Can you answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

Can you answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

I thought I could. Until March 22, 2014.

Mudslide makes the cover of The New York Times.

Mudslide makes the cover of The New York Times.

Here in the Northwest there is a call. It’s the siren song of our incredible mountains. Shear walls of rock thrust vertically thousands of feet in air. Snow collects all winter atop these monuments, only later to melt into crystal clear rivers that attract salmon and bald eagles.

In the warmth of summer, my wife and I followed this call. Our favorite spot is along a river called Stillaguamish. Locals lovingly call it the Stilly. We would pitch our chairs in the river near Oso, a tiny town in the foothills of the Cascade Mountain Range. There families gather to jump off railroad bridges into the cool water. There are rope swings, fishing poles and picnic baskets. It’s quite a place.

Larry and Sandy Miller

Larry and Sandy Miller

Larry and Sandy Miller heard the same call. For years they shared with us their dreams of building a home alongside the Stilly. They wanted a place to retire where they would never have to leave the salmon and the eagles and the snowmelt. It reminded Sandy of her days in Alaska. They even designed a separate riverside space for retreats. They wanted friends and families to experience the mountains they loved.

March 22, 2014 their dream came to an end.

After weeks of unusually heavy rain, a mile-wide section of mountain gave way. It was a catastrophic event, even by Northwest standards. Geologists say it may be the worst ever. The mountainside raced downhill at 170 miles an hour. It wiped cars off the highway. It choked the Stilly so quickly it sent a six-story tsunami upstream taking out homes and people.

In 3 seconds.

3 seconds.

Larry and Sandy Miller's dream home before the mudslide.

Larry and Sandy Miller’s dream home before the mudslide.

Larry and Sandy were at their brand new dream home the morning of the slide. They were making final preparations to move in and begin a well-earned retirement. They and their electrician are were killed.

They had spent years working to ensure their home was in a safe place. No expense was spared protecting the dream from a river flooding. But there was no protection from the unthinkable. The dream now sits under 20 feet of water and mud.

The loss of Larry and Sandy’s dream is nothing compared the world’s loss of Larry and Sandy. Larry was a businessman. He earned the respect needed to be boss by working his way up the ranks. He was the kind of guy upon which communities are built.

Larry Miller' sword.

Larry Miller’s sword.

My favorite “Larry moment” was the day he showed up to our church car show. Larry was a straight-talking leader who wanted to invite guys to be part of the Men’s Ministry he organized. Larry walked around the car show with an authentic three-foot sword (an Ephesians 6:17 reference to the Bible being our sword). Larry signed up 30 guys that day, the most successful sign up in church history.

Larry and Sandy Miller in love.

Larry and Sandy Miller in love.

Larry and Sandy loved their marriage. So much so they passionately wanted to help other couples with their marriages. For years they led our church marriage ministry, helping save weak marriages and strengthen good ones.

People like Larry and Sandy are the glue that hold us together. They are the non-squeaky wheels. They are the contributors and the doers and the helpers. They are the people you look forward to seeing. They make the room better just by walking in. They are the people you appreciate, even more so when they’re gone.

Why do bad things happen to good people? A week ago I could have given you the standard answer.

Now I’m not so sure.


Larry and Sandy Miller’s story in the media:

KING 5 News (video)

Everett Herald

New York Times

Seattle Times

NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams (video)

Front page coverage of the Oso landslide in The Seattle Times.

Front page coverage of the Oso landslide in The Seattle Times.


Photos courtesy Ron Hadley. Used with permission.



Are the Things We Love Actually Isolating Us?

On a scale of 1-10, how much do you like your smart phone? How about your DVR? In an age when it’s hard to afford housing and health care, electronics are incredible. We’re used to having a computer in our pocket that texts, makes calls, plays music and shows movies. We’re used to great conveniences like cars, TVs and home appliances. But have you ever considered whether all this wonderful stuff is helping our relationships with each other?

Want to annoy a Cubs fan? Just say the name, “Steve Bartman.” Steve is the central character in one of sports’ most notorious moments. In 2003, the Cubs were within two innings of going to the World Series for the first time in nearly 100 years. That’s when Cubs fan Steve Bartman reached out to catch a foul ball. Only the ball wasn’t foul. Steve prevented a Cubs fielder from making an important out. From there the game fell apart. The Cubs never made it to the World Series. All of Chicago vilified Steve. ESPN did a fantastic documentary on this. I highly recommend it. Watch here.

The classic picture of Steve is a young man alone in the stands, wearing a green turtleneck and headphones. Headphones? This lonely figure was surrounded by thousands of people. Yet with his headphones on he seemed oblivious to the angry (and dangerous) crowd swirling around him. The isolation of the moment is profound.

Yet isn’t this the perfect picture of us? When we’re in a crowded space, we block out the world with ear buds so we can listen to the music we like. Families sit in the living room, each with their own screen doing what they like. We’re comfortable texting three different people at once, but would prefer not talk to any of them on the phone. How many opportunities to truly interact have we missed?

Technology has given us four meaningful shifts in our relationships:

1. Our natural state is now isolation. Before electronics, our natural state was togetherness. We would gather by day at the market and at night around the fire. We would talk to each other out of necessity. Today, we naturally gravitate to an abundance of individualized entertainment and communication. There is no need to interact in-person.

2. Customization inadvertently creates self-focus. We set our DVR to record OUR shows. We put on headphones to listen to OUR music, customized for us by Pandora or iTunes. We search the web for information WE want, and it’s immediately available. It’s all about what we want, when we want it. Other people don’t even need to be a thought.

3. Shared experiences are diminishing. The Super Bowl is a shared experience. Millions of people watch a single event and are able to talk about it together. It’s one of the few shared experiences left. In the early 1900’s people would go to plays and read their city newspaper for a common experience. In the ’30s, people would gather to listen to the handful of radio dramas that were available. In the ’60s, people watched some of the few TV programs offered on only three networks. A scarcity of entertainment brought people together in large numbers. Now a diversity of choices breaks us into ever-smaller groups.

4. We don’t look at each other, we look at screens. How many times have we tried to talk with someone who is texting on their smart phone only to get a thoughtless response? We get angry at their lack of face-to-face communication. This is a natural tendency that has been awakened in us. Researchers call it “Gaze Aversion” and it causes real challenges in our relationships with other people. Check out this excellent short clip demonstrating why.

So is all this technology bad? Of course not. It’s one of the great things about living in our time. Let’s use it and enjoy it. However, let’s also be aware of how it is affecting our relationships. Let’s compensate for the challenges. Let’s NOT be Steve Bartman, isolated without a clue.