A Long Ride Home

Country road

Friends, I am still a bit shaken as I sit here ready to share this story with you. As I shared in my last post, we found out last Wednesday that my husband's grandfather passed away. We spent Thanksgiving with local family, but drove up to Tulsa, Oklahoma for the funeral. It was a very special time visiting with all my husband's family and remembering Pawpie.

Our four-year-old daughter, Eleanor, asked a hundred questions about Pawpie's death. We answered her honestly and openly, and it was an amazing time to look more closely at our faith with her. But this isn't the story I'm here to share today. It's a story about how God held my family in His hands, brought us home from a long trip in His timing, and taught me the value of each and every day. If you're fainthearted you may want to pass over this post, but for those who do read on, thank you for bearing with me in this heavier and lengthier-than-usual post.

This story begins on our ride back home. We left Tulsa on Sunday morning around 10 a.m. after enjoying breakfast with Chris' parents and the kids. Usually we leave before sunrise because it's such a long ride home back to San Antonio (about 12 hours with the kids), but we made such good time driving up we weren't too worried.

Everything was going smoothly on the ride back (we were relatively succeeding at keeping the kids entertained), we stopped at another relative's house for lunch, and we got back on the road, certain we'd be home just as quickly as we'd driven up. We'd never driven home the Sunday after Thanksgiving before.

With over three hours still to go, the traffic on the highway came to a stop. Looking at the traffic on our phone map, we could see we were going to be stuck for hours. As we creeped along in the van, Chris searched for any alternative routes. We were between towns, and the only option was to take the back roads to get to the next major highway an hour away.

We decided to give it a go, got off at the next exit, filled up at the only gas station nearby (which was crowded--and the bathrooms weren't working). It was getting dark as we piled the kids back up in the van and ventured through the countryside.

Chris and I did our best to keep the morale up, promising the kids we'd make it home and stop for dinner soon. I studied the map on my phone carefully as Chris drove into the night. Early on into our drive Chris gasped and put his arm across me as a deer darted across not ten feet in front of the van. I only saw it streak by, but it definitely gave me a jump as we sped on.

Stopping at a gas station again in the next town for a bathroom break, we went through our clown-car shenanigans with the kids, made sure everyone had their pillows, blankets, books, and pressed on.

We stopped at a light in another small town, and a semi-truck blared through the intersection several seconds after our light turned green. Luckily we were checking the map again, and hadn't started off right away. We scoffed at the person in the semi and continued on our journey.

We finally made it to the other highway (which was a dark, two-laned speedway through the country still), and had our eyes on home. The kids were listening to music and we were driving merrily along. At one point we found ourselves stuck behind a couple of slow cars, but I put my hand on Chris' knee and told him not to worry.

At about 8 o'clock we saw several cars stopped on the side of the road ahead of us. As we slowed down to pass we saw that it was a car accident, and I saw the body of a young man hanging face-down out of his car. Shocked, and realizing there were no emergency vehicles there yet, I grabbed Chris' arm and told him to pull over to see if they needed help. He answers emergency calls frequently as a firefighter, and we felt obligated to stop.

We pulled over ahead of the accident and Chris rushed back to the two interlocked vehicles. The kids asked why we were stopping and I told them it was an accident. Luckily there was another stopped truck behind us with it's headlights on, blocking the kids' view of the scene behind us.

I stepped out of the car and felt my legs weaken in the tall grass beneath me. Not knowing what to do I told the kids I was going to walk a little closer to see daddy. I turned the engine off and left the lights and music on and told the kids to sit tight. As I walked towards the truck stopped behind us, a woman walked up and said I didn't want to go any closer. She was looking for gloves for her husband who was a paramedic, and asked if we had any after I told her Chris was a firefighter. I didn't, and I couldn't see Chris, so I walked back to the van.

I was starting to feel overwhelmed and didn't want to freak out with the kids; I couldn't get back in the van yet. I called my mother-in-law and started crying as I told her what was going on.  We were okay, but the situation was overwhelming and it had already been a long day. As I talked to her I suddenly got the feeling to move the van further off the shoulder. I had heard too many stories about good Samaritans being hit in their cars when they stop to help others on the road.

I kept my mother-in-law on the line and put the phone on the passenger seat as I got back into the van. The kids were asking a million questions, and I was shaking like a leaf, but I moved the van into the grass. After holding off on giving snacks before dinner up until then, I now freely passed out everything I had--yogurt-covered pretzels, Chex Mix, gum--I didn't know what else to do.

Chris came back as I stepped out of the van and got off the phone. He said there were emergency vehicles on way. I trembled in his arms as I thought how it could have been us. The young man I'd seen was dead and the other driver was pinned in his truck but okay. There were plenty of people helping at the crash, and we still had a couple hours to go. The first police car was just driving up as we got back on the road. We finally stopped for dinner at a town a few more miles down the road. The kids, unfazed, ate and played.

As we continued driving I found myself fearing the dark road ahead of us. I asked Chris to turn the brights back on each time a car passed by, and sat nervously in my seat. Although we were coming home from a funeral I didn't cry nearly as much as I did driving down that dark road. No sobs, or wailing, just silent tears as the kids drifted to sleep and we drove on.

My soul was clenched inside me as I thought back on the near-miss of the deer and semi-truck earlier. I feared that something else would come our way and we wouldn't make it home. The image of the young man drifted in and out of my mind. I thanked God that we were alive, but prayed in my mind for a sign that we would make home safely. I felt like we would be forever driving in the dark, not knowing what was beyond the short yellow line winding on the road before us.

Soon we began to slow down through a string of small towns, and as we approached one town I noticed a black billboard with white letters. I strained to clear my eyes and read what it said:

I have come to bring you life.
                  I love you, Jesus

That sign was a breath of fresh air. You and I may not share the same faith, but this was a voice of the divine reaching out to bring me peace. I clung to that promise as we drove home. The city lights of San Antonio drew closer and we found ourselves home shortly before midnight.  A fourteen-hour day on the road, but we made it, in His hands. 

Life returned to normal as we took the boys to school Monday morning, and we went about our day. But a need to find closure about the accident drew me to the computer for a search on the accident. When I finally found a news report I read that the boy who died was only 18, and the time of the accident was 7:55pm. I made my phone call to my mother-in-law at 8:03. We were just minutes behind being in that accident. 

This happening has changed something in me. It has brought deeper meaning to the gift of each new day. We never know when our hour will be, have you lived your day to it's best? 

Thank you for reading through this personal and lengthy post. I hope that this finds you and your family well, and encourage you to look more closely at how God is showing Himself in your life each day.

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