What makes you remember?

By Janel Breitenstein

In my dad’s garage are stashed a few items that would be of little significance to anyone else, but that mean the world to him: a charred license plate and an old mechanic’s shirt—the kind he wore daily in his farming years—with the back torn away entirely.

These, he’s told me, represent the days God saved me and my family.

The charred license plate was removed from a 1977 Cadillac Seville.  The driver? A slightly more youthful version of my mother, pregnant with me, her firstborn. Only a half mile from our farm house, she’d yielded at the intersection. But it was summer, and the field of corn stretched green and high. Another car was charging through somewhere around the posted 55 miles per hour.

It sent her car into the opposite field. Stunned, but still the steady, keen-thinking mom I would come to know, she heaved from the car both herself and the friend’s foster infant who she’d been watching.

When she stepped away, the car exploded in flames.

In that day, my dad tells me, God saved my whole family.

Burned Cadillac Seville front right July1979 Burned Cadillac Seville-drivers door July1979 Burned Cadillac Seville-drivers door&front left corner July1979

About ten years later Dad was carefully tuning an old dirt bike for a garage sale—which he no longer needed as the father of four girls. He hopped on its seat for a test drive, the wind ruffling his hair as he sped down the wide country roads.

I don’t really know the point where he realized the throttle was stuck. I wonder now whether my mom’s accident a decade earlier influenced his decision to lay the bike down before the intersection.

The asphalt ripped the back from his thinning shirt, embedding gravel and the distinct marks of road rash that would later require physicians hours to scrub from his anesthetized body—gravel that would work its way out through his skin even months later.

As he ran the half-mile or so home, my mother was mowing the lawn. What I know is that as he came into view, the amount of blood made her nervous. As a farmer who regularly hefted animals and bags of grain, his stout frame—in the event he passed out—would be too much for her to carry on her own.

But he did make it to the car. All I remember about seeing my father are the thick rolls of bandages covering his hands, arms, back, and head. That, combined with seeing my ever-strong dad in such a weakened, vulnerable state when my mom arrived to retrieve us from Grandma’s—sent me slouching beside the tire in tears.

So you see, perhaps, why that license plate and that shirt are dear to my dad.

IMG_4551 IMG_4553

He explained to me that the Israelites, too, made a monument to remind them of the miracle God accomplished in their midst, guiding them through the rippling Jordan on dry ground. Each tribe selected a large stone to contribute: When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord… So these stones shall be to the people of Israel a memorial forever (Joshua 4:6b-7).

We all find ourselves at a new chapter now, its page turning this week. It might be tempting to simply jump in feet-first, with some friends, some chips and dip, as the ball sinks into 2016.

But there’s something remarkable about these holidays—these stones, as it were, that whisper to us to remember.

Remember all He’s done: The water He’s held back with His hands. The accident where He said, Only this much will happen to you. The times He’s shown over and over that your name is written on His hands.

This holiday hovering with anticipation and curiosity not only holds the power to cast our eyes forward, but also to swivel our heads back in worship, remembrance, and a family time to simply prevent our feeble brains from doing what they do so well: forgetting.

Practically, perhaps a simple time of worship just means taking a meal to talk together about where God’s brought you in the last year. Maybe it means hanging up a posterboard on the back of a door—“God was faithful in 2015!”—as a friend of mine does, taking days as a family to scrawl down thanks as they come to mind. Maybe you’ll take some quiet time simply to thumb through old journal entries and make a list of answered prayer, of gratitude for where He’s brought you—and remember Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8).

For inn all our stones (or license plates) of remembrance, Who is a rock, except our God (Psalm 18:31)?

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16 thoughts on “What makes you remember?”

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  3. patricia donatiello

    Alan and I are thankful to have met your parents on their and our honeymoon…even though we don’t see them, they are constant reminders of how God works in our lives. We speak of them often and our children know them through our stories. This was a beautiful tribute thank you

  4. Thanks for the encouraging thoughts on remembering. It’s 5:00 am here on Sunday morning and reading that just really stirred me to reflecting and remembering as well. Verdict…….God is indeed faithful! Thanks again! God bless.

    1. Dave, I’m still so amazed to reflect on this myself–and knowing the small portion of your story I know, you may have experienced this more than I ever could. Praising Him with you right now.

  5. I grew up in those same corn fields in Roanoke, IL and a friend of Gary’s. This is a great reminder of how fragile life is and how faithful the Lord is. Thanks for the amazing story and sobering pictures.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Tim. I still marvel at the smallness of us and the magnitude of Him! It’s a privilege now to show my kids that He saved their lives on that day, too. Thankful with you.

  6. Thank you Janel for sharing this.
    Your Dad is still a Farmer. He just farms a different field.
    We are grateful to God that you and your family are a part of our lives (Cynthia, Elizabeth and Mike).
    Mike Klumpp

    1. Boy, I stand corrected on that one, Mike–and I am honored to share the family business in that way! So grateful with you for the gift of sharing life together.

  7. Thank you for sharing such a moving and beautiful story! It has served as a reminder to me to pause, to be still for just a moment, to thank Him for His loving provision and protection.

  8. Thank you for sharing this post, Janel! Although we have known your family for years I was unaware (or else forgot!) these two incidents in your lives. Thank you for sharing and reminding us of God’s faithfulness! Particularly in my cancer journey, my own life, our children’s lives, the lives of Harold’s family particularly Carol, and in the care of my parents, I too have witnessed and (sometimes recorded) God’s faithfulness. He has rescued each of us in one way or other from tragedy and continues to graciously provide. I am so unworthy of His gracious provision but so thankful! We love you and your family so much. I have appreciated their (particularly Cindy’s) insight & wisdom over the years. We consider your folks dear & beloved friends! Katy recently visited Family Life in Arkansas and your dad graciously showed her around. It was a wonderful experience for her. God bless you as you continue to minister in the Kingdom! Love, Judy

    1. Judy, it was amazing to reflect–just on the night this posted–that God saved my kids’ lives (and who knows how many after them?), and the good works He’s prepared in advance for them, in that moment too. Simply astounding. May God prove Himself so faithful in your health as you trust Him with what you cannot see. Celebrating His faithfulness today!

      P.S. My dad sent me a photo of Katy’s visit! So fun.

  9. Janel, I so remember that day. We were following your Mom to go somewhere, I no longer recall, and we came upon the accident just as she was exiting the car. God put us right there to drive her to her doctor’s office in Metamora. God works in wonderfully mysterious ways His owners to perform. It’s a memory I’ll never forget!

    1. I had no idea, Glenna! Such a day to remember–walking away from danger essentially unscathed: “When you walk through the flames, you will not be burned”…quite literally in this case. Grateful you were there that day!

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