Friday, August 03, 2007

A Matter of Perspective

Yesterday was a really bad day for me.

After working all day long (at a job which is stressful enough as it is), I was finally looking forward to getting home where I could simply relax and continue to work on my current writing project. I got down to where I parked my bike and pulled it off the rack only to discover I had a flat rear tire.

Great, I thought. I so totally wanted to go to the bike store and spend money repairing my bike today. That was awful nice of God to oblige me in that manner.

Luckily, a block away from where I work there is a free shuttle stop. There is another shuttle stop right outside of the place where I bought my bike, which also repairs my bike whenever I break anything. So I walked over to the shuttle stop and waited for the shuttle to come by, because I knew that the shuttles have bike racks on the front too.

Or rather, I should say that most of the shuttles have bike racks on them. The one that showed up at the stop I was waiting at was one of the shuttles that did not have the bike rack. Since it was a mile down to the bike shop, I could have waited for the next shuttle to arrive and hope that it had a bike rack like it was supposed to. But since that wouldn’t be for another fifteen minutes, and since I could walk the distance in that time, I took off instead.

By the way, I should note at this point that I can walk a mile in fifteen minutes…assuming that I don’t have to wait at traffic lights. Alas, I didn’t consider that when I started to walk. I ended up getting to the bike shop about three minutes after the shuttle went by. Oh, and it did have a bike rack on the front of that shuttle. Talk about rubbing it in…

In any case, I got into the bike shop and wheeled my bike to the back where they do repairs. After waiting in line for another fifteen or twenty minutes, they finally got to my bike. I said, "I just need to buy a new tube and have you guys put it on." So the lady there took my bike and pulled off the bike tire. She showed me what had caused the tire to go flat—a barbed piece of wire roughly in the shape of a fishhook. Then she started to put the new tube on when she stopped suddenly.

"You’ve got another problem." (Note: this is not a good thing to hear when you’re getting your bike repaired.)


She took the back tire off again and brought it over. One of my spokes was broken. So, after rummaging around in a few drawers, she got a spoke that was the right size. Then, because it was the rear wheel, she had to take off the gears, repair the tire, and put everything back together. She said, "This will get you home, but you should have someone look at your tire soon."

I said it would be no problem as I still have the free warranty check for my bike. Technically, you’re supposed to have it done within the first ten days or 100 miles, but if you’re nice to the people who work there they always tell you, "Just bring it in when you really need to fix something." This does mean I’ll be without my bike this weekend though.

In any case, I paid my bill and finally got to leave an hour and a half after I got off work. Since it was much later, and since everything had gone so badly, I decided that I didn’t want to risk trying to cook (which for me means microwaving whatever I happen to have left in the freezer), so I stopped at Burger King. (Note: when your day is being consistently bad, don’t expect fast food to be anything approaching fast.)

After I explained my order (which had the tricky request of asking for "no tomatoes"), the guy at the counter got to call his manager over and fix the register, delete out my order and re-enter it twice, and finally get it finished. Miraculously, my sandwich did arrive without tomatoes! I just had to wait an extra twenty minutes to get it is all.

While I was waiting for my food, however, an interesting thing happened. I was standing by the beverages refilling my Diet Coke (you can tell there’s a problem with speed when you’re able to drink an entire Diet Coke and refill it while waiting for your sandwich) and a man stepped up to refill his water. He was about my height, around 40-45 years old, and he happened to be in uniform, which isn’t all that uncommon since I live in a military town (NORAD is practically in my backyard, and Fort Carson is just to the south). I told the gentleman standing there, "Thank you for serving." He smiled and thanked me for thanking him. I told him that I appreciated what he was doing, and asked him if he had been in Iraq.

"Twice," he responded. "And I’ll be going back again, either in October or March. They haven’t told us when yet, but we should know in a couple of weeks."

As we talked, I noticed a slight change in how this soldier (his name is Jim) reacted to me. At first, when I brought up the subject of Iraq, he said, "I can’t wait for us to get out of there. Our generals have been telling Bush for two years that we need to get out." But as our conversation progressed, his tone changed, and I got the feeling that, while it was definitely true he didn’t want to go back to Iraq again, he had stated his position stronger than he really felt because he didn’t know if I was anti-war and thus didn’t want to get into a verbal altercation when he was just trying to eat his dinner in peace. As we spoke and he saw that I wasn’t about to verbally abuse him, he softened up a bit and began to tell me some of what had been going on in Iraq while he was there.

To hear it on the news, the entire country of Iraq is a deathtrap. Yet Jim served two tours without firing his weapon outside of target practice. That’s not to say that it was safe for him—in fact, he told a story about how he and his squad were getting ready to go to a training exercise, and the gate they were to go through en route was hit by a suicide bomber killing six civilians. If it had been fifteen minutes later, they would have been right in the middle of it.

But this brings up an interesting point. The insurgents in Iraq are killing far more Iraqi civilians than anyone else. Jim told me how he sees little Nissan pickup trucks with as many as twelve Iraqis riding in them at one time—people just hanging off the back of the pickup and such. There is no armor on those vehicles. When they get hit by an IED, you have twelve dead civilians. And while the IEDs that hit US troops are reported in the news, those that the civilians accidentally set off only appear as little sidebars.

Jim told me of how his squad was up near the Iranian border and found a weapons cache with lots of grenades in it. "We probably shouldn’t have been playing with that stuff," he told me. Then he relayed a story of how one of his Sergeants pulled out an RPG shell and a giant spider ran from where it had been hiding. These desert spiders are said to be able to kill cats—they’re not the little critters we have here in the States. In any case, Jim said that they finally blew up the weapons cache standing about three hundred yards away from it. After the explosion, they decided they probably should have stood four hundred yards away from it.

Jim also told me of the children in Iraq. They love to play soccer—but don’t you dare call it anything other than football. They also like to run up to US soldiers because they know they can get food and candy. Jim told of having kids ranging in age from teens to two-year-olds standing in front of him. He would take a roll of candy and give the kids a piece at a time. When they traveled through a village without stopping, he would toss MREs (he said that an MRE is "considered gold" over there since there’s so little food) to the kids. He quickly learned that he had to make sure to get the MRE as far away from the edge of the road as possible, because the kids would run into the road and risk getting run over by traffic if it fell too short.

When he mentioned this about MREs, I laughed and said, "I used to have a friend in the fire department. He got a box of K Rations from there that we took on a hike. The only thing good in them was the Charms candy!"

Jim’s face lit up at this. "Charms are the candy I was giving the kids!" he said. Ironically, the fact that I knew what Charms candy was (and face it, if you’ve never had a ration you pretty much never heard of Charms candy) built a link between us. It was like we had an underlying bond, all formed on the basis of something as insignificant as the fact that seven years ago I had a K Ration while hiking with a friend who worked at the fire department in the town I used to live in.

In any case, because of this, Jim told me that every single person in his squad who had been married had gotten a divorce. This included Jim. Serving two tours in Iraq, the first one for six months and the second for eleven months, tore his family apart. He’s got three kids; his daughter, who will turn nineteen next month, just got married to one of Jim’s squad-mates—one of the guys who had been divorced during their time in Iraq.

Jim told me about his own divorce, and how he had heard stories about how some people had gotten divorced and then later remarried each other and went back to normal. He said, "I’m not too interested in remarrying right now. But my wife—ex-wife—thought differently. She remarried, so I guess we’ll never get together again." The way he said it, you could tell the pain that was inside over the whole issue.

And at this point, I realized something else. See, I had gotten my food about twenty minutes earlier, despite how long of a wait I had to get it. Yet Jim, who had only gone up to refill his cup of water, and I were still talking. Jim seemed to have this loneliness about him and he just wanted to keep talking. As I thought about it later, I realized that it could be since he got divorced he simply doesn’t have anyone to talk to about what he’s gone through. A stranger in Burger King might just be the closest thing he has had to conversation in a while.

Of course, I don’t want to read too much into it. Perhaps he’s just a talkative guy. But it didn’t feel that way, and the way he talked about his wife gave me good reason to suspect that he was lonely. Who knows for certain.

All I know is that when I left Burger King, I realized that our entire conversation came about as a result of my having a flat tire on my bike. Had I not needed to get my bike repaired, I would have biked straight home—I hadn’t intended on stopping at all. Had I been able to catch a shuttle ride down to the bike shop instead of having to walk it, or had my bike not needed to have the spoke repaired in addition to having a new tube, I still might have decided to stop at Burger King for food (since that alone made me irked enough to not want to spend time in the kitchen when I got home)—but it would have been at least a half hour earlier than when I actually got there. Had the cashier not messed up my order and needed to call the manager over, my order could have been prepared that much sooner. Had I not had to wait for so long for it to be cooked, I would not have been getting a refill of my Diet Coke at the same time Jim showed up to refill his cup of water.

If I wanted to, I could extrapolate it further back—if I liked tomatoes, I wouldn’t have requested my sandwich without them and the cashier wouldn’t have messed up my order in the first place; if I hadn't run over a tiny wire in the road somewhere, my tire wouldn't have been flat—and how did that wire get there anyway? Etc. But we don’t need to go that far to see what a bizarre, convoluted trail of coincidences lead to my meeting Jim, and to my subsequent writing of this post.

Naturally, our atheist friends will say that my having spoken with Jim was just a fluke, that all these events occurring were just a happy turn of events, a rare case of serendipity. But there are two important things to consider before dismissing this in such a manner.

1) All the events that lead up to my meeting Jim were, from my perspective, bad. I had a flat, I had to walk a mile, it ended up taking longer to get fixed, the cashier messed up my order, I had to wait nearly half an hour just to get my food. None of these things are exactly events that you would go running up and down the streets shouting, "Hallelujah, God blessed me today!" Yet:

2) Before I talked with Jim, I was having a really bad day. After talking with Jim, my day didn’t seem so bad at all. Not only was I able to meet someone I’d never met before, but I was able to talk to him and help him deal with some of the stress and issues he’s had to confront since being in Iraq. All the bad things that happened to me were trivial compared to the good that came about.

Steve has posted some articles recently about evil and hell and the atheists’ arguments about the morality of said places. I don’t need to repeat his work here. But I’ve also read Joe Holman on the Debunking Christianity blog write about how his mother was almost attacked by a serial rapist when Holman was a child. Holman used this event to attack God—why would God save Holman’s mom, but not the six other victims of the rapist?

It always amazes me how atheists who write about the Problem of Evil approach the issue as if they just discovered something that no one else in the world knows: there’s evil! It’s like someone running into the middle of the room to shout out, "Guess what? The sky is blue! The sky is blue!" As if the book of Job had never been written, or Christians always live perfect utopian lives and if they would just only experience evil then the first thing they’d do is abandon their faith instantly!

Yet everyone experiences evil. Evil is not some unique discovery that atheists just found; it’s something that Christianity was built on. A Christian is nothing more than an evil person who has been redeemed by Christ.

In a minor way, my experience of today illustrates the fallacy of the Problem of Evil. If we only focus on the bad events that happened to me, we don’t see the culmination of the events leading to a greater good. The thing that atheists don’t realize is that it was the grace of God who gave me the resolution to my bad day today. All these things could have happened to me, including my conversation with Jim, and yet I might not have ever put it together than my conversation with Jim was a direct result of every single one of the "bad" things that occurred to me this afternoon. Similarly, God could have used a bad event in my life to have someone else placed in a position to help another person in need. The lady who fixed my bike tire had to change her schedule around so that I could get my bike back. God could have used me to delay her so that she would run into someone. Of course, I don’t know whether this happened or not; but I do know what happened to me.

Naturally, someone can respond: "Having a flat tire on your bike is worlds different from someone being raped or murdered." Yes, this is true; yet the principle remains the same. Again, I can use my own life since I’ve experienced it. When I was a child, I was literally tortured in elementary school by kids who used to be my friends. Day after day, I was beaten up, pushed into fences, had my library books ripped up (so I would get fined), insulted, and tormented. This went on for two years at the school (and I should point out that children are geniuses at figuring out how to hurt others when the teacher isn’t looking).

To say that this experience changed my life is an understatement. To this day, I have problems developing deep friendships with people because of the fact that my friends were involved in the abuse. Before I realized I was doing it, the only friends I had were people I knew I could beat up if I had to fight them; that way, if they betrayed me, I wouldn’t be back in the same cycle.

There are parts of my memory of elementary school that I have literally blocked out. I honestly can’t say what happened to me in a full extent. But the abuse I suffered was the closest thing to being rape without actually being sexual in nature (after all, this happened in fifth grade). By no stretch of the imagination can anyone say that this event that occurred in my life is anything but evil.

Yet I don’t deny God, nor do I deny that God had this happen for a good purpose. Yes, it was bad for me then. Yes, I’ve been through hell since then, as a direct result of those events. Yet for all that, I’ve seen the good that comes out of my past experiences. I see how God can use me to help others. I’ve seen the hand of God directing the way things in my life turned out—things I didn’t see at the time, but which in retrospect are obvious, just as the chain of events leading up to today’s conversation with Jim is obvious.

If we only focus on the evil, we don’t have the whole picture. If we intentionally ignore God’s ultimate purpose in the events that occur—which atheists, and even some Christians, do—we have but a skewed picture of what has happened. What man means for evil, God means for good. And His plans are the ones that come to pass. I see this now, and hopefully you can see it from this post too. If so, well…

Yesterday was a really good day for me.


  1. Amen. Excellent post! And then of course, we feel convicted for not trusting God to work things out for our good. Not that we can see how all the time, but I am greatly humbled by those times He DOES choose to show me!

  2. That was a great story, but I do have two comments. First, anyone who uses a bicycle as transportation should always carry a small repair kit, including a patch kit for the tire and a couple of those tiny little plastic tire irons. The second is that I've never seen a military ration kit, but I definitely remember eating Charms candies as a kid.

  3. I had a repair kit until I moved. Somewhere, I still have it...but which box it's in is anyone's guess at this point!

    Anyway, you are correct that Charms used to be widespread. Now-a-days, though, they aren't very widespread. I guess you can probably get them in the same places you can get Blow Pops and Sugardaddys (since they're made by the same company, IIRC); so basically, if you have 8-year-old kids you'll know where to find them! :-D

  4. Esther 4:14: "Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?"

    I believe God uses the entireties of our lives to create His purposes.

    Regarding Jim's statement that "every single person in his squad who had been married had gotten a divorce." Some of your readers (including Ree) know that my wife spent a tour in Iraq. She came back from there, itching for a fight at every turn, it seemed. She and I almost got a divorce, and if not for a small (yet Providential) crisis surrounding one of our kids, she would not have sought the kind of counseling help through which she was diagnosed with PTSD and severe depression, nor would she have been prescribed the anti-depressant drug which calmed her down enough to enable us to have the time to discuss all the things we have needed to discuss since she got back. In spite of my optimism about God's Providence, I shudder to think about how the PTSD/Depression/divorce syndrome is multiplied throughout our military.

  5. Peter,

    Are you calling me old? ;-) (LOL I am old.) I haven't seen Charms for a long time, but I do occasionally buy "nostalgia candy" for my kids like Sugar Babies (which are way better than Sugar Daddies) and one of our favorites--Skybars!


    Wow, I knew what a terrible time you went through when your wife was in Iraq, but I didn't realize how bad things got after she came home. I'm sorry to hear it, but thankful that God worked to bring you both through it. And it's good to "see you" again.

  6. Hi Ree -- it's good to "see" you again, too. :-)

  7. I've had a puncture myself more than once - and it always happens on the wrong day - and you have to think, 'OK what does God want to work in me in this situation' (or as in your case, serve someone else). But here's the thing, some days you don't see why it happened. And you have to walk by faith not sight. Days as you described are when God allows us a little glimpse behind the scenes as it were. But sometimes these 'bad days' are God saying, 'I'm doing good in your lfe through this difficulty, but you have to trust me even though I'm letting you in on why I'm doing it right now.'

    After all, until Moses met God at the burning bush, did he know why God had basically thwarted his desires to help his people? Did Joseph know why the cup-bearer forgot him? Not until much later