When Scott and I wake each morning it still seems incomprehensible that Sarah is gone. Also incomprehensible is that 38 other students and adults on the very same bus have already made or will make full recoveries. I have avoided seeing the crash footage for the most part and don’t want to know any more details than what I already know, but based on what I do know it is safe to say that the hand of God delivered those 38 other people on the bus from physical death. Not only did He deliver those 38 people from physical death, He also miraculously delivered each of them from severe injury (severe injury meaning life altering spinal cord or traumatic brain injuries). It is undeniable that the hand of God clearly protected those other 38 people, so why not Sarah? Why are we left grieving the absence of our daughter when the hand of God was clearly delivering others at that exact moment? Did He abandon her and ultimately us as her family?
I suppose one could be tempted to think perhaps Scott and I had not prayed adequately for her safety, perhaps failure to pray on our part or hers is the reason she alone did not survive? Thankfully, I can confidently report that is not the case at all. Her journals testify she had prayed over this trip for months. In addition to Scott’s and my prayers in the days and weeks preceding the trip, I was so fearful and burdened about Scott not driving the bus that I spent a particularly prolonged period in prayer the afternoon before the crash. The Lord led me to Psalm 91 and I prayed it at length over my precious Sarah. As I prayed through that Psalm as well as other scripture that afternoon, evening and the next morning before they left I walked through the process of entrusting her to Him once again.
I cried out to God that afternoon, praying verses 9-12 specifically. I reminded the Lord that we as a family love Him with all of our hearts and that we have made Him our refuge. I entreated Him to honor the prayer of this Psalm in our lives, that He would protect Sarah as she traveled, that He would set His angels guard around her, that they would bear her up in their hands and protect her from harm.
“For you have made the LORD, my refuge, Even the Most High, your dwelling place. No evil will befall you, Nor will any plague come near your tent. For He will give His angels charge concerning you, To guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, That you do not strike your foot against a stone.” Psalm 91:9-12 [NASB]
I thought about that prayer after the accident, at first thought it broke my heart that He had apparently chosen to disregard the very prayer I felt He led me to lift to Him. I had believed as I prayed Psalm 91 that He had specifically led me to it, that He led me to pray that prayer for my child, to entrust her to Him as I put her on that bus. I obeyed in prayer but He had apparently not honored the very requests He led me to bring before Him, had He? In the days following the accident I prayerfully went back to Psalm 91 and reread it once again. God opened my eyes and spoke to my heart to show me how in His faithfulness He had inspired, heard and graciously answered the cry of Psalm 91 in the life of Sarah that day, though painfully not at all in the temporal way I had intended.
God did indeed set His angels guard around Sarah the day of the crash, just as I had petitioned through Psalm 91. I believe that, though Satan was allowed to sift us by taking Sarah’s physical life, God Himself set limits on what was inflicted on her, sparing her physical pain and suffering, and for that we are all deeply grateful. He has consoled me that He honored my prayer that His angels be set guard around her, and that she was no less held and protected than any other person on that bus. He commanded them to bear her up in their hands, and I am confident they obediently did just that as they ushered her directly into His presence.
The day before she left, as I prayed Psalm 91 over her, verse 14 struck me, “Because he has loved Me, therefore I will deliver him; I will set him securely on high, because he has known My name” [NASB]. I remember requesting of the Lord as I prayed that day, “you know how much Sarah loves you, so please deliver her, keep her safe as only you can.” However, as I look back I am struck by His promise there, that He “will set him securely on high,” which of course reminds me of the verse Sarah chose for this mission trip, “Lead me to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2). Sarah was already crying out to Him and trusting Him to set her securely on high, safely upon the Rock that is higher than us. When His angels ushered her into His presence He fulfilled that promise, she was swiftly and safely led on high to “The Rock that is higher than I.”
As I prayed Psalm 91 for Sarah the day before the crash, I prayed for His provision and abiding presence with her through the words of verse 15, “He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him” [NASB]. How precious it is that even as sweet Sarah was on that bus she was doing exactly what this verse said. She recorded in her journal that she was nervous and she called upon Him, seeking Him through His Word. She even testified in her journal that He answered her in her trouble at that moment. He kept His promise in the Psalm prayed over her the day before, and He quickly answered her on that bus setting her at ease. This mommy’s heart agonizes that her child was not rescued physically as every other mother’s child was on the bus that day. Even so, I can testify without a doubt that He did “rescue” her from death, delivering her to Life everlasting through the blood of Jesus, and He has most definitely honored her. The testimony of a quiet little girl few knew has been propelled around the globe by His faithfulness and for His glory. She set her heart in the preceeding weeks and days to be on mission to be used by Him, saying she knew He would do “something incredible.” Indeed, He has been faithful to do something incredible, and as He has brought glory to Himself through it, He has also graciously and mercifully honored our precious Sarah.
Verse 16, the final verse of Psalm 91 that I had prayed over Sarah before she left is, “With a long life I will satisfy him And let him see My salvation” [NASB]. Of course my heart as I lifted this prayer to God was for Sarah’s physical life to be long, but I also acknowledge that is a finite perspective. In spite of being painfully grieved at her absence, we rejoice that, like Sarah, we all know that this physical life is like a “wisp of smoke,” but the greatest is yet to come. Praise God that His Word is clear that when we are in Christ Jesus we live even though we die (John 11:25-26). Sarah is enjoying eternal life, the epitome of “long life,” she is no longer constrained by impending death, it is powerless over her. Lastly and most importantly, God has allowed Sarah to see His salvation. As she has seen her Savior and God face to face, her faith has become sight (Matthew 5:8; 1 Cor. 13:12).
So, Why Sarah? Why us? I guess I don’t really have a good answer to those questions, except to answer with opposing questions, why not Sarah? Why not us? God through His Word has prepared us, He has forewarned us that we live in a fallen world far from his original intent of perfection for us. He told us in Genesis of the entry of sin and death into the world and He warns us throughout His Word that we will face trials and tribulations as a result. He warns us, as Sarah pointed out in her last journal entry, that we have an adversary, the devil, who prowls around longing to devour, scheming and devising ways to steal, kill and destroy (1 Pet. 5:8, Eph. 6:11, John 10:10). In the midst of all that bad news, though, God offers a sea of rich promises for us, all available through the blood of Jesus Christ.
I’ve shared before but will share again, that in the moments after learning of Sarah’s departure God clearly impressed on my heart that Satan had asked to sift us, and God spoke to my heart that if we will cling to Him, He will carry us through. God clearly impressed this on my heart and ultimately on the heart of each member of our family. We don’t know why Satan requested to sift us specifically, and we don’t know exactly why God said yes, but we accept and trust His decision. Now we, like Peter, long to persevere through this excruciatingly fiery trial, through this sifting, and allow Him to not only use it to refine and sanctify us, but also to strengthen our brothers and sisters in Christ (Luke 22:31-32). And so we share, and I write, knowing that He will redeem it in His time, that He will eventually exchange our ashes and mourning for gladness and praise. May He enable us to stand as mighty oaks for Him, that He may be glorified.
To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. [Isa 61:3 NASB]
Because she has loved Me, therefore I will deliver her; I will set her securely on high, because she has known My name.