A few weeks ago I wrote about the death of a family friend in a car accident, recalling a conversation at our dinner table later, during which one of my daughters asked, “Mom, why didn’t God save her?” I told her at the time that I didn’t know if or how God was involved in car wrecks, that I’d have to think about it and would try to give a Biblical answer later.
Since this tragedy, I’ve thought a great deal about tragedies and what a person of faith can rely upon in a fallen world. I know that I can rely on God’s love and care in the worst of circumstances. On this, the anniversary of my daughter’s death, I know about God’s sustenance and His faithfulness. I know, too, that I am not immune to tragedy just because I pray or hold faith in my heart.
But last night I was reminded of another perspective from many years ago, when my younger brother nearly died in an accident and I grappled with what and how to pray for him. That year, pregnant with my first child, I read Psalm 68:20, which says “God is to us a God of deliverance; and to God the Lord belong escapes from death.” At the time I couldn’t fathom how prayer worked, or why it worked for some and not for others; why some people’s brothers, sisters, mothers, or daughters died, and why others lived. But I did know that the psalmist wrote that escapes from death belong to the Lord. I felt, after reading this, that when an escape from death did occur, I could breathe a prayer of thanksgiving–yes, even though when an escape did not occur, I would wonder, just as my little girl wondered, “Why didn’t God save her?”
I was reminded of Psalm 68 last night because two of my children escaped death in the accident you see in these two photos above. My daughter, Fern, had gone to pick up my 16-year-old son, River, from the movies around 9:00 p.m. Earlier, as River waited with friends for the movie to start, he sent me a characteristic text message: “Oi, mum, I love you more than ice cream.”
Later, as we waited in the ER to have both kids checked out, he commented that it could have been the last message I’d ever received from him. “I know,” I replied soberly, “I know.”
The next call I received from him was, of course, about the accident. One of the police officers called me after my son did, cautioning me not to “freak out when you see the car; it’s bad.” And it was, as you can see yourselves. There wasn’t even six inches of clearance between the roof and the seat where my son was sitting. “I knew we were wrecking,” he explained, “and I leaned over and lay down on the seat next to her, because I saw the telephone pole coming, and we were rolling.” The driver’s side fared no better, and it was impossible to see how my daughter had survived, either.
One of the EMSA workers at the scene–the one wearing a black t-shirt on the right, in the second photo–told me that they work hundreds of wrecks like this and have never seen one so bad that had no fatality or critical injury. “If you’re not a church goer,” he said, “I hope you go to church and thank God, because this is a miracle.” Still weak-kneed from the sight of the vehicle, I said, “I do thank God.”
All the way to the emergency room, I felt emotionally and mentally numb. I couldn’t believe what I’d seen. I couldn’t believe that I could have lost one or both of my children last night. I couldn’t believe that I might have been clinging to the last message my son had sent me, “Oi, mum I love you more than ice cream.” I tried not to imagine burying two more children.
My daughter’s little dog was with them and was thrown out of the vehicle. Our daughter Ivy and son-in-law, Ethan, took him to the veterinarian ER while we went to the human one. The dog was dazed, shocked, and bruised on one side, but he seems to be OK, too. A three pound chihuahua was tossed around a vehicle and then thrown outside it to the side of the road, and even he walked away. How does one account for that, if one wants to?
Yesterday afternoon, as I worked on the final article in my series about Olivia’s death, I sat in front of my computer feeling all the same feelings I’d felt the day she died. Suddenly, blood-curdling screams broke out! I sprang from my chair and rushed downstairs, only to find our resident drama queen, 9-year-old Juniper, screaming bloody murder because River was in the process of throwing her into the pool. I stomped outside, heart pounding, knees weak from the prospect of some critical injury involving gushing blood or protruding bones, and gave my two teenage boys a sound scolding.
“I want a 24-hour reprieve from all adolescent hijinks and shenanigans involving blood-curdling screams and possible emergency room visits, do you hear me?”
“Yes, mom,” they replied with barely-suppressed laughter.
“I mean it, boys! No more traumas for 24 hours!”
And in less than five hours I was, in fact, sitting in the emergency room.
I don’t know why my children escaped death last night and why somewhere, another mother’s child did not. I don’t know the theology of these things, but I do know that Psalm 119:68 has it right when it says of God, “Thou art good, and Thou doest good.” This was the first Bible verse I ever taught my children, because it speaks to the most foundational questions about God: What is God? What does God do? What is His character? I know that God is not the author of evil, and that God is good and full of mercy and lovingkindness, and that his energy causes everything in the universe to conspire and work for good. That’s all I know at the moment; and I know that today as I think of Olivia from time to time, I’ll think too of how different my life might be right now, had my children died in that accident last night.