Early yesterday my daughters and I set out on an annual pilgrimage of sorts to join some friends at Creation Festival in central Pennsylvania. Despite the pouring rain, we were excited to be on the road, to see our friends and to enjoy some good music for a couple of days.
Things didn’t quite work out the way we expected.
As we were driving down a steep grade into Cumberland, MD, on I-68, Mother Nature unleashed an absolute torrent and I suddenly felt my Jeep Grand Cherokee lose contact with the pavement.
I’ve hydroplaned hundreds of times before–and had done so several times already that morning–but always managed to regain control quickly by taking my foot off the gas and simply steering straight through. This time, though, I found myself fishtailing across both lanes of interstate highway, utterly out of control.
Nothing I did worked. I steered into the skid…nothing. I steered opposite…nothing. As I realized I was gaining speed on the rain-slicked downhill surface, I knew I had to try something to slow down. The last thing I ever want to do when sliding, whether on water, snow, ice or mud, is to hit the brakes. But this time I had no choice. As I touched the brakes, the vehicle began to spin and I could see we were heading straight for the guardrail.
Interestingly, it was in that moment that I realized that my tires were once again in contact with the pavement. We were still in a spin, but we were indeed slowing down. “We’re alright. We’re alright.” I repeated, trying to calm my terrified daughters, even as we continued to slide toward the guardrail. I knew we were about to stop. I just wasn’t quite sure how or where. Seeing that we might slam into the guardrail square on the passenger side, where both girls were sitting (one in front and one in back), I turned my steering wheel hard to the left in an attempt to take the impact on the rear-end of the car rather than directly on their side.
Apparently we were still a little further from the rail than I thought. As we spun nearer, the car did another half-revolution and began to slow almost to a stop. For a brief instant I thought we might avoid impact altogether, but in the next we heard and felt the sickening crunch of metal against metal as the front of the Jeep rammed into the guardrail. Luckily the momentum of the spin brought us in at an angle and the front-left corner of the car took the blow.
The safety features of the venerable Jeep did their job. The impact was totally absorbed by the front bumper. The airbags didn’t even deploy. Everyone was fine. Terrified, but fine.
Once we got the car off the road and were waiting for the police to arrive, as our nerves began to settle and we were able to take stock of our situation, the realization that we would not be finishing the trip began to sink in. Disappointing, sure, but at least we were all in one piece.
And that’s when it struck me.
Every time I travel, like most people, I pray for safe travels. Especially when I’m traveling with my kids, I pray for God’s protection.
For a moment, I wondered why God had ignored my prayer on that particular day.
And then I realized he hadn’t. He answered it. In a big way.
Yes, my car got wrecked. Yes, we failed to make it to our destination.
But we were protected. Not a scratch, a bump, or a bruise. Some crumpled metal, which can be repaired. Some frayed nerves, which we’ll get over. But we were safe.
I’m not one of those people that thinks that God micro-manages the events of mankind. I don’t believe he had a reason for our car wreck. I don’t think we were somehow “not meant” to show up at Creation Festival yesterday.
But I do think sometimes he lets circumstances unfold, and, if we’re paying attention, he teaches us something…or at the very least reminds us of something.
Yesterday, he reminded me that we are protected. Events may not play out the way we want or plan or anticipate, but in the end, he reminded all of us that we are protected.
Our wreck could have been much worse. Three days ago a friend of mine swerved his car to avoid hitting a deer while driving home from work late at night. His car flipped, and he’s now in the ICU with a broken back. I texted him last night to see how he was doing. And you know what he said? “I’m the luckiest man alive.” Even in traction in a hospital bed, he knows he was protected. It could have been worse.
Of course, if we take that argument to its logical end, we have to admit that sometimes things do turn out much worse. We know people don’t always survive when vehicles lose control. We understand that very often, through no fault of their own, people die as a result of these very types of circumstances.
But I have to believe that even in those situations, God’s protection reigns supreme. It confounds our imagination to see it or understand it, but it is there.
Sometimes stuff just happens. It’s out of our hands and out of our control. The results are often far different than what we envision.
But I believe God is good. And so even when stuff happens, and even when it’s the worst stuff, that never changes.
I’m grateful none of us were hurt in our accident. I’m grateful my friend is still alive after his. But mostly I’m grateful for a God that holds out hope for all of us that even in the worst circumstances, we’re alright. We really are.