I don’t watch Oprah much anymore but today was an exception. A story that we’ve followed for the past two years was featured—it was the story of the mistaken identity of Whitney Cerak and Laura VanRyn, two students at Taylor University that were wrongly identified in the aftermath of a terrible crash in April 2006.
The story was a personal one for our family. First because our daughter Anne was a student at Taylor University for a year and a half. She knew some of the staff and students who were killed in the crash. Second, because our son, Evan, knew Whitney personally through his friend Allie. Evan and Allie had been friends throughout high school and when Allie chose to attend Taylor, Evan promised to visit—and he did. In his visits, he met Whitney.
The night of the accident, Evan called home somewhere around 2am. He was attending college in Nashville, TN, but Allie had called him distraught by the accident that had claimed the life of her friend Whitney. By the time Evan called home he too was overwhelmed with the emotion of it all.
The days and weeks following the accident were spent following the story in the news and praying for the families. It was such a senseless accident that took five very precious lives.
About five weeks after the accident Evan called home, “Mom, Whitney is alive!” I asked Evan what he was talking about. He said, “Mom, Whitney from Taylor is alive. Allie just called me to tell me.” He went on to briefly describe the mix-up that had happened at the accident scene and the reality of how the VanRyn family had been caring for someone else’s child all this time. I honestly couldn’t comprehend all of this. He referred me to a blog that the VanRyn family had been keeping on what they thought was Laura’s progress. Indeed, the most recent post indicated that the identity of this young woman was Whitney Cerak and not Laura VanRyn. Needless to say, both girls looked remarkedly alike.
The most amazing part of this story, however, isn’t the mistaken identity part of it all. The most amazing part is the grace, love, and forgiveness these two families have shown throughout the whole experience. These are people who have truly lived out their faith. They have given God credit and glory every step of the way. They recently released the book Mistaken Identity: Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope.
If you want to be encouraged to love…really love in the way Christ loved, you’ll want to pick up this book. If you want to be challenged to give grace and forgiveness even in the hardest times, this story is for you.
Let’s be honest, this story is for all of us because life isn’t fair and we need to understand how to handle it God’s way when our children, the neighbors, or the whole world may be watching.
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