All ten of us were in the van when it happened. Though we were only running some errands and stopping at the library, I had ignored the eye-rolling of my older kids and insisted on the entire family’s going out together.
One consequence of our growing-up family, I have found, is that we more and more often find ourselves going in different directions. Our older children are engaged in many individual pursuits these days — sports, jobs, and outings with friends. This is as it should be, but I do find myself fondly recalling our family’s younger years when we always traveled together, and I relish rare moments when all of my brood is together, under the one roof of our van.
So it was that, on this particular day, we were all together when my husband pulled into a left lane and waited to make a turn into a parking lot. And we were all together when a teenage girl, driving an SUV and talking on her cell phone, hit us full-force from behind.
Just like that.
In an instant, I went from talking about the location of the bottle of hand sanitizer and making a mental plan for dinner to unbuckling my seat belt in a panic and racing toward the back seats to check on my babies.
Five-year-old Raphael was holding his ears and crying. No blood, I quickly determined. The crash had only frightened him with its deafening thud. Seven-year-old Gabby was terror-stricken, too. Her wild eyes met mine and she repeated over and over again, “What happened? What was that?” Fourteen-year-old Eamon was angry. He looked back at the car that had rear-ended us and spoke a word I didn’t even know he knew.
I looked out the rear window, too. The young girl driver had exited her car and was sobbing into her cell phone. Small and frail, she fell to the ground and covered her face with her hands.
I was not angry. Only shaken.
I am not sure when Dan pulled the van into the parking lot or when he dialed 911, but before I knew it, I was holding a phone to my ear. A smooth-voiced woman on the line instructed me to check the kids for sore heads and necks. Yes, I told her, we have eight of those. She kept me there, talking, until the police and paramedics arrived.
And then I was grateful for flashing lights, men in fire suits, and a growing crowd of cool, collected people who took charge, examined us for injuries, and distracted me with eight-children’s worth of ambulance waivers.
All told, we were fine. And about 90 minutes later, when we drove away, I realized that the van was mostly alright, too. It had a sizable dent in the back bumper, but was drivable nonetheless. A veritable tank, one of the kids observed, and we all agreed.
Despite the fact that we were okay, I could not shake the image of that sobbing young girl standing beside her crumpled car. An airbag had spared her serious injury as well, but the entire incident had been a frightening and expensive wake-up call.
I could not lose the feeling that someone had grabbed hold of my shoulders and shaken me — good and hard. And I suppose we can all guess who that Someone might have been.
Pay attention, God told me that afternoon. Look at what matters. It’s not your plan for dinner or whether you forgot to pay the phone bill or how high the laundry is piling up in the bathroom.
It’s easy to say that we know we live an instant away from a crushing wake-up call, that we understand what matters most, and that we keep heavenly goals at the forefront of our minds, but I’ll be the first to admit that most days, I really don’t.
There’s just so much . . . stuff that fills my brain as a natural consequence of living a busy family life. Silly stuff. Lost toddler shoes, sand in the bathtub, spilled bowls of Cheerios, and ketchup stains on favorite t-shirts.
God allows the small stuff to fill our days and calendars, but He sometimes allows the wake-up calls, too. I pray that, in future days, I won’t wait for a crashing call to remember what matters most. I pray for grace to pause more frequently and assess the ways I choose to spend the limited resources of my time, energy, and attention.
What road am I on? Who is traveling with me? And in what direction are we headed . . . together?