We are quickly approaching the 4th anniversary of the date that changed my life forever. On March 11th 2017 as my wife, son, daughter and I headed to San Antonio on vacation our spring break trip was cut tragically short. On I-35 south near Waco, TX we waited in bumper to bumper traffic because of a wreck a few miles ahead. As the rain fell and the irritation of the delay set in, I looked over to my wife Cassie and said the last thing I would ever say to her: “I love you”.
I woke up to the smell of smoke and blood. I could hear the beeping in my car as if I was driving with the seatbelt off. As I begun to come to my senses I realized: we’ve been in a car wreck. Just a few moments earlier what none of us knew was that a full size RV was about to come around a bend in the highway, unable to stop in time as they plowed at a high rate of speed into the back of our SUV. In that moment, my life changed forever.
I’ve written briefly about the car wreck and the death of my 4 year old daughter Brynleigh and late wife Cassie in a devotion called Cupcakes and Rainbows. You can check it out here. The purpose of this message is not to talk about the physical suffering, the emotional destruction, or the spiritual struggle over the last 4 years. The purpose of this message is to share a thought I had over the past year or so: “God, I’ll never say thankyou for the wreck”.
In September of 2011 I surrendered my life to Jesus and asked Him to be Lord of my life. Since that day I have faithfully served Jesus in different ways, across different states, and across the world. The thought I had, the one where I said I’d never say thankyou for the wreck, came from seeing what God has accomplished in me, through me, and with me since that moment. I could feel a fork in the road coming up as Jesus asked me one day: “Daniel, are you going to let go of the pain and focus on me?”
Now Jesus didn’t speak audibly, though I know He could have. But what He said was clear to me… was I going to keep being broken, distraught, and grief stricken over all the pain, suffering, and loss… or was I going to stop and see all God has done. Was I going to believe the Scripture when it says: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 NIV)?
Its been correctly said that grief is a journey, not a destination. Over the past four years I have experienced a progression of God’s grace and healing in ways I didn’t expect, more than I could have ever hoped for. God has allowed me to marry my best friend and wife Amber who gave birth to our daughter Annabelle about 15 months ago. In these moments I can relate to Job when he says: the Lord has given, the Lord has taken away, may the name of the Lord be praised (Job 1:21). But what about this not saying thank you for the wreck? I’m getting there.
Recently I told my wife Amber (near what would have been Brynleigh’s 8th birthday): “There is a deep emotional struggle I don’t always get. Grief seems like a road trip. There are little stops along the way, some traffic here and there, some wide open spaces, road blocks, and unexpected U-turns. I’m thankful I’m not alone in the car or on the journey.” If you have ever experienced the loss of a loved one, you know this journey well. For those who are uninitiated, just grieve with us. Joy will come again, but right now grieve with those who grieve (Romans 12:15).
Recently, on multiple occasions, I have found myself deeply thanking God for the car wreck (exactly what I promised I would never do). I miss Cassie and Bryneligh, but I have the benefit of seeing and beginning to understand what God is doing. I wish I could have trusted Him more in the moments that brought me here to this place, but this is a learning experience. Thank God that Jesus will finish the good work He started in my life (Philippians 1:6).
Today in honor of Brynleigh’s 8th birthday and in remembrance of the wonderful 4 years I got to spend with her, I want to make a promise to anyone suffering in a deeply painful moment of crisis: God can use this, even this, to accomplish things we never dreamed He could. The same God who formed Brynleigh in her mother’s womb knew her before that. He already saw every moment of her life. He was there to personally welcome her into eternity on the day she went home. She has danced with the angels as I have proclaimed the goodness, love, and mercy of God around the world.
As I look back I see the way which God has used this story to encourage and challenge others. I’ve seen as life after life surrender to the grace of a God who can take a broken, grieving man, and help him experience life again. If God can bring me through the hell I’ve been through, you can make it through this with His help. Sometimes I close my eyes and try to think about what Brynleigh now knows and sees, I can’t begin to even imagine in my wildest dreams. She is more alive today than she has ever been.
Today I can publicly thank God for the wreck. I can thank God for the pain and suffering. I can thank God for the fact that two people I still love deeply are now in His presence. Although some days I want to be broken over all the firsts I’ll never get with my little girl but I must rejoice because of the firsts she now knows in the presence of Christ.
The title of this message is: Give Thanks to the Lord. Today, that’s what I’m doing. I am beyond blessed and have been throughout my life. So to Cassie and Brynleigh, you are desperately loved and we miss you often. We will honor your memories as we tell our stories because you are such a huge part of it. But today I give thanks to the Lord for second chances, new moments, new chapters of my story I never imagined would be wrote. Thank you God for allowing me to live, for sparing my son and I in the wreck, and allowing us to experience life again. Thank you God for my wife Amber, my daughters and my sons. I am truly blessed in ways I still don’t fully understand.
So this is where the message ends… but before you go, I have a question. What moment in your life from your past is robbing you of your future? What pain, shame, regret, betrayal, or hurt is keeping you from experiencing the freedom Jesus came to give us? (John 8:36) Today its time to forgive and experience the tremendous grace and freedom that Jesus came to give us. It may seem impossible now, but if you are willing to open your heart up… you might end up thanking God just like I did for the tragedy, pain and suffering because He can redeem, restore, and rebuild.