2009 Goes Out Like a Lion -- Looking for a Few Lambs in 2010!

New Year's Eve at 4:30 AM -- the winter canvas in Northeastern Wisconsin looked pretty much like the scene above as I was making my way west on Highway 29 to the Aspirus Wausau Hospital Center. Mom went into the hospital in Antigo and was transferred to Wausau on Monday night (28th) when it was determined that her intestinal tract infection was not all that she was battling over Christmas. To make a very long story just a bit shorter, Mom would be going into surgery at 6AM on New Year's Eve. I planned on being there to wish her well by the time she'd be wheeled out of her room. So just as planned, I would end up leaving the Priory at 4:30 AM right on the dot -- what I did not plan on was the snow that would arrive throughout the night that landed so many cars in the ditches of Hwy. 29.

I did not think the roads were all that bad. I often joke that I was ordained in the midst of an ice storm on Epiphany Day back in '93 and that, as an Antigo boy, I can drive through anything. Well, I was totally conscience of passing any number of cars on the highway, making my way with the greatest of ease. That is, until I found myself in the heart of Shawano County.

At one of the most significant moments in my life to date, it felt as though the back end of the car I drive was beginning to fishtail on the highway. I was on a slight incline and veering to the right around a slight curve. The snowy conditions coupled with my excessive speed -- up a hill and around a curve seemed to be "too much to handle." While it happened so quickly, it also seemed like slow motion as my car spun out of control doing two and a half donuts. All I can remember thinking is, "Sweet Jesus, please tell me that you're joking!" As my car was spinning out of control so fast and yet so slowly, I thought of how distressing it was that I would not be able to see my mom off for her surgery -- and that thought came as the car was still spinning!

I remember the car heading off the road, and at this point the car was completely filled with incandescent light. It seemed a bit eery as if it were celestial lights from the heavens. Perhaps, but what I think happened is that the snow from the ditch was being plowed into my headlights rushing over the hood upon my windshield. Headlights making contact with the snow resulted in a bright whiteout condition -- totally. I couldn't see a thing but light. And quickly, the car suddenly stopped moving -- coming to a quiet, calm and still rest. Just like that!

I'm not sure how you would respond to that situation if you were a passenger in the Honda. For some reason, I just began laughing -- as inappropriate as that may sound. Laughter? There was nothing funny about it! I remember thinking, God, you're slowing me down - literally! The fact that I was not hurt, nor was the car, nor was anyone else, made it seem as though God was deliberately trying to humble me just a bit -- without hurting me, though, for which I am obviously very grateful!

It took me a good two minutes to find my cell phone which was tossed about the car in the midst of the donuts. Upon finding it, I called 911 and told them about my situation. The Shawano County dispatcher asked me where I was. In all honesty, I did not know, and I wondered if I did not know because of the darkness outside, was I dizzy from the trip or even in a bit of shock? Thankfully, Selma Garmin, my GPS, told me that I was off 29 at Rock Road -- just at the bend in the highway I referred to earlier. The dispatcher asked me if I was hurt -- as I said, "no" she said someone would be on the way within the hour. "Within the hour?" Here's where I was a bit daring (and somewhat clumsy) but also totally honest. I told her that I was on the way to the hospital in Wausau to see my mom off for a very serious surgery. I know that "beggars cannot be choosers," but I told her that it was my excessive speed for the conditions that resulted in this situation; and yet, I was hoping to get out of the ditch sooner than an hour if at all possible and if the Shawano County Sheriff's Department did not have any bigger fish to fry. She was so kind and helpful and said she'd get someone there as quickly as possible -- she did not end the conversation until she offered, "Father Baraniak, please be assured that I will keep you and your mother in my thoughts and prayers."

How cool is that?

I also make a quick call to AAA, hoping that they would send someone soon given my hope to be at the hospital. Guess what, the AAA attendant also stated that she would be praying for Mom. Maybe I'm just a bit too emotional, but I really appreciate such kindness from total strangers. Rocked up on a snowbank in total darkness, their sincere concern for my mom and me certainly adds a great deal of light and goodness. Before long, a Sheriff's officer and two wreckers arrived -- one called by the police and the other arranged through AAA. In totality, my trip was sidelined by only an hour. The rest of my trip was very quiet and slow, never making 45 miles per hour. Nevertheless, in the end, I did have 20 minutes to share with Mom and her doctor before the surgery. What a blessing!

Trying to couple prayer with my driving -- (as I stated in the previous blog) -- a scripture passage came to my mind as I finished my trip to Wausau that New Year's Eve morning. It was the story of the woman caught in the act of adultery. Remember Jesus stating that the one without sin can cast the first stone at her? One by one they all took off. Jesus told the woman, "Your faith has saved you. Go now and make your way; but from now on, avoid this sin."

As I drove away from the wreckers, the Sheriff's officer and keeping in mind the kind dispatchers who wished my mom and me well, I could only think of them saying, once they got me back on trek, "Go and make your way; but from now on, avoid this sin."

Was I engaged in sin last Thursday morning? I certainly meant no harm to anyone, myself included. And yet, I was so consumed in my own wants and needs that I simply thought only of myself getting from point A to point B in the shortest amount of time regardless of how carelessly I was driving -- and in the process, putting myself and others in harm's way. To me, that does describe what I would consider to be sinful in nature.

So these days I continue to "go my way" hoping and praying that my way is consistent with God's way. In fact, often spending in excess of four hours on the road each day driving anywhere between Wausau, Antigo and DePere while attending to community needs and parish issues late into the evening, I make my way a bit differently. ...With the help of a kind and gentle wake up call from a good and loving God, I am trying to and succeeding at slowing down just a bit -- avoiding sin!

2009 went out like a lion. I'm looking for a few lambs in 2010! Lambs? That reminds me, "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care!"


Zach P. said...

Father Jim! What a story! You had me on the edge of my seat throughout your whole post. I hope your mom is doing well. Just like the strangers, I'll keep you and her in my prayers.

Anonymous said...

Father Baraniak:
Our thoughts and prayers are for a rapid and healthy recovery for your mother.

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kate said...

Jim ~
I hope all is okay with your mom - I too will be keeping your family in my prayers. What a story...you have always been good with the pen. I recall some good stories in our days at St. Mary's - remember your Price is Right Story?
My best to you and your family.
-Kate Strasser-Rader

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Anonymous said...

Padre James,

YIKES, what a story! Your Guardian Angel was on "High Alert" that night!

We're all guilty at times of "driving too fast for conditions". Does this sometimes define our "spiritual" journey to Our Lord?

Everyone asks about your Mom and Dad and prays for their recovery ... I also ask about YOU;
we experience a terrible anguish when we watch our loved ones suffer and feel soooo helpless. It constantly tests our faith. You and the family continue to be in my daily prayers.

Peace, Love and Prayers,


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