A single text from T.J., my oldest son, instantly sent me down a dark path of despair. “NO!” I yelled, pounding my desk so loudly that coworkers came running. My greatest fear as a dad had just rushed from a locked cabinet inside my brain to the small screen in front of me. “Pray hard for Steele,” the message read. “Kid died in a car crash on way to school this morning. Students super torn up.”
As a youth pastor and a dad, clearly I prayed—for peace, for hope, and for God to be seen. I prayed for families, classmates, and teachers. Even before knowing the student’s name, I was in tears. Partly, that’s because I have a very real fear of receiving a life-altering call about my own teenage driver.
After receiving T.J.’s text, I called his principal, offering to come help counsel students. I tried to provide encouragement to my son and his classmates, but they were understandably scared. Without saying it, they all knew it could’ve been them behind that wheel.
When school ended, I gathered some students I knew to discuss the fragility of life, our hope in God, and finding meaning in tragedy. But there was no escaping the brutal truth that one of their peers had died that day. Just yesterday, some of them ate lunch with him and laughed about weekend plans as if they were immortal.
With five kids to transition to adulthood, I fear I have too many lines in the water to escape the odds of such a tragedy striking my story firsthand. I’ve already had a 6:45 a.m. call: “Dad, I need you to come help me. I crashed the car on the way to school.” Thankfully, that was just a fender bender, and everyone walked away. But I know next time might be different.
It seems almost impossible to guide all my kids safely through the experience of driving in a world of cell phones. Every school day, T.J. drives the same two-lane road that his classmate did; he has no choice. Whenever he leaves the house, my wife and I tell him, “I love you. Drive carefully.” And then I pray for God to control the myth of my control.
Every day I’m reminded that life is fragile, that head-on collisions are deadly, and that parenting is the riskiest thing I’ve ever done.