I would imagine if you are reading this that you are most likely in some way familiar with the trial our family went through a year ago at this time. I want it to be clear that my purpose of writing in no way stems from any desire for empathy. Instead this is meant to be a sort of commentary on the events of that day as I remember them and the subsequent days to follow as we sought to come to grips with what had just transpired.
I have always been somewhat of a visual learner. Movies, TV shows, and YouTube videos are all relatively easy for me to retain. Maybe it is because of this that, at least in my mind, July 27, 2013, still feels like yesterday. The best way I can think of to describe the experience is it was like walking onto the set of a movie. To what horror film capable of shattering my dull Saturday afternoon had I awakened?
I stepped over the median, head reeling. From the littered asphalt to the countless medics, none of it felt real. Dad was one of the first to greet us. When he called for the family to gather, I knew something was amiss. His words were few. Not until after they were delivered did it dawn on me that nothing was fictional about them. All he said was “Ok, here’s what we know. Chad and Courtney didn’t make it.” Looking on while someone you love hurts coupled with the understanding that you can do nothing to remedy the situation is one of the worst feelings in the world. Whether physical or emotional, what son wants to see his mother in pain? Almost as soon as the news was uttered, I watched in slow motion as mom’s knees buckled and my father steadied her. “Didn’t make it.” Never have three words rang louder in my ears. Turning away, I struggled to comprehend the gravity of the statement myself. A quick survey of the hill behind me was no comfort. There my friends, the people I had gone to high school with, were receiving medical attention. One of them held my gaze. His eyes contained a lost expression and seemingly stared into nothingness. Twice he called my name. I could not respond. Caleb, now my sole remaining brother, was nearby. I grabbed him and wept into his shoulder. Finally it had hit me. Not only was this real, it was my new reality.
After the accident I would hear people make comments such as “I don’t know how your family can go through something like this and stay so strong.” Frankly I wondered too because at least for me personally, I honestly didn’t know that I was. Yes, I knew my God was good (Psalm 119:68). I knew that while things may not always initially make sense, He would ultimately work them together for His glory (Romans 8:28). You see it was easy for me to acknowledge God as loving when nothing was wrong (I John 4:8). I could recognize Him as sovereign when everything was fine (Psalm 135:6). I even readily accepted that He had a plan for me and did not desire to harm me when the sea of life was calm (Jeremiah 29:11). This head knowledge was all great, but what would happen when it was my loved ones whose lives had been taken? Would mere Biblical truth really be enough to carry me through now that the tempest was rising and I was the one in the boat? What if I didn’t make it? What if I didn’t become more like Christ?
When we headed off to school in the fall Caleb was finishing up seminary, and I was entering my freshman year. As first floor counselor for our dorm, he was able to request that I be on his hall. Several months into the school year we were talking in his room late one night. With many ongoing distractions back home, it would be a lie to say that adjusting to college had been easy. I doubt he even realizes it but, at some point in the conversation, Caleb said something to me that I have remembered ever since. “Daniel, you have not suffered first, nor have you suffered most. If you ever view our trial as greater than the splinter in the hand of a guy down the hall, you are dead wrong.” That’s when it dawned on me. No, I had not suffered first, and I certainly had not suffered most. The Man of Sorrows had (Isaiah 53:3). How dare I view my testing to be more significant than that of someone else in any way? Not until I grasped these two concepts did cliché become conviction. Now when I was reminded of God’s goodness, His love, or His sovereignty I understood. He was a good, loving, and sovereign God. This was not just some of the time; it was all of the time (Hebrews 13:5). He was always in control, even when I couldn’t see what He was doing (Psalm 77:19). It had been proven on the cross of Calvary (I Peter 2:24). No matter what the furnace of affliction, I had a High Priest who could be touched with the feeling of my infirmities (Hebrews 4:15). Praise God for grace through Christ that sustains, even in the midst of the deepest possible pain (II Corinthians 12:9).