She climbed in the van and wouldn’t get out. For a Labrador who fought fiercely every time we tried to get her in the car to take her to the vet, it was weird. We laughed at her, assuming she knew we were leaving when she saw us loading our suitcases. But she’d never done anything like this before.
It was strange, the sight of my dog laying on the floor of the van, refusing to budge until my brother physically removed her. At that moment--whether it was triggered by the dog or it was just regular intuition I couldn’t say--I got this odd feeling.
We’re not going to make it to California.
People have different ways of looking at catastrophe, at tragedy. Some people accept it. Some people deny it. Some people blame the cosmos or karma. Some people trust God through it. Some people hate God through it. Some people try to pick out the good. Some people wallow in the bad. Some people try to figure out the mystery behind it, attempting to decipher God’s intentions.
Sometimes you can’t find a meaning. Sometimes there isn’t a discernable answer. Sometimes the reason comes later, through telling the story again and again. Then one day it clicks—or it doesn’t click—but you keep telling the story. It was just that flabbergasting that you’ve got to tell it again, just one more time.
So I’m telling this story again. I purposefully didn’t go back and look at the journals or the story I wrote back then. I wanted to write from 13 years of memory, picking out the bits and pieces that still live in my mind.
I didn’t ask for my family’s eyewitness, either. From the perspective of 9 different people—my parents and 6 siblings—you’re going to get different takes. That’s beautiful. And we’ve recounted our stories to each other so many times. It’s a moment we all share, but how it impacted us was different. Today, for some reason, what's impacting me is that I should probably be dead.
This all started this morning at 7AM when my sister texted me a question about angels. The thought of angels among us doesn’t weird me out at all. It’s kind of comforting. I don’t see them as beings that go back and report to God how I’m doing. I see them as beings who show up at special times to give us a special glimpse of God’s heart. Sometimes we see them and sometimes we don’t.
It’s been debated, time and again, if we encountered an angel that day on the side of the road in Oklahoma. I want to believe we did.
He was barefoot and had greasy hair. Strange the things you remember 13 years later. He held my sister for 45 minutes. He held her from the moment my dad handed her out of the van until the moment the ambulance arrived. He held her in a bear hug, her legs dangling down. One foot twisted all the way to the side, leg clearly broken. He spoke softly to her. I walked by several times. He kept standing straight and speaking softly.
If that man weren’t an angel, if he was just a normal person who shared a piece of himself with us that day, I’m okay with that too. God shows us his heart through people doing kind things in unexpected ways. There were many unexpected kindnesses that day.
There were also many miracles.
A 15-passengar van pulling a 15-foot camping trailer was a ripe victim for the draft of an 18-wheeler. Once it started to jackknife, there was no going back. It flipped a few times going into the median. I remember floating like I was in a dream, a red cooler hitting the ceiling beside me as I landed on my hands and knees and then was hurled backwards as we flipped once again.
Then I was lying on my side in the grass, looking at the van as it rolled away from me only to lose its momentum and roll back on top of me. The side of the roof hit me, knocking the wind out of me, pushing me into the ground.
Then it stopped. That’s when the crying started. I was stunned and lay there a moment crying before twisting in the dirt to wriggle free. In the twisting I saw my sister’s leg, the one we latter learned was broken. The impact that broke her leg should have killed—or at least seriously injured—me. But other than ordinary whiplash I was fine.
My older brother had already escaped the wreckage out the back doors of the seriously beat-up van, taking a couple of my younger siblings with him. The camper trailer was in splinters all over the highway, along with all of our stuff. It looked pretty bad. I remember gaping until I was snapped back to reality when my sister with her twisted leg was lifted out of the van.
Twisted-leg sister and another sister with a sprained foot went in the ambulance to the hospital in Oklahoma City. My mom went with them and the rest of us scattered throughout the median and highway picking up stuff still salvageable.
By this time bare-foot-greasy-hair-could-be-an-angel man had gone. Amidst the chaos and dozens of other people who had stopped to help us, no one had gotten his name, his number, or his address.
Vanished—in a poof.
I want to believe he was an angel.
There were others who stuck around longer than the average time allotted for doers of good deeds. There was one woman who stayed with my little brother and sister, who were too young to be of any help. She later drove us where we needed to go. There was a young couple, in the process of moving across country, who had a moving truck only half full, who stayed around to help us load our stuff and take it to a storage unit.
Oh yeah, and the storage unit people gave us our unit for free.
Then a church, full of people we didn’t know, showed up with their church van, offering to let us use it while we waited for twisted-leg sister to have surgery on her femur.
Then there was the issue of where 7 people (not including the ones in the hospital) were going to stay. We’d taken a camper out west because it was budget friendly.
Have no fear Ronald McDonald House is here. They usually only let families have one room, but they made an exception for us. They had everything a family going through a rough time could want. Video games, TV, air hockey, and food provided by volunteers and donations from local churches. This is an amazing ministry for families with children in the hospital. What a blessing it was to us.
And finally, we needed a way to get home. My dad thought he might as well see if he could buy another van while we were waiting in Oklahoma. He found one within a few days. After the week we’d had, it wasn’t surprising when the dealer told my dad that they never sold 15-passenger vans in Oklahoma City. There was never a need for them. The presence of such a vehicle for sale in OC was our final little miracle.
We loaded up to head home. Twisted-leg sister was now body-cast sister who got the whole front seat to herself. It was fine with us. We were happy to not be the ones in the body cast. Even though we all would have gladly traded places with her.
We arrived home to a house full of signs, gifts, and food, provided by friends and family, people who’d loved us from a distance and prayed us home safely.
Our Labrador was waiting for us. As happy to see us as she was every time we got home from a trip. I wonder if she had known something was going to happen, that’s why she got in the car and wouldn’t get out. After the week we’d had, it wouldn’t have been surprising.