dread and dive deeper into whatever the moment brings.
The fact is, we are surrounded by miracles. We are constantly encountering odds-defying experiences. These are the gifts that God brings to us even when we are suffering. And it's these gifts that can give us hope when all hope seems lost.
May you find the miracles around you each and every day. May you discover the joy of knowing you are surrounded by a God who loves you beyond any love you could imagine.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.