Friday, February 23, 2018

A Small Portion of Things God Did Last Saturday [July 21, 2012]

Wednesday, August 8, 2012, 21:08
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[Editor’s Note: This month’s Guest Editor is Pete Kelly, a fellow member of the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Hanover Presbytery) of Manassas, Virginia. In late July, Pete traveled to Colorado to attend the funeral of an old friend and to visit another friend recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. As God’s providence unfolded prior to and during the trip, Pete found himself in the midst of a tragedy drawing national and international attention, and was shown yet again that every aspect of his life is determined “…according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” (Ephesians 1:11b)


A few days have passed very quickly and I want to share what I did last Saturday before I forget some of the dimensions.  This is a story in two parts, so skim ahead if you are primarily interested in Petra Anderson.

Arising at 3:15 a.m. eastern time, I flew to Denver, and drove to Boulder. I had lived there from 1965 to 1979, and was intrigued to see the changes and lack thereof around town.  It was as if many of the ugly old buildings had moved away and ugly new ones had come to squat in their places.  The nicer looking ones were unchanged, happily.

The memorial service for Gene Thomas was scheduled for 11 a.m., and I had plenty of time.

Gene was a great man, by any reasonable measurement.  His greatest prominence may have come as an effective speaker at colleges and camps under the auspices of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, but I knew him during the seventies when he nurtured a group of young Christians who met in his home as they developed into an ongoing church, which continued for forty years, right up till the recent past.  His ability to convey God’s character through sound Bible teaching was unparalleled in my experience, and I’m grateful to be a beneficiary of the gifts God gave him.

I knew others were affected in a similar way, owing the depth of their faith to God’s productive use of Gene Thomas, and I was correct in supposing there would be a good turnout of people I knew.  I sat with Ken Chartrand, whom I had not seen for thirty-two  years, and learned that he works as a technical writer, as I do.  The service was fittingly to the point and as much or more about our mighty God than about Gene.

We concluded with the Hallelujah Chorus. I’ve been to many such events; I don’t recall one that included the Hallelujah Chorus before. It struck me powerfully with a sense of belonging to something greater than our current small assembly, or any visible assembly, or even all of them added together. Christians working under the inspiration of the Lord of the universe have created a culture that reflects in significant ways the character of God himself, and the implications of His work … and we could be part of it, we are part of it … even when we don’t remember.  The Hallelujah Chorus says so much in more than its words, and yet it is just a speck on the tip of the iceberg of what God is doing with His prize human creation.  Stay tuned for a few more centuries, a few more millennia, because God is not swayed by immediate gratification as we are, but is patient beyond our capacity.  May we rejoice in God’s good works, and not be focused only on the struggles of our own moment.

I was overcome with that sense of the largeness and permanence of God’s work as the service ended — and then there was that amazing collection of people that had come, so I had to stop being speechless pretty quickly.  Dozens of people who had not seen each other for years stood around recognizing or not recognizing each other, talking afterward for well over two hours, generally behaving as if we had all been together last week, compressing their stories of a half a lifetime into a few hundred words. My heart and my head were full long before we wound down.  I took lousy notes and will have to beg the few I am in touch with for contacts of the many.

It was 101 degrees and even the dry Colorado air could not hide the heat.  Eventually, pretending my brain was not frying, I returned to Denver, purposefully, to check on Kim Anderson and her family.  There was much happening there.

By way of context, Kim and her husband Jack before they married had been part of a group of us in Boulder in the late seventies that met to study the relationship between our faith and the surrounding culture.  Jack and I became good friends. We read books and trained for marathons together. We moved to the Washington area within fifteen months of each other.  I was a member of their wedding party; six years later Jack was my best man when I married Sandy. They attended a church in Maryland but held dual membership in our church in Manassas, Virginia.

Years passed; the Andersons returned to Colorado and raised two daughters and a son.  In 2009 Kim was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She completed a course of treatment and appeared to be healed. But their marriage was stressed and the medical strains must have been a final straw that broke something. Their marriage ended in 2011.

In June of this year, it was found that Kim’s cancer had returned aggressively, appearing in her lungs, liver and bones. The doctors say it is inoperable and that she has six months to two years to live. So it was in that context that I planned from the start to look in on her, and do what I could to reinforce her contentment in the Lord, the ability to be content in all situations, because God is not only bigger than we are, but also much better, and can be trusted in all imaginable or unimaginable circumstances.

And then, the day before, the news reached us first about the theatre shootings in Aurora, where the Andersons live.  And then, later in the afternoon, the news was that Petra Anderson, Kim’s second daughter, had been shot in the head.

I called Kim from Virginia right away, and reached her while Petra was in recovery.  She had the surgeon’s report and the news was unimaginable.  The whole world has now heard how the shotgun pellet entered through Petra’s nose and into the brain — but somehow missed all major blood vessels and all significant functional tissue all the way through everything to the back of her brain. The journey to the rear slowed the pellet so that it stopped when it reached the back.  No exit wound — thank God for that, they are always worse than the entry wound.  No massive brain injury — our God appointed a path from before the beginning to receive the shotgun pellet, and to render it nearly harmless.  Our mighty God is to be praised indeed for that.

With that as background, I sought the family and friends out at the Aurora Hospital Center Saturday afternoon.  Petra needed quiet, not visitors.  I found a waiting room full of young people and laptops.  The Petra support team was already at work. I watched with professional interest and personal awe as they put together a controlled publicity scheme and alongside it, a donation site that would raise funds not just for Petra’s treatment but Kim’s as well, with any remainder to go to the local theatre shooting victims’ assistance fund.

At one point, suspecting that Kim might still regard me as the senior media advisor, I ventured to remark that they had the right process going already, with many channels, but content from a single voice.  Ditto for the fundraising, many collection channels all visibly going to the same place for the same reasons and with the same outcome.   They paused, and said, “Exactly …,” and went back to work. They certainly didn’t need me.

By 5:45 p.m. Saturday, they were ready for the first organized media interview.  We prayed and I walked out with Kim to meet Cheryl Preheim, a KUSA news anchor and a reputed evangelical.  She understood the story already, and hugged everyone.  I wasn’t part of the story, so I dropped out at that point, while Chloe, Petra’s older sister, and the amazing Andrew Roblyer joined the interview group.  The fuse for the media frenzy was now being lit.  I departed to Kim’s house and took a nap on the couch.

Later the interviewees and the unsung heroes of the war room in the hospital arrived and turned on the TV to see the result of their work.  If you have been to

lately, you will know that God blessed their work greatly, and that over $200,000 has been donated at the time I write this.  I’d guess that to be more than will be needed, and we won’t really know for some time — but the image of the mighty tree sheltering all the birds of the air does indeed come to mind.  Out of tragedy, our God has brought joy, and gratitude that seems inexhaustible.

The rest of my trip was uneventful, so the story really ends with this:  Petra has been walking in the hospital, exchanging jokes with friends, and generally acting like someone who is going to be fit to go home in another day or two.  She has all the arrangements in place to attend college in September — she has a job, a place to live, a graduate program ahead — she might actually be able to do all that.  Who would have guessed it possible, during the dark hours of Friday morning last week?

In addition, if you have not explored what’s online about Petra Anderson, here are two of the best starting points:

Brad Strait’s blog is here:

He is the pastor of the church the Andersons attend.  It is the fullest account of the time of surgery Friday that I’ve seen, and it is quite well written.

A compendium (or as the web community is now calling it, a curation) of articles is at:

It leads to nearly everything else of any importance.


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