Under the headline, “Toddler Pinned By Three-ton Bulldozer Escapes Unharmed,” a recent newspaper article reads as follows:
“An 18-month old boy survived unharmed despite being run over by his father’s bulldozer. Dewey McCall’s father, Melvin, was driving the bulldozer last week when it suddenly slipped out of gear, jerking McCall and sending the toddler sprawling. To his horror, McCall looked down and saw the child’s legs jutting from under the tractor treads, three tons of steel pinning the tiny body into the hard-packed earth.
“The boy was taken to a hospital where extensive X-rays revealed no broken bones and no internal injuries. The little boy sustained only a minor cut on his head and tread marks on his back.
“‘I have absolutely no explanation of how that child survived,’ said the police officer who investigated the incident. ‘We could not even get our hands under the tread. It’s a miracle, I tell you; it’s a real miracle!’”
Our age, despite its prove-it-to-me rationalism, is still fascinated and drawn to the miraculous, whether it be a dramatic rescue from death under a bulldozer, healings at Lourdes, images of Jesus on a flour tortilla or any phenomenon that does not coincide with our scientific assumptions and theories. But the real miracles in our world are not those which defy or transcend natural law but any event that reveals to us its inner reality and brings us into direct contact with God.
That is why Martin Luther said that part of the miracle of Christmas was Mary’s saying “Yes!” to God’s messenger and offering herself to God with such utter trust and radical faith. Mary recognized the presence of God in what was happening that day in Nazareth; and, although she did not understand all that it meant, she believed that whatever it meant and whatever consequences would flow from it, it would be all right. So she said “Yes,” and the promised miracle took shape in and through her.
Yes, we also need a soul like Mary’s that is wide enough to believe the miracle, to trust it and to live from it. Mary’s life was never the same after she offered herself to let God’s impossible happen through her. She claimed the promise and kept claiming it through the years until she stood beneath a cross on Golgotha and watched the Son she had carried in her womb and nurtured through the years die in untold pain in order to be faithful to his God.
Looking back over her life, Mary could trace how God’s miracle kept asserting and manifesting itself in all the seasons of her life, in times of joy and in times of sorrow, in the faces of those she loved and those who loved her and in the power of God whom she called on to make the best of the worst, saying with the apostle Paul, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” What a miracle she lived out as she claimed the miracle God had given to her.
A physician friend recently shared with me a column he clipped from The Journal of the American Medical Association written by a family doctor in Troy, Pa., which is a parable of what we are saying; and with it I close:
“I had the honor of making a house call at the Brewer farm the other night. That might sound facetious, but it’s not. It almost strikes me as a privilege to breech the inner sanctum of someone’s home where only the most intimate of family and friends hover near the sick and dying. You can almost feel the layers of privacy and familiarity brush by you as you make your way to the bedroom. The smells, the pictures, the old boots by the door – all things universal to the human nest, yet all stamped so indelibly with their own uniqueness. And so it was with the Brewer home.
“Helen was now 78 and dying. She knew it, although she wouldn’t dwell on it or even discuss it. Her family knew, too – even her great grandchildren. Her pain was unremitting, she could barely tolerate nourishment, and her strength was all but gone. Yet nothing, even morphine, seemed to cloud her thinking.
“She was my patient for more than five years, but always she addressed me as ‘Doctor,’ even though I encouraged use of my first name. Not from Helen. Life for her was lived properly – no apostrophes or shortcuts. Chores in the morning at 5:00, breakfast at 7:00, Bible study and housework until dinner at noon, when ‘the men’ came in from field work. Quilting with neighbors until afternoon chores, followed by supper, prayers, and bed. Always with family, young and old. In the house, in the barn, in the church or fields – always she was near them.
“At times I would marvel that such steady lives still occur in this helter-skelter world. Were their lives boring? Did the monotony dilute the rewards? Did they really feel frustrated deep down inside? People like Helen and her husband Jerome simply live life simply. They have a strong sense of propriety and purpose and value and God.
“In all, such values make for worthy people leading contented lives. Yet I still couldn’t quite grasp what made them tick and was searching for the key as I crunched through the snow, black bag in hand, up the walkway to the neat farmhouse ...
“Kitchens are wonderful places. Throw in an old wood-burning cook stove with a pot of homemade soup simmering on top, and it’s close to paradise. This one smelled heavenly. I wanted to stay right there, but Pat, Helen’s daughter, ever mindful of not ‘wasting my time’ – ‘I know you’re busy, Doctor, and we don’t want to keep you from your supper and family’ – led me quickly through the dining room to the adjoining den.
“In the far corner, opposite the TV, lay Helen in a ‘lazy-boy’ recliner, propped up and tucked in an assortment of pillows and quilts. She smiled as I walked into the room. No place of resignation or despair was this. At her side, beaming and babbling as toddlers will do, were two cherubic pink-cheeked great-grandchildren, as full of health and vitality as was Helen consumed by illness and decline.
“As I went about the business of trying to assist in any small possible to make Helen’s remaining days comfortable, the power of this family’s concern and affection for their failing matriarch overwhelmed me. Not even a trace of resentment or inconvenience was present. That had to be the key I sought. Their lives were full not only of their work but of one another; and this, I believe, was their strength.
“Helen, her family, and the image of that house call are still very much alive in my heart. Recalling the love that sustained Helen for so long now helps sustain me in my times of frustration and discouragement. The Brewers’ brand of undiluted loving care is rare indeed, but it is a powerful miracle that has a life of its own.”
The real miracles in this world are those that the Brewers discovered, the miracles that Mary lived out – those miracles that come when we slow down and with awe and wonder thank God for the gift of life and the mystery of love and, in so doing, feel God’s presence near.
Rev. Dr. Fred Andrea is Aiken’s First Baptist Church’s pastor.