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Plunging into the surprising sinkholes of life

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Life Matters column by David B. Whitlock

Even though your house may appear to rest on solid ground, there is still the possibility you may find yourself suddenly awakened in the middle of the night by the rumble of your bedroom floor opening into a massive hole, sliding you and the contents of the room into its pit, interrupting your sweet dreams with dirt and debris.

And if you live in Florida, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, Tennessee, Pennsylvania or here in Kentucky, you are more at risk for a sinkhole to ruin your day or night. So you might want to sleep with one eye open, watching the bedroom floor for any unusual movements.

And don’t bother kicking the ground around your house like you do when checking a tire on a used car. The problem lies deep beneath the earth’s surface.

Just ask the people in Hillsborough County, Fla., known as “sinkhole alley,” an area that accounts for two-thirds of the sinkhole-related insurance claims in that state. That’s where Jeff Bush once lived.

Bush disappeared into a sinkhole when it yawned and swallowed him and his entire bedroom while he was sleeping last Saturday. Efforts to rescue him were limited by the danger of the expanding hole and were called off by Sunday morning.

“This is not your typical sinkhole,” Hillsborough County Administrator Mike Merrill said of the one that took Bush’s life. “This is a chasm that covers a great distance.”

But it’s not so much the size of the sinkhole that’s startling; it’s the suddenness of its occurrence.

Anthony Randazzo, who has been studying this geological phenomenon for 40 years, knows of only two people who have died because of a sinkhole.

“Usually you have some time,” said Randazzo, who lectures on sinkholes at Oxford University.

But apparently not always.

It doesn’t have to be a sinkhole that punctuates your life with an unexpected period.

Sometimes it’s a tornado. Or a heart attack. Or a drunken driver. Or a weak ladder.

And your day is done; your number is called; your bell has tolled.

Jeff Bush simply went to bed and woke up in a deep hole, screaming for help.

Life folds into death that way and suddenly we are covered with dirt.

Concerned bystanders can only cover their mouths in horror.

Jeremy Bush, Jeff’s brother, tried to rescue him.

“He was my brother, man, I loved him,” Jeremy said through tears.

And Jeff’s aunt, Janell Wheeler, cried, “I just want my nephew.”

“Usually you have time.” But not always.

Life’s surprising sinkholes crack open with those unusuals, the exceptions that widen into gaping holes, plunging more and more victims into the underworld’s caverns of death.

Eighteen people in Jesus of Nazareth’s day weren’t expecting a tower in Siloam to fall down and kill them. It must have left people wondering who was responsible. The builder of the tower? The people who were standing in the wrong place at the wrong time? Was it some sort of punishment from God?

None of the above.

“Do you think they were any more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you will all perish” (Luke 13:5).

Jesus reminds us we live in a world filled with unwanted surprises— some of them not the usual you’ve-got-time-to-get-out-of-the-way sinkholes — a world where towers inexplicably fall on unsuspecting victims and storms suddenly destroy people’s lives.

And Jesus indicated that our most certain certainty is found in what he called repentance, practicing the presence of Christ, living a life aligned with his Father, building on the foundation which is solid rock, Jesus himself.

As workers demolished the house that Jeffrey Bush once lived in, survivors found solace in one of the few items plucked from the wreckage: a Bible. Clutching it, they looked to the name of the street where they had lived for some 40 years: Faithway Drive.

Hopefully, with the Bible as a guide and faith in God as their support, they will continue their journey down Faithway Drive, traveling the precarious, uncertain road called life, knowing it’s the road to somewhere, where the someone who has been guiding them all along at long last waits.

David B. Whitlock of Lebanon is a Baptist minister and author of the book “Life Matters.” He can be reached at drdavid@davidbwhitlock.com.