“Forget not to show love unto strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
The phone was ringing off the hook. I was buck naked with nothing but a towel on and went running for the phone. I looked at the clock and it was only 6:30 in the morning. If I were to bet money on who was on the other end of the line, I’d say it was my dad. He rose before the roosters crowed and he thought everyone else should too. I was rushing to get ready for my new job. I was fresh out of school and felt so blessed to be working for Cal Rehab. Jim had a big part in me getting the job there. Just a few weeks before, he was the passenger in an off-road accident at the river. The driver drove off of a razor back sand dune, launching the dune buggy at least ten feet over the crest only for it to fall thirty feet. It tumbled, somersaulted and at some point he was thrown out. Jim was so lucky that the least of his injuries was a concussion. The lifelong injury was his right arm. He pretty much severed everything in it. He had bones sticking out, severed the nerves and his shredded muscle tissue looked like ground hamburger meat. There was very little tissue still intact. His arm was thrashed.
During the time of the accident, Jim’s mom, Vicki was in Missouri and his dad, Karl was in Sweden. My parents were at home which is about a four-hour drive. This happened before the time of cell phones and pay phones were still in style. Unfortunately, the pay phones in camp weren’t working and we had to use a CB radio to call for an ambulance. The closest hospital and ambulance was 26 miles away which meant help was at least 20-30 minutes away. I was so scared. By this point Jim was sweating, mumbling, groaning and going into shock. The head injury and 117* desert heat didn’t mix well.
It was an hour after the accident before Jim finally reached the hospital, it seemed like forever. The adrenaline was still pumping through my veins and my body was operating in auto pilot mode. I’ve always been pretty good at handling emergency situations, this time wasn’t any different. It would hit me after I’ve had time to sit and think about what happened.
As soon as the ambulance drove off, I went back to the house and grabbed my car keys. I high tailed it to the tiny town where the hospital was, I was just a few miles behind the ambulance. Once I arrived I took advantage of the opportunity to use a “real” phone. I was able to get a hold of Bebe, Jim’s sister. She was very scared and upset on the other line, at this point I had very little information to give her about what they were going to do with him. I promised her I’d update her as soon as I knew anything and she said she would get a hold of their parents for me. I called my parents next. My mom and grandma would be on the road on their way to us soon.
By the time Jim was prepped and ready for surgery, it was 8 p.m. and nearly 7 hours after the accident. I was finally able to talk to Vicki and she was clearly upset. I felt so bad for her. I didn’t want to have to tell her Jim was hurt. She already had valid worries about the river, often telling us that she thought it was a dangerous place. She repeatedly said, “It makes me nervous every time you go there. Please call me every morning and every night so that I know you are okay.” Now, I had to tell her she was right. Are you kidding me? Of all the years and of all the people, Jim got hurt. I knew how dangerous it could be there. I’ve seen so many accidents and some that even resulted in death. Those experiences change a person but my young adult mind never thought that it could happen to our family. Majority of the time the accidents were a result of cockiness and inexperience or a lack of respect for the land and water. I grew up with my parents drilling into my head to ALWAYS check the trails, even if we drove them the week before. If you go up a hill then you’d better make sure you knew what was on the other side. It takes a minute to drive around and check but it only takes a second to lose your life. The day of this accident the back of the hillside wasn’t checked.
I had the hospital phone smashed up against the side of my face and with a knot in my throat I forced myself to explain to Vicki what the surgeon had said to me.
“The surgeon thinks that they can save his arm, but only time will tell. They’re going to use a steel plate and screws to connect the bones and hopefully they can use part of his bicep muscle to reconnect the lower arm. There isn’t a lot of muscle tissue left to sew together.” I took a breath and then continued, “The nerves are severed, but the surgeon thinks there is potential they can grow back and he‘ll gain use of his hand again.”
After I hung up the phone I turned and saw my reflection in the hospital window. I was still wearing my bikini top and wrap. In my haste to get to the hospital it didn’t occur to me to grab some clothes. I was freezing cold, feeling so alone while tears began to flow silently stinging my sunburnt cheeks. I was finally beginning to process what happened.
Just a few weeks later, Jim began rehabbing his arm at Cal Rehab. He heard that they were hiring and I was blessed with a brand new career.
Now, here in our apartment, our phone continued to ring. I wanted to grab it before the answer machine got it. I could never figure out how to turn that thing off.
“Hello?” I answered, slightly out of breath.
“May I speak to Darla please?” an older distinguished female voice asked. She spoke very slowly.
“This is Darla speaking…”
“Darla, this is Dale Evans. I wanted to call and thank you for the letter you sent me.”
ARE YOU KIDDING ME!!!! My heart was pounding fiercely in my chest and my hands started to shake like an 8.5 magnitude earthquake. DALE EVANS WAS ON THE PHONE WITH ME! I ran towards the bathroom where Jim was taking care of business and busted the door open. I literally scared the poop out of Jim. I mouthed the words ‘its Dale Evans!!’ He rolled his eyes and shook his head as if to say, ‘Whatever…’ I don’t think he believed me at first.
“No, please, let me thank you…” I said, searching for words.
A few weeks before, Vicki had given me a book at the time I needed it the most. She found it in a trash can at an antique mall. The book was called “Angel Unaware” written by, of course, Dale Evans. It was the true story about her baby girl, Robin Elizabeth, who got to live for two years, and teach the Evans-Roger’s family so much about love. The story is told from baby Robin’s perspective. The story is beautiful and it touched my heart.
After I finished reading ‘Angel Unaware’, I had a burning desire to let Dale Evans know about the healing that began to take place in my heart. In my letter to her, I told the story of “my little angel”. I wanted her to know that her daughter’s death helped in the healing of mine. I was striving to find happiness, the same kind of happiness that she had found, without the feelings of guilt. I had enclosed my copy of the book in a pre-paid return envelope and asked if she’d sign and return it. I knew it was risky to let this book leave the safety of my house, but I had faith that it would get into the right hands.
I am honored to say that my book rests safely back in my home.
This book brought me some peace. The connection between heaven and earth, life and death became clearer to me. It also became very clear to me that I needed to work on my relationship with God. For months now, I have been angry with God and quit attending church. Most of the time I’d give God the silent treatment. Since he’s not answering my prayers, I had an ‘I just ain’t gonna talk to him anymore’ kind of attitude. Other times I’d pray and be angry, questioning his purpose for me. I didn’t understand why people had to live with so much pain. God could make it stop; he could prevent people from dying. Why didn’t he? I prayed fiercely for healing during Machaela’s pregnancy. I decided my prayers and faith would be so powerful that I would show all the doctors that they were wrong. I would be a living testimony of God’s healing power! She would live! She would have a normal healthy life! As it turns out, I was wrong! She didn’t live. He didn’t heal her. That story I made up in my head wasn’t going to be my story. My heart was growing bitter and that terrified me.
I began to realize that a lot of the anger and bitterness I had festering was because of my own selfish reasons. I wasn’t happy because I didn’t get what I wanted. What about God wanted? What about what my daughter wanted? Maybe she was in pain. Maybe she was suffering. Who was I to be angry and bitter about the sweet life that had been taken away? Who was I to question the creator of all the earth? I should rejoice and give praise to God Almighty, for she is already home!
I could not believe that on this morning I was talking to Dale Evans. She knows my pain. She knows God. It was no mistake that the book was placed in a trash can. It was no mistake that my mother in law saw it. It was no mistake that God was working through Dale Evans, using her story as a testimony to show His divine power and grace.
“Darla, you must remember to be faithful, have patience, stay humble and live a life with gratitude. You must be dependent upon God. Through our handicaps and weaknesses the strength of the Lord is made perfect. God wants to bless you in unimaginable ways.” She spoke with much confidence and wisdom. You could hear how strongly she believed this through the tone of her voice. I crumpled over in tears. This time the tears weren’t tears of sadness, they were tears of hope. Little did Dale Evans know that she was my angel unaware.
“Thank you, thank you so much…” was all I could say.
The last line in Dale Evan’s book is little Robin asking God, “And now, father, please…could I just go out and try my wings?” That’s exactly how I pictured Machaela, all cute and cherub-like, asking to try out her wings.
A couple of days had passed since my conversation with Dale Evans. It was amazing how a phone call could lift me up like it did. Jim was sitting next to me on our old nasty couch. It had been left in our apartment by the previous renters. We were stoked. We were so young. Neither one of us had lived on our own before we were married, so we didn’t have much in the means of “starting off.” When we walked into our apartment for the first time and saw that the previous renters had left their couch, we felt like we hit the lottery! The couch was worn out in spots and had holes in the red and green striped back cushions. We didn’t care. We had something to sit upon every day and we were grateful.
“I’ve been thinking a lot about what my dad said at Machaela’s funeral.” Jim looked at me and knew exactly what I was referring too.
“It just breaks my heart to hear him say he can’t make me feel better.”
“Only time will make you feel better. He hurts just as much as you do.”
“I know, but, for the first I can relate to what it must’ve been like for him to lose Chris and Dani like he did.”
My chin was quivering. This was never good. A quivering chin meant tears would soon be following.
Jim looked over and said, “What exactly are you saying, Darla?”
“I guess I’m saying that his situation sucked. I mean, our baby is dead. There is nothing I can do to change that. Nothing will bring her back and I have to accept that, but, my dad, on the other hand, doesn’t have to. I mean, his kids aren’t dead as far as we know.” My throat was shut. I wanted to cry. My brain was reeling. It must have been a living hell for him.
Let me back up for a minute and update you on the situation. When my parents got married, my mom had my older sister, Kim, and my dad had two children, Chris and Dani. They Brady bunched it and became an instant family of five. Later, my parents would go on to have me and my little brother Duane.
The last time I saw Dani and Chris I was about 3 months old. Obviously, I have no memory of them, but my mom and dad had kept them very much alive in our family. Their bikes stayed in our garage and pictures of them hung on our walls. It was confusing as a child to fathom that I had more siblings out there. I often thought about what they looked like, what their hobbies were and where in the world could they be living?
“I’m going to find Dad’s kids.” I blurted out with confidence. “I will do whatever it takes to find them. It isn’t fair that they don’t have each other. Plus, I want to know who my brother and sister are. I’ve missed out on them too.”
“More power to you. I think it’s great you want to find them, but how exactly do you plan on doing that? I mean, your parents have searched on and off for years and haven’t found them. What’s going to be different for you?” Jim asked very cautiously.
“I’m going to search with faith and the internet.” I walked out of the room and went to boot up my computer. I had a lot of work to do.
“But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
2 Corinthians 12:9