• Kerri Kenyon Dern

Sometimes Life is a Train Wreck

Updated: Dec 10, 2018



MONDAYS WITH KERRI

Often the tragedies of our lives are gifts from a loving Heavenly Father in disguise. Times of crisis cause us to recognize we are not okay and need our Savior to deliver us. If we allow, He leads us to still water and reveals the fear manifesting in our lives, either through pride or insecurity. He calls us to be still and know that He is God; and when we are quiet, He restores our souls. He reminds us of who He is and who we are in Him. The tragedies we experience are often the vehicles through which we learn the lessons that spiritually mature us. July 15th, 2005, was a perfect example of this and will always be etched deeply into my mind.

I was living outside of Atlanta at the time and to me it was just another in a long string of excruciatingly hot days. I grumbled about the humidity as I headed out the door to run a few quick errands. This Northwest girl is never going to acclimate here, I fumed as I turned on the ignition and cranked the AC. I was looking forward to having a few friends over for dinner that evening, so as I pulled out of the driveway, I made a mental checklist of the few items I needed to pick up at the store. Forty-five minutes later I made my last stop at the bank. I quickly passed through the drive-thru teller and did my best to feign pleasantries as I had to wait, window down, for my deposit receipt. Then, leaving the bank, I merged into traffic and made the right hand turn toward home so I could get started on the evening’s preparations. However, just as I was nearing my cruising speed, I came around a blind corner to find that traffic had come to a complete stop. Panicked, I slammed on my brakes to avoid hitting the large white SUV in front of me. “What now?” I fumed. My mind wandered to all the things I needed to accomplish before my guests arrived and I hoped that I wouldn’t be sitting, waiting in the hot sun too long.

Suddenly, I was jolted to reality by the fact that the vehicle in front of me had been forced to stop on train tracks. In my hurried state I hadn’t noticed the railroad crossing signs that I had passed and now realized I was nearly on top of the tracks myself! “I sure hope a train doesn’t come,” I said under my breath. In that exact moment I heard the whistle of a train in the distance and the dinging of the railroad crossing bell. I looked to my left, straining to see how far off the train was and then I looked up toward the loud clanging that filled my ears. It was then I realized that I was positioned squarely beneath the very large, heavy metal crossing arm. This was not a short, lightweight, plastic, crossing rail; this was the old fashioned, fifty-pound variety! As I watched, the lights on the arm began flashing and it started slowly descending down toward the windshield of my car. I panicked. One glance in the rear-view mirror confirmed that I could not back up; the car behind me had also stopped short and was right on my bumper. I would have to move forward, or my car would be slammed by the crossing rail. So, I made a choice. I moved forward, putting my car on the tracks, almost touching the SUV. The train was coming. Time literally stopped, everything became blurred and surreal. It was as though my brain was trying to tell my body that all this couldn’t really be happening. Was I dreaming? Was this a movie scene I had watched? I prayed and then screamed fervently that the God of the Universe would move that large white vehicle in front of me. The train whistle was getting louder; the conductor started blowing the warning horn, urging us to get off the tracks and out of his way.

Unfortunately, I could not see around or through the vehicle ahead of me. I had no idea why we were stopped or if we would move any time soon so, I sat waiting breathlessly. I glanced frantically back and forth between the train speeding towards me on my left to the hunk of white metal blocking my path ahead. Finally, I had to make another choice. I couldn’t wait any longer; the train was going to hit me if I sat there, I had to do something. My mind raced. I couldn’t back up; the crossing arm was now behind me. Oncoming traffic blocked me from the left and the line of cars ahead still wasn’t budging. I had just one choice left. I would have to crank my wheel as hard as possible and try to drive around the SUV in front of me. So, I turned the wheel as far as it would go to the right and floored the accelerator. Unfortunately, there was only enough pavement around the tracks for the two lanes of traffic. So, when I turned the car it lunged directly onto the train tracks, slamming it down with a sickening crash of metal on metal. I accelerated, still hoping to escape the oncoming train, but the back axle was now resting on the tracks and the rear tires were spinning in the air.

I jumped out of my car and started screaming at the people around me to help me push it off of the tracks. At the same time, without even realizing it, I decided to start pushing it myself. I stood outside of the vehicle with my right foot reaching in to the accelerator. I continue to floor it while attempting to use my left leg and body weight to inch the car forward. After several seconds of trying to push my car off the tracks I realized that my plan was not working, nor were my cries for help.

No one was coming to my aid and I found myself angry at the people who were getting out of their cars to stare at me in my dilemma. I could not understand in my state of shock and horror why they would not help me. I then realized that the SUV was no longer on the tracks, traffic had begun to flow. Now there was nothing between me and the oncoming train. In the fogginess of my mind I heard the quickly growing crowd yelling at me, “Run, run, for your life!!!” I stopped flooring the engine to look up at the train again while the frenzied bystanders continued to shout. It was then, for the first time since the crossing arm started its descent, I had a clear thought. And, as soon as I did, I started running! I ran a short distance off the tracks and stopped to turn around. Again, I heard the same voices, “You’re still in danger, keep running!” Later I was grateful for their wisdom and that I was given the presence of mind to heed it at the last minute. It was only through their warnings I realized my car might explode when smashed by the oncoming, speeding train.

I kept running, but I turned around just in time to see that immense locomotive scoop up my beautiful, silver, German engineered car. I watched as the cow catcher slammed it head first into the ground. The train didn’t stop until it had almost buried, and completed destroyed, my car several hundred feet down the tracks. Stunned, I stared at the wreckage for what seemed like hours. Who should I call? What should I say? How did this happen? What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? What were people going to say when they heard about this? What would they think of me? Would I lose my license and insurance? Am I going crazy? The questions and doubts overwhelmed my mind so quickly that I became dizzy with fear and I collapsed on the ground, crying hysterically.

In the days and weeks that followed that horrific accident, the questions that flooded my brain did not subside; in fact, they multiplied and intensified. The terrifying incident played over and over in my brain. I was tormented by the vision of a train speeding towards me and I was paralyzed by feeling my life was out of control. I couldn’t make sense of what had happened; my mind just could not put the pieces together. I couldn’t eat and every time I would start to fall asleep my body would jolt itself awake in terror. I couldn’t rest mentally or physically. One of my girlfriends from the west coast flew out to Atlanta to take care of me during that time. Those were some of the most humbling days of my life. My girlfriend sang to me, prayed over me, and read Scripture for me. She was Jesus to me when I needed His arms to hold me. He held me through her.

Then, one night almost a week after the train wreck, I lay awake sobbing in my bed. “Where are you?” I cried out in prayer. “I feel as fractured as I did back in seminary when you delivered me. Now I feel like ‘Humpty Dumpty’ again! What am I missing? I have called on you to be my wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. I have no peace and no rest, I am a basket case. Please tell me how to pray!” I asked the Holy Spirit to interpret my groaning and sobs to the Father on my behalf. It was then I heard Him say, “Kerri, call out for my mercy!” “Jesus, have mercy on me,” I wailed. Instantaneously, after a week of torment, I was flooded with peace and I could feel my whole body relax. In that moment a song by Phillips, Craig, and Dean came to my mind so I quoted the lyrics out loud, “Mercy came running like a prisoner set free, past all my failure to the point of my need, when I could not see mercy, mercy came running to me.” Then, as I basked in His peace, I heard Him say, “What is in your hands Kerri?” Confused, I looked down at them. “What do you mean?” I queered. He repeated the question again until I understood. “That car was in your hands Kerri. You loved that car. You loved it so much that you actually risked your life by not leaving it on the tracks when you should have; that is bondage Kerri. I love you jealously, I want all of you. I want you to choose me first. I want you to desire me more than anyone or anything else. I love you, and because I do, I will continue to remove the people and things in your life that keep you from me. I don’t do this to be unkind, but to free you from the bondage your enemy would enslave you with if I didn’t. What else are you holding Kerri? Is there anything else you are choosing before me?”

This time the question went like an arrow into my heart. I knew the thing I was choosing over Him was actually my service to Him. It was such a subtle trap of the enemy I never would have seen it unless I had been in the accident and, as a result, allowed Him to reveal it. “The ministry you have given me is what I am holding in my hands,” I confessed. “I have been finding my identity in speaking at conferences and in being a counselor. I have been choosing helping others over knowing you, and I didn’t even realize it.” Yes, my idol was a good thing. Obviously, it’s wonderful to preach God’s Word and serve hurting people, but it had replaced being blessed in His presence. Therefore, the good things I was doing became an idol I was holding in my hands. So The One who created me let me decide, “Choose Kerri, what do you want? Do you want me or do you want to talk to others about me?” I chose Him that day. I told Him that He could have my ministry. I gave Him my gifts in such a real way that I was willing to never speak, counsel, or write again if that was what He asked of me. But He didn’t take anything away; in the years after the accident he has more than doubled my ministry opportunities! He didn’t ask for the things in my hands to be unkind. He wanted to release me from my idols. Like a patient father He allowed me to decide what I wanted. He loved me enough to let me choose.

//Question//

  • Is there any material possession you love so much that you might risk your life or financial stability for?

//Action Step//

  • Ask the Holy Spirit if this possession is an idol and a distraction from your personal walk with Him.

//Question//

  • Our enemy Satan can use subtle tricks. We can think we are choosing good things, good relationships, making good choices, but we can be blinded to the truth. These things can be false idols. Is it possible something or someone in your life has taken God’s place in your heart?

//Action Step//

  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to you God’s plan for your life. Surrender and let go of anything false in order to embrace and pick up what is true.

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