I was a compliant child and joined without question the daily prayers and three-times-a-week church services that defined our family life. My grandparents had been missionaries to India. My father was the music minister and my mother a devoted member of the evangelical, born-again Christian church we all attended.
I wasn’t just being obedient. As a child, I had my own sweet connection with Jesus.
By the time I went to college, though, none of it made sense to me anymore. I had to throw away that whole worldview, including the Bible. I didn’t, however, leave God entirely. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say, He didn’t leave me. When I stopped going to church, He started meeting me out in Nature. Sometimes, hiking through the mountains, the beauty I saw moved me so deeply that, overcome with feelings of joy and love, I wept tears of gratitude.
Still, the “God” I had known as a child I held at a distance. Enough of surrendering my will to His! Ego was in charge of my life now.
Three classmates and I were commuting one day from our morning lab to our afternoon seminar at the University of Washington Medical Center. The woman driving had borrowed her boyfriend’s car: a Renault Dauphine that he was very proud of and had spent a lot of money fixing up.
Even though we had plenty of time for the commute, she was excited to be driving his car. When we got on the freeway, she accelerated to seventy-five miles per hour, twenty miles more than the speed limit. From the backseat I could see she wasn’t a very experienced driver and was completely unfamiliar with this rear-engine car.
A big Cadillac to the right of us, going about fifty-five, moved into our lane. The driver had no idea how fast we were going and miscalculated the distance. Seeing us rushing toward a collision with the Cadillac’s rear end, my friend instinctively hit the brakes and simultaneously turned the wheel, trying to swerve around the Cadillac. The weight of the rear engine began to bring the back end forward, turning the car sideways to the road. My friend, in pure primal instinct now, overcorrected, and we fishtailed back and forth across three lanes of freeway traffic before crashing into a twenty-foot concrete wall.
The fishtailing had slowed us down, but we were still going about forty-five miles an hour when we hit. This was in the days before seatbelts were required, so none of us were wearing one.
The front of the car made first contact with the wall, at a forty-five-degree angle. The car then bounced off the wall and did a complete sideways somersault, landing solidly on all four tires. The impact shattered the glass in every window. The rear suspension buckled. One side of the roof and the whole front of the car were demolished.
Inside the car, we sat for a few seconds in stunned silence. The most generous-hearted of my friends was the first to speak. “Are you all right? Are you all right?” she asked. True to her nature, her concern was for everyone else.
The driver, seeing what a wreck she had made of the vehicle, began wailing and crying, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God! My boyfriend is going to kill me! He just put seven hundred dollars into this car!” (That was a lot of money in 1970 when this happened.)
The whole thing could not have been more perfectly engineered to destroy the car but save our lives. We did not sustain a single injury. Not a bruise. Not a scratch.
Trembling with nerves, we sorted through a million little pieces of glass to gather up our strewn books and bags. A Washington State Patrol car took us the rest of the way to our destination, and a few minutes later we were sitting in our college classroom waiting for the lecture to begin.
Three days afterward I was commuting by bicycle from my dorm to the lab. When I left home, it was clear and sunny. By the time I started back in the late afternoon, a hard rain was falling. The ride home included a long, straight, downhill section, but a little rain couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for what was definitely the most fun part. Down the hill I pedaled as fast as I could on my narrow-rim tires, accelerating to thirty-five or forty miles per hour as I raced toward the place where the street leveled off. There were two lanes going each way, and I was actually passing cars moving more slowly than I was because of the wet conditions.
At the bottom of the hill, a small side street came in from the right. I saw a car waiting at the stop sign there. Then he pulled into my two lanes, intending to cross them and turn left uphill on the other side of the road. I calculated how long it would take him to get across my lanes. I compared it to the speed I was moving, heading directly toward him.
“No problem,” I thought. “I don’t even have to slow down. As he goes forward, I’ll just scoot around behind him on the far right.” This was fortunate, because with wet tires, wet brakes, and wet pavement, it wouldn’t be easy for me to stop.
Suddenly I saw something I had not noticed before in the fading light with all the rain. There was traffic coming up the hill in the two left lanes where the driver intended to turn. He saw it at the same time I did.
Instead of turning left, as I had counted on him doing, he shifted into reverse and started backing toward the side street again. He started going backwards just as I started to arc around behind him. Except now there was no “behind him”—just the full length of his car right where I was heading.
With all my strength I squeezed both my handbrakes. The wheels locked and the bike went perpendicular to the road, facing the side street. Sliding sideways, I was tipped over so far my handlebar almost touched the street.
“I’m going right under that car,” I thought, “and I’m not going to survive.”
Suddenly time, space, thought, and vision ceased to exist. I felt a force move my body and my bicycle in a smooth, seemingly effortless motion—not sideways into the car, but forward over the curb and onto the sidewalk, out of harm’s way. When thought and vision returned, I was there on my bike, facing toward home.
Twice in four days death had come racing toward me, but Something had held it at bay. What was going on here?
“How fragile and precious life is,” I thought. “Guardian angels must be real.”
I wrote to my parents, sparing them the details, but humbly inquiring, “Have you been praying for me?”
“Yes, of course,” they replied. “We pray for you every day.”