Vander Wal Family Story

On January 29, 2014 our family’s life dramatically changed.  At 1:30 in the morning a 

drunk driver crashed his car into our home.  My husband Don and I were awakened by 

deafening noise and debris raining down on us.  Don jumped over a television that had 

been sent flying across the room to get to our children, specifically our older son Ben 

who was sleeping in the other front bedroom.  Ben told us later that he saw the 

headlights of the car coming at him and he wondered if the closet doors and wall were 

going to crash on him.  Don and I were terrified – I cannot imagine what it was like for a 

seven–year old.  My eye was clearly injured and as the EMTs examined me, they had to 

let my then three-year old in the ambulance with me – Drew couldn’t stop shaking and 

refused to let go of his mother.  A firefighter told Don that the driver had “threaded a 

needle” - a little to the right and he would have killed my husband and me, a little to the 

left and he would have killed Ben.  

What we didn’t know that night was that things would get worse.  Our home was built 

in the 1950’s – the impact of the crash had dislodged asbestos.  The entire front of the 

house had to be destroyed and reduced to the studs.  Everything in those rooms was a 

total and complete loss.  Don lost all of his clothing.  I lost most of my clothing and every 

piece of jewelry except for my engagement ring.  We lost photographs, Ben’s first report 

card, artwork the kids had created, things that perhaps had little monetary value, but 

huge sentimental value.  And because the front bedroom was also the kids’ playroom, 

we had to tell them that the majority of their toys and books had to be destroyed.  

We moved into a hotel for a few weeks and then an apartment for three months as our 

house was rebuilt.  I felt we were damaged goods.  Don had nightmares.  The children 

had to sleep together and with a light on.  And it was over a year before I was able to 

sleep through the night without waking up from a bad dream or feeling the need to 

check on our sons numerous times during the night.  The kids now knew what a drunk 

driver was, they knew that their parents did not always have control over a situation, 

and they knew that bad things did happen to people who merely went to bed in their 

own home.

We didn’t understand at the time why God would let this happen to us.  We were 

scared, angry and frustrated.  But we came to see that His plans and our plans don’t 

always match. This should go down as one of the worst times in our lives.  It wasn’t. It 

ultimately, was one of the best, for we clearly saw, heard and felt God in our lives. We 

needed nearly everything taken away from us in order to see how much we truly had.  

God kept us, and our children safe – firefighters said we were lucky, we weren’t – we 

were protected by Our Father.  Friends from the kids’ schools and from my mom’s group 

at church took care of us.  They brought us clothes, had a book and toy drive for the kids 

and fed us for three months.  Three months.  My friends parented my children when I 

couldn’t.  Every single one of these people was brought to us by God.  He literally took 

dust and debris, and made it into something beautiful. And we learned something we 

couldn’t have learned any other way – to love another person is to see the face of God.