It was a day that left a mark, a day that has been returned to often in my thoughts as a worn, dog-eared page of my story. It was a day that initiated great pain, yet my memories of it have now turned to gratitude, joy and healing victory through Christ. It was a dozen years ago on a beautiful early morning of a work day. The morning embraced a glorious peace, the kind that comes from staring at a very rare, blank work calendar with no meetings and no structured agenda for the day. I was driving my kindergartener to school across town, basking in the joy of our daily driving routine of singing praise songs together in the car and glancing at his precious, wonder-filled eyes through the rearview mirror as he sat snugly in his car seat of our Chevy van.
“In the morning when I rise…in the morning when I rise…in the morning when I rise…just give me Jesus…” was being belted out in unison with all the breath we could muster from our lungs between mom and son. And then, in an instant, my breath was taken away when I saw them. I saw the eyes that etched a memory into my soul within that split second…the eyes of an older woman filled with both terror and a sheepish acknowledgment of her mistake, framed by glasses, as both of our vans crashed head-on, sending my van veering out of control after the initial impact, to come to rest in billows of smoke, smashing into one of the signal poles that had such a warm, green greeting moments before.
“Just give me Jesus. Give me Jesus…take this world and just give me Jesus” was somewhere finishing its song. Is my son okay? Where was my airbag? My leg is screaming. The light was green. Am I okay? A new set of panicked eyes were now staring into mine; the first eyes I looked into of what would become my new life. He was asking me if I was okay. It was an older man in a ball cap. He was frantically fidgeting with his phone and cursing because 911 wasn’t connecting from his cell phone. Yes, I am okay (which really just means I am alive for future reference if you ever ask someone that question in this type of scenario)…but I asked him if my son was okay. This enhanced his panic as he hadn’t been aware I had a child in the van. I then heard the sweetest voice of an angel behind me say, “Mommy, what happened?” We crashed. The light was green. This man who had been driving behind me confirmed the light was green and it was green for the other driver too, but she had cut the intersection short right in front of me, with the intention to make a yielding left. There was no braking time at the 50 mph I was travelling.
I quickly surmised that we DID have Jesus. He indeed gave Himself to us as we asked in song. He was our protector, my personal airbag in my case, because apparently mine had malfunctioned according to the paramedic attending to me, who had shook his head in grateful disbelief of what they should’ve found as a result, but did not. He told me I was lucky. No, we were blessed. Jesus was given to us; intimate and present, both love and sovereignty. God spared the lives of all seven victims of our crash; both drivers and the five children being transported.
Over the next months, God walked me through a new level of intimacy with Him and set me free from carrying any resentment or bitterness from this accident and to forgive the other driver, because afterall…this was an ACCIDENT and not intentional. Christ then clearly called me to ministry leadership after I had risen up from the pit of depression, having felt useless and insignificant upon losing my career and being disabled with chronic, constant pain.
About four years later, Jesus had yet another gracious gift for me up His sleeve as He must have deemed me ready to handle it. Immediately after my deposition with the attorneys of the other driver’s company, for whom she was driving, I was granted the unprecedented choice to have opportunity to sit in the room with the woman driver, to look into those eyes again, during her portion of the deposition! I was not permitted by the lawyers to speak to her at all, but once our eyes locked and began to retrace the etching of the memory from years before, I saw an immediate, miraculous change to what I had perceived as shame in her eyes. Her eyes relaxed, brightened and rested in an enlightened release of freedom before she allowed her tears to overflow the wells. I believe she must have seen my forgiveness of her that I had already extended to her in my heart years earlier. My hope is still that she found the power and presence of Jesus etched in my eyes as the One who forgives and redeems.
As I sat there praising and thanking God for this chance to reveal my forgiveness to her, even if it had to be without words, I was probably a bit smug in the victory. But God has a way of keeping us humble and turning every moment into a teachable lesson. My Teacher Lord wanted to apparently instruct me in humility and teach me the difference between forgiveness out of justification versus forgiveness that stems from pure, compassionate grace. He wanted to turn my perception of this woman’s shame to see the actual story behind her eyes…and test my forgiveness of her.
I sat in disbelief as her deposition continued and she admitted taking drugs that morning, fully knowing that she was not supposed to operate a moving vehicle when she took them and the dangers that presented. It was a willful choice. She testified that she was extremely depressed that day. What? Lord, I am MAD now. How can she be so irresponsible with those children in the van? She made a conscious decision, knowing the risk! The enemy was cracking the door open to resurrecting the resentment, bitterness and anger again within me. But the Lord quickly closed and dead-bolted that door and lead me to compassion and grace when the next thing I heard was the reason for her depression and resultant actions. She had been grieving the recent, tragic death of her son. Her depression was not allowing her to rise out of bed that morning, but she needed to earn her paycheck as a recent widow who also just buried her son. The pills would allow her to rise from bed.
“In the morning, when I rise…give me Jesus”.
It was true that it was an accident; she did not see my van or intentionally cause the accident, but when she saw me the split second before the crash, her eyes of terror connected with eyes filled with joyful singing that turned to a scream to Jesus.
“Give me Jesus…”.
God gave us His Son and those who believe in Him have life eternal. His story is good news. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith. What story do your eyes tell?
By His grace,