Both of the girls were sleeping peacefully in the van when I hit a patch of ice and lost control, fishtailing all over the highway before diving into the ditch. The van landed right on its nose, then turned over onto its side. Somehow, I didn’t feel any impact, any jolt.
I turned around to check on the girls.
My three-year-old daughter had woken up to her window smashing into a million pieces as it collided with the ground beside her. She was screaming, her face a mask of terror. “My window breaked!” she was screaming.
I told her she was okay, yes, her window is broken, but she was okay. Don’t touch the glass, I was going to get her out. That little girl obviously has implicit trust in her mother, because she stopped crying and waited patiently. I turned to see if my 18-month-old daughter was okay. Her seat was empty. “Where’s the baby?” I asked in panic. It seemed forever before I found the answer. Her entire carseat had flown out of the passenger seat and was facing backwards, lodged between the two middle passenger seats. It was still attached by the tether, but the seatbelt was loose — probably due to her big brother’s enquiring fingers. If there is a button to be pushed, he must needs push it. Busy Boots was completely silent — was she conscious? was she breathing?
“Busy, are you okay? Are you okay, Baby?”
“I’m stuck!” came back in her baby voice. This is a common phrase, used when she wants out of her carseat or highchair.
But I couldn’t get to her. The car was sideways, her carseat was lodged tight between the middle seats, and Shiny Boots was strapped in right where I would need to stand in order to get the baby’s carseat loose.
Meanwhile, there was a man walking around outside my car, knocking on the window, peering in at me upside down, and saying something. I have called the police, they are on their way. Turn off the engine, he reminded me, and I complied. Can you get the trunk open, he wanted to know. I pushed the button, but it didn’t open.
I needed to see the baby, to make sure she was okay. “I’m stuck,” she repeated. It was in an everyday voice, not a voice of fear or pain, but still, I needed to see her. I had to get her carseat loose and turned around.
Since the car was on its side, I was afraid to move my weight around too much, in case I caused it to tip upside down. So I needed to stand in Shiny’s broken window, where I could put my weight on the ground outside. I fumbled Shiny out of her carseat straps, and was about to put her down beside me, standing in the broken window. But before I could put her down, I saw that she had kicked off her boots and was in her socked feet. I couldn’t put her down on the broken glass.
I set her back down in her sideways carseat. “Just wait there, just for a minute,” I told her. I tried to open the window opposite, on the baby’s side, wondering if the power controls would work. They did. The window rolled open. “Will you take my little girl?” I asked the man outside the van.
“Yes, yes, we can take her,” he replied, and I lifted Shiny up out of her carseat, and lifted her up in the air, as high as I could reach, her head out the window. Adrenaline must have helped me, because I can’t normally raise my arms above my head, even without holding a heavy toddler. Two arms — stranger’s arms — reached down into the van and pulled my little girl out of my sight — out of my control.
But I just had to trust that the God who had kept us safe through this accident, was not going to let her be harmed now. Trust — and let go.
I turned my attention to Busy’s seat. I pulled and strained and stretched and got that carseat dislodged from its position. I turned it around, and looked into my baby’s calm, unharmed little face. “I’m stuck,” she told me.
I got her out of her seatbelt and called out to the man outside. “Will you take my baby?” Again, two arms reached down inside the van — but these were different arms. I looked up into the face of a young black man, and gave my baby up into his arms. He couldn’t have been more than twenty years old.
“Now can you get out?” I heard, and I started to clamber up the carseats and armrests. I popped my head out the window, heaved up and struggled my hips through — it was only then that I realized I hadn’t tried the door! I may have been able to open the big sliding door over my head rather than squeeze my pregnant self through the window. But too late to think of that now; I was already through, and looking into the bearded face of yet another kind stranger. It seemed like quite a far way down. “I’ll lift you down,” he assured me. “I’m pregnant,” I warned him, “I’m going to be heavier than I look.” He kind of hug-lifted me down off the side of the car.
I looked around for the girls but I didn’t see them, nor did I see the men who had taken them out of the window. There were many cars parked at the side of the road. Were the girls in two different cars? I climbed up the side of the ditch to get back to the road — it was quite the steep ditch — no wonder the van had landed right on its nose before it tipped over. When I reached the top, I still didn’t see my daughters.
A lady was standing there, talking to me, saying something kind. I couldn’t quite register the words. “Where are my girls?” I asked, and suddenly, the first man was there beside me — the one who had taken Shiny, the one whom I had first seen upside down through my windshield. “They are in my car, with my wife. They are okay.” “Both of them?” I asked him. “Yes, both of them, you go wait there with them,” and he was steering me gently toward his car. He opened the driver’s door, and I allowed myself to be settled in there. His wife was holding my baby, who was peacefully leaning her head against the kind lady’s shoulder. And Shiny was happily eating cookies in the backseat with the strangers’ excited little boys, who had just witnessed a van — mine — spinning all over the road and landing in a ditch.
They were the kindest, most lovely family, just back from a skiing trip. The lady had been in an accident like this before. I wish I had asked her more about it, but I was too stunned to follow any train of thought for long. “We won’t leave you ’till you’re ready,” the woman promised. I will never leave you nor forsake you, I heard (Deut 31:8).
Even after we were in the ambulance, the man was pressing us with oranges and juice boxes for the children. “God bless you,” they said to me as they waved goodbye. He already had blessed us — abundantly. He had kept us safe and uninjured through the crash — “God was holding us when we crashed,” Shiny expressed it later. And He had sent us such kind strangers to help me and to tend to my children in the aftermath.
I have never felt so clearly that He is my Father, and that He will provide for me.