Angels in the Backseat

Once upon a New Year’s Eve, we got it together on a bright and beautiful Sunday morning and headed across town to church.

You reckon that God is over there waiting for you and you’ll hear some lovely thoughts on scripture and practice loving your neighbor and teach the kids a thing or two about how Jesus loves them so.

And your suburban is in the shop (again) but that’s okay because another member is driving two of your kiddos and you’ve got the other three in the Lexus with you, so you make a cup of tea to go and debate just briefly whether to hassle the carseat into it because the kid is five already and it’s only across town.

So you don’t bother.

Hubby’s driven the exact same route a million times.

So when we entered the intersection and got hit by another car incoming at 3 o’clock and spun and got struck again and then spun into another car who was just minding it’s own business waiting for the light to turn and we all landed smack in the middle of Oz, it made no sense.

None.

Hubby immediately jumped out of the car.

“What happened?” I heard him asking, “I don’t understand…what was that?”

His first thought – and all of the alternatives were just as awful – was that somehow he had run a red light. That someway he had just made a terrible mistake. But he had seen a green light.

Hadn’t he?

It never occurred to anyone that – hey – he had just jumped out of a totaled car.

And walked around trying to understand stuff.

I vividly remember sitting in my seat, wondering the same thing.

I was surrounded by deflated air bags; tea was all over the place.

There was a breath of complete silence.

And then my little one started to cry.

“Kids!” I shrieked, “Kids! Are you okay? Somebody talk to me!”

“Yeah mom,” said my eldest. He was sitting directly behind me. “I think so.”

I heard glass shifting in sharp little ice cube sounds. I heard the car door open behind me. I heard my daughter in the far left seat groan very quietly. My baby was still crying.

I must’ve lost it just a little.

Over and over, I screamed at the kids to tell me they were okay until my eldest opened my car door.

He got right up in my face.

He made eye contact until I was quiet.

“Mom,” he said, “we’re okay. We’re all three out of the car and standing here. I’ve got the kid, he’s just scared. Look, he stopped crying.”

And that’s when it occurred to me that I couldn’t move.

My brain told my head to turn and look out of the car, but my head didn’t want to.

Weird.

That was it, weird.

And I just didn’t care because my babies were standing in the middle of the road and promised that they weren’t hurt and they were okay and everyone was going to wait for the emergency vehicles and stay together and take care of each other until everything was okay again.

That’s what I needed to do. Fix stuff. Make it okay pronto.

I sat there and called my mother.

I know.

I told her where we were and could she come and collect us and that we were all okay but obviously without a vehicle.

Oh, and I couldn’t really move yet but it was all the same to me to sit there in the comfortable car and wait for her. I was fine. I called her, didn’t I, to tell her so. I must be.

I sat in the car, hearing voices that seemed jumbled and far away and looking at nothing much in particular, feeling tired and thankful and completely sure that we were all fine.

Which makes no sense.

But I didn’t need it to.

I just knew.

I was very surprised when a strange man popped his head into my personal space.

“Hi there,” said Mr Handsome.

“Hi.” Mental eye roll. Surely I could’ve come back with anything more clever.

“How are you feeling?”

“You know,” I said, “I’m fine, thank you. I just felt like I didn’t want to stand up yet. I’ll get out now, if you need me to.”

“Have you moved at all since the crash?”

I didn’t like his insinuation.

“No, but I was just pulling myself together. Look, I can turn my head, it just hurts to do it, but I’m sure it’s fine.”

I had barely shifted my chin to the right when he and the entire firefighting crew around him exclaimed, “STOP! No! Don’t move!”

Well. I didn’t know I was so popular.

I gave Mr Handsome the stink eye.

“I can wiggle my fingers and my toes. I can move my arms and make phone calls. I’m fine!”

“Look,” he said very calmly, “we don’t know if you have a hairline fracture anywhere in your spine. If you turn anything at all…you could pop it.”

And that’s when I went a little to jelly.

I let strapping young men strap me into a hard stretcher. I forgave them for lying me smack in the middle of the street in broad daylight with a crowd of onlookers who will remain forever anonymous, as my neck was in the cone of shame.

It was a bit much though, (paramedics take note here) that I was on an incline with my head lower.

I had a head rush, but I was glad I was wearing my nice skirt and top.

Someone else was put into the ambulance with me, and the paramedic asked me questions all the way to the hospital.

But not the other guy.

The other guy had broken ribs and a collapsed lung. But I didn’t find that out until much later.

By the time I was laid out in the ER, and my X-rays were being scrutinized, Hubby was sitting next to me again.

He told me my parents had arrived on the scene and collected the children and taken them on to church where they were surrounded for the day with instant multitudinous family.

A police officer stepped into our cubicle.

He explained that the other car had blatantly run a red light. The driver and his passenger were heading home after an all-night party. They had just stopped at a drive through for breakfast and the driver had glanced down at his wrapped McMuffin and never even saw the intersection coming.

He struck our front right car panel at full speed, crumpling it just to the edge of my door.

When we both spun, he struck the back right car panel, crumpling it just to the edge of the back door.

When we spun into the other car, we smashed out the left rear of our car.

The three kids in the back seat were leaned forward when the rear window shattered and threw parts from the other car into the seat at them, showering them in glass.

Not a scratch on them.

The officer mentioned that this was a perfect lawsuit. They had all the evidence in their report available. This negligent driver had totaled a family car, minors were involved, and here was the mom laid out in hospital.

He gave us paperwork and respectfully backed out.

Hubby and I just looked at each other as a doctor walked in.

“No fractures,” he said. “Just a full-body whiplash. Take your time starting to move. I’ll prescribe some pain killers.”

Sometimes you have “church” in the most unlikely places.

It dawns on you that God wasn’t waiting around somewhere for you to show up.

He was sitting right here with you the whole time.

With His arms around you.

Every scripture involving the concept of thanksgiving, grace, and mercy popped into my head.

And I thought they were all beyond true.

I felt nothing but sympathy and sadness for the people in the car that had hit us. They were hurt, and we weren’t. We had a loving family with multitudinous arms lifting us up.

I didn’t know what kind of family these strangers were going home to.

What would their own mothers say, running to see them in the hospital?

Were they afraid? How many ways had this morning changed their lives, maybe forever? Were they going to spend months worrying, waiting for us to hunt them down?

Because we didn’t.

When God hands you the lives of your children, you don’t ask for a single thing more.

I believe my kids learned a thing or two that day about how much Jesus loved them so, without anyone saying a thing.

Later, at home, I put on – very slowly – the sparkly top I had bought for New Year’s Eve.

I answered the constantly ringing phone to reassure everyone that, yes, our open house New Year’s party was still on. Please come.

For once, I didn’t do dishes or join the Xbox dance-off or hula hoop contest.

I just sat up very straight and soaked in the love that permeated our home.

And tried to thank the angels who had been sitting on the kids in the backseat.

New Zealand Round 2

Towering alps and exquisite waterfalls. Te Anau to the Fiordlands, Queenstown and  speedboating down the Shotover. Lake Tekapo, made of glacier run-off, milky and frigid and stunning.

The south island of New Zealand is more raw than the north island. The sheep far outnumber the humans. It’s a place of stark contrasts and sudden mood swings.

Flying to the country was a fairly straightforward overnight plane trip, but landing in Christchurch proved to be the first of a series of unanticipated adventures.

I think somehow, we get more than our fair share of those.

I like to say, we get plenty and more than our money’s worth out of life.

The pilot announced our arrival with a hearty “Good morning!” and proceeded to point out the view. The rising kiwi sun struck the tops of snow covered alps in a stunning introduction to the country.

Then he pointed out the obvious. The mountains were all we could see. Civilized areas with runways were totally fogged in. He decided to circle on auto pilot and see if the fog would lift.

While we waited for the plane to run out of gas, we were treated to a glorious bird’s eye tour of the area. Bonus!

Our pilot ran out of patience instead.

Down we plummeted toward the place where he was pretty sure a runway was.

We were completely blind until rooftop altitude, where the fog ended. Suddenly the tarmac was right under us and if the landing was a little bumpy and abrupt, we didn’t mind because now we could breathe again.

The cabin burst into applause.

We rented a camper van on the outskirts of town, filling out an amazing amount of paperwork.

Then we flipped a coin to see who was going to drive first.

I won.

As usual, my statement on Day One was, “How hard can this be?”

It was the ultimate backseat driver’s dream. The steering wheel is on the right side of the car.

Which means you drive your car on the left side of the road. We spent the trip chanting “stay left, stay left, stay LEFT!”.

Our first destination was the gondola ride across town, and I drove right through the middle of the city. We had no intention of stopping. But when our one way street starting to turn us the wrong way, I needed to pull over. A nice big parking lot seemed like a safe spot. Which it was.

Turning around and leaving proved a bit challenging.

It’s not my fault I backed into the lady’s shiny new red car.

I had plenty of space and I was going super slow and Hubby was giving directions via large and sweeping arm gestures.

I stopped when his arms went straight up into ‘touchdown’ position, not because of the little crashing sounds from the far depths of the camper. The kitchen galley back there was full of pots and pans that clanked along during the road trip. I just thought they wanted out to play.

This is why you fill out all that rental paperwork.

So that when a woman from another country gets hysterical because some crazy american tourist has put her tail light into said woman’s driver car door, the aforementioned crazy american can just go back to the rental place and say, “Dude, this is your problem and I am now fleeing the country. My bad.”

And flee we did.

Hubby drove the rest of the trip, which is just as well because then I could laugh every single time we bought petrol. He would trot around to my side of the car and hop into my lap to drive away.

I could warn him when the roundabouts were coming. These are circular intersections that will hold you hostage until you make the iron clad decision to exit, just to stop turning. You do NOT want to go the wrong direction in a roundabout.

Our camper van let us park all over the south island. We woke up to a different view every morning and didn’t worry about hotels or pit stops or restaurants.

We searched for greenstone, wandered among Paparoa’s Pancake Rocks, admired glacier ice caves, discovered suspension bridges.

Be warned. This is the land of the bungy jump and the fastest motor bike in the world. Kiwis thrive on adventure. So if you’re told it’s “an easy walkabout”, it’s an all day life-or-death tramp through the Abel Tasman jungles. Now you know.

We didn’t have time to see the penguins or the glowworms.

But they’ll be waiting when we go back.