(My apologies for the pun. I just couldn’t think of a better title for this post.)
Here’s the story.
Seven years ago, my family and I, along with a couple of kids from our junior church class, were driving home in our minivan. The January weather had been brutal that year, with frigid temperatures and icy road conditions. We were approaching the railroad crossing near our church at the same time that a freight train traveling about sixty miles per hour was barreling down the tracks toward us.
Unfortunately, we didn’t see the train until it was too late.
But it wasn’t that simple. So many things happened during the next few heartbeats, in such an order and in such a way, that only God could have orchestrated them.
Continuing on. The train was headed our way, and we never saw it coming. But we did hear the train whistle blaring directly into our ears, it seemed, a fraction of a second before the train clipped the front quarter of our minivan on the driver’s side. In that fraction of a second, my husband tried to react, swerving away slightly and perhaps hitting the brake.
But the section of road in front of the tracks was covered in ice, and our tires could not get traction. We slid into the train as it rammed into us. Yet, the ice that seemed to exacerbate the accident also helped save our lives.
In the end, it was all about friction, or a lack of it. On a fine spring day with clear roads, getting hit by a train in that way probably would have overturned our van, at the very least. But on that frigid winter day, on a road slick with ice, it was as though the train nudged us away. The front end of our vehicle swung away into a quarter turn, and we were suddenly parallel to the train, the side of our vehicle just a few inches from the side of the speeding train.
At that point, I glanced out the driver’s side window toward the train and experienced a moment of such terror, such an instant adrenaline rush, that my entire body began to shake. The train raced by us so closely that it tore off our driver’s side mirror. But I did not scream. I did not have time to pray. I squeezed my eyes shut and covered my ears with my fists, and in another heartbeat, the rushing, roaring train had passed us by, leaving the sound of its squealing brakes in its wake.
My husband put his hand on my arm, turned to the five children still seated behind us and said, “It’s by. It’s gone by. Is everyone okay? Are you kids okay?”
They were all absolutely fine. Perfectly safe. My toddler in his car seat, sitting behind my husband, and like him, a few inches from being torn from me forever, was completely unfazed, and he has no memory of that day. The other children were a bit shaken up, but they’d hardly had enough time to register what had happened before it was all over. While our van was a complete loss, pieces of its front end scattered all over the ground around us, we were miraculously untouched.
And now, for the rest of the story.
As you may imagine, God used our near-death (or near enough for me) experience to refocus my perspective. In the days following, I searched the Scriptures and examined my heart, asking myself some questions for which I should have sought answers long before I was hit by a train.
For one, was I living this life that “is even a vapor” (as James said) always “pressing toward the mark for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (as Paul said)?
No, not really. I certainly sweated the small stuff more than I should. I didn’t crave a closeness with the Lord as much as I should. I was a middle-of-the-road Christian, doing okay but not causing the enemy to lose much sleep.
Remember that striking scene in C. S. Lewis’s Voyage of the Dawn Treader when Aslan tears off Eustace’s dragon skin? For those non-Narnia fans reading this, the scene is about a boy whose greed and selfishness had transformed him into a dragon, until Aslan, a great lion, came to his rescue and tore off the dragon skin, as only he could.
Getting hit by that train was a bit like getting my dragon skin torn off. It was a brutal, though brief, experience that stirred me to change as nothing else has. Because of it, I gave God full access to my body, soul, and spirit, and I have tried to live accordingly since. Such surrender to God, I realized, is what truly matters during our brief time on earth.
It is the only thing that matters.
Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
Have you had an extreme experience that impacted your Christian life? I would love to hear from you.