STORIES FROM OLD JOE
My daughter, Lisa, and her husband, Vance
May 1994 — A special prayer for one of my kids
Cherry and I were sound asleep early in the morning when the phone rang in the room of the ski lodge where we were staying in the Colorado Rockies. It was late May 1994, and we had just finished the drive from California the afternoon before. Other Young Life staff people had come in that same day from all over the west. We were the team who would be running Young Life’s Trail West camp in Colorado for the month of June, and we there to pray and plan together.
We’d had a very busy few days prior to leaving. Our youngest daughter, Lisa, had graduated from the University of California at Davis the day before we left. We’d attended her very fun graduation and celebrated her five years there — five years because she had a double major in music and English. Then we had driven back to Monterey to finish packing, and had hit the road for Colorado early the next morning.
When I answered the phone, it was Kristie, our oldest daughter. She didn’t waste any time getting right to the point. “Hi Dad. This is Kristie. Lisa is okay, but she was in a head-on crash in Oregon with a semi.” My mind immediately swum back to Lisa, and our specific prayers for her in recent weeks.
A couple of days after graduation, Lisa and Vance, her boyfriend and now husband, were planning to drive to Spokane where she would be living. Vance had driven down the day before the graduation festivities, and was going to help her pack. Then they were going to drive in tandem — Lisa in her little Honda CRX and Vance behind in his truck, loaded with all her stuff. She had decided to move to Spokane in order to live closer to Vance, so they could begin to know each other better. Their year-long romance had, of necessity, been a long distance one, and she knew that if things were going to be serious, they needed to live near each other for a little while.
About three weeks before all this, I had mentioned to Cherry that, for some reason or other, I was praying for Lisa’s safety. I have never liked it when someone has said, “God told me such and such,” but I did have a definite sense that I should pray for her safety. We both normally prayed every day for each of our four kids, in different ways, depending on the circumstances. But this was different. I had never felt the need to pray for something like this so specifically, yet, in a way, so vaguely. Anyway . . . we had been praying for her safety. Even on our two-day drive to Colorado we had prayed for her aloud in the car several times.
Their plan was to drive straight through — a total of about sixteen hours — just stopping for coffee when needed. Vance had no vacation days left with his job and had to be back that next afternoon. So they wanted to start reasonably early in the day.
But from the start, things began delaying them. They’d had to stop by Davis to pick up Lisa’s car, only to find they’d left her keys in Monterey. It took several hours for a locksmith to get them in and on their way. Then Vance’s truck overheated on the pass near Mt. Shasta. They weren’t sure they’d make it after all. But after the series of delays, they were finally thinking they had put the hard stuff behind them.
It was just after 11 pm, and they were about an hour north of Klamath Falls on Highway 97 — an unlit stretch of a two-lane highway that drags on for miles and miles, and with a 60 mph-speed limit. Suddenly Lisa started to feel like she wasn’t focusing enough, so she shut off her radio and concentrated intently on the road. Vance was following at this point.
A few minutes later, Lisa saw something resembling a dark shadow pass straight across the road in front of her. She blinked hard, trying to make sense of it. As she recovered from the confusion, she saw two huge headlights coming directly at her. There was no way out. She slammed on her brakes, then closed her eyes and prayed. She really believed it was over.
A semi-truck had hit her head-on.
What had happened was this: On the highway that night was a very confused bipolar woman planning to commit suicide. A few hours earlier she had tried pulling in front of a big rig at the last minute, but missed. That first truck driver was so shaken by the incident, he’d had to pull over and check into a motel, putting him off schedule.
When her first attempt failed, she tried again. This time, she’d parked her car sideways across the unlit highway, with her lights off, hoping someone would hit her car and end her life. An approaching truck saw her at the last minute and swerved onto the shoulder to avoid her, but clipped her car and sent her flying across the road in front of Lisa. That was the dark shadow Lisa had seen. The truck driver then overcorrected, and lost control as he tried to keep his big rig from flipping on its side. At that point, he found himself in the wrong lane — with Lisa’s little red Honda in his headlights.
The whole thing caught Lisa totally by surprise. When she saw the lights directly in front of her and so very close, she honestly didn’t expect to survive. She thought that even if she survived the impact, she would be crushed by Vance’s truck behind her.
But somehow, she did survive. She remembers extracting herself from the car, almost dancing in the road, saying, “I’m alive! I’m alive!” The very-shaken truck driver was incredibly relieved. As he examined the remains of her car, he couldn’t figure out how she had made it. The entire front half of the car was demolished right up to the windshield. The hood had bent completely up over the windshield. And, of course, Vance had been following her and had seen all this happen.
Vance went over to see how the woman was doing who had caused this nightmare. She was in the ditch and seemed okay. He then transferred as much of the luggage as he could from the back of Lisa’s car into his already loaded truck. After the shock had worn off, Lisa was in a lot of pain. She waited 45 minutes for an ambulance, with angry truck drivers backed up behind her yelling at them to move the accident so they could get through. Vance even locked her in the cab of his truck and kept checking on her.
She then had to ride in the ambulance sixty miles back to Klamath Falls — sharing her ride with the suicidal woman, who kept reciting poetry. And the confusion didn’t stop when they reached the hospital. While Vance was trying to fill out paperwork, Lisa was abandoned by a frightened nurse who left her alone in the E.R. with a very large loud drunk who kept yelling about the knife fight he’d just been in.
After she was examined, the two of them left the hospital in Vance’s truck, only to realize that Lisa in all the confusion had left her purse in the wrecked car and Vance didn’t have a credit card. Vance managed to talk his way into a hotel room, where Lisa finally collapsed from the pain pills. Then the next morning, Vance warmed up the truck and set off once again with Lisa — bruised and battered — but very much alive.
So why the story? Simply this: God’s character is illuminated here. God is so kind that when we are aware of his presence and talking with him and listening to him as best we can (which is what prayer is), he often lets us in on what he is going to do and allows us to be part of it. That’s his relational nature. In this case, he put it into my mind to pray for Lisa’s safety, and then he delivered her from what could have been heartbreaking tragedy. God desires to share his very heart with us, and through prayer, he lets us in on what he has planned
People who know Lisa often have told us what a bright light she is to them and to the world she lives in. To this day, we remain so grateful to God that Lisa was given the gift of safety that night. It’s as though his big arms were wrapped around her.
Psalm 91:2 says, “This I declare of the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I am trusting him.”