On Good Friday, it occurred to me that I didn’t believe in a God who did miracles.
It was not a convenient time to face this fact. My culture was preparing for the celebration of the most amazing miracle of all: either a giant rabbit that delivers candy or the resurrection of a dead man…depending on which religion you follow.
This year, I wasn’t prepared for the Easter weekend. I spent the Holy Week roaming around strange East Coast cities. In all of the noise and the crowds, there was little time for considering Jesus….save in the beauty of the towering buildings, the historic sights, the humanity of the teeming subways.
I finally arrived in my Oregon apartment, dirty and exhausted, on Good Friday evening, and I found my Facebook feed peppered with Mary. I didn’t know Mary, but she was a student at my alma mater who by all accounts loved the poor and disliked shoes. And she was missing.
She had gone up to the mountain to go hiking, and no one had heard from her since Sunday evening. Her car was found in the Mount Hood parking lot. All they really knew was that she was missing and had been for days.
Over Facebook, I saw people fear and grieve. I saw a community rise together and affirm the value of an individual. I hurt for those who loved Mary, and I feared what her loss would do to her family and her campus community. I also saw hope and prayer and petitions to God’s loving heart, that he would restore her to those who loved her.
That’s when I realized I didn’t believe Mary was alive. I didn’t believe that she could be saved. And I didn’t believe that God would save her.
It would take a miracle, and I didn’t think God did miracles much anymore.
My faith is complex. I believe in the old miracles, the biblical ones, because I always have. Because regardless of their literal truth, they are embedded with a truth that goes deeper, that tells us something about the heart of God.
At some point, though, I just stopped believing that most of the things attributed to miracles were actually unexplained phenomena. Because so many things can be explained now. Everything attributed to miracle status seemed so easily explained by other means.
But this situation seemed inexplicable and inescapable. I didn’t believe God would save Mary. I believed that the snow and the wind and the elements had her life in their hands, and she would not be the victor.
The realization that I didn’t believe God did miracles made me feel old and sad, like when that moment when you’re holding your Easter basket waiting for the go signal, and you suddenly realize your mother spent hours hiding eggs in the yard last night, just so that you could wade through mud for candy. It’s a loss of innocence. A loss of faith.
On the night that Christ breathed his last breath, I grieved for a stranger and for my loss of faith.
On Saturday morning, I woke, a heart heavy with sleep and Mary. I drank tea, unpacked my suitcase, took a shower. I looked outside at the sunshine and left my coat indoors. I went to a coffee shop. And in the middle of my coffee meeting, sunlight streamed in the shop windows and it was there.
She was alive. They had found her. The internet community rejoiced.
Easter had come early.
In my mind and heart, this stranger who meant so much to those around me had been dead. She was gone. Easter would forever be a reminder of loss even while there would be a celebration of life. A town would mourn, a campus would grieve, and hearts would be broken.
But I assumed the end of the story from what I know about life, and I forgot that there are surprise twists that change the direction of the story. A lot of times those twists are bad: an accident, a diagnosis, a pink slip. And just sometimes those twists are good.
Not everything changed. I do not see miracles everywhere I look, and I will always doubt. But it occurred to me that my definition of miracle was too small.
Deep down, I believe that today’s miracles are found in doctors and vaccines, split seconds and possibilities. Science, and the goodness of humanity, and coincidence, and how we interpret events can explain a lot. And I think God is pleased with that.
I attribute the rescue to Mary’s mind that kept her alive, to her strength and her will. And to the rescuers who knew where to search, after experience and training had taught them how.
But this isn’t denying God’s hand in this situation. Now I can see the miracles. That Mary’s mind is a miracle, and God is in that. The training and the experiences of the rescuers are a miracle, and God is in that.
A miracle doesn’t have to mean that God worked alone. It usually doesn’t. Instead, God uses the miracles he’s already put in place to continue his work. You. Me. Mary.
She’s sharing her story now, to news outlets. Her face is bright, almost incandescent in every photo I see. And a community celebrates a life reborn.