Although there is great fun in packing up your family and trekking to another continent, there is also a good deal of trepidation; i.e risk and fear. The African trips we’ve had the privilege of taking have blessed us and have been amazing gifts; yet, the element of risk is always there whenever you transport your family to another country where the language and customs are unfamiliar. Add to that the responsibility of being a surrogate dad for another teenager who is traveling with you and one definitely has a situation needing God’s sovereign direction.
Who can really, truly, fully understand God’s sovereignty and direction? The Scriptures are absolutely clear that God is in control of all things and that He watches over His people and guides their steps. He even watches over the nations reviewing the hearts of men. He causes nations to rise and fall. The insight He possesses is beyond anything we can imagine; yet, I have often wondered what He was up to in my life and in the lives of others. In our limited, finite walk it is often easier to look back with the 20/40 vision of experience and see what He has mastered in our lives than it is to look at the present moment or the imagined future and see His hand or plan. God sees from a totally different perspective than we do. It is critically important that we review our lives because the review often reveals to our hearts the nearness and dearness of God. This “looking back” often brings His work in our walk to our mind. No one knows all of the answers related to why He lets “bad” things happen to “good” people. (I use quotes because often our hindsight changes our perspective on what was either a bad or good experience.) Here’s what I know. God has always existed in a love relationship. He has invited us into this love. Love requires choice because robots cannot love. Choices have resulted in Sin. Troubling experiences arise in a world broken by the sinfulness of man. We have an enemy who prowls like a lion seeking to devour us. Yet, God always works for the good of those who love Him. (Nutshell Philosophy by Window the Nut)
Charlie led the way as we boarded the plane in Casablanca, Morocco continuing our trip to Ouagadougou (Wagadugu), Burkina Faso. Hillary, our traveling companion, fell into line in the second spot. I was following her and Wendy and Laura were bringing up the rear. We had just finished a long day in Casablanca hanging out at a hotel in the middle of a “Casablancian” desert. Waiting to board the plane in the airport we met and became friends with an American woman from California who, it just so happened, was headed to the exact same place that we were headed – Dano, Burkina Faso. I had noticed her throughout the trip because of her white skin and her English. (Neither of which were common in the areas we were traveling.) We visited with her in the Casablanca airport and quickly became friends. She was actually headed to a small village, Sorian, in which she had met her husband. If you’ve read any of my previous emails you may remember an article I entitled, “The Saints at Sorian”. Charlie and I visited this village the last time we were in Burkina Faso and had the opportunity worship with the saints there. Her 3 year old daughter, Malawe, became fast friends with Charlie, Wendy and our traveling companion Hillary. Her name was Sarah and she and Laura visited for quite a while in the airport. She was a kind woman who spoke English and French fluently. Meeting this woman who was headed to the same area in the world was something akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack.
As we were making our way down the aisle to our seats, Hillary collapsed onto the floor in a full seizure. Initially, although a seasoned witness of too many seizures, I was not sure what was happening. She was dutifully carrying her backpacks ahead of me and simply began to wilt onto Charlie and then eventually down onto the floor. (I’ll spare the details as both Hillary and her mom may be reading this.) It was quite crowded and a man near her came to her assistance. Charlie moved on ahead and I quickly reached down and removed Hillary’s backpacks. Truthfully, I was almost paralyzed with panic. The chief steward quickly asked who she was with and I did my best to tell them she was with us. The steward and the passenger across the aisle from me began tending to her as my mind raced.
“What should I do? I’m her “dad” for the trip. Are there hospitals in Casablanca? What type of health care do they offer? Is this really happening?”
I found her traveling papers and had them ready just in case. She continued to seize. I’ve seen several seizures in my lifetime since three of my family members suffer with seizure disorder; however, experience doesn’t change the awful presentation of a seizure. It literally ties up a person in a huge, body size muscle cramp and leaves them helpless – as well as the onlookers. The seizure continued.
Laura had made her way to Hillary and was tending to her. Wendy and Sarah had also worked their way up to her and all three had their hands on her and were praying. What a novel concept. I was, frankly, continuing to panic. Hey, somebody had to do it. I pulled my cell phone and began to call Hillary’s mom. It seemed prudent to me to find out if she had a history of seizures, although I knew in my heart that her family would have told me if this was the case. On two different occasions Hillary’s mother, Sheila, answered the phone but could not hear me. Laura inquired as to my strange behavior and quickly and wisely encouraged me NOT to call Sheila. There would be nothing for her to do except worry and frankly, I didn’t need any help in that area. Laura was right. I dutifully obeyed and put away my cell phone.
At this point, it was obvious that we needed a doctor so I began to call for one. Others relayed the message. As we shouted throughout the plane the man across the aisle who had broken her fall and was already tending to Hillary was finally able to be heard above the din and told the steward and those around us that, it just so happened, he was a doctor. He watched Hillary closely taking detailed mental notes of the entire ordeal. He did not speak English only French, so our new found friend, Sarah, stepped into the gap and began to translate. Her presence was another remarkable “coincidence“. The doctor had actually been the one who had caught her on the way to the floor of the plane and had saved her from any external head injuries that might have resulted. He and the Chief Steward discussed the situation and Sarah relayed their conversation to me. The doctor and I discussed the situation and he was convinced that Hillary’s seizure was a true epileptic seizure and that she would be fine to continue on to Ouagadougou. The Chief Steward questioned the doctor repeatedly but the doctor never budged. He truly felt she would be fine and that she should continue on. He would be with us throughout the flight should anything recur. I knew nothing about Casablanca’s medical facilities but I was a seizure veteran and knew that if this was a true epileptic seizure, as it appeared to me and others, that Hillary would slowly regain her mental faculties and all would be well. So, I discussed it with Laura, Sarah and Doc and we all decided our best route was to allow Hillary to continue on to Burkina Faso where her cousin was awaiting her.
She was resting by this point, so they simply loaded her into a row of seats by herself and she slept. It just so happened that the flight was not full and thus there were plenty of seats for her to rest in. Laura roused her to make sure she was okay and to see if she knew anyone. She was okay but didn’t really know anyone at that point other than Sarah’s daughter, who she had just met. Such is the state of a post-seizure brain. I’ve seen it in both of my youngest children and it is not pretty. Eventually, she became herself again and asked for something to eat and something for her head. The doc didn’t recommend we give her anything for her headache but she was treated to another of the wonderful (not really) meals we endured, I mean enjoyed, on our many flights. When I saw that she was upright, I made my way to her seat, sat beside her and hugged her as hard as I could. Gratitude oozed out of me and tears welled in my eyes. Whew. We were all in a bit of shock – other than Hillary, I mean. She was bright eyed and well. She even seemed to be enjoying the strange Moroccan cuisine. (This did cause us to worry a bit.)
As I reflected on the terrifying incident, I was hard pressed to say why it happened other than the combination of reasons I listed earlier. However, in the midst of the trauma there were several clear indicators of God’s presence and activity that came to mind. It just so happened that a doctor broke Hillary’s fall to the floor. Most injuries related to seizures happen during the fall, not during the seizure. It just so happened that although the doc spoke French (and none of us did), we had very recently made a fast friend who spoke fluent French as well as English and who actually asked better questions in the situation than I did. (I spent my time trying not to cry or say nonsensical words that might reveal the current state of my mind.) It just so happened that Charlie and Sarah’s daughter had become fast friends and that Malawe was pleased to have Charlie as a babysitter which freed up Sarah to translate. It just so happened that Laura, Wendy and Charlie were/are seasoned seizure veterans. As Charlie babysat, Wendy and Laura literally rushed to Hillary’s side and tended to her. They knew she would be fine so they applied the most effective medicine known to man, prayer. It just so happened that the doctor was headed to our same destination and gladly agreed to stay at the airport and discuss the details with Hillary’s cousin Chad. It just so happened that although 6 of our 8 bags failed to arrive, our new friend Sarah was related to an air traffic controller at the Ouagadougou airport who stayed with us and helped us deal with the most angry, rude man in Burkina Faso (Some slight, literary exaggeration has been added for effect in relation to the “Bag Recovery” boss, but not much. I thought our friend Andy might become Mighty Missionary Man and bonk the guy in the head. Instead, he used his suave personality and strong command of the French language to ensure that the rude airport employee put in a claim for our bags.) It just so happened that our new found ATC friend stayed with us at 3:30 in the morning until the claim was completely and accurately filed. It just so happened that while we tracked down our bags Sarah got Chad and the doctor connected and talking. It just so happened that there were too many “it just so happened” for any of them to have “just so happened”. (Bad English, I know, but it makes my point.) Even when we cannot explain the trauma, we know and have experienced that there are no coincidences with God.
When we look honestly at the whole of Scripture it is impossible to conclude that all will be smooth sailing for the Christian. That the boat will never rock. That little cherubs will guide every step. That every problem will be instantly resolved. This perspective on faith is simply unbiblical and false. We do live in a broken world and things do go wrong. We are being pursued by an enemy who is seeking our destruction. Broken things cause problems. Trouble, problems, even terrifying seizures in a strange and foreign land are a fact of our existence. Only “pie in the sky” dishonesty can deny such. Yet, the Scripture is perfectly clear that the One who created all things and knows every heart and sees every experience, is with us in time of crisis. Sometimes His presence is instantly obvious. At other times, it takes our hindsight to see His hand. In either case, the overwhelming sense of His goodness and care is remarkable. To think that the God of the universe would accompany us in every situation is more than I can get my mind around but it has been proven in my experience and in the objective truth of Scripture. It enlivens the imagination and brings life to our walk. He goes with us through the problems. He is listening and working and weaving our lives into His ultimate purpose of glory. His gracious will is worked in every crisis of the submitting believer as is clearly evidenced in the ultimate crisis, the Cross. “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief…” Is. 53:10 And we, the Redeemed, shouldn’t expect trouble? Come on!
Isaiah 43:1-3 “But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: ‘Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.
Notice that God never promises a lack of obstacles or trouble, He makes a greater promise: His presence and protection and deliverance through them all. We belong to God. There will be days when we are all wet, yet He will be standing in the rain along with us. There will be days when we must cross huge, rushing rivers, yet He will swim along side and plant us safely on the other side. There will be days of intense heat, yet He will never allow us to be scorched. Even the eventual trauma that will take our physical existence will not end us. His Holy Spirit will carry us across that river also. He will usher us into the eternal Kingdom of Glory. We will fall at the feet of the Son who has saved us. We will lift our hands to the King of all Creation and bless our Father.
It didn’t just so happen. It won’t just so happen. There are no coincidences with God.
The grace and peace of our Sovereign Father to you all.