ONE LONELY CHRISTMAS
by Lee Williams
My wife of 18 years, Joy, 34, and my daughters, Kristen, 14, and Robin, 10, went to be with the Lord on May 14, 1988. The bus bringing them back to Radcliff, Kentucky, from King's Island Amusement Park, was hit by a drunken driver traveling the wrong way on the interstate.
I received the news about the accident at 12:30 a.m.
3 a.m. - I learned that 15 people were dead. I asked God to save all three of my family.
4 a.m. - I amended my prayer: "God, if not all three, just give me two."
6 a.m. - I begged: "God, please give me just one." But in my heart, I knew that Joy and Kristen and Robin were gone.
At 8:40 a.m. the state coroner confirmed that all three had been killed and were in a temporary morgue a half mile away-along with 24 others. Sixteen of the crash victims - two of them on the pastoral staff at First Assembly of God in Radcliff, where W. Don Tennison was pastor - were from the church.
Doing interviews, grieving with others who had lost loved ones, attending the trial for the truck driver where I had to identify photos of Joy and the girls, and sorting through my own emotions consumed me. In the months that followed, I often felt I could not bear to live.
My first Christmas without my family was unspeakably lonely. I thought often of Job and asked God, "Why did You leave me here to go through this? I don't want to be a modern-day Job."
I spent New Year's Eve with Bill and Maddy Nichols, who lost their only child, Billy, 17, in the crash. I went to my room early that evening and cried out, "God, I can't go through 1989 like I have the last 7 1/2 months. What's going to happen to me? I'm so lonely."
As the words tumbled out, I asked God to appear to me. "I need a message from You, God. Tonight. Not tomorrow. Let me see Joy, Kristen and Robin for just one minute, so I can say, 'I love you. I miss you.' Speak to me, God."
The room didn't light up. Angels didn't appear. But God spoke clearly to my heart; "Son, if I were to allow you to see your wife and children, this is what they would tell you: 'Serve the Lord your God with all your heart and strength.' Then they would say, 'Put your life back together and go on until you join us in heaven.' Your girls would say, 'Daddy, we're happy - you be happy and don't miss heaven.'"
Thirty minutes into the new year, I knew Lee Williams would survive. I made a choice; I would not shrivel up and die from bitterness and loneliness. I began working on my attitude. I spent more time reading the Word and praying. I began to think of the good times our family had enjoyed. Through God's grace and mercy, I chose to forgive the drunken driver.
The healing began.
Dotty Pearman's husband, John, was associate pastor at the church and was driving the bus that fateful day. Their daughter, Christy, was also on the bus; son Robbie, 11, and daughter Tiffany, 7 stayed home. John was killed. Christy, just days before her 14th birthday, suffered second-and third-degree burns over 60 percent of her body. She also suffered internal burns from inhaling chemicals and smoke as she screamed for her daddy.
When Christy learned days later that her daddy was gone, she asked, "Mom, what will happen to our family? Who will take care of us?"
The Pearman family and our family attended the same church. Though we were not acquainted, our children were friends. I began to reach out to Dotty's kids, because I knew they were missing their dad.
In January 1989, I asked Dotty to go to lunch with me. For four hours we talked about our families.
On May 14, the first anniversary of the crash, we made plans to marry.
On July 8, with her daughters Christy and Tiffany as bridesmaids and son Robbie as my best man, we were married. Dotty's children joined us after a week's honeymoon, and we became a family.
From the time my girls were killed, I missed hearing the word Daddy. I remember thinking, I will never be Daddy to a high school graduate. I won't ever hear my daughter say, 'Daddy, will you walk me down the aisle? I'm getting married.'
After we married, I was well on my way to the restoration God had promised me two months after the accident. Martha Tennison, my pastor's wife, had told me, "I have prayed through for you, Lee. And God wants me to tell you that He will restore your happiness."
But one thing was still missing. Not even Dotty knew of my desire to be called "Dad." Only God knew; and if it were to happen, it would have to come from Him.
Unbeknownst to me or to Dotty, her three children got together to talk about the matter of calling me "Dad." They decided they would do it only if all three agreed.
On Dotty's and my first Christmas together, after we opened our gifts, Christy turned to me and said, "Lee, we have one more gift for you. We know you will never replace our dad and we will never replace your kids, but our Christmas gift to you is: We want to call you 'Dad.'"
Today I tell men, "I didn't understand the importance of that word Dad until I lost that title. When you have the title, you think you are always-going to have it. The next time you are called 'Dad,' stop and think for a moment. When I hear one of my kids say 'Dad,' I say, 'Thank You, God. You have restored my life totally, just as You promised.'"
A modern-day Job? Yes, I identify with him. When my wife and two daughters were taken in a tragedy, God gave me another wife and two daughters. Plus a son. During the past 10 years, I've never again had to say those words: "I'm so lonely."
Lee Williams is the Kentucky District HonorBound director and travels as an evangelist, speaking about families at men's retreats and in churches. The Williamses live in Radcliff, Kentucky.
Lee walked Christy down the aisle when she married Wayne Cox, and they have given him and Dotty a grandson, Trevin Parker Cox. Robbie graduated from college and is an insurance claims specialist. Tiffany graduated from high school in 1999 and plans to be an interior decorator.