For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. – Psalms 91:11
This weekend a tragic accident claimed the life of young Utah mother, Jennifer Groesbeck, after her car went into the Spanish Fork River. Miraculously, her 18 month-old daughter, Lily survived in freezing temperatures for almost 14 hours. The water was so cold that three police officers and four firefighters had to be treated for hypothermia after the rescue. Lily is expected to make a complete recovery.
Four police officers who rescued the toddler from the wreck said they all heard a woman’s desperate pleas for help coming from inside the overturned vehicle. They heroically used all their strength to right the car but when they got inside they found the mother dead and Lily alive, hanging upside down in her car seat. The mother had passed away the night before when she lost control of the car and could not possibly have called out to the men to save her child.
Officer Tyler Beddoes of the Spanish Fork Police said he laid awake for two nights trying to figure out exactly what it could be. “All I know is it was there, we all heard it,” he stated. As cries of “Help” came from the car, one of the officers said, “We’re trying. We’re trying our best to get in there.” Beddoes went on to say they just can’t grasp what we were hearing.” Christians have no trouble in saying baby Lily was saved by her guardian angel.
Christmas Eve, 1997 shaped up to be the bleakest day in my life. Almost a year before I had been hit head-on by a drunk driver who died in the accident. Later I found out it was her fifth drunk driving accident in seven years. I sustained physical injuries including a traumatic brain injury, but by far the worst trauma was emotional. I felt overwhelming guilt that the woman had died. Through physical therapy I recovered from my physical and mental injuries, but the guilt I felt could not be assuaged.
I tried for my family’s sake to take part in the Christmas festivities. I put a smile on my face, wrapped gifts and made special treats but inside I was so weighted down by the guilt I felt that all I really wanted to do was stay in bed and cry. I needed to make a run to the grocery store and I used the time alone in the car to let some tears flow and to release some of the emotion I had held in all day.
As I got close to the Catholic church in the small Maine town where I live I felt compelled to go in. It is not my church—I am not even Catholic, but the urge was so strong I pulled into the parking lot and went inside. Some people were decorating a Christmas tree in the foyer. A woman turned to me and I told her I wasn’t a member but I wondered if I could come in and pray. She told me “Of course.” and I entered the sanctuary. Knowing that I was close to breaking down I went midway down the aisle to distance myself from the others.
I sat down in a pew and shut my eyes. As I tried to pray I was overcome with wave of guilt that hurt to my core. I put my face into my hands and started to cry. Almost at once I felt a hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see a woman standing next to me. She said, “You seem upset.” I told her about the accident and how I felt guilty that the woman had died. I told her, “I just need to be forgiven.”
She smiled and said, “I want to tell you a story.” Once, two monks lived in a monastery that required silence and also forbade talking or touching women. They were going to the village and as they came to a river they found a young woman crying on the riverbank. One of the monks asked her,”What is wrong, my child?” The young woman explained that she needed to cross the river to get home and she couldn’t get across. The monk told her to get up on his back and he would carry her across. He waded through the river and set her down on the other side. They walked along for about two miles when the other monk couldn’t stand it any longer. He said “You know we are not supposed to even talk to women and you picked her up and carried her,” he admonished.
The other monk looked at his fellow traveler and calmly said, “I put her down two miles ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
When the woman said this I was overcome with a sense of relief. I realized I had been carrying this guilt and that I needed to let it go. I reached down to get a tissue from my purse at my side. I looked up to thank the woman only to discover she was gone. Stunned, I looked behind me down the aisle. No one could have walked out of my sight in the two seconds it took to get my tissue.
I gathered up my purse and made my way out of the church. No one was in the foyer and the parking lot was empty. I sat in my car for a few minutes. I couldn’t immediately process what had happened. I finally realized that I had seen an angel and that she had been sent to help rid me of my crushing survivor’s guilt. I had no other explanation for what had happened.
I have had people ask me what she looked like. All I can remember is that she had medium length brown hair and that she just looked “average”. Romans 8:26 says, “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” I truly believe the Holy Spirit intervened for me that day. I was so weighted down in misplaced grief that I could not see a way out.
I was able to go back home with a sense of peace. I had sought forgiveness from God, but what I had really needed was to forgive myself. Survivor’s guilt is real and is felt by many people who survive traumatic events. The fact that you had no personal responsiblity does not lessen the feeling. Thoughout the years when I start to beat myself up about something I have no control over, I smile and remember when God sent me an angel to comfort me and remind me that I am a child of God and that I deserve to be happy.