Charlie Duke’s Measles

Apollo 13

I remember the first time I saw the movie Apollo 13. It was 1995. I was 29 years old with 2 little girls and another on the way. It was an incredibly rare date night but that is only part of why it was so memorable.

I was not yet a believer in Jesus Christ. I was living life the best I knew how; hoping that at the end my good would outweigh my bad on those great scales of justice, presumably located at the gates of heaven. Trusting in good works and good intentions, nevermind the location to which the latter dooms us. Cory and I left the girls with a babysitter and went to the movies. We both wanted to see Apollo 13 because we enjoy Tom Hanks movies and well, to be really honest, it was mostly because we are nerds and love Star Trek and spacey things.

So we went to the movies at Painter’s Crossing in Chadd’s Ford, PA (back before they had recliners and full service dinner in the theater, thank you very much). I remember just really enjoying the movie so much and we had a lot of discussion on the way home. I remember what hit me the most was Gary Sinese’s character, Ken Mattingly. I remember watching the first part of the film and feeling his excitement and he prepared for this amazing adventure. He was going to be part of a lunar landing! It was something I imagined he had always dreamed of.

Seventy two hours before the scheduled launch, Ken Mattingly was scrubbed from the mission because another astronaut, Charlie Duke, who was assigned to the backup crew, came down with the german measles. As Mattingly had never had the disease, his exposure put the entire mission in jeopardy. I imagined his bone numbing, bitter disappointment as he watched his dream burst forth from the launch pad with a replacement astronaut, Jack Swigert, on board.

But then there was a problem with the spacecraft. The mission was in big trouble, in fact, it was done. There would be no moon landing. The mission now was to return the 3 astronauts safely to earth safely, seemingly against all odds. Ken Mattingly was brought in to troubleshoot and problem solve. Thanks, in no small part to him, all 3 astronauts survived.

I remember saying to Cory, “That is so amazing! His lowest moment was the entire reason that these 3 men survived! If he had not been exposed to the German measles, he would have been onboard the rocket, and he would not have been available for the simulations and troubleshooting and brainstorming that brought those 3 men home!”

It was less than a year later, at the altar of the West Grove United Methodist Church, that my eyes were opened to the redemptive work of Jesus on the cross. When I next thought of Apollo 13, I remember seeing Ken Mattingly’s disappointment from a different angle. I saw God’s hand in it. There was no coincidence in his exposure to Charlie Duke’s measles. God knew that his skills and talents were going to be needed here on earth and that Jack Swigert’s skill set was going to be needed on the craft.

How many times in life have I been disappointed? How many times have things not gone the way that I wanted? How many times have I cried out to God “WHY?” instead of trusting His plan for me. Why do I think that my understanding is even remotely complete?

He tells us in Proverbs 3:5 & 6, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean not on your own understanding. In all of your ways, acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.” His understanding is complete. He sees the end from the beginning. He knows where I need to be, when I need to be there. He is above and beyond the things that prevent me from understanding. He is so much more than what we see, hear, or experience at our human level. He sees the end from the beginning. He knows when and where and how my entire story plays out. I can trust Him with all of it!

So from now on, I will remember Charlie Duke’s measles and I will remember that what seemed to be Ken Mattingly’s greatest disappointment could be used for good. If God can redeem a case of the measles, He can certainly redeem whatever I am dealing with today! His plans for my life are so much better than mine.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *