My mind whirled, cloudy thoughts mimicking the angry gray sky as my husband Ralph and I headed west on Interstate 80 out of Omaha, Nebraska. Tears fresh on our cheeks, we were feeling mixed emotions after delivering our 19-year-old daughter to the airport headed for Kenya, Africa to work as a student missionary teacher for a year. Proud of Kylie’s desire to serve and her independent spirit to chart her course, we had concerns about the long, tedious, four-stop journey across the globe. In addition, ten months seemed an eternity to be away from our girl.
As we left the city behind, the storm clouds mounted in the sky. Bolts of lighting streaked in the distance, and rumbles of thunder announced the coming rain. A couple of miles down I-80, the deluge began.
Immediately, Ralph slowed the vehicle to adapt to the swell of rain waters on the road. Other drivers stopped altogether or slowed to a dangerous pace creating mini traffic jams. The right lane and shoulder transformed into a temporary parking lot, with vehicles attempting to attain a safe place to ride out the buckets of pouring rain. Ralph elected to stay in the middle lane traveling at a slow and continuous speed to avoid the parked or slowed cars to the right, but also to allow for other travelers to pass on the left of the three-lane interstate.
Although our nerves were spring-tight, all seemed to be going well. Ralph held the wheel expertly with his white knuckles, managing the rain surge.
After a couple of miles, a truck, traveling at a much higher speed, passed us on the left.
“He’s feeling pretty confident based on his speed,” Ralph remarked, sticking to his pace in the center lane. “Yea, I’m a little worried he may be a bit too confident,” I concurred, watching the truck’s tail lights in the distance.
Only seconds later, we watched in horror as the truck began skidding, turning 360 degrees, then sliding off to the right. Fortunately, there were no slowed or stopped cars on the road’s shoulder at that spot. The truck continued at a high speed off the road and into the right ditch, clipping a huge directional sign along the side of the interstate.
The sign crashed down on the truck, but the vehicle continued to slide a long distance down the bottom of the grassy ditch, careening to the side. Eventually, the truck fell back onto all four tires and came to a stop, spurting steam.
Ralph pulled off the road past the damaged vehicle. Concerned for the welfare of the passengers, we decided to call 911.
“I’ll go up to the mile marker ahead to find our location,” Ralph shouted across the hood as we both got out in the pouring rain.
“I’ll go check on the people in the truck,” I said then dashed toward the truck.
Are you okay?
The driver had his window opened by the time I arrived truckside. I began questioning him, attempting to ascertain the condition of him and his passenger.
“Are you okay?” I asked, noting the trail of blood from his forehead. “Do you have something you can put over that cut?”
He pulled out a tee shirt.
“Okay, put it right over the cut above your eye and apply some pressure.” He did as I advised without question.
“Do you hurt anywhere? Do you know what day it is? How is your passenger?”
My barrage of questions rattled on, then I noticed he wasn’t looking at me, but beyond me. He stared at the space over my right shoulder and said in an oddly monotone voice, “Here comes another.”
“Another what?” I thought, turning to look to where his eyes were cemented.
metal on metal
Coming off the road at the same high speed as the truck, following the exact trajectory was another vehicle, an SUV. It was heading right toward the truck – heading right where I stood.
I knew immediately the danger heading my way, but although my head was directing me to move, to move to my left, away from the momentum of the lurching vehicle, I was paralyzed. I remember throwing up a prayer, “Dear, Lord, help me!”
The image of that hurtling vehicle coming at me is embossed in my memory. The logical conclusion was that I was about to be smashed between the truck and the oncoming SUV. The reality of what actually happened is beyond logic.
I closed my eyes, bracing for the inevitable. I think my mind transported me away for seconds, for the next thing I experienced was a huge rush of air. I was in the air. Had I been thrown by the force of the vehicle? I didn’t feel any pain. I found myself lying on the grass just behind the two vehicles, hearing the rumbling of metal on metal as the SUV collided with the truck.
My husband watched all this from the road, on the phone with the 911 operator. He believed I was between the two vehicles and ran frantically toward the collision.
As the two vehicles settled after the crash, the driver of the SUV, unhurt but crazed from the wild ride and collision, rushed to where I lay, shouting, “Oh my Lord! You’re okay. I thought I had hit you! I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry.” He helped me to my shaky feet. “Are you okay?” he asked.
And I was. I did not have a scratch on my body. I had been in the path of the crash. I was expecting the impact, but mysteriously, I was lofted beyond the vehicles to safety.
Sirens howled as state patrol officers and fire engines came on the scene. I don’t remember much after that.
I recall my husband rushing to me, holding me in his arms. I remember the officers asking questions, and the drivers of both the truck and SUV in disbelief at my safety. I recall all of us sitting in the now-dissipating rain on the high hillside of the ditch where the rescuers had asked us to retreat as they worked to secure the scene.
We learned that there was a low spot on the highway that had oil residue causing both of the vehicles to skid off the road at the exact same spot. We said good-bye to our short-term, crisis-forged acquaintances and resumed our trip back to Lincoln, stunned at the unbelievable events of the afternoon.
Yearning for Jesus
That night I struggled to sleep. The scene of the oncoming SUV kept leaping into my mind, causing me to relive the event over and over. As to the mystery of how I avoided injury, there was only one answer in my mind: Angels picked me up in my paralyzed state and whisked me to safety. I know I did not move on my own.
I would love to say that was the end of the story, but honestly, even fifteen years later, questions remain. I struggle to know why God chose his angels to rescue me when others pray and are not rescued. However, I am to the point where I no longer second guess God’s work. I praise him for my rescue and trust in His omniscience and wisdom. Each day I yearn to live in a way that affirms His choice to save me.
That experience with God and His angels serves as one of many guide posts in my spiritual journey. One day I yearn to sit down with Jesus and talk about that miraculous day from His heavenly perspective.
Kerrie Schnell is a wife, mother, grandmother, and Student Life coordinator at Union College in Lincoln, Nebraska.