April Fool’s Day and God’s Love

Ellen and Pete Olson.

I am a Christian, and for Christians like me, April is the most joyous month of the entire year.  It is the usually the month that our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, rose from the dead and ascended to Heaven. An eternal life awaits all!

The first day of April is a day for juvenile jokes and pranks to many, but not for me.  That all changed for me 32 years ago. At the time, I was going through Navy flight training at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi.  My wife, Ellen, was a lawyer commuting between Los Angeles and Dallas. She flew to Corpus for a weekend visit.  We drove to Houston Saturday to have an informal reunion with my three best friends from Rice University.  We slept late on Sunday, had breakfast, said our good-byes, and headed back to Corpus on State Highway 35.  It was Sunday, April 1st, 1990.

As we entered the small town of Palacios around 3:30 pm, we drove into a whopper of a Texas thunderstorm. All traffic was going 35 mph, hazard lights on, wipers going full speed to no avail. On a two-lane highway, a car going the opposite way lost control and slammed into us head on. The occupants were immigrants from Vietnam, an uncle and two adolescent nephews. They died at the scene.

The force of the crash was so violent that I bent the steering wheel over the steering column into the dash board with my hands.  Ellen and I were severely injured.  Our first stop was the tiny hospital in Palacios. They were overwhelmed. A LifeFlight helicopter took Ellen to Houston. I was put into an ambulance and driven to Bay City for a CAT scan.  My dad caught the last flight into Houston, rented a car, and drove to Bay City in the middle of the night.  He was the first member of my family to see me since the accident.  He had the somber duty to tell me the words I did not want to hear.  Ellen’s injuries were too severe; she was dead.  We had been married for 79 days.

I spent the next month in San Antonio’s Wilford Hall Air Force Hospital. I had suffered a severe head injury when my head hit the steering wheel.  I was automatically grounded for a year by the Navy to ensure I was not susceptible to seizures in flight. My injuries meant that I could not fly in a pressurized airplane, so my mom and I rode an Amtrak train for 30 hours to their home in Connecticut. I was given three months of convalescent leave to recover from my injuries.  When that time expired, I flew back to Corpus for nine months of pushing paper and assigning “LIMA SIERRA” jobs (Little Sh**** jobs) to junior officers.  I was not very happy.

The worst times were bedtime.  I would watch Cheers reruns at 10:30 pm to divert my attention from the wave of anger that was coming. I would brush my teeth, get in bed, and go to war with God. I would cry uncontrollably and shout at God for what he had done to ME!  I had always been taught that God is kind and just. There was zero kindness and zero justice on April 1st in Palacios. I should have been the first one to leave earth.  My life was near perfection –  two loving parents, easy straight A student, star athlete – without many setbacks. Ellen had a good life, but she had some rough times in her teenage years.  And there is no way God should have taken an innocent eight or six-year-old child over me.

The passage of time took the sharp sting out of my loss.   It’s hard to describe.  I never lost my faith, but I put my faith in God on hold until he explained to me why he allowed April 1st, 1990.  GOD OWED ME AN EXPLANATION!

Grant, Maisy, Kate, Nancy and Pete Olson.

I starting going forward on my own without caring about God.  I got my Wings in May of 1991.  I fell in love again and married my Nancy on September 25th, 1993.  I watched Kate being born on January 3rd, 1997 followed by Grant on April 9th, 2000. I became a six-term United States Congressman. As y’all suspect, I completely missed God’s unending love for me, especially on April 1st, 1990.   

Ellen was an angel sent by God to watch over me. My Nancy grew up thousands of miles from me in California and got her first job as a TV reporter in Tyler, Texas.  Nancy became friends with a woman working at the TV studio named Carolyn Waters.  My Nancy loves her margaritas, and Carolyn’s husband, Paul, made the best margaritas in Tyler.  My Nancy would go to the Waters’ house after the 10 pm Friday newscast to start her weekend off right with one of Paul’s margaritas. I saw this phenomenon with my own eyes the first time I went home with Ellen to meet her parents – Carolyn and Paul Waters!

It all hit me watching Kate and Grant being born. Ellen’s loss was part of God’s grand plan.  As I watched these perfect, tiny babies taking their first breaths, I finally realized the obvious.  Without April 1st, 1990, in Palacios with Ellen, I never meet Nancy. If I never meet and fall in love with Nancy, I never have the heavenly pleasure of being a father and watching Kate and Grant grow. God has always loved me and was there in my darkest hours. He never left me and continues to bless me now.

In closing, I hope I did not make you sad. My story is not pure joy, but it is a story of the goodness in our lives. If you know someone in the depths of pain, engage with them. Sitting beside them while they scream in anger or cry rivers of tears is heavenly therapy.  A big hug doesn’t hurt, either. Faith heals.  Faith is Fort Bend Strong!

Please share your stories with me at pete@absolutelyfocusmedia.com