A Smiling Providence in Aurora, Colorado

The images and the stories that have been coming out of Aurora, Colorado since last week have been difficult to bear. I can only imagine what it must be like for those who are living it and not merely watching it on television like I have been. Like everyone else, my heart has been heavy for the victims and their families. Of those who died, the one that really gripped me was the six-year old girl who was killed. She died on the scene in the arms of a police officer. Her mother was shot in the throat, paralyzed, and in a coma for days before awaking to the news that her daughter was gone. I read about the little girl’s death before her mother even found out. I have a six year old little girl too.

There are many others who have suffered grievous injuries and whose lives will never be the same. The sad stories are more than I could number here, and I’m sure you’ve seen many of them by now as well. I came across one story, however, that has a very unexpected and happy twist to it, and I think it’s a story worth sharing far and wide.

Petra Anderson is 22 years old, and she was one of the victims who was shot inside the theater. One shotgun blast put three shots into her arm and one into her head. The bullet to her head entered through her nose, travelled all the way through her brain, and rested near the back of her skull. Before surgery, the doctors told Petra’s mother Kim (who is in the final stages of terminal cancer) that Petra would never be the same because the bullet had cut across so many critical areas of her brain.

After five anxious hours of waiting, the doctors finally emerge from surgery to deliver news to Petra’s mom and pastor in the waiting room. The doctors report that the surgery went astonishingly well and that they believe they achieved everything that they had set out to do in removing the bullet and repairing damage. After surgery, Petra was taken back to ICU, where one of the surgeons came in to tell the rest of the story of what happened while Petra was under the knife. Petra’s pastor reports what happened next:

As Petra sleeps, [the surgeon] retells the story of the surgery, and we ask questions. The doctor reads the perfect script, as if he is on Hallmark Hall of Fame. He fills us in on the miracle. Honestly, he doesn’t call it that, he just uses words like “happily” and “wonderfully” and “in a very fortunate way” and “luckily” and “we were really surprised by that.” Kim and I know a miracle when we see it.

It seems as if the bullet traveled through Petra’s brain without hitting any significant brain areas. The doctor explains that Petra’s brain has had from birth a small “defect” in it. It is a tiny channel of fluid running through her skull, like a tiny vein through marble, or a small hole in an oak board, winding from front to rear. Only a CAT scan would catch it, and Petra would have never noticed it.

But in Petra’s case, the shotgun buck shot, maybe even the size used for deer hunting, enters her brain from the exact point of this defect. Like a marble through a small tube, the defect channels the bullet from Petra’s nose through her brain. It turns slightly several times, and comes to rest at the rear of her brain. And in the process, the bullet misses all the vital areas of the brain. In many ways, it almost misses the brain itself. Like a giant BB though a straw created in Petra’s brain before she was born, it follows the route of the defect. It is channeled in the least harmful way. A millimeter in any direction and the channel is missed. The brain is destroyed. Evil wins a round.

As he shares, the doctor seems taken aback. It is an odd thing to have a surgeon show a bit of wonder. Professionally, these guys own the universe, it seems, and take everything in stride. He is obviously gifted as a surgeon, and is kind in his manner. “It couldn’t have gone better. If it were my daughter,” he says quietly, glancing around to see if any of his colleagues might be watching him, “I’d be ecstatic. I’d be dancing a jig.” He smiles. I can’t keep my smile back, or the tears of joy. In Christianity we call it prevenient grace: God working ahead of time for a particular event in the future. It’s just like the God I follow to plan the route of a bullet through a brain long before Batman ever rises. Twenty-two years before.

What a smiling providence from God. What an absolute wonder. God did plan it this way. God did have that bullet in mind when He was knitting Petra together in the secret place (Ps. 139:13-15). God had all of Petra’s days numbered before she took her first breath, and her death would not come one day before the Lord’s appointed time (Ps. 139:16).

As we grieve the deaths of so many others, we can be grateful for this one little ray of light. And we can acknowledge that this was no accident. I don’t know why Petra lives and why the precious little six year old does not. But I do know that God is sovereign over all (Eph. 1:11). His ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:9). His judgments are inscrutable (Isa. 40:28). He dwells in unapproachable light (1 Tim. 6:16). Yet he made a path through the brain of a baby girl, and 22 years later the appointed bullet made its way down the path exactly according to plan and without damaging the girl’s brain.

If that doesn’t fill you with wonder and awe, then nothing will. Hallelujah! “The LORD reigns; let the earth rejoice!” (Ps. 97:1).

(HT: Garrett Kell)

8 Responses to A Smiling Providence in Aurora, Colorado

  1. Ryan July 24, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    This is quite heart warming and makes you pause and thank God even in this awful situation.

    Denny, I am also surprised to see you have not posted about the 3 men who died protecting their girlfriends. I found this also to be quite telling that in spite of all the egalitarian clamor in our culture, and in the church for that matter, it was men laying down their lives for the women they cared about.

    I was stunned to see chivalry be such a big part of the story as it accounted for 25% of the deaths in this story.

    • Denny Burk July 24, 2012 at 1:40 am #

      I marked that one too. I was planning to comment on it as well. Hopefully in the next day or so.

  2. dr. james willingham July 24, 2012 at 11:04 pm #

    Praise God!

  3. Bill Griffin July 27, 2012 at 3:02 pm #

    This was also a very good blog on the Aurora shootings from a first hand account of a woman inside the theater if you haven’t read it yet.



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