Mistaken Identity

“Whitney, you got to watch a video of your own funeral.” 


It hardly seems credible that a mixup like this could happen in 2006, but it did. 

A high speed collision took the lives of five people from Taylor University.  Five weeks after the crash, when the Van Ryn’s daughter came out of a coma, they eventually realized that she was not their daughter.  This is a compelling story, sad and happy, a picture of two families trusting God through the most agonizing drama imaginable.

That drama was told last night on a two hour Dateline NBC program.

A fine moment:  Lisa Van Ryn put the pieces together first.  After a physical therapy session, as she was wheeling the girl she now suspected was not her sister Laura back to her room, she got eye level and asked her what her name was.  The girl replied, “Whitney.”  She asked her to say her parents’ names.  After she did, Lisa was convinced this wasn’t Laura.  Her response was, “That’s very good, Whitney.  You are doing so well.  You are really doing great.”

Matt Lauer commented on Lisa’s generosity to Whitney at that moment.  He was surprised that Lisa didn’t start screaming and running down the hall.  Lisa looked at him with a smile, “But I loved her! Why would I do that to her?”  The love she demonstrated, putting Whitney’s needs before her own…amazing grace.

In the last few years, some stories have gripped our imagination because the participants’ faith has been so clearly displayed in the midst of their grief.  Do you remember the national spotlight on Frank James when the Mt. Hood climbers were missing?  In this program, what I found so winsome was a complete lack of bitterness and blaming.  The Cerak and Van Ryn families were gracious in every word spoken.  All of grace.

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6 thoughts on “Mistaken Identity

  1. I turned this on last night, too – which in itself is odd, since I rarely watch network television on Fridays. But Kevin was gaming online and didn’t want to watch a movie, so I flipped through the channels and found this just as it started. I had the same reaction as you – what a beautiful illustration of God’s grace shining through his people. I sensed that Matt Lauer was kind of digging to see if there was any underlying anger or blame on the Cerak’s part (directed at the Van Ryn’s) and the answers were gracious and kind. I only hope I could demonstrate such faith and graciousness if I were ever placed in such a horrible situation.
    On a side note – how’s Curt?
    Carrie

  2. We watched it because our family has a connection* to the Van Ryan family and my older brother David called yesterday to tell us about the program.I was frustrated at times with some of the questions, but was amazed at the graciousness from both families.Curt is sleeping right now – he hasn’t made great progress from Thursday, but he is struggling more with fatigue and weariness than cough and pounding headache.  The antibiotic is so strong that it makes him wonky.  He’s also taking GI Flora tablets to help establish the good culture in his system.Carol* Don Van Ryan (the dad in the program) and his family lived in the house behind us for a few years when I was growing up.  I remember playing with Donny and David. A hedge of lilac bushes separated our backyards and we slipped back and forth.  Both families went to the chapel – we were really more than neighbors.  

  3. I watched this, too, with my friend, Judy. She had seen the families on an early morning show, talking about it all. I love that even though grace comes so easily to some, and to others with more difficulty, God gives it so freely to all of us. And that we learn from seeing it in each other. Remember, I have a special fascination with Grace, my youngest daughter’s name (…who, by the way, is on her way to the hospital in labor  )

  4. I watched the morning show interviews also — amazing story and open testimony of our God’s goodness and grace and sustaining, sovereign power in the midst of tragedy! I have seen many examples recently of tragic events getting media attention and the victims openly give testimony to our Lord. In Los Angeles, the first SWAT officer ever to be killed in duty here, was memorialized and the story got national media attention — in every story, every interview, the man’s family and friends not only praised the man, but praised his Lord!
    No media attention — but I am surely praying for Curt’s health and energy (and yours) as you anticipate your trip! Blessings, Laurie

  5. I think of this story every time we get on I-69 (the scene of the accident) north of Indianapolis heading toward Anderson, where Cassie will go to college.  I missed the program and am thankful for your post and the video.  The story where grace reigned for me was the Amish after the school shootings in Lancaster County.  The press seemed so baffled by the grace and forgiveness expressed over and over by those interviewed.  Only by grace.Blessings on your trip my friend. Can’t wait for the pictures and updates!Sandy

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