The Unwinding Cable Car (Or – The Day My Sisters Died, Part 1)

I have told this story over and over, sometimes to an audience of one, and sometimes to the audience of the world. Although if you asked, I couldn’t tell you what words I stumbled over in the Good Morning America interview only 2 weeks after my sisters died. I remember I was wearing a yellow shirt and looked terribly unkempt. But that’s really about it. I got extremely used to telling the story but I haven’t told it in awhile now. I’ve tried to reconnect with the emotions, and to not just tell it as a line of events that happened.

So as I unfold this to you, I have an ache that sits in the center of my stomach.

“Emotive, unstable
You’re like an unwinding cable car…”

December 9, 2007 dawned clear, cold, and to the surprise of my family: sunny. We were living in Denver in a teeny tiny apartment, and were driving an hour away for church on Sunday mornings. This was a Sunday morning, but there had been a ferocious winter snow storm the night before. My dad debated making the drive. In the end, it was decided; we would go to church.

That week had been a rollercoaster for me. Two of my coworkers had asked me to cover shifts due to family emergencies. I had worked more than my normal amount of hours for the week and I was exhausted. Furthermore, my boyfriend had recently disclosed some distressing news to me that I was still grappling with. Due to this news, I had even asked my manager for extra work. I was trying to forget what my boyfriend had told me. I was angry, and I wasn’t sure if I should stay with him, or leave.

My sister Rachel, having overheard the conversation a few nights earlier, gave me a note when she came into my work one morning:

“Philippians 4:6-7: Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need and thank him for all he has done. If you do this, you will experience God’s peace, which is far more wonderful than the human mind can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”

She never told me how much or what she heard during my conversation with my boyfriend. But when she gave me that note, I knew that she knew. The note was so uncharacteristic of her. And I needed nothing more than those words at that moment.

So Sunday morning, after the snowstorm, us girls piled into our family van and we took off for church. We each did our various zone-out activities for the hour long ride. I am sure I was listening to my Ipod. That was my go-to activity. When we were about halfway there, I had a sudden idea and leaned forward. “Rach, there’s an Anberlin concert in Denver tonight. We should ask Mom to take us!”

She got excited. “Yeah we totally should!”

“Okay, we’ll talk to her after church,” I said. We were both excited at the impromptu idea of going to see one of our new favorite bands. We had different favorite songs, but the same taste in music. While she liked Set Fire to the Third Bar by Snow Patrol, I was a fan of It’s Beginning to Get to Me. While I liked The Unwinding Cable Car by Anberlin, she liked Alexithymia.

It was when we had arrived at church that I heard about the shooting. I overheard my parents talking about the news. “What are you talking about, Dad?”

“Oh, you didn’t hear? There was a shooting up at the YWAM base in Arvada.”

“WHAT? I have a friend there!!!” My dad looked shocked. I felt frantic. I immediately sent out texts and tried to call our mutual friends. Mutual friends of hers were calling me to try and find information. I ran out to the lobby for a few minutes trying to get ahold of people. In the middle of this I called my boyfriend who was snowboarding up in Breckenridge that day.

I just feel guilty, you know? Like I should have prayed more last night or something. I feel really bad. I was so selfish last night, so stuck in my own head.

He tried to reassure me but I couldn’t shake the idea that I could have prevented it somehow with my prayers. I went back into the service where worship was halfway through and joined Rachel up near the front, with the other young people who worshiped in front of the altar. Right about then, I received a message telling me that my friend was safe. Relieved, I tried to lose myself in the service.

Dr. Jack Hayford was preaching that day and he talked about the wise men and the gifts they brought Jesus. He talked about having an open heart to God during the Christmas season. About giving our most precious gift to Christ. Unaware that those words would become like hot cattle brands later, I jotted down notes furiously. I was always quite studious during Sunday sermons.

After the sermon, my dad went to talk to the missions pastor at our church. My dad is quite the talker, so we were in the huge sanctuary until it emptied out. It was almost 1pm when my dad finally said, “Okay, well, let’s go.”

We walked down the long hallway towards the end of the church, and our car. Looking back, that hallway is now reminiscent of another hallway… the hallway between the hospital and the hospice where my Grandpa died. It was a hallway I used to call to myself “the hallway of death” due to its stark white walls.

My mom usually stopped at the restroom, but today we were eager to leave after staying so long. We discussed where to go for lunch. To avoid a fight, I agreed with the decision to go to a local burger place. I didn’t feel like burgers, but our fights over where to eat were notorious in my family, and I didn’t feel like making a big deal out of it.

As we were heading out of the building, we saw a long-time friend whose car was parked near ours. We exchanged hellos. The sun was shining in a stark blue sky; snow and slush were still covering the huge parking lot. Everything was so quietly normal.

My sisters and I piled into the back of our white minivan. All of us were in except Rachel, who had stopped to get something out of her purse. At that moment, I thought I heard a balloon pop. Or maybe it was the tire exploding? “What was that?” I asked. That was when the screaming started.

To continue reading, go to Part 2 and Part 3.

45 Replies to “The Unwinding Cable Car (Or – The Day My Sisters Died, Part 1)”

  1. Laurie I do y know what to say because I know nothing helps. I can say I appreciate you sharing this with us despite how hard it is. I can say that I think you’re so brave and so strong especially for how far you’ve come through so many difficult journies. And I can also say that I love that song, Unwinding Cable Car. Sending you virtual hugs. xx

    1. Deanna – thank you for your kind kind words, and the ones that go unspoken. Maybe those most of all; I so appreciate you understand that words can’t frame this. And thanks for the hugs! Sending you hugs back. Also so glad we both love that song! I used it because that was one of the only songs I even wanted to listen to for weeks after.

    1. Thank you… I am doing better with the “carrying it” part. The therapy I’ve done has really helped. It is still really hard for me to write, but if it helps someone it’s worth it. Thank you for witnessing it… so appreciate your presence.

  2. Incredibly brave for you to share this – I really commend that strength you show.

    The prayer thing is remarkable to. I don’t do religion, I have no traditional view of God that follows a religious kind of sense at all. However I pray – well I do something. What I do is ask for the things that I’m worried about to be taken from me, and for me to be shown something to do about them if relevant. I don’t say “Let me get that job” or “Make my kids behave” – I ask for the strength to deal with that stuff or have the strength to walk away if actually for me or the other person that makes sense. For others, particularly those that I am angry or resentful against I pray for patience and tolerance on my part and pray that they are happy and at peace themselves. Does it work? Who knows but I still do it – what it does do is calm my mind make me realise that if I’m worried about something either I should take action and do something to resolve it or if it is totally out of my hands then hand it over to something else to look after and put my worrying away in the back of the mind … A person once told me when I said something was worrying me to phone them back in 10 mins. I did. I was still worrying but they asked what had changed? Nothing. What could change? Nothing as it was something I could do nothing about. “So all you’ve done is wasted 10 mins and a few more heart beats.” Good philosophy, difficult to master.

    1. Thank you…
      As for the prayer, it’s funny. My views have changed so much. After growing up going to church consistently, I’m now also in a place where I don’t have a traditional “religion.” Higher Power, sure. I definitely have one – as I told someone recently, my HP actually consists of several different ways that I view He/She/It. Depends on the situation I’m in.
      It’s interesting to me that I used to have such a guilt-based view on prayer. As if I could have controlled the situation through prayer; as if only my prayers held it up. Almost backwards narcisstic, like my prayers were the only thing required for that situation not to happen. I’m not sure about all of that now. I like the kind of “prayer” so to speak that you describe, and that’s much more of the types of prayer I do nowadays. Or I meditate, which I find totally different anyway.
      Hmm I need to take that advice about worrying. I have a lot of it going on right now…

  3. Lord, cover Laurie with your grace and and peace that passes understanding as she re-tells the telling of this horrific defining moment in her life. Lord, guard her heart and mind. Bring healing and Lord, even rejoicing, to her heart. Like a branding iron, Lord seal up her wounds with words of hope and even joy. We need you to be our everything Lord. We need you to remind us that no matter the story, we will be amazed at your glory and the weight of each and every moment of our lives. Pour out a blessing for Heather. In Jesus’ name.


  4. I am absolutely terrified to read the next chapter in this. I just want to hug you so close. I would say I can’t even fathom, but your writing is so powerful as to put your readers right there in that moment, in the back of that minivan with you.

  5. Again, reading this for the second time, it is no less chilling and even though I know what is coming, I cannot help but feel anxious. I can imagine this is nothing compared to what you felt, and feel. Hugs to you, Laurie. XX

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