The phone rang in the middle of the night.
It was the call every parent dreads. Our daughter Julianne, a freshman at Liberty University, had been in an accident, and was in an emergency room 500 miles away.
When I went to bed that night, I had been looking forward to a good night’s sleep. My sister had come to visit, arriving on a red eye flight with her two preschoolers that morning. I was exhausted from getting up early to pick them up and couldn’t wait to get into bed. Around 10:45, I turned off my light. My daughter was at that time running for her life.
Julianne is our eldest child, and has always been the quiet, obedient one. When we talked to her earlier that evening, she mentioned plans to go out with her friends. It was a clear, beautiful night, so, on the way back to campus, they decided they had enough time before curfew to park the car, walk up, and view the stars from a local train trestle…something many people before them have done. Julianne was the least in favor of going, and two of her friends volunteered to stay behind with her while the others walked out onto the trestle. In the end, she decided to go out with them. No one pressured her; she simply decided she didn’t want to miss out on the fun.
The side of the trestle the students entered is wide open, with one small “No Trespassing” sign that cannot be viewed in the dark. Several news articles later showed the opposite side of the trestle, where barbed wire fence and large signs warn people to stay away. The five freshmen were not familiar with that side, and in their youth and inexperience, didn’t think trains came by that often or that fast.
But a train did come.
Julianne and her friends were about one third of the way across the trestle when the train appeared, and had 40 seconds to react. At first, they all started running. The two boys soon realized there was no way any of them would make it, and yelled for the girls to climb down onto the side. Two of the girls, one of them Julianne, followed. One girl kept running, and never made it. Her life was lost that night. Meanwhile, Julianne lost her grip on the side of the trestle, falling almost 100 feet to the muddy riverbank below.
My husband and I were in shock as the doctor told us of Julianne’s injuries—lacerated organs, internal bleeding, broken bones. It felt surreal…like it wasn’t really happening and like I already knew it would happen, both at the same time. Part of me felt like it was my fault, like I could have prevented it. Our mouths went completely dry, and nausea overcame me. I could hardly get off the bed to get ready to go, to make the long journey to Virginia, hopefully in time.
Whom do you call at a time like this? Our first call was to Dave and Rose, our long time close friends. Dave is a professor at Liberty, and Rose a stay-at-home mom. They are like godparents to Julianne. They began praying, then Rose went to the hospital to be with Julianne until we got there. We called my husband’s brother and sister-in-law, who live near us, and our youth pastor, a friend of our family and a special person in Julianne’s life during her high school years. They all had the job of calling everyone else. I woke my sister and told her what was going on, while Brian told our sixteen year old upstairs. I could hear her horrified sobs. We decided to let our twelve year old sleep, and left both girls in the care of their capable aunt.
The ride to Virginia was the worst part of our entire ordeal after the phone call. Waves of nausea passed over me. I felt as if there were a brick inside my chest. Anxiety consumed me, and though I asked God to take it away, He chose not to for the time being. Brian drove, prayed, and we tried to sing and recall Scripture verses, but I just couldn’t focus. Thankfully, there were update calls from a couple doctors, explaining what they were doing to stop the internal bleeding and help Julianne to breathe. Whenever these calls came, my heart beat faster until I was actually speaking with the doctor. Then, when he explained a procedure to me, I knew Julianne was still alive because they were still working on her. Rose called from Julianne’s room (by this time she was in ICU), and told me she looked good and that Rose was with her, praying over her.
We finally arrived at the hospital. I had been unable to cry the whole trip, but when Brian dropped me off at the front and I went in, Dave was the first person I saw. My patient brother in Christ put his arms around my shoulders as I burst into tears and made him promise the doctors weren’t lying to me…that Julianne was still alive. Dave escorted me up to the ICU waiting room, where Rose also put her arms around me, hugged me tightly, and whispered into my ear “God is good. God is good.” I nodded and cried again, releasing the tension of the last 10 hours as I felt those arms around me…not the arms of our best friends, but the arms of Jesus.
I resolved not to “lose it” in Julianne’s room, as that would upset her. I stepped in, and saw her swollen, bruised face, her arms wrapped in splints, the oxygen tubes in her nose, the bags of blood being transfused into her body. She was conscious. She looked up at me and smiled sweetly. “Hi, Mommy.” Those words never sounded so good …words that told me my child was indeed still herself, and had no head trauma. She had survived a 100 foot fall…truly a miracle! She also had no spinal cord injury… things we were instantly thankful for as we began a long list of good things that happened, bad things that didn’t happen, and blessings that came from this trial.
Something happened after I gently hugged Julianne in her ICU bed and crossed the room to sit in one of the two recliners provided for family. The brick left my chest, and a restful feeling replaced it. The room was peaceful, not stressful. Rose told me she felt the same way when she entered the room hours earlier. The Spirit of God was present, bathing us with the grace we needed to endure this, the worst trial of our marriage, of our entire lives. And I didn’t have to look for it, or try hard to find it. God’s peace and grace just washed over me like a flood. It was as if I couldn’t stop it if I wanted to. “Sit back,” He seemed to be saying, “and let me take over. I am the One Who will heal her.”
From that point on, there was peace and even joy. Yes, there were scary moments…especially the first few days in ICU (she was there a total of 9 days before moving to a regular room, then to inpatient rehab at another hospital). But God sent so many of His people to encourage us…friends, family, Liberty faculty and staff, church people we didn’t even know. Those who couldn’t be there encouraged by email, Facebook, cards, and flowers; those who could by their presence and their help… praying over Julianne, bringing food, taking our dirty clothes home to wash, visiting, and so many other things. We were inundated with offers for help. Two churches (one our own) took up offerings to help with our expenses. Gift cards were donated. The ICU nurses were angels in disguise! Many of them were believers, like us; several were even Liberty graduates. Many a night, I sat up talking with one or the other of them about the way God was working through this trial in our family’s life.
The best encouragement, however, were the Scriptures. They were written on our Facebook pages, tucked into the pockets of our clean laundry on cards, shared with us during visits or phone calls. Believers all over the country were praying for us, for Julianne, for her healing. We felt those prayers! Each new piece of good news, each improvement and victory in her healing, was a direct result of God’s people bringing Julianne before the throne of Heaven. She was going to be all right. And it was a miracle.
As Julianne moved to inpatient rehab, we received even more encouragement. Fellow worship music students from Liberty visited, bringing guitars and praising God in song with her. There was nothing wrong with her voice, and as soon as she was able, she lifted it to sing to her Savior along with her friends. The three other survivors of the accident were the most faithful, visiting her almost every night, praying and praising with her, all of them healing together. The mother of the girl who died that night came to see Julianne and encouraged all four of the kids to use this trial in their lives for God’s glory, as she was doing. From her, and from Liberty University, forgiveness and grace flowed.
There have been hard times, as well. Julianne’s frustration after returning home with not being able to walk right away and not being “normal” yet. My own anxiety at her getting “hurt” again… in any way. Her scary nighttime visions of running from the train and falling. It’s not over yet. But my husband and I have realized one lesson in all of this…His grace is truly sufficient for us, for every need.