Almost Killed ... Again

Forty-seven years ago, a car accident almost killed me while driving to a Bible study. Last week that happened again. What lessons are there for survivors of such close calls?

The summer of 1971, as a student missionary in Pennsylvania, I was running late to a Bible study. While rounding a curve on a narrow rural road, my little Volkswagen encountered a big Buick. Swerving right, I avoided the Buick but struck a dirt bank diagonally. My VW flipped end over end back toward the road. The door opened, and the tumbling car spilled me out. Skidding on my back, I ended up with the car upside down beside me, an arm’s length away.

A nearby farmer watching from his front porch knew I must be dead. But by God’s grace I jumped up uninjured with only scrapes on my back. The farmer helped me flip the VW right-side up and push it into the weeds. Its roof had been bashed in so much that my head would have been crushed had I not evacuated the vehicle.

And that was the end of my car but not of my ministry. God had further plans.

Almost five decades later, last Thursday evening brought another near-death encounter. A hospice family wanted a chaplain. En route, driving away from a stoplight, I saw a large SUV roar up behind me. I moved to the bike lane on my right, but the driver followed me there. Terrified, I returned to the slow lane — and so did he. Within a second, 5,000 pounds of steel and glass would strike at 70 mph. No way could I survive such size at that speed.

At the last micro-moment, the SUV veered left and clipped my back left fender and door, jostling my Camry but not rolling it over. Next the attacking vehicle struck a streetlamp with a velocity that launched the 20-foot pole half a city block. Finally, the SUV demolished a parked car and rolled over.

I exited my car and ran to where the drug-impaired driver lay writhing with a broken neck. Police arrived immediately and saved his passenger’s life with a tourniquet above her nearly severed hand. All I suffered was inflammation of the soft tissue of my back and jittery nerves. The next day, with a rental car, I visited my patients as usual.

An intriguing P.S. to this story: The evening before the accident, I discussed with my wife, Darlene, on our neighborhood walk what she should do if I died in a car accident. It was our most serious talk on that subject in 43 years of marriage. Next morning, I remarked to my daughter about the possibility of my having a deadly car accident. I had no clue I might die that very day.

Was Thursday, March 15, 2018, “supposed” to be my day of death — but God thwarted that fate because He’s not quite done with my ministry to family and patients (and readers of the Gleaner)?

Here are five takeaways that I have pondered in the aftermath:

  1. We don’t know which day may be our last on Earth. There is “a time to be born, and a time to die” (Eccl. 3:2) — but God alone knows that day and hour.
  2. Live each day as if it were our last — a familiar admonition, trite but true.
  3. God continually protects us from dangers seen and unseen. His angels indeed have charge over us (Ps. 91:11) — a promise Darlene and I have claimed every day for years.
  4. We must not condemn anyone, including the drug-addled parolee who almost killed me. Assuming his anticipated recovery, he may face further jail time — yet he is not the antichrist. His Facebook page even speaks of a yearning for God. I hope he and I can someday do prison ministry together (one reason why I’m not sharing further details about the accident).
  5. Heaven is ours in Christ, so we need not fear death. “Where O death is thy sting! … Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:55, 57).

With all the horrific things that could happen in life, some might be tempted to live with a sense of impending doom. I choose otherwise. As Scripture reminds us, "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Tim. 1:7). As long as I am in possession of a sound mind, I plan to live with the daily assurance His banner over me is love and nothing will be able to separate me from His love. "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8:38–39). 

May 04, 2018 / Perspective
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