“Daddy, look! A Pinwheel!”

Duncan squealed with glee at the sight of the pinwheel as we waited at the stop light. I looked over and saw the pinwheel, amidst the makeshift memorial for some unknown person. As habit, I said a brief prayer for the unknown victim’s family and friends.

Since moving into our home, in the fall of 2006, I’ve driven through the 132nd & Blondo intersection thousands of times. I stick to the same pattern when driving on it. When heading west on Blondo, people usually get in the left lane since the road goes from four lanes to two soon after the intersection. This can cause backup at the intersection, so people will line up in the right lane attempting to speed ahead of all the cars in the left lane. The cars in the left lane don’t want to be passed, so they speed ahead as well trying to not let the cars in the right lane merge. All while doing this at 40-50 mph in a metal object.

“Daddy, what’s that?”

“It’s a memorial. They are honoring someone who died here.”

“Who? And how did they die?”

“I don’t know who they are, but I’m guessing they died in a car accident at that intersection.”

“I bet their family is sad.”

“I’m sure they are. We should say a prayer for them.”

Before construction widened 132nd to four lanes, it was two lanes from Blondo to Maple Street. Cars would sometimes get impatient waiting behind vehicles who weren’t going fast enough for them. When 132nd expanded to four lanes, right before the intersection, you’d see some cars get into the other lane and speed by the culprit driving too slow. And if the light was getting ready to turn red? All the more reason to press on the accelerator. To them, a yellow light is a reminder to put the pedal to the metal. Safety? Please.

(Driving through the intersection at 132nd & Blondo…)

“Daddy, did you know someone died in this intersection?”

“I did, Liam.”

“Did someone make a bad choice?”

“I don’t know, sometimes car accidents just happen. It’s why they are called accidents. Someone may not have been driving safely, though.”

“You drive safe, don’t you dad?”

“I try to, but that doesn’t always protect you from other drivers. So, I try to be aware of what others are doing so I can be ready if they make a bad choice if they are driving.”

“Like when you use your horn?”

“Exactly.”

I take Blondo Street to and from work because I don’t want to deal with the stress of driving Dodge Street during rush hour. Yes, I’m fully aware that driving Dodge Street does not compare to driving some of the more stressful commutes in America. I get that, but that doesn’t mean I have to drive it. I drive Blondo Street because it is calmer, and I am able to enjoy listening to podcasts on the drive. The only spot on my commute where it’s likely another car will make a dumb decision? At or near the 132nd & Blondo intersection.

“Daddy, look! It’s a new memorial, and there are letters on it!”

“I see it.”

“What’s it say?”

“Ashley.”

“Who’s Ashley?”

“She’s the person who died here.”

“Did you know her?”

“No, I didn’t know her.”

“Oh.”

“Do you want to say a prayer for Ashley’s family and friends? I’m sure they miss her.”

“Lord, just bless and protect Ashley’s family and friends. Let them know you love them. Amen.”

“Amen.”

I’m not sure when I started doing it, but I try and say a prayer whenever I see a makeshift roadside memorial. Some of them I drive by repeatedly, and the prayers would slowly morph into more personal pleas for the victim’s family and friends. The memorials usually disappear over time, and the reminder to pray for them leaves me as well.

However, I don’t always notice the memorials either. I’m not sure how long the memorials had been kept up at the 132nd & Blondo intersection, but it wasn’t until a few months ago that Duncan first noticed the pinwheel. A conversation began with my boys about this mystery person. When we drive through the intersection, Liam or Duncan will sometimes ask me about the memorial, the individual, their family.

Recently, we saw a name on the updated memorial. Ashley. The way it was designed led me to believe it was a student who died there. When the boys and I would drive through the intersection now, they would ask me about Ashley and her family. It became personal with the knowledge of her name. One of us in the car would say a prayer for her family, and sometimes her friends as well, and everyone else in the car would agree.

After the knowledge of her name, every time we would pray I would tell myself to google her name and the intersection. However, when we would get to where we were going, I would inevitably forget to research until next time praying for her. Last week, I remembered, while surfing the web, and came across a bit of Ashley’s story.

Ashley Wooden was 12 years old when she died. In November of 2007, her father was driving her home, along with two of her younger brothers, from Parables. Ashley had just bought a cross necklace with money she had saved up from babysitting. Driving home, they were going through the intersection at 132nd & Blondo, heading west on Blondo, when a pickup truck, heading south on 132nd, ran the red light and hit them. The force caused the minivan the Woodens were in to roll over. While Ashley’s injuries were serious, the injuries to the rest of her family were minimal.

Ashley was on life support for almost week before being taken off of it. While Ashley didn’t survive, her parents donated her organs to six others who were in need.

Years later, her family is doing well. They obviously miss their daughter, and look forward to reconnecting with her in Heaven, but they are living life instead of staying in a holding pattern. It’s relieving to read the various articles and posts.

“Did you know that Ashley is in Heaven?”

(Liam) “Woo hoo!”

(Duncan) “Yea!”

I share some of the details of Ashley’s life, and the boys listen attentively. Jana listens, but starts to tear up at the retelling.

Ashley was a sweet person, someone who blessed others in this life. More importantly, people have continued to be blessed by her since she passed away. Six people have a better outlook on life because of organ donation. Hundreds have been inspired by the story of a faithful middle school girl who loved Jesus, her family and others.

Stories are all around us. A simple roadside memorial unfolds a story of heartbreak, faith and hope.

We’re continuing to pray for Ashley’s family.

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