God spared my life and future three miles north of Parowan

March 23, 2005 | 24 comments
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In October 1989, our family planned a trip to southern California. Like our two previous trips to Disneyland, Grandma and Grandpa Joe were going with us. Unlike our previous trips, I was sixteen and in possession of a freshly-minted drivers license.

We were lucky to be going, our family had so little money. Mom was raising seven kids alone on about $10,000 a year, and we were able to go to California only because someone using the pseudonym “Wanda the Witch” gave us $800 for Halloween the previous year with instructions to go to Disneyland. My grandparents offered to pay the expenses above the $800.

We decided to leave at 6:00 a.m. in order to get to San Diego before dark. The night before we left I’d gone with friends to Olympus High’s homecoming dance, didn’t get home until after 1:00 a.m. and, after talking to my mom and packing, finally went to bed around 2:30.

Grandma and Grandpa Joe arrived on time to a house full of excited kids. Someone decided which three kids would get the first turn in Grandma and Grandpa’s car (they had an Acura Integra, which we thought was very cool, and Grandma was sure to provide an endless stream of Sunkist fruitrolls, Twizzlers and Rolos to the back seat). The rest of us piled into our full-size Ford van with Mom.

Mom and I were both tired, but she offered to drive first so I could sleep a little before it was my turn. Though I was 16 and had only been driving for six months, I’d always been relatively mature and responsible for my age. Growing up my mom relied on me a lot, first as little kid when she needed my help with my brothers and sisters, and especially in the five years since my parents separated. In some ways I played a man’s role, and this drive to California was no different. I did my best to doze off as she drove to Nephi, about 90 minutes into our trip, where she pulled over and asked if I was alert enough to drive; she was afraid she’d fall asleep if she drove further. I felt fine, so she and my 12-year-old brother slept on the van’s benches, my five-year-old brother rested on the floor between me and the first bench, and my little sister slept against a pillow propped against the passenger door. She and I were the only ones wearing seat belts.

About two hours into my shift, central Utah’s wide spaces, sparse traffic, and the hypnotic blur of white highway stripes combined to make me drowsy. I shifted positions in the seat, sat taller, forced my eyes open. When my head got heavy I tried resting it on my seat belt shoulder strap, letting the strap bear a some of its weight. I decided that was a very bad idea when I opened my eyes startled to be driving, and realized I’d fallen asleep for a second or two. I was scared to think I could have crashed our large van full of vulnerable loved ones going 70 miles an hour. The startled shock made me more alert, alert enough that I thought I determined I could drive the remaining 25 miles to our pre-determined switch point without falling asleep again. When I passed a sign saying we were only 18 miles from the town we’d planned to stop, I thought to calculate the exact time it would take to travel 18 miles at 70 miles an hour, but I was too tired. I couldn’t think straight, I was so weary I could scarcely see straight.

Before we’d left our house that morning, we gathered with Grandma and Grandpa in our living room to pray. Grandpa Joe offered the invocation on your vacation. In our family — and in most Mormon families, I imagine — such prayers invariably include the words “bless us that no harm or accident will befall us.” That morning Grandpa Joe reduced the phrase to “bless us that no harm will befall us.” I noticed the altered wording — the phrase was so routine that his varying from it drew my attention. While he continued praying I momentarily worried about the discrepancy but decided that being protected from harm was the important part anyway, and I didn’t think about it again.

I woke up when our van loudly smacked a thin aluminum reflector post marking the right edge of the freeway, a foot onto the gravel shoulder. We were a car’s width outside the right lane and only a couple feet from the sharp slope between the elevated road and the barren field, and only 200 feet from a freeway overpass supported by concrete pillars and earth embankments on either side. I turned the wheel back toward the freeway to prevent us from tumbling down the small slope, and the combination of my over-correction and half our tires being on gravel caused the van to fishtail and spin into the freeway. Three-quarters of the way through a complete spin — while we were perpindicular to the line of travel — a truck hit our passenger side. We kept spinning another 180 degrees, putting us again perpindicular to the line of travel but this time facing east as we traveled south, and we slid that way for about a hundred yards until we stopped, still pointing east and blocking the left lane. The van was right side up.

I don’t remember what happened next, except turning around to see my mother’s terrified face above the first bench, and those of my brothers and sister. All traffic had stopped and a trucker CB’d the highway patrol. Eventually we got out of the van, but I don’t remember if it was before or after my grandparents saw the stopped cars and our van in the middle of the road. The tires on the passenger side had been pulled off the wheels, and the van was resting on the right-side’s bare wheels. One of the highway patrolman kept saying how he couldn’t believe the van hadn’t flipped, how lucky we were that it hadn’t flipped, and that he was amazed I “was able to keep it up.” It seemed ridiculous to think that I’d kept the van up — I was most obviously not in control. But when he said that I remembered twice turning the steering wheel hard while we were spinning, and remembered Grandpa’s prayer. Maybe God had protected us in part by having me pull hard on the steering wheel. Can full-size vans slide 100 yards on their side wheels without flipping?

I was in deep shock, incredibly embarrassed for having put people in such great risk, and extremely grateful that no one was harmed. It could have turned out differently; I could have died. And had my mom or someone else been killed, my life would have changed as much as if I’d died.

A tow truck towed us into Parowan, where we had the tires replaced and decided the we could make the trip, nevermind the crunched passenger door, the reflector imprint stamped deep into the hood, and our frayed nerves. My nerves were unsettled the whole vacation, and I wasn’t up to driving again until we were nearly home.

When we passed Parowan on the way home, we got off the freeway and took the frontage road, driving up the overpass that witnessed our accident. We got out of the cars. On one side we could see the aluminum reflector, smashed flat, and the southbound highway decorated with four prominent curlicues, twisting as they went under the overpass and continued to the other side, ending in two long straight pairs of parallel lines. None of us could believe a van going as fast as ours could slide sideways for so long without flipping over. And standing on the overpass showed how fortunate we were to have it an aluminum post in the first place. It would have been easy to miss them and not wake up until we’re tumbling off the slope and through the field. Seeing how narrow the road was relative to the terrain, and imagining the consequences had those seemingly-aimless curlicues instead spun toward the concrete pillars, or the embankment, or the rocky field, or the northbound lanes — imagining the consequences had we spun for three hundred yards in any direction but the narrow one we did — left me ill and sober. Looking at the unremarkable physical place that nearly became the ugliest place on God’s earth, it seemed strange to know with such exactness where my life and future were spared. On a grey freeway on a grey landscape, three miles north of Parowan.

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24 Responses to God spared my life and future three miles north of Parowan

  1. danithew on March 23, 2005 at 11:43 am

    I had a similar experience once, where I fell asleep (while driving) for a second or two and then suddenly came back to being awake. I was only a block or two from home at the time and had been fighting sleepiness for awhile. Ever since then, if I’m fighting sleepiness at all, I pull over immediately or ASAP for a power nap. It’s amazing what ten, fifteen or even thirty minutes of sleep can do for driving awareness.

    There has been some talk from some about equating lack-of-sleep driving with drunken driving. I haven’t heard of any new laws though.

  2. Geoff Johnston on March 23, 2005 at 12:16 pm

    Ooh, I have to share my best fall-asleep-at-the-wheel story:

    Back when he was in high school my younger brother (you’ve met him, Matt) fell asleep at the wheel in a steeply sloped neighborhood and ended driving through one front yard and flying off into the driveway below. He actually cleared one car in the driveway and landed on the second car. It was like a real-live Dukes of Hazard. He also had no harm befall him (though my parents’ car and insurance rates were quite harmed).

  3. cooper on March 23, 2005 at 12:49 pm

    Matt, thanks. Miracles happen around us everyday.

  4. Kaimi on March 23, 2005 at 1:00 pm

    Very nice story, Matt. It’s incidents like this that drive home the fact that God _does_ watch over us, even when we’re not aware of it.

  5. Jim Richins on March 23, 2005 at 1:28 pm

    I can relate to unseen forces helping to control and orient a car.

    I was in a hydroplane-induced, 70 MPH spin on busy I-15 a few years ago. There was barely enough space between cars to change lanes, and yet I spun 360 degress across 4 lanes of traffic without even a scratch to the car. I ended up pointing the right direction on the inner emergency lane. I couldn’t believe I was alive, let alone unscathed.

    I prayed and thanked God immediately, and my knuckles still get a little white when driving in rainy weather.

  6. obi-wan on March 23, 2005 at 1:35 pm

    I am of course very glad that no harm befell Matt or his family. And I am quite willing to believe that no harm befell them due to divine intervention, and indeed due to divine intervention prompted by his grandfather’s prayer that morning. I have personally had enough similar experiences to be fully convinced that such things happen.

    However — this troubles me, and I’d be very pleased for any insight or solutions that the collective readership of the blog might offer — is there any possible way to plausibly convey that conviction to those, sometimes of our faith and sometimes not, who are not personally convinced that such things happen? On the very few occassions that I have tried, my conviction has been labeled a sampling error — it has been pointed out that I can say I experienced a miraculous deliverance simply because the laws of statistics allow a lucky, random few like me to be miraculously delivered — that there were undoubtedly many who prayed for no harm to befall them who were nonetheless harmed, many others who offered no such prayer who were not harmed, and many who offered no prayer and who were harmed — that the congruence of a prayer and the lack of harm were simply statistical happenstance, and that my conviction of the miraculous is merely Monday-morning quaterbacking of the odds.

    None of which has ever shaken my conviction that miracles occur, or that I am the beneficiary of them, but which has left me in the uncomfortable position of having only my personal conviction that my personal conviction is more than self-deception.

  7. Eric James Stone on March 23, 2005 at 1:59 pm

    > is there any possible way to plausibly convey that conviction to those, sometimes of our faith and
    > sometimes not, who are not personally convinced that such things happen?

    It’s my experience that people who are not personally convinced that such things happen are usually personally convinced that such things do not happen. They tend, therefore, to take any excuse to maintain that conviction. They may accuse believers of self-delusion, but they are capable of it themselves.

  8. Rosalynde Welch on March 23, 2005 at 2:02 pm

    Matt, what a frightening experience; I’m so glad that you and your family escaped unharmed.

    I have some questions like obi-wan’s, though (although, like him, I have a personal conviction that divine intervention can and does occur in the world, and I think it entirely becoming and appropriate to thank God fervently for one’s life and safety after an experience like that).

    I’m interested in the implications of the power of prayer in your narrative. You seem to be suggesting that either 1) your grandfather’s prayer was inspired to prophesy the “harm-less” accident, or that 2) you grandfather’s omission of “accident” actually caused the event to occur, by failing to invoke a divine prophylactic. If your grandfather had failed to pray against “harm,” too, do you think the outcome would have been different? Of if he had included “accident” in the formulation, do you think that you would not have become sleepy while driving? (You can’t know these for certain, of course, but I’m interested in how you connected the prayer to the event.)

  9. Shawn Bailey on March 23, 2005 at 2:08 pm

    Obi-wan (no. 6): My response to your query for what its worth:

    The most important things we know are not subject to empircal verification. And the most important ways of knowing are not acceptable to rigorous empiracists. With this in mind, I think a little skepticism about the power of the “rigorous” approaches acceptable in most scientific and academic discourse goes a long way. The fact that certain ways of thinking cannot account for miracles—and the fact that certain ways of thinking may provide plausible alternative explanations for miracles—does not mean that miracles do not happen. Existence does not stop at the end of even the smartest scientist’s understanding. The problem, of course, is that our knowledge of miracles usually rests on faith and/or highly personal encounters with the Divine, both of which many do not consider reliable evidence. I usually avoid sharing miracle stories when I know that my voice will have to carry across a wide canyon of doubt to reach my conversants. But perhaps a discussion of why I have faith despite the abundance of respectible doubt in the world would be helpful the next time I want to talk about a miracle that saved my life and not be dismissed as merely lucky or a nut. I don’t know if doing so will convince anyone to believe in miracles, but atleast it demonstrates that belief in miracles need not be completely unexamined.

  10. Steve on March 23, 2005 at 2:51 pm

    I had also heard about how fatigue while driving was similar to drving drunk, but I didn’t believe it. Until last December when my wife and I drove from Indiana to Utah for Christmas. The second day of the trip I drove (my wife was busy in the back with our three month old son) from Omaha to Salt Lake-a distance of about 1,000 miles. By the time we got to Salt Lake and headed toward Spanish Fork where we were staying, I was seriously impaired. I was having difficulty remembering how to get around in places that I had lived for years. It was a major wake up call for me.

  11. Mark B. on March 23, 2005 at 3:09 pm

    Nothing ever “befalls” anybody anymore, except in prayers. I wonder if that’s a Mormon thing, or if our Protestant brethren also have things “befalling” them as the go to their various places of abode. I have some friends from the Church of Christ who used to talk some of the litanies that they heard in public prayers–”guard, guide and protect us” for example.

    I used to think this kid in my ward was just dumb, but I sort of miss his prayers that no harm would “fall on us,” especially as the young men are “ax[ing]” the Father.

  12. Matt Evans on March 23, 2005 at 3:21 pm

    Rosalynde,

    I left out any thoughts on the role of my grandfather’s prayer because I honestly don’t know what role it played — I never had a spiritual confirmation that had his prayer been different the outcome would have been different. More than anything it was a point of curiosity, in that the only vacation we’ve had an accident was also the only one we didn’t ask to be protected from accidents. But I recognize that people who pray for protection sometimes die, and that people who don’t pray for protection sometimes live long lives, and am uncertain how our requests affect the outcome.

  13. Matt Evans on March 23, 2005 at 3:52 pm

    Mark, I remember a seminary lesson where the teacher emphasized the benefits of avoiding specialized speech in prayer. She chose “Befall” as her whipping boy and parodied it’s use to great effect.

  14. cassandra on March 23, 2005 at 3:59 pm

    Your story is eerily similar to another I know, two seatbelts engaged in a full van on I-15 through southern Utah, only this time the van hit the embankment on the far side of the underpass. You can guess some of the other differences. I still believe God works in the details of our lives, even in some of the details of the other case, but it is beyond me to say how in any kind of encompassing way.

  15. cassandra on March 23, 2005 at 4:03 pm

    I’m so glad all (all that really matters) went well that day for you Matt! I am sure I have been protected in much the same way, at times. It just makes me dizzy and a bit queasy to say so, because so often things go differently.

  16. annegb on March 23, 2005 at 7:15 pm

    I have often wondered about the fate that determines who should live and die. I know of people who have been in small accidents who have been terribly injured or died, and others who walk away unscathed from terrible accidents. It seems so precocious. When I really think about it, I believe that God must have a hand in these things and it must be some peoples’ time to go. Someone will trip in their house bump their head, and die, and someone else will drive their car off the Grand Canyon, and get a broken arm.

    It is very scary to contemplate that we are not in control, but truly that is the case.

  17. danithew on March 23, 2005 at 8:06 pm

    Here’s a link with some discussion on what is called “Maggie’s Law”:

    http://kyw.com/Local%20News/local_story_177143721.html

  18. Mark B. on March 23, 2005 at 11:14 pm

    Would Maggie’s Law account for a grandfather named Calvin and an uncle named Reid who served a mission in the Philippines after studying German all through high school (and from his father before that, I suppose)?

  19. danithew on March 23, 2005 at 11:37 pm

    LOL … Mark B. knows people. I don’t recall Reid serving in the Phillipines though … maybe I need to check up on that. I certainly know we have enough German speakers in the family.

  20. Matt Evans on March 24, 2005 at 8:56 am

    Cassandra, it’s sobering to hear of another situatation very similar to ours with very different consequences. It could have been us. And I’m grateful that that wasn’t. It’s hard to imagine how different my life would be had I fallen asleep just one second earlier, or one second later, and not hit the reflector post.

  21. Mark B. on March 24, 2005 at 10:07 am

    Calvin sold our family an encyclopedia, and I had the first year of German in high school from him, and Reid was a year ahead of me at Provo High School (and I bought some books from him that he had read and that I read and kept in Mrs. Virginia DeHart’s AP English class).

  22. Sean Harrison on March 24, 2005 at 11:11 am

    Some twenty two years ago my wife, (then my fiance) did the same thing in our VW Rabbit just north of Cedar City. On the first overcorrection the car rolled (three times in all). On the first roll the passenger door was sprung open and I was ejected (no seat belt and asleep).

    I landed on the concrete freeway on my head at 75 miles an hour. I escaped with a few stitches a mild concussion and a chipped tooth.

    Lauren, who was wearing a seatbelt stayed in the car and emerged without a scratch.

    Sometimes some harm does come our way but we indeed often have angels “round about to bear us up”.

  23. Evil spammer on June 10, 2005 at 1:31 pm

    I’m an evil spammer.

  24. Matt Evans on June 19, 2005 at 11:17 pm

    From today’s Deseret News:

    [A] 12-year-old boy was killed in a rollover accident. The boy was in a vehicle traveling south on I-15 with his aunt and two cousins near Parowan at 1:40 p.m. when the vehicle veered off the right side . . . The driver overcorrected to the left, causing the vehicle to fall into the median, where it rolled two or three times.

    812 Saturdays later: same highway, same direction, same town, same side of freeway, same overcorrection, and unfathomably different outcomes for the 12-year-old boys. Why? Why?

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