Come with me into a world of unexpected goodness and wonderfully gracious outcomes, amazing co-incidences, narrow escapes, life-changing encounters, answered prayers, faith healings, and providential dreams. An on-duty fireman narrowly escapes death when terrorists crash an airbus into the Pentagon. A chiropractor almost dies climbing Mount Kilimanjaro except for a German cardiologist and his nurse wife who happen to be passing at the critical moment. A frantic housewife recovers her wedding ring through prayer. An electronics sales manager is delayed in rush-hour traffic and misses his flight which crashes shortly after take-off, killing all on board. These are just a few samples of the stories that follow.
The people are real. The stories are true. Their experiences are unique. All of them share one thing in common: each person was aware of an intervention in her or his life—an intervention that brought benefit, usually unexpectedly and without their planning. Some power, or Someone, was there for them.
Whether you are a believer in God or not, you will recognize the exceptional nature of these occurrences and see them as either the operation of rare chance or the working of a mind and purpose greater than their own. I personally believe that there are no accidents in life, that coincidence is one expression of God at work, and that everything is ultimately from God and conforms to God’s good nature and will. Christians might use the words of St. Paul to explain it: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV)
These are very personal stories. A few are from my own experience, but most are from the lives of others. They emerged casually from conversations with friends and acquaintances or from chance meetings with strangers. I did not go looking for them; they found me. I have merely collected and organized them. For the most part, they express the person’s core experience—a pivotal point or essential understanding of their live, even their survival. Only a few could be called “blue-sky” or utopian stories. The most moving of these accounts relate the magnificent responses people made from the depths of suffering and tragedy: The man whose son was killed and grandson maimed for life in an auto crash, yet who not only forgave the driver but turned his grief into mission work among the Haitian people. The eight-year old Vietnamese girl who incredibly provided for her younger brother and sister for two years by panning for gold and scratching a vegetable garden out of the jungle. The flight attendant who, driven to despair by her abusive marriage and divorce and preparing to throw herself from a Chicago high-rise, heard Jesus calling her and was saved. Seldom do we have the privilege of seeing into the intimate lives of others to this depth, to hear what actually happened to them and to know their thoughts and feelings. Wherever possible the story is told in their own words. In some cases I have disguised personal identity to preserve their privacy (an asterisk* will indicate the use of a pseudonym.) I want to thank each one who has trusted me with his or her story and for making it available to strengthen and encourage others in their faith.
Don Cherry’s story of faith arrived just as this manuscript was going to the publisher. I have given his story a place of its own at the beginning. Here this internationally famous hockey coach and TV celebrity tells how he’d been a washed-up player at thirty-six and a hopeless failure who couldn’t get work, and how the comeback of his life began there on his knees in prayer.
If your experience is like mine, God seems to act just off camera—just beyond the corner of your eye—like a movie director who is prompting, improvising, and moving actors in and out of scenes all while the cameras are rolling. The effects of God’s actions are evident, though God is well hidden.
When something this good occurs, you want to tell others so that they will be encouraged too. At the same time you may hesitate because the goodness in the stories is in such sharp contrast to the terrible tragedies and unrelieved sufferings so many people experience. It may seem insensitive, even cruel, to focus on stories of divine blessing as part of the same world. The very nature of reality, of good and evil, is up for debate. However, the fact that such matters are difficult, even impossible, to understand is no reason to stifle the wonder of what these people experienced. I am convinced that their stories show the activity and presence of God here and now in human lives. They inspire us with evidence that God knows and cares for each of us. What happened to them could happen to us.
After Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger crash-landed US Airways Flight 1549 safely in the Hudson River on January 15, 2009, saving all 155 persons aboard, he was asked how he felt about being called a hero. He answered that in the days immediately following the landing he had struggled with the idea. Neither did he feel comfortable accepting the title, nor did he want to deny the gratitude of those whose lives he had saved. Finally, he resolved the matter by concluding, “Something about this episode has captured people’s imagination. I think they want good news. I think they want to feel hopeful again. And if I can help in that way, I will.”
Like Captain Sullenberger, I believe people want good news. There is no end to stories of tragedy and the works of evil. All the more do we need to hear when good things happen and the hand of a loving God is seen in action. I invite you to take these wonderful stories to your heart. May they be a source of hope for you.