Nature's disasters and "accidents" may prove more enlightening than we might think.
It was our dream cabin-- 10,000 square feet of luxurious space over-looking a majestic waterfall on the backside of Mount Timpanogos, near the slopes of Robert Redford’s famous Sundance Ski Resort. It took my wife and I several years to design, plan, build and furnish it.
But it took only 10 seconds to destroy it.
I remember the afternoon as if it were yesterday. Thursday, February 13th, 1986, the day before our ninth anniversary. It had snowed about 40 inches that day. Still, my wife braved the weather for the 30-minute ride up the canyon from our home in Provo to visit our newly completed mountain home.
Taking our six-year-old son, Aaron, she left early that afternoon, stopping on the way to buy some ingredients for a cake to celebrate our special day. I was to join her later and bring Aimee, our nine-year-old daughter, and hunter, our youngest son.
My first hint of danger came at about 3:00 PM with a call from the Sundance ski patrol.
“There’s a problem at your cabin. You’d better come immediately.”
They gave no more details. Although I was behind deadline in finishing up a project, I left my computer and dashed up the canyon on snow-clogged roads. When I arrived at the ski-resort, the director of the resort and his staff greeted me with somber looks on their faces.
“There’s been a catastrophe at the cabin. We think your wife and son were there. Jump in my four-wheel drive. Let’s go.”
The cabin was adjacent to the main Sundance ski slope and was accessible only by a narrow, winding mountain road. As we frantically raced up the road, the high snow banks on either side made it seem as if we were winding through a labyrinth. As we rounded a curve in the road we met another vehicle coming down the narrow roadway. Both of us slammed on our brakes as we skidded into each other, with minor damage to both vehicles. After a brief exchange of information, we continued our race up the narrow road until the copper roof of the cabin came into sight in the distance.
I spotted my wife and son in the roadway surrounded by several members of the ski patrol. As I jumped out of the vehicle and ran toward her, she pointed to the trees above the cabin. I was shocked by what I saw.
The swath of a monster avalanche had blasted down the mountainside, leaving massive trees snapped and broken in its wake like match sticks. I glanced again at the cabin and could now see how the avalanche had ripped through our mountain home. In seconds it had blown out all the windows and piled tons and tons of snow into our huge living room, collapsing all the floors and destroying our dreams. Outside, our carefully selected furniture lay smashed to bits in the snow. It was a scene of shocking devastation, I shall never forget.
The ski patrol hustled us out of the avalanche zone quickly, as new avalanches threatened. We returned home, dazed, stunned, in shock. For month after, I wondered why we had been so unlucky as to lose our beautiful mountain home. Why did God allow such things to happen?
The story could end here. But then you wouldn’t know of the miracle that happened that day. As it was, I didn’t discover the miracle until eight months later.
At a business meeting, a colleague asked me a seemingly simple question.
“Did your wife ever tell you that my wife and your wife almost had an accident on the road to your cabin on the day of your avalanche?”
“No,” I replied. “What happened?”
“Well, my wife and our boys were staying at our Sundance cabin. Because of the heavy snow, they decided to leave and come back home. Before leaving the cabin, on of the boys suggested that they offer a prayer for a safe trip home. They bowed their heads and offered a brief prayer and then started down the narrow road.
“Your wife, driving up the road, saw my wife and the boys in our Suburban. But when my wife slammed on her brakes, the car wouldn’t stop. It skidded down the slick mountain road gathering speed.
There was nothing she could do to stop it. Finally, at the last moment before the two vehicles were to crash into each other, she turned the wheel, slamming the front side of the Suburban into the snow bank on one side of the road while the rear of the vehicle slammed into the bank on the other side…virtually blocking your wife from proceeding up the road. They tried for almost an hour to get the Suburban unstuck and finally had to get help from the ski resort.”
“That’s amazing,” I said. “My wife never told me.”
We chuckled about the “accident” and parted company. Then the force of what he had just revealed hit me. If it hadn’t been for this near “accident” my wife and son would most certainly have been killed in the avalanche!
I’ve often though about that “accident” in the roadway. I imagine my wife sitting there in frustration as the Suburban blocker her way to the cabin. I can see my friend’s wife at the scene, embarrassed by the whole situation. I see her boys upset and confused wondering if God really hears prayers.
At the time, everyone viewed this incredible avalanche and its destruction as a complete disaster. And yet, with perspective, it was obvious that they all unknowingly participated in a miracle.
Now I am slower to judge the “disasters” that occur from time to time in my life. Eventually, as more information becomes available, many of them turn out to be miracles in the making. When “accidents” happen, I try to ask myself, “What miracle is God fashioning out of this misfortune?”
Instead of wondering, “why me, God?” I simply say “Thank you, God.”
Then I wait until all of the evidence rolls in.