*Warning: This is a post about a car wreck, including some details.
While the end result is positive, some details of the wreck, descriptions of
imagined scenarios, and pictures are included.
This is not a fun post in which I intend to sound clever or to entertain, but a post in which I want to tell the world how thankful I am to God for keeping His hand on my babies and sparing their lives as they spun through the air in my crashing suburban.
Why would a guy write about such a personal, near tragedy? I’m not writing merely to make shallow observations and squeeze moral lessons out of bad experiences. I am a writer. And what being a writer means for me is a propensity to analyze and think through my life experiences using the written word, in order to learn from and understand those experiences myself, and to share those experiences in a way that will hopefully benefit anyone else who cares to read about them. Part of my nature as a writer is to communicate the feelings that shape me. And so it does seem appropriate to set down my feelings in words about such a life-shaking day.
Recently we caravanned on the freeway during a move: I drove one U-Haul, my wife drove another behind me, and my brother-in-law (with three of my children) drove the suburban behind us. While we were zipping merrily along at highway speeds, I got a phone call. On answering it I heard my wife Joy screaming about a crash that was really bad. My brain was stunned and confused. I thought for a moment she’d crashed and was dying. Pulling over and running to her U-Haul she told me she’d seen the suburban wreck – she didn’t describe then, but what she saw was the car with our babies veer into the median, overcorrect across the highway, and go flying off an embankment onto the frontage road, spewing debris high into the air – where it rolled over and spun several times. I left our other two kids with Joy, jumped into her U-Haul, and went dashing back on the highway to find the wreck.
Those few minutes were probably the worst in my life. I didn’t know what I would find. I sped down the freeway in a U-Haul expecting to find pieces of my children and brother-in-law, or be spending the next few minutes doing CPR on my own daughter to watch her die in my arms. But they were even worse moments for you, Geneva and Tyndall and Owen and Garrett. It makes me sick in my stomach to think about how horrible those moments must have been. You must have been terrified as the car veered then shot through the air and flipped over again and again with the overwhelming din of crunching and grinding around you. I imagine Geneva screamed, Tyndall gripped her seat in quiet terror, and Owen cried and cried while he hung from the ceiling that should have been the floor.
I found was the suburban smashed and rolled over, propped against a fence off the frontage road. Praise God that in his great mercy I also found all of my kids alive and intact with only a few light abrasions between them, and my brother-in-law alive and with no broken bones. I still don’t know how that was possible, except by the mercy of God in miraculous delivery. Joy and I had both been feeling strange about this trip (as she told me later), and we’d both been praying more than usual for safety. I think God heard those prayers. I really do. My last few blog posts have been about prayer, which I wrote to preach to myself as much as to anyone. Sometimes I have difficulty believing God answers prayers, but this was proof to me that He really does.
The most important reason I’m writing this post is to express in the most blatant way I can the deep gratitude I feel to the good God for giving me back the lives of my children and brother-in-law I thought I’d lost. I can’t find the words deep enough to express the thanks I feel to have them now. Because after seeing that battered, overturned vehicle (and talking to the first responders, many of whom expressed equal surprise that everyone walked away alive) I’m still shocked I’m not putting up four little crosses beside the road. So many other people have had to bury their children after wrecks and I feel more empathy and sorrow for them than ever before.
I thank God whose invisible handiwork can be seen all over this crash site. He kept my children pushed safe against that flipped floorboard in their car seats, He landed the suburban tilted against a fence so that it didn’t crush them, He made them miss by mere feet rusty iron pipes so they didn’t hit them, He wedged a blanket in the window beside Tyndall to cushion her and protect her from glass, and so many other small things… I thank Him for his undeserved mercy in preserving every life in this terrible accident. Thank Him with me, all you who read this post! And see just a little more how very real and big and loving and good He is! I also want to publicly thank my valiant brother-in-law, whom I consider a hero, who crawled injured and dazed from the driver’s seat through that overturned rubble to the back seat and hauled my children from hanging in their car seats and drug them out the window to safety. You thought about them before yourself, and it shows in real actions that made a world of difference to all of us.
What you need to remember, children, whenever those horrible memories of the crash (pictures that make your daddy’s heart sink and his spirit cold just to think about you going through) are that even in those moments of raw terror while you screamed and spun through the air and could do nothing but watch death coming at you – God was right there with you. Even in the worst seconds, He was there, and he was actively manipulating physics just for you, shaping a million variables to fly you through the shadow of death back to your mommy and daddy. I know Jesus was there with you – I know it! Because I don’t know how else to explain finding you standing and sitting beside the road in all that rubble, in the shadow of that crushed and totaled wreck, with barely a scratch on you in any other way than a real, actual answer to prayer by a loving God who had his omnipotent hand upon you.
What I hope to remember from this terrible incident is the incredible feeling of relief and overwhelming gratitude that overpowered every other emotion, when I ran up to that mangled vehicle to find my kids alive. All of the frustrations and life difficulties and loss of stuff that followed seemed like unimportant trifles compared to the happiness I feel at knowing that God spared lives. That’s something I need to remind myself of in the future. I’m not always going to feel relieved and grateful and magnanimous toward my children. I’m going to get selfish, be grumpy at everyone (even my kids who I just want to hug all the time right now). I need to remember how blessed I am to be able to laugh at little Calvin, look at the pictures Geneva draws, watch Owen dance, tell jokes to Tyndall, or laugh at Catharina making silly faces. These aren’t things to be taken for granted. These should be things I’m so grateful for that my thankfulness overwhelms the peevishness that sometimes eats me up inside.
Life really is so very fragile. All of us, even though we don’t like to think about it, are hanging on a thread suspended over the dark chasm of death. And it really is only God’s good pleasure that keeps us breathing. Times like this remind me this is a reality and not just a platitude. If this is true then what really remains for me is to A) serve God and others with everything that I have; B) enjoy all the good things God is pleased to give me while he is pleased to let me live to enjoy them; and C) be grateful.
To my children and anyone else reading this: anytime you’re sad or scared, remember that God is with you and you can trust Him. He has already gotten you through bleak moments: ones that were large enough they hit you in the face, and also small moments you may not realize. Remember, my children, God kept you safe for a reason. He loves you enough to get you through anything. Gladly serve Him with the knowledge that you have a mission, with thankful hearts for His gift of life, and with joy in every minute you get to enjoy.