Can you answer the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”
I thought I could. Until March 22, 2014.
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 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.
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.
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 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:
Photos courtesy Ron Hadley. Used with permission.