When the Bad Thing Does NOT Happen

When the bad thing doesn't happen

A Gun?

Last Thursday morning began as an ordinary day.

Jenna was driving to school on the same roads, past the same neighborhoods—some good, some bad—that were always part of her path.

Except this past Thursday. Someone unusual was on the path.

And he had a gun.

She heard two shots before she saw him. But were they really shots? Maybe instead it was a car backfiring?

Then she saw the man. He was hiding behind a brick mailbox in the wealthy neighborhood. He was firing his gun at a passing vehicle.

Mystery Wake-Ups

When something unusual happens, it grabs our attention. Our senses perk up. Our brain wants to make sense of any mystery.

I’m trying to stay awake to more of life’s mysteries.

And mysteries deep inside mercy.

Last Thursday morning I was most keenly aware of the mystery of grace.

If the man had pointed his gun at Jenna’s car as she drove by that morning, her whole life would have changed in a split second. And my life. The life of her husband, her extended family, her friends—all changed.

E. J. Bradford, Jr.

Many people are forced to live with those split-second changes. Just ask the family of E.J. Bradford, Jr.

E.J., a 21-year-old African American man, was shot and killed by police on Thanksgiving night at Alabama’s largest shopping mall, the crowded Riverchase Galleria Mall, near Birmingham, AL. He was mistaken by police as the gunman who had just shot others in the mall.

E.J. Bradford

E.J. Bradford, Jr and his mother, April Pipkins (Courtesy Benjamin Crump)

Instead of E.J.’s family celebrating Christmas together this month, they attended his funeral, their lives forever changed, forever pained.

We are forced to live with mystery. Why this person? Why not that person? Why this and not that?

We can’t answer these questions.

Our feeble explanations fall inadequate.

Notice the Absence

But when bad things don’t happen? Do we notice?

Let’s notice, too, when things don’t happen.

  • Notice when the car accident doesn’t happen.
  • Notice when the layoff skips over you.
  • Notice when the doctor doesn’t call with bad news.

Also on Jenna’s path Thursday morning was a police officer, two cars in front of her. He seemed in no particular hurry, not heading to any particular crime.

But upon seeing the man with the gun, the policeman immediately turned around and headed back toward the mailbox.

Police closed the road to further traffic. They arrested the man for shooting at passing vehicles. He was taken to the hospital for a cut on his arm and for a mental health evaluation.

man shooting at traffic

photo credit: WHNT News 19

Jenna drove on.

She arrived safely at school that day, shaken, but unharmed. She could go about her normal routine. Spend it as an ordinary day.

So I could, too.

More things go right than go wrong. And we don’t notice.

When bad things could happen, but this time they didn’t, appreciate it.

  • Feel the relief.
  • Give the thanks.
  • Acknowledge the mystery.

Ordinary days are miracles, too. 

* * *

Do you ever think about the what-if’s that could have happened but didn’t? Please share in the comments.

45 thoughts on “When the Bad Thing Does NOT Happen

  1. Michele Morin

    So many of the things we worry about never happen, and we forget to be thankful for this as well. Thanks, Lisa, for this multi-layered post, and I’m SO RELIEVED along with you for this happy ending.

  2. Lesley

    I’m glad the police were there and it ended ok. This is a great reminder to be grateful for those ordinary days. It’s easy to overlook the thing that go right in the midst of our worries about things that may never happen.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Laura. I’m so very grateful for God’s mercy on Jenna that morning. We likely have more close calls every day than we could ever imagine. God spares us even from the knowledge of most of them.

  3. Barbara Harper

    How scary! I would have been shaken, too!

    There was a stretch of road in SC between our home and the church and school. I must’ve gone back and forth on that road thousands of times. Often I’d go one way, and on my way back see the aftermath of a wreck. And I’d think, if I had been just a few minutes different in my timing, that might have been me. I’m thankful, but why did I escape and they didn’t? We’ll probably never know. But sometimes I wonder if one of the things we’ll do in heaven is hear about those times God intervened on our behalf that we were unaware of.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I often have those same thoughts when I pass a wreck or see an ambulance rush by…with a few seconds or minutes different, that could have been me. I guess God knows how overwhelmed we would be if we were aware of every such occasion, but I do want to be aware of enough of them so I’ll live in gratitude. Thanks, Barbara.

  4. bill (cycleguy)

    WOW! So glad God was gracious to her and family. It is easy to forget when bad things don’t happen as you state. We are often so cynical or have such a negative attitude that we miss out on the good things. Good thoughts today Lisa.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, this, Bill: “We are often so cynical or have such a negative attitude that we miss out on the good things.” May we learn to release our bad attitudes and replace them with positive ones. It’s better for everyone, all the way around.

  5. Laurie

    Thank goodness your precious daughter is all right! We are reminded over and over not to take our many blessings for granted. I tend to be a worrier, but this is an example of how unnecessary worry is. I never would have thought to worry about a situation like this in advance. All my worry doesn’t amount to a hill of beans over the years!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I tend to be a worrier, too, unfortunately. And I’m with you, Laurie—I wouldn’t have thought to worry about this particular thing either. My worrying is all worthless too. I know God is in control, but my crazy thoughts still want to deny it at times.

  6. Laurie

    Also wanted to say (but forgot in my first comment) that the tragedy of E. J. Bradford’s shooting weighs heavily on my heart. Praying for this young man’s family.

    I just finished White Picket Fences – you were the blogger who recommended it, right? Loved it!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      No, actually it wasn’t me that recommended White Picket Fences but I just looked it up and had the sample sent to my Kindle. 🙂

      And yes, I’m praying for E.J.’s family as well. Such hard, hard things.

  7. Beth

    You know this really resonates with me, Lisa. As I was praying my usual prayer list this morning, I came up to my request for God to stop the terrorists and shooters in our world from causing more death and destruction. And before I had read your post here, I thought of how God likely “HAD” stopped many of these horrific acts from occurring–unbeknownst to me and others. It’s so good to remember how active and vigilant God is, even when tragedies continue in our world. I’m so grateful your daughter was not shot! Such a scary moment, but love the way you are viewing it today!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh, that’s good, Beth! Yes, I can’t even imagine how crazy things would be if God wasn’t already so active in and around his people. It still doesn’t explain the bad things that do happen, but at least I can be grateful for the good things.

  8. Trudy

    This gave me the chills, Lisa. I thank God Jenna is ok and no one else is hurt. I love how you describe it – “the mystery of God’s mercies.” There is so much heartache that we hear about and much more that we don’t, but yes, God’s mercies are so deep and never-ending. We need to appreciate more often the bad things that don’t happen. I know I do. Thank you for this great reminder! Blessings, love, and hugs to you!

  9. Dolly at Soulstops

    Oh, Lisa,
    I am so glad Jenna was safe and no one was hurt; I am so grieved for E.J.’s family; praying for comfort for his family and friends. And yes, I do thank God for things that don’t happen, but I probably ought to be more thankful and cognizant of those things that don’t happen. A great reminder. Praying blessings on you and your family 🙂

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, it’s hard to even imagine how E.J.’s family feels. 🙁 There has been a lot of social activism rising up in Birmingham again the past couple of weeks in response to his death. We all need to be awake and alert to the suffering among us.

  10. Linda Stoll

    mmm … this right here –> ‘mysteries deep inside God’s mercy,’ Lisa.

    This gives me cause for pause, a reason to put aside all that pulls at me. Those mysteries are deep and wide and great, prompted by His amazing love and grace. And they are deserving of our time and reflection and praise.

    And I am grateful for your daughter’s safekeeping .

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      When deep calls to deep, we’re wise to pause. But yes, it is hard to “put aside all that pulls at me” – that is beautiful, Linda. May we ever be moved at the profoundness of God’s grace….

  11. Karen Del Tatto

    I find I do this often especially in near miss car accidents. I am so very thankful for what didn’t happen or to have the rearview mirror perspective of “oh that’s why we got detoured, we just avoided a huge accident”.

    Thanks for the encouragement to count ALL of our blessings even when they might not look like one at first glance.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Karen. I do it most often with near-miss car accidents too. It really wakes me up for a season to be more grateful for protection over our fragility, and then I slip back into the ordinariness of life and forget to notice the mercies again.

  12. Joanne Viola

    Lisa, I am so grateful Jenna was kept safe. Thank you for reminding us of all the many ways God keeps us safe and protected. May we notice these times and not forget to thank Him for His many mercies each day. Blessings!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      As I was relaying the story again last night to a friend, it still brought chills to mind, knowing what could have been. 🙁 Yes, I want to focus more also on things God has spared me from. Those are tremendous gifts too! Blessings to you, Diane.

  13. Karen Woodall

    I often try to think this way during unexpected delays to my plan. instead of being irritated by the slow traffic or confused clerk or rainy day, it’s better to imagine them being roadblocks that keep us FROM harm. what might have happened if I was on a different road, or 5 minutes earlier or have decided to not stay at home… these things can be God’s protective hand and worthy of our notice… and praise for ‘what didn’t happen.’ thanks!

  14. Anita Ojeda

    I didn’t do a one word for 2018…but I’m considering it for 2019. Probably the biggest what-if scenario in my life is thinking about all the things that could have happened to our daughter when she was undiagnosed, manic, and living in an airport in New Jersey with no debit card or money. Bad things happened. But they could have been so much worse.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Oh my. I’m grateful that your daughter (and you!) survived that hard time, Anita. Bad things definitely happen. Both to us and around us. They always get our attention. I appreciate your attitude that things could have been even worse though.

  15. Helena Bergen

    “Ordinary days are miracles, too.” I love this! I think I will be thanking God more often for ordinary days. I’m really glad your daughter was unharmed and that the police were on the scene quickly.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Helena. I’m still thanking God daily for what did NOT happen with my daughter (or anyone else) that day. Every life is so valuable. Too often we take our ordinary, miraculous days for granted.

  16. Mari-Anna Stålnacke

    Yes, anything can happen. Too often we only wait for bad things to happen. I choose to look for good things, bad things arrive if they do but meanwhile I anticipate for good tidings. Thanks, Lisa. You’re a blessing. May God bless and keep you and yours.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I love your attitude, Mari-Anna. My mind can imagine some horrible things, so I have to pray often for God to transform my thoughts. Thanks for your words always pointing to the light!

  17. Maree Dee

    Thank goodness Jena was safe. Praise God! Yes, we need to stop an acknowledge what didn’t go wrong. Thank you for the reminder.

    Stopping to Pray for Ej’s family tonight.

    Yes, I did choose a word for 2018, it was “joy.” I too am close to a word for 2019.


    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you, Maree. And I’m sure EJ’s family appreciates all the prayers they can get. Such a hard thing. It’s in our local media every day.

      Joy was a beautiful choice! I’ll look forward to hearing what you choose for 2019. I want to see if I can refine my word a little more, then I’ll be set.

  18. floyd samons

    Whoa!!! That’s scary!!!

    To be that close to danger is life altering. Those things have a way of sticking with a person.

    This life is so delicate and we rely so much on the good will of others that just thinking about it brings anxiety.

    My heart breaks for that family’s loss. Life will never be the same…

    It’s good advice to count the daily blessings that we all take for granted.

  19. Mary Geisen

    What an intriguing word you lived out for 2018. Mystery does not seem like a typical one word, but your story above points to the richness of this word.

    I am thankful your daughter is okay. The mystery of the everyday is one we might never understand, but there are miracles happening daily. Thank you for such a good dose of insight and wisdom.

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