The older girls snuggled down in the back of the buggy. Marion sat between Irene and me, with little Eli Ray on Irene's lap. I finished hitching up the horse and climbed in. The silence from the back told me the girls would be sleeping soon. We never intended to fall asleep, but it overtook us at times. Thankfully, the horse knew the way.
For only one part of the ride home was it of utmost importance that I stay awake. It was a stretch of highway that split our country road in two. Sometimes, especially during the day, I had to wait minutes and minutes to cross because the traffic flowed so fast and heavy.
I don't remember falling asleep to the clomp of the horse's hooves, but I remember waking up briefly. We'd gone a ways down the road from my cousin's place. My heavy eyelids lifted, and I peered through the dark night. In the distance, I noticed the stop sign ahead. I told myself I needed to stay awake for the crossing. But the night was quiet. Too quiet.
My stomach felt full of too much ice cream, and the buggy's gentle sway lulled me once more. The snores of the girls in the back brought a smile. I leaned back to rest my head lightly on the back of the seat.
My eyes fluttered shut again . . .
It was the blare of the horn that startled me first. The horn of a big truck. Loud, close. Then bright, white light. The jolting of the horse. The overwhelming screech of the semi-truck's brakes.
Headlights bore down. My heart leaped to my throat, and I knew it was going to be close. With a shout and a flip of the reins, I urged the horse forward. Not fast enough.
A crash of splintering wood cut into the night. My body hurled forward. My wife cried out. I don't remember hitting the ground or standing to my feet. But there I was, peering through the inky darkness at Irene and our sons. She seemed fine. The boys were okay too. Shaken but fine.
The horse darted down the road, dragging the wheels and the shaft. More pieces of the buggy lay splintered at my feet. I turned around to look for the girls.
The moonlight wasn't enough to penetrate the night.
My knees trembled as I darted up and down the road, and my voice called their names over and over. "Suetta! Sarah Mae! Suetta! Sarah Mae!"
My eyes scanned the roadway, scattered with debris from the buggy. I didn't see them. The semi-truck was coming to a stop far, far down the road. I later heard that the driver had gone to make a phone call to get help. The odor of burning brakes filled the air.
I darted across the dim highway toward the ditch, running and calling their names again. "Suetta! Sarah Mae!"
A spot of blond hair caught my attention. They were lying by the side of the road. I ran to them. They looked so small, lay so still. Both of them struggled for breath. They gasped. They needed help.
I have to get them to the doctor.
I turned back to the road. Seeing a passing car, I waved my arms.
"Hey, stop, stop!" The car slowed but then continued going. First one and then another. I waved my arms again, frantically, but no one stopped.
Stop! My girls! They need help! Stop!
Minutes passed, though it seemed like hours. With all my energy, I ran to the closest business, which was a hatchery. "Call for help!" They said they would.
I ran back to the girls, to check on them. To see.
Both were gone. It was too late.
They were gone.
Another Amish man came by. I stood in shock as my girls lay lifeless in the ditch. Desperate, I did the only thing I knew to do.
"Let us pray," I told him. We bowed our heads and prayed silently. Amish never pray aloud; it would be too prideful. The Lord's Prayer filtered through my thoughts. It was the only prayer that would come to me. Even in my most heartbroken moment, I didn't know how to connect with God. I'd lived my whole life as an Amish man, but the God I lived my life for was distant and hard to approach. And when I needed him most, I didn't know how to find him. Didn't know where to take my pain.
I went back to find my wife. The ambulance had come, and she was being cared for. The boys were shaken but fine. Irene drifted in and out of consciousness. How would she ever make it after losing the girls?
The next few days were a blur, with people coming and going, providing food, and doing our chores. I had no interest in what was going on outside in the world anymore. All the things I had worked for—the farm, the animals—I didn't care about. Our new house had a nice living room, but Irene and I never had taken the time to sit in it and enjoy it—to spend time with our children there. It showed me that the things of the world—the things we deal with every day—are going to pass away, and they won't mean anything when we meet the Lord.
People would say, "Your girls are better off where they are. They are in heaven." The Amish have an expectation, as most Christians do, that when a youngster dies he or she goes to heaven. It was a great comfort knowing that they were no longer facing any pain or suffering.
Over and over people said, "They are in heaven now," but I longed to hear something else. Something was going on inside me, and I needed comfort. I needed peace in my own soul. I knew my daughters were fine, but I was not. My soul was empty. My heart felt as if it had been ripped out of my chest. I felt alone. God seemed so very far away.
For two nights Amish families filed through the house for the viewings. One by one, old, young, mothers with children, and distant neighbors stood in a long line. Each shook our hands, but few offered words. For those who did speak, their words were simple.
"God bless you."
"They are in heaven."
Today, looking back, we both wish someone would have shared Jesus with us in our broken state. Ja, we knew who he was. We knew of his sacrifice on our behalf. But we didn't understand that he is an ever-present hope, that he is interceding for us before the Father, that he could be as real to us in the present as we hoped he would be someday in heaven. We had been taught that he had died for us, but we didn't understand the grace of Jesus Christ and that we needed to invite him into our hearts personally to receive that grace for forgiveness of our sins.
When we needed the truth most, it remained far from us.
Instead, we heard the same thing over and over: "The girls are fine."
Years later, when I asked why no one had shared the plain truth of hope in Jesus with us during that time, a friend told us that perhaps our community already saw us as good people. Perhaps they thought we didn't need the message of Christ's salvation for us. But they couldn't have been more wrong.
We'd grown up Amish and lived our whole lives for God . . . the only problem was we did not know him. Not in a way we later discovered we could.
Taken from Plain Faith by Irene and Ora Jay Eash with Tricia Goyer. Copyright © 2014 by Ora Jay Eash and Irene Eash. Use by permission of Zondervan. www.Zondervan.com