I had been driving home with four passengers: my dad, my niece Aryel, and my friends Cassie and Sang-Hoon. We were on home leave from Thunderbird Adventist Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona. Our plan was to stay the night at my house and then drive to Loma Linda, California, for a football tournament that Sang-Hoon and I were supposed to play in.
While going 90 miles per hour down a desert road, my tire blew out. I felt a jolt as the Chevy Astro van began to skid around like it had hit an ice patch. Turn into the skid, I thought.
As I moved to turn the wheel, my dad unclipped his seat belt and lunged forward. “Jon, don’t!”
The van veered off the road, flipped, and rolled several times. My last thought as we caught air was a peaceful acceptance of the death that I was sure would come in seconds.
“Aryel! Aryel!” My dad’s voice calling my niece was the next thing I heard.
There was dust everywhere, and I couldn’t see to the back seat where she had been. The fear that gripped me when there was no reply was indescribable. My dad jumped out of the back passenger side window, which had been relieved of its glass and was now facing skyward. Sang-Hoon, who was in the front seat next to me, climbed out the front passenger window with the help of people who had stopped to help any survivors.
I stood and looked out the window. I saw steam coming from the car’s fluids dripping onto the hot engine. The car is going to blow up, I thought to myself. I looked back to see the last passenger in the car. Cassie lay unconscious, still buckled into her seat belt. “Wake up!” I yelled. “You can’t go to sleep!” Still thinking that death could come at any moment from the car exploding, I cut her from her seat belt, kicked the windshield out, and dragged her out with me.
When I got Cassie out of the van, my dad asked me to grab his CPAP machine from the back of the car since we were going to have to spend the night in Phoenix. As I began to search through the bags that had been tossed all over the place, an EMT came up to me to encourage me to sit down. He told me that they would have a CPAP machine for my dad at the hospital, which is logical, but I was not thinking logically. He grabbed me to try to get me to sit down so that he could assess my injuries because I had blood coming from my head, face, arm, hands, and legs. In my state, I reacted to what I saw as a man interfering with me trying to do what my dad asked me to do. I picked the EMT up and threw him away from me. No EMT approached me for a while.
Aryel and Cassie were taken to the hospital in helicopters. Soon after they lifted off my dad turned ash-white. He looked at me and mumbled, “Jon, I don’t understand.” Then he collapsed in my arms. He had been internally bleeding, running off pure adrenaline. I held on to him as they loaded him on the stretcher and watched him being rushed off in an ambulance.
I broke down in tears, unable to stand, just lying in the dirt sure that I had killed my father, my niece, and my friend. The EMTs who had stayed away from me recognized that all my strength was gone. They came over and loaded me onto a backboard and into the last ambulance with Sang-Hoon. As we were getting loaded in, an EMT asked, “So, who was driving the SUV?” The make of the car was no longer recognizable.
The two of us who had been sitting in the front seats were discharged that night with nothing more than cuts and sore muscles, at least on the outside. Cassie had a severe concussion after being hit in the back of the head by a TV we had been carrying in the back of the van. Aryel had been rolled over by the car; however, the hill we had been on saved her from being crushed. Her pelvis was broken, and her spleen was lacerated. She spent many days in the ICU before being discharged. My dad had ruptured his spleen, which filters blood at a rate of 1 percent per minute. He barely made it to the hospital and went straight into surgery upon arrival. The surgeon removed the pieces of his spleen. He also spent more than a week in the ICU. But defying all odds, we all survived.
As I sat in the hospital with my mom and my sister Kristy, I listened to visitor after visitor say things like: “It’s a miracle they all survived. God really took care of them.”
But “Jon, don’t” rang in my ears. I felt so guilty. Seeing my dad and Aryel in their hospital beds made me feel sick, and I could not look my mom or my sister in the eye.
I thought about that moment for months. “Jon, don’t.” I dreamed it every night. “Jon, don’t.” I refused to drive. I started to get mad. If God was so powerful and was watching over us, then why couldn’t He have just kept that tire from blowing in the first place? I wondered. I began to hate God, and over time I stopped claiming to be a Christian.
The change that it brought in me was so severe that my parents had me tested to make sure that the blows to the head I sustained in the accident hadn’t altered my personality. I was angry and bitter toward God for a long time.
But God kept showing Himself to me, and eventually I was unable to refute His existence. After witnessing a miracle, on a mission trip I decided He was there, but He must not care much about us as humans. My conversion is not one with an “aha moment” in which the clouds parted and I changed my mind instantly—I’m far too stubborn for that. Rather, I decided that I would not believe anything that I did not study for myself.
I read anything from all the religions and world views that I could find. I talked and studied and argued with anyone who knocked on my door. I studied my way right back to the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
lies and truth
Yet I wouldn’t go in. My lifestyle was one that would not be accepted in a church. I was an alcoholic, a smoker, and many other things that I felt should keep me out of church. I told myself, “Once you stop doing this thing and that thing, then you can go back and maybe God will love you again.” Satan kept me away from the very place I desperately needed to be for a year, until a youth director took a long shot on me and hired me to be a lifeguard at summer camp.
It was there at staff worships that I was reintroduced to a Jesus who was willing to come from heaven to this earth, hang out with prostitutes and thieves, and then die for them, and for me—a Jesus who literally would meet me where I was. I had wasted so much time trying to clean myself up, thinking that I could somehow make myself good enough, when all the time Jesus was waiting with open arms, ready to clothe me with His robe of righteousness.
In Zechariah 3:4 we are shown a picture of how Jesus is waiting to treat all of us: “He answered and spoke to those who stood before him, saying, ‘Take the filthy garments off of him.’ To him he said, ‘Behold, I have caused your iniquity to pass from you, and I will clothe you with rich clothing.’”
Jonathan “Jack” Daniel is an English literature major minoring in youth ministry at Union College. He will graduate in May 2019 and hopes to find a job working in youth ministry.