Missing Miracles

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.

A miracle.

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9 thoughts on “Missing Miracles

  1. Another great post, Sara. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, many of which mirror mine (except for the getting to go somewhere cool over spring break part). Maybe there will be miracles here, next week, when all our research papers will be in on time, and they will be good, and grading will come easily.

  2. Hello Sara,

    I really enjoyed your post here. Someone at George Fox sent me the link.

    I am Mary’s dad

    Let me begin by saying, we are so grateful for the heroic work done by SAR and Newberg police to bring Mary back to us. Their devotion to saving lives is amazing and their finding Mary and saving her is worthy of all the thanks we can heap upon them.

    I am glad that Mary’s story has rekindled your belief in miracles at least to some degree. I want to share with you some other details that I hope will encourage you further. But first I need to share another story with from our family history.

    Some years ago, when Mary was maybe 15 or 16, our family went camping in southern Oregon will a group of other families. One day, about 40 people in our group climbed Mt McLaughlin. On the way down 2 young men, about 16, got lost. They had very little outdoor experience and we were all very worried about them. The following morning SAR was called out. They made their base camp at the trail head. The father of one of the lost boys and myself went to the base to see if there was any news. We had no sooner arrived when one of the boys was found trying to climb back up the mountain. Good news and bad. One boy was found, but they had split up, and the boy whose father I was with, had yet to be found. In only a few more moments, the SAR base received a call from another hiker at the summit. Looking down with his field glasses, he said he saw someone at about the treeline in a white t-shirt. He gave us the direction and we looked it up on the map. Seeing that we could get pretty close to the spot with a jeep, the boys’ father and I went to see what we could find. Sure enough, as we followed a dirt trail near the spot the hiker told us about, out came my friend’s son, thirsty, hungry, tired…. and wearing all BLACK. Black shoes, black pants, black t-shirt. Miracle, angel… well… we decided to believe that God had answered our prayers and sent an angel to show us where we could find the lost boy.

    Fast forward to just last Friday night. Mary’s mother and I and all her siblings gathered to pray for Mary. I knew the odds, six days out, very little gear, obviously at least injured (she would have hiked out already if she was not hurt right?). I know that pretty much all of science and reason would indicate that Mary’s chances were slim and none, and slim was leaving town. Never the less, we prayed for a miracle, because God does not care about odds, or probability calculations. We specifically prayed that God would send an angel to show us, and the SAR folks where Mary was, just like we believed he had for those two lost boys years ago. What else could we do? Give up, plan the funeral?

    Saturday we drove to the mountain, and as you know, she was found alive. The SAR commander related to me the circumstances of finding her. He said the National Guard helicopter started at the summit of Mount Hood, where they spotted a place where it appeared that someone had laid down in sleeping bag. Tracks on the summit led away and down… and directly to Mary. This would all sound completely reasonable if Mary had made it to the summit, but she did not, with a huge ridge looming in front of her, she turned back she estimates 1 – 2 thousand feet short of the summit, disappointed that she was not able to make it all the way to the top. It might sound reasonable, if she had a sleeping bag, or even if she has laid down wrapped in her poncho, but she didn’t. The tracks were not hers. So…we choose to believe that God directly answered our prayer in a miraculous way. He sent an angel to show us, and SAR heros, the way. Mary has since told me “If God can move mountains at his word, why would anyone think He could not help them find me on the side of one?”

    So, yes, I believe in the kind of miracles you wrote about. The fact that we even exist in the universe and are able to wonder about miracles, is a miracle in itself. But, I also believe that God still deals in the kind of miracles that defy earthly explanation, and what is more, He allows us to participate in the miraculous through prayer and faith.

    I know my own faith is so small and I myself doubt the limits of what God can or will do all to often. But this last week God has renewed my faith and answered my prayers. I will add this to my other experiences of God’s goodness, and when times become difficult again, as they most certainly will, I will try an remember what God has done, and ask God to help me believe when my faith is to small. I will believe again that God can move mountains, or raise the dead, heal the blind, make the lame walk again… or send an angel to find the lost, no matter what the odds. I will believe in miracles.

    May God bless you,

    Bruce Owen (Mary’s dad)

    1. I am much older than Sara and have also not had much faith in miracles, though God has shown Himself in my life. Recently, our pastor said our faith in God was too small if we would not pray about anything that concerned us. I am hoping to “find” one of my sons and how he is to live. May my new perspective on God’s abilities aide me in seeing His plans, as He guided those who helped Mary.

    2. Bruce, thank you so much for sharing more about the miracles behind Mary’s rescue. God is good, and he does do miracles. Thanks for the continued reminders, and let Mary know that I’m praying for her recovery!

      1. Thank you Sara. I will tell her. Mary is recovering well and back to going barefoot. Toes are wonderful things. She is so glad to still have hers. 🙂

        Perhaps you and Mary will meet sometime. I think you would probably like each other.

        I appreciate your writing. In your original post, you expressed elegantly sentiments we have now heard from many.

        Thanks again,

        Bruce

  3. Sara – a very thought provoking post (as they always are). After reading the post by Bruce, Mary’s dad, I’m inspired in the ways that God provide the angel, the path, and the miracles. Bless you!

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