Where do we find God in a story of one family’s incredible loss and another’s overwhelming joy? See in this incredible story.
This story began after a terrible automobile accident in 2006. On that day Whitney Cerak was traveling with other Taylor University students in one of the university vans when it collided with a truck. Five of the students were killed. Whitney, “…heavily bandaged and unresponsive, was misidentified as classmate, Lauren Van Ryn, who had a similar appearance and died in the crash.” (From a story on Yahoo, 5/24/12)
This tragedy had many dimensions to it. It is one of those stories that makes you wonder, that puts you outside the normal perceptions of reality. The Ryn family, for weeks, thought they were sitting at the bedside of their daughter, praying that she would awaken from her coma. The Cerak family went through the grief of planning a funeral, and burying who they thought was their daughter.
When Whitney finally awoke, the story took a turn that neither family could ever have imagined. One family had a resurrected daughter, the other now had to mourn the loss of theirs.
One might ask, “Where was God in all of this?” Well, the answer to that question is beyond us in many ways, but let’s look at the events and see if we might get a hint of an answer to it.
A terrible tragedy happened to young, happy college students that day in Indiana. It happened instantly and unexpectedly for all involved, as things like this always do. Five of the young people lost their lives instantly and their families had to struggle with the loss of a child. Two of the families, though, would be tied together in a way that is full of mystery and terrible wonder.
Love was at the center of this story. The love that belongs to mothers and fathers, and their children. The loss of one so young tears at the very fabric of that love, wounds it for a lifetime. One family, sad beyond the speaking of it, take “their daughter” to their church and give her back to God, with tears and hearts so heavy they think they will break. Another family sits for five weeks next to “their daughter’s” hospital bed, praying fervently for her recovery, so that they can welcome her back into their lives whole, and well, and happy once again.
Whitney finally awakened from her coma and everything was suddenly turned up-side-down. For one family, unimaginable joy ensued. It was like a resurrection for them. For the other family, the terrible, sudden understanding that their daughter was gone. For the rest of their lives there would be an empty hole where there was once a desperate hope.
This could have torn the Van Ryn family apart. Could have made them burn with anger at the injustice of this unimaginable situation. They could have become bitter with jealousy toward the Cerak family or angry at God for having “done this terrible thing to them.”
But that is not what happened. After the incredible shock of reality had sunk in, Laura Van Ryn’s mother said, “Well, it was hard, but we knew where our daughter was…and we knew that (Whitney’s parents) needed to know where their daughter was.” The Van Ryn’s were thinking of the other, rather than themselves. They understood the suffering that the Cerak’s had gone through having to bury who they thought was their beautiful daughter.
The two families became and remain friends. Whitney has since married her soldier boyfriend, in the same church that she was “buried” out of back then in 2006. She and her husband, Matt, have brought a new baby into the world and named him Zachary Thomas. But life is never free from the potential of suffering in all of its manifestations. Matt is going to be deployed soon to Afghanistan with his Army unit. Whitney in a Today Show interview said, “This will be a whole different level of hard.”
I am not going to say that I know where God is in all of this, but I think that the story is full of hints. Love is a mystery. We think we know what it is, but we only have a foggy understanding of it in reality. How could we survive such tragedies without love? How could we grow from our suffering without love?
“God is love” (1 John 4:8) Love is the binding, the healing force. Love was in the grief that both families endured. Love was in the reaction of the Van Ryn family for the Ceraks. Love is in the marriage of Whitney and Matt, and out of their love for each other a new child is among us. That is God. That is what we believe as Christians. That is reality. Thanks be to God!!SKM: below-content placeholder