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Power of WE Podcast Episode 4: Choose Joy! After Tragically Losing 5 Family Members, She Chose Joy

Updated: Dec 18, 2023

Cristen smiling with her daughter at the beach and wearing her choose joy shirt
This blog post and podcast is in honor of Cristen's family. This podcast was recorded one year ago and today, Sue Sue would be 80. Happy Heavenly Birthday Sue Sue!

Sometimes you meet someone and their story stays with you. That was the case when I met Cristen Daniel in 2019 in San Diego. Unbeknownst to me, I already knew a little bit about the event that changed her life on Memorial Day of 2015.

Her family owned a riverhouse on the Blanco River in Wimberley, Texas - a cute little town just 45 minutes southwest of Austin in the beautiful Hill Country. Her family originally bought the property in 1978, and she and her sister, Michelle, and her parents, Sue and Ralph spent glorious river time there on the weekends and summers in an RV until they built a vacation home in 1980. The family and the girls spent the next 35 years sharing the place with friends and eventually, Cristen and Michelle's own families.

Sweet family picture

On Memorial weekend of 2015, both of Cristen's parents, her sister, her brother-in-law Randy and her nephew Will were at the riverhouse along with friends of Michelle and Randy - Jonathon, Laura, Andrew and Leighton McComb - everyone there for the holiday. On the evening of May 23, it started raining; a Texas downpour that turned into catastrophic flash flooding. Later reports said that water in the normally peaceful Blanco, had risen fast and was moving at 28 cubic feet/second - roughly the rate as Niagra Falls. Built on stilts, theoretically to protect the house from flooding, against that wall of water, the house was swept away.

people hugging

Search and Rescue on the Blanco River

2500 strangers, 8 personally owned helicopters, horses driven down from Kentucky and family and friends all volunteered their time and resources to help with the search and rescue. Despite the emotional and physical pain and devastation, Cristen said it was a display of what Heaven must look like.

"I heard God's voice clearly saying,'I have prepared you for this."

- Cristen Daniel

a girl kayaking in the river

One Year Anniversary on the Blanco River

It was at this spot on the Blanco River where Jonathon McComb, the only survivor, crawled out of the river with a collapsed lung, a broken sternum and broken ribs.

God Speaks to us in so Many Different Ways

Cristen was driving with her husband down to where the rescuers were gathering to begin a search for missing families. That's when she heard God speak to her and felt a wave of peace and calm and a flash of all that had happened previously in her life to prepare her for what was to come. The next days brought the first of many miracles or as Cristen calls them, "God Winks":

  • 2500 strangers who volunteered to search

  • 8 helicopters that showed up to scour from above

  • Emergency alert software that allowed everyone to stay in contact

  • Meals, laundry, playdates for their kids

  • Cardinals everywhere

A cardinal is a representative of a loved one who has passed. When you see one, it means they are visiting you. They usually show up when you most need them or miss them. They also make an appearance during times of celebration as well as despair to let you know they will always be with you. Look for them, they’ll appear.”

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#CareyingOn and Choosing Joy Through What Seems Unbearable Grief

The grief we feel over the death of a loved one can be different whether that's parents, siblings, kids or friends. Each comes with its own myriad of emotions and path to travel. With so much loss, how can you possibly keep moving forward? For Cristen, helping her kids through the grief process helped, finding the right therapist who understood her grief and ultimately, her faith and decision to choose joy. Cristen's maiden name was Carey and as a way of carrying on her families legacy, she often uses the hashtag, #careyon and #choosejoy

"I looked at how God was using others in my life and how he was using me in others lives." - Cristen Daniel

Cristen started keeping a "God Winks" journal - all the moments where she felt His presence, all those cardinals tapping at her window, all the people who just showed up. As time has passed, she's been called to help friends and others who are grieving and has found joy in that purpose. Joy endures.

If you're in the Austin Area and grieving, The Christi Center provides programs and peer support services to children, adults and family members for as long as it is needed. As the only free grief support in the Greater Austin area, they offer a safe place to grieve and heal.

You can read Cristen's Member Spotlight HERE, listen to my conversation with Cristen on the Power of We Podcast on Spotify HERE or YouTube, below.


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