There are certain seasons of my life when I have been brought face to face with the reality that my days here on Earth are numbered. It is during those times in my life that I find myself asking the age old question, “What is life on this big ball of dirt we call Earth all about?”
One of those seasons came 19 years ago during those beautiful early days of April, 1995.
I was a college freshman living in the dorms at my small liberal arts college in a small Arkansas town. Because I was living about 5 hours from home, I didn’t make the drive to south central Oklahoma every weekend.
Basketball season had come to an end in March and this meant for the first time since October, I could actually feel like a sort of ‘normal’ college girl on the weekends.
Since most weekends my closest friends went home, I often found myself going to eat Friday and Saturday dinner in the cafeteria we all loving called “Walt’s” to see who else was actually on campus for the weekend.
My normal Friday night cereal dinner at Walt’s (because Friday nights at Walt’s was…well let’s just say they didn’t spend much of the budget on weekend food) often led to an impromptu trip to Hot Springs with an eclectic group of people to go to a coffee shop and to hang out in the lobby of the Arlington hotel watching the ballroom dancers.
I know. My college life was wild and scandalous.
Give me a little credit. I was a Baptist preacher’s daughter, attending a Baptist university and so for me watching 80 year old people drink liquor and dance on a Friday night was quite scandalous for me in those days.
One April weekend of 1995 was different.
My roommate and my two suite mates were all staying on campus for the weekend and so we decided it would be fun on Saturday to make the hour long trip up interstate 30 to Little Rock and celebrate my suite mate Ami’s 20th birthday….the first one of us to cross out of the teenage years.
I don’t remember much about the day except for what we captured in a few pictures.
I remember loading up in my roommate Gwen’s sporty new to her gold Honda Accord with all the excitement that fills the heart of college kids who are enjoying the days of not having to ask parents permission to make an hour long trip to the city.
I remember a stop at a couple of stores.
We enjoyed a fun time full of laughter eating at the Olive Garden.
I don’t remember many details of that day except for what happened on the drive home.
There was road construction, which meant that for a long stretch of the trip the traffic seemed to be heavier than normal for a Saturday afternoon.
Gwen kept her eyes glued to the road as the four of us talked.
About halfway through the drive, I notice that there were many semi trucks on the highway that April afternoon. Shortly after this thought a series of events occurred that I will never forget.
Being a Southern Oklahoma girl, I was soaking in the beauty of the pine trees that lined the Arkansas highway for much of the drive…something I was learning that all my native Arkansas friends took for granted.
I was sitting in the back behind the driver’s seat.
We were driving in the right lane.
I looked out the window to my left, and I could hear yet another semi truck coming up in the passing lane. For some reason I looked out the back window and noticed the truck’s speed and the fact that it was creeping dangerously close to the center line.
I remember saying “Gwen” and then about that time everyone in the car looked to the left and saw that the little two door Honda we were in was about to be side swiped by a speeding semi truck.
As most people would do, my sweet roommate, Gwen, looked out her driver’s window and the sight of a semi wheel caused her to turn the steering wheel quickly to the right in hopes of getting us out of the way of the semi that was crossing over into our lane.
The next 5 to 10 seconds of my life are forever ingrained in my mind in slow motion.
The little gold Honda did not stop turning right.
As our car was making a complete circle in the Southbound traffic, I closed my eyes and knew that at some point the car would come to a stop.
As you can imagine the car was full of screaming, while we awaited the inevitable impact.
Ami was sitting next to me in the backseat.
She threw her left arm across my chest. I guess since she was the oldest in the car it was natural for her to throw out the momma arm in attempts to protect me.
As we spun out of control in that car, Ami screamed out “Jesus, Jesus save us.”
Still traveling at 55 miles an hour, just as we were about to make a complete circle in the southbound lane, the wheels of that little Honda came off the ground and sent us airborne towards the median of that interstate.
The car made a half turn in the air and the inevitable impact came.
We crashed into one of those majestic pine trees in the median that I had just minutes before been admiring.
Our screams were interrupted by the loud sound of the crash followed by a silence that brought on a moment of terror.
The next few minutes are a bit surreal.
There I was strapped inside of a car that was now on its side in the middle of an interstate highway.
I remember the initial shock and then the terror of wondering if I was okay.
Was I injured? What about my friends?
Then came the questions.
“Gwen, are you okay?”
“I think so.” I have never been so thrilled to hear my roommate’s voice.
“There’s some blood on my leg, but it doesn’t look bad.”
Because I was now dangling sideways above Ami, I look down at her and could see that she looked a bit shaken up but was okay.
Within seconds, there were people surrounding our car. Passersby who had seen the accident had pulled over to help.
They peered into the window.
I am sure they expected to find a horrific scene.
Because there was not a way for them to get us out of the car, I can still hear their calming voices assuring us that help was on its way.
When I realized I was okay and might be dangling there for a while, I undid my seat belt and stood on the backseat window that was now lying against the ground. I tried my best not to step on Ami’s head as she still sat in her seat.
Within 10 minutes we heard sirens and the car was surrounded by a team of first responders.
They told us to cover our eyes, and we listened while they broke through the front windshield.
One by one those men lifted the four of us out of the car and told us to sit down until we could be checked out by the EMTs who were on the scene.
The passersby sat next to us and did their best to provide calming words to all of us.
It was 1995 and not many people had mobile phones.
Miraculously one of the people sitting with us did and wanted us to call our parents.
Because all but Gwen’s parents lived hours away, I dialed Gwen’s dad and proceeded to recount the events. I told him that Gwen seemed in shock and the EMTs thought she should ride with them to the nearest hospital, but that the rest of us would be fine riding in the police car.
So that’s what happened. We rode with the police to an ER at the hospital of a small Arkansas town.
Sore necks, sore chest bones, and a few scratches on Gwen and Susan from the partially shattered front windshield.
Gwen’s parents arrived at the hospital to take us back to campus, and we spent the drive recounting the events and asking ourselves the ‘what ifs?‘
What if this had happened two miles earlier where there were no pine trees in the center media, and we had been launched into the northbound interstate traffic?
What if Ami hadn’t have put on her seat belt? She had mentioned that she never wears a seat belt in the backseat but only strapped it on because she saw me put mine on.
We all spent the next few weeks battling the body pains associated with the wreck and there were many tears as we recounted the scary details of those moments. Riding in a car was quite scary for each of us for a while.
But in those weeks and now years that have followed that crash, countless prayers of thanksgiving have been sent up to heaven for sparing our lives that day.
For some reason that April Saturday was not our time to go.
From what everyone at the scene said….we were lucky girls.
After all, I’ve known several amazing children of God that have had their lives cut short because of accidents.
Why was my life spared?
Why does it seem as I recount this story, that we must have had angels sent down from heaven to protect us?
Those are questions I struggle to answer.
But what I do know is that 19 years later, when my neck occasionally hurts from the injuries I sustained in that wreck…..I am reminded of life.
The pain in my neck is a sign of life.
A sign of a life spared.
Today life is quite different for the four of us college friends.
Over the years we had lost touch with each other, but in my love/hate relationship with Facebook….I have loved that social media allowed us to reconnect.
Ami had another birthday this past weekend.
Even more exiting, after years and years of not being able to have a baby….after having adopted three beautiful boys and raising them to be elementary aged kiddos…
Ami got pregnant a few months after I found out I was pregnant with Baby B.
Sweet Cora was born just a few weeks before Ami’s April birthday.
Thanks to Facebook, tears rolled down my cheeks as I saw my college friend holding the child she had prayed for for so very long.
There I sat holding my own sweet baby girl and looking at the picture of Cora, and I couldn’t help but remember that April day in 1995. All I could do was lift my eyes to heaven and say, “Thank you Jesus.”
I don’t really know the answer to the “why did God choose to answer Ami’s prayer to save us?”
All I know is that from that day forward, I have been challenged to thank God for life when I am tempted to complain.
When my neck hurts, I try to turn my thoughts to the fact that the pain is actually a sign of the life I have been given that almost got cut short.
This morning when I was tempted to get frustrated at the grains of dirt sticking to my feet after I had just swept the floors yesterday….I was reminded to be thankful for the dirt.
Though I would love for my 11 year old to remember to take off his baseball cleats before he comes into the house, that dirt is actually a sign of life …the life of a little boy who is healthy enough to run and play baseball and I am honored to get to be his momma.
And last night…when baby B was having tummy troubles in the night, and I found myself changing diapers a few times in the night, I turned my thoughts to my two precious friends who in the last few weeks have both had to hold the body of their lifeless babies in their arms just after having had given birth to them…
Those late night diaper changing…well they are a sign of a life I don’t ever want to take for granted.
It took a brush with death to help me truly understand that I am not promised tomorrow and my days here on Earth are indeed numbered.
***Crazy addition to this story….this morning I read this to my sweet Joe in our morning time and tears filled his eyes. This afternoon just before I was about to post what I wrote to my blog, I get a text message from him “I think I just saw someone die in a car wreck” Turns out a small red car in front of him slammed up underneath a big semi truck. Life is fragile people. Let’s handle it with love and grace.