Sunday, June 28, 2015

Protecting Power: The Beef Stew Miracle

It was a brisk evening in the fall of 1990.  My brother Todd and I were making our way through the rural highways of southern Idaho on our way to visit our Grandma Reeder who lived on the Utah-Idaho border.  We had been given our mother's car--a red 1980 Pontiac Phoenix--to drive while attending Ricks College, and with that privilege came a few stipulations: only drive it when necessary, drive it carefully--no wrecks, no tickets--and use it to visit our widowed grandmother when our schedules would allow. This was one weekend we were going to try and fulfill all of those requests.

As we made our way down the Oxford Highway at dusk, we noticed a few deer foraging for food on the opposite side of the road. I barely had time to take my foot off of the accelerator when I heard my brother exclaim something about the “Bambi” that had just crossed in front of our vehicle.  Ignoring every piece of driving advice my father had given me throughout my teen years, I swerved slightly to miss the animal's tail end; and by doing so, the passenger-side wheel caught the gravel shoulder, and we began to slide across the pavement at speeds in excess of fifty miles per hour on the narrow two-lane highway. 

Although the entire incident was over in less than ten seconds, a menagerie of thoughts flashed through my mind as my brother and I braced ourselves for impact, our screams echoing the squealing tires on the roadway. In my periphery I could see Todd feverishly gripping the passenger door's arm rest with one hand and the console between us with the other; all the while his right foot was pushing an imaginary brake--the one Mom used so adeptly when we were all learning to drive.  He was not wearing his seat belt, and I found myself inwardly praying that my careless actions wouldn't cause the car to roll and possibly kill my younger brother who was preparing to serve a mission in the upcoming months. My parents would never forgive me. 

In spite of our speed, it seemed as though we were traveling in slow motion as we skidded 90 degrees and slid perpendicular to the road for approximately fifty yards.  It also seemed as though the power-steering wheel turned itself from one side to the other in stunt driver fashion as we did two more 180 degree skids and eventually slid down an embankment on the opposite side of the highway, the car facing north instead of south—the direction we had been traveling.

When the car came to a rest on a steep incline, a feeling of relief washed over both of us, but it only lasted a moment as it soon became apparent that any sudden movement on our part could easily cause the car to roll--we were that precariously perched on the hillside. In spite our dangerous situation, my inward prayers of pleading and gratitude immediately turned to regret, and I freaked out, pounding the steering wheel and dramatically lamenting that I had “wrecked Mom's car!" and had no idea how we were going to get it out of the ravine in which we now sat. 

"Calm down, Chris, at least we're okay," Todd said, stating the obvious. "Just don't move," he pleaded, looking out the window at the ground that was now adjacent to his seat. And just like he had done so many times before when I'd found myself in unfortunate circumstances, my younger brother talked me down from a ledge (or in this case, from the steep side of a ravine), and convinced me to take action, stay level-headed, and move toward a solution. 

Calming down, I turned the key in the ignition and started the car again, carefully navigating to a flat spot in the bottom of the embankment; but it was obvious there was no way we were going to drive the car up the steep hill we had just skidded down--not without help anyway. 

Still shaking, we gathered the few bags we had packed and hiked up to the road.  By that time, darkness had enveloped the farming community around us and the roads were quiet and barren. 

I am not sure how many cars passed by us that evening, but I will forever remember the young mother in a white mini-van who answered our flailing signals of despair and pulled over to see if she could help. Still hysterical from the near-accident, I couldn't articulate what had just happened, so my brother explained to her our situation, and before long, we were squeezing into the van amid her three car-seated children. She took us to the home of a family friend who then generously (and somewhat ironically) allowed us to take their brand new Cadillac the rest of the way to our grandmother's house in Weston.  This time, Todd drove.

The next morning, my uncle Steve and Todd returned the borrowed Cadillac and went to see if they could tow my mother's car out of the ravine. When my uncle's truck pulled into the driveway--minus my brother--my heart sank, not realizing what Todd's absence meant.  As Uncle Steve parked his vehicle, he wore a look of serious concern on his face, and I made the mistake of lifting both of my hands as if to ask, "Well, where is it?" He then approached me and motioned toward the highway where I saw Todd driving our mother's car and signaling to turn into the family farm property. The car was perfectly fine, but my desire to celebrate was cut short by Steve's retort to my silent question.  “Young lady, I don't know how you managed to NOT roll that car or, at the very least, crash it into something.  Do you know how hard it was to get that thing out of there?...”  He went on to explain how difficult it had been to even locate the car because it couldn't be seen from the road. The tire marks left on the highway were the only indicators that anything had happened, and from what he could assess, Todd and I were "two of the luckiest teenagers around." He then described how the car was parked between two telephone poles and numerous large boulders—all of which could have taken our lives had we hit them. 

My heart swelled with gratitude as I began to recognize the pattern of tender mercies we had been shown.

However, the greatest mercy was revealed when we returned to Rexburg and I decided to call home and tell Mom of our experience. She listened intently after I assured her that we (and her car) were okay. Then she got very quiet and asked me to recount the story to my father who had joined us on another line. “Oh, my...” was my father's only response, but my parents' knowing silence told me there was more to what they were and were not saying. They went on to tell me the following:

The evening Todd and I had been traveling, our dad was volunteering at the church storehouse and cannery back home in Washington State.  Before starting the shift, the presiding authority thanked the group for coming and during the prayer, pronounced a blessing upon the family members of those who were serving that night, among them our father.  He promised the volunteers that their children and spouses would be safe and protected as they did the Lord's work, and they would return to their homes to find that all was well with their families. The blessing made such an impression on my father that he felt compelled to share it with Mom when he returned home from his shift. 

And now, they were both sharing the correlation with us--in spite of the fact that, generally speaking, our parents used strict caution when drawing spiritual parallels to everyday occurrences.  They had little patience for stories of people praying to find lost car keys or evoking the powers of heaven to decide which brand of laundry soap to purchase in the grocery aisle.  But this was different. Not only would they draw a correlation between the cannery prayer and our safety that evening, they would continue to share this faith-promoting story in upcoming years, often referring to it as the "Beef Stew Miracle" because that is what Dad had been canning the night the blessing was pronounced.

 As a benefactor of that blessing nearly seven hundred miles away from home, I was (and still am) eternally grateful for both my father and the gentleman who pronounced that blessing upon the volunteers at the cannery that evening. I have a testimony of priesthood power and its far-reaching effects and the manner in which it blesses the lives of both the priesthood holders and those they love and watch over.  Additionally, I know my parents share that belief or they would not have recognized--then deliberately pointed out--the correlation between the prayer, the service, the "almost accident," and the good Samaritans who came to our rescue. I suppose, they could've just as easily chalked up our near misses with the deer, the telephone polls and the boulders to luck or fate.  But they knew better; they were people of faith.

Now, some twenty-five years later, whenever I hear of miraculous “almost accidents,”or good Samaritans stopping to help strangers, or brothers keeping sisters focused, or friends lending vehicles, or family members taking time out of their busy schedules to pull someone out of a difficult situation, or church members simply volunteering to fulfill a cannery assignment, I cannot help but reflect on that beautiful autumn day back in 1990—a day when my brother and I weren't just lucky, we were blessed by a miracle.

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