My recent Feature Article Writing exercise, about a man for whom a providentially timed car wreck meant saving a family’s life, got me thinking about Romans 8:28—a verse that always seems to be mentioned in times of tragedy, whether tactful or not—and a car wreck of my own that happened more than a year and a half ago.
The oft-cited verse reads “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose” (NRSV 1989). Many people hear this and subconsciously think this means that everything should be smooth sailing for them, and are disappointed when problems and troubles arise. However, the wording indicates that this is not the case: God uses good and bad events to further his purpose. In this case, he is almost taking a slightly utilitarian view to fulfill the end result.
Personal trainers and bodybuilders are accustomed to the phrase “No pain, no gain”—which is part of the viewpoint this verse engenders, in addition to the contribution of positive life-goods and events. In my case, I saw the literal truth of this principle and verse in the time elapsed since getting rear-ended on July 29, 2011. Forgive me for venting with a long description of the incident, but I promise it builds to a surprising point.
It was a Friday night, about three weeks before I was to start the final phase of my college journey at the University of Idaho (I had graduated with my associate of arts in journalism from North Idaho College). That summer, I was a retail cashier at nearby Silverwood Theme Park, a truly great place to work. I got off work a little before 11 p.m.—the park closed at 10—and got into my car, a trusty light-blue 1990 Toyota Corolla DX, manual transmission. I turned out of the employye driveway onto westbound Brunner road, at that time compacted dirt and gravel until the train tracks a couple hundred feet away. I stopped at the tracks, then proceeded 1,000 feet to the stop sign at Old Highway 95, a two-way stop. As I slowly approached the stop sign—I saw no reason to go more than 20 if I were merely going to stop 1,000 feet later—I saw a coworker’s car turn out of the lot and head the same direction. I was less than 20 feet from the stop sign when I saw her coming in the rear-view mirror, although it didn’t appear overly fast, so I tapped my brakes a couple times as I pushed the clutch in to ease to a stop.
At that moment 10 feet from the stop sign, she hit me slightly right of center. She must have been doing close to the 50 mile-per-hour speed limit and not have stopped at the train tracks, because in an instant my car was about 15 feet from the opposing stop sign, about 30 to 40 feet from the point of impact. My seat broke backward, a pile of sheet music books cushioning a potentially worse case of whiplash. My loosely-installed stereo flew into the empty passenger seat, leaving a frayed wiring harness in its place. A nearly-full McDonald’s cup of soda splashed everywhere, soaking and eventually destroying a few of my favorite cassette tapes.
The adrenaline reduced any pain to nothingness that night, but it sure hurt the next day. That day we went to the junkyard and took several photos while retrieving a few items left behind:
Aside from the physical back and neck pain—which I still feel, despite seeing a chiropractor for more than a year and maximizing the insurance coverage—I think I felt more hurt at the loss of the car itself. I loved that car. While nothing special by most benchmarks, I had a personal connection with that car, the first vehicle I owned aside from a bicycle. I even bought a modern “Ah-Oo-Gah” horn for it, which I rescued before the tow truck did its duty. I took that car for impromptu day trips everywhere, from National Forest roads between Coeur d’Alene and Sandpoint, through parts of Montana, on the old Milwaukee Road railbed-turned-county-road near Avery, over to Tacoma on a whim, and down to Portland and back once. The control offered by the stick shift—not to mention the higher-than-EPA gas mileage—made the car a fluid extension of my mind and body, fully under my control. I could also hear and feel everything it told me about the road and its capabilities. In short, we were well nigh inseparable.
Until that fateful night.
A Good Turn, Despite the Loss
As I mentioned, I was preparing to attend UI that fall. I had planned to leave the car at home and use a bike on campus; however, my extremely independent nature would have prevailed, and I most likely would have ended up with the car on campus.
I must take a short backtrack here to explain why this would not have been a good choice. I moved up to Coeur d’Alene in 2006 from the Portland area when my dad took a job in Post Falls. I am slightly introverted and typically found it hard to make friends, so when I had to leave my few, hard-won friends in Portland, I neglected to forge close friendships with peers in Idaho. Instead, I turned to vinyl records and later driving my car as a source of independent—though ultimately empty—enjoyment and fulfillment. I was firmly entrenched in these behavior patterns when I left NIC, preferring to drive myself places rather than carpool with family and friends; I didn’t want to—and was scared to—relinquish control. Moreover, I was leaning apathetic to religion despite my Christian upbringing.
I think God knew this, and put me through that crash to jolt me out of that behavioral pattern. When I came down to UI, I somewhat out of a sense of duty got plugged into a church group, Campus Christian Fellowship, that had many great activities and—I was to find out—strong Christian people. However, their meetings and activities were in Pullman, so I had to be reliant on rides and actually ask people to take me places. This was extremely humiliating and uncomfortable. I was the king of the driver’s seat, one who didn’t mind giving others rides yet balked at having to submit to a subservient role as passenger.
As horrible as it felt, asking for rides and such, it was one of the best things to happen in my life. This lesson in humility was directly responsible for forging many of my strong and most influential friendships within the first few weeks, as I rode with several of the same people each week to CCF and church events. People like Alex, Joe and Arika, Caleb, Zak and Natalie, Dan F. and Dan S. helped break me out of my hardened, withdrawn shell and helped bring me back to a place of spiritual security, for which I am grateful. While a few of the people I initially met have graduated and moved on, and as I prepare to step into the next stage of my life, wherever that may be, I will never forget the people who have been so great to me—and who continue to be an encouragement. I only wish now that I could again do my part to contribute to giving rides or otherwise helping, rather than always relying on others. Nevertheless, I now have less of a fear or anxiety of asking for help when necessary, especially after a few other incidents that I may retell at another time.
In my case, a terrible car wreck resolved into an unforeseen life-good of much-needed friendships and spiritual re-invigoration. What unforeseen benefit or life-good may God be working through hardship in your life?