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Member Spotlight | Cristen Daniel: Unthinkable Tragedy, Unshakeable Faith

Updated: Jul 6, 2020

A little about me...

I was born and raised in Corpus Christi, TX by my parents Ralph and Sue Carey with my sister, Michelle Marie, who is 3 years older than me. We are a very close knit family who loved to travel and do activities together. We liked to snow ski, scuba dive, go to horse races in Ruidoso, hang out in the river in Wimberley, go to UT football games and travel internationally.

I followed my sister to the University of Texas where I majored in Interior Design. I moved to Dallas after graduation to work in the commercial architecture/interior design field. I met Alan Daniel in Dallas and we got married in 2002. We have 2 kiddos, Trey (15 and ready to drive) and Lauren (12 almost 13 and still loves to hang with her parents). We moved to Austin in 2008 and we are so thankful God gave us the opportunity to live and raise our kids in this wonderful city. My parents continued to plan activities even into my sister and my adult years, much to our spouses’ shagrin. My sister and I were best friends. She married Randy Charba in 2007 and their son Will was born in 2009. We were not the Clevers by any means but for the most part a family that enjoyed each other and enjoyed doing those joys of life with others as often as we could squeeze them into normal life. I felt fortunate that my parents were willing to continue to share that zest for life with my kids and nephew, Will.

This large piece of my life and who I was, came to a crashing end on May 24th 2015. My parents, sister, brother in-law, and nephew were killed in the Historic Wimberley Memorial Day flood when a wall of water rushed down the river and took the house we had built 35 years before off its pillars and down river with it. This all happened literally within a matter of minutes, not even hours.

I did not find out until the next day when we were getting ready to go to church and saw on the news about the floods and how the bridge in Wimberley had been washed out. Alan and I decided to go “help them clean up the mess” of the flood. In the short drive from Austin to Wimberley we began to realize the severity and magnitude of the situation. We learned the house had crashed into the bridge and dispersed my family and 4 members of the McComb family that were there with them. We found out Jonathan McComb, my brother-in-law's best friend, had somehow crawled out and was in a hospital in San Antonio. We began searching with a force of 1000’s of people that came out over the next week. I prayed to God for a miracle to find others alive. As the days passed and the discovery of my sister’s body I realized that miracle was not going to happen.

The search headquarters and friends there oddly became a safe place for me over the next few weeks. I realized I was trying to avoid the real world and how it was continuing to move on without us, and how I was supposed to move forward with this? It was terrifying and unimaginable. I was the baby of the family left to deal with this huge mess, all alone.

As the weeks passed on I realized all the miracles that did happen during the search. Granted they weren’t the miracles I was specifically praying for, but God delivered miracles I could not have come up with myself:

  • Jonathan’s survival was able to give me closure I would have never had if all had perished in the house. Not one of the 1500 volunteers who showed up were badly injured in the search in the environment that was dangerous to say the least, and it was still raining, storming, and flooding. We had 8-10 helicopters going up and down on a daily basis with no incidents.

  • We had friends who just happened to be kicking off an emergency alert software we could use to safely communicate with our searchers in the field.

  • Strangers from all over the United States drove to come search for my family.

  • We had people step up to take care of our kids for weeks, do our laundry for months, and make meals for many more months!

I felt at times that was God’s big arms giving me a hug with all these people I didn’t even know. I began to realize I was far from ALONE.

So, where am I now….

I know many people's response to this is “why?”. Why would God allow something this tragic to happen? Thankfully I have never really been burdened by that question. I know there is no way I can understand why God would allow this to happen, nor do I have control over that so what good does it do me to waste my energy and emotions on it? The only thing I can control with this is “what.” What is he going to do with this? What am I going to do with this? Am I going to crawl under the covers and get pulled into the darkness? Am I going to retreat from all I loved to do with my family with fear of facing hurt, or am I going to face this grief and tragedy head on. Admit what it is and the challenges and then slowly trege forward. This is not to say I didn’t or still do have dark days where the thought of moving forward is just too daunting, but I know tomorrow or even in 2 hours is a new beginning.

As I have traveled through this journey people comment on my “strength” and “peace.”

On the 2nd day of the search God told me audibly “I prepared you for this” with a flash of my life and the ways He did this. This gave me that immediate peace that I still have. The strength, peace and hope is not of my own. It is because God prepared me and “trained” me for this very event all of my life. I am thankful that I had His light in me before this or else the darkness could have taken over. God has used this season and storm to bring me and so many others closer to Him. It is proof that God can use every situation for good.

Some of the quotes I have used to get through these last 5 years are:

  • Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it - Charles Swindall (it is a choice on how you react and I have to remind myself that constantly)

  • And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus Philippians 4:7

  • Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight Proverbs 3:5-6

  • “Not today Satan, Not today.” a drag queen, Bianca Del Rio This brings me a humorous peace.

  • Levi Lusko in Through the eyes of a Lion: Pain is a Microphone (How do you choose to use the microphone?) He says “God’s up to something! He’s turning your mess into a message. He’s turning your pain into a platform. He’s turning your trial into your testimony and the trash that has come into your life into triumph!” He also writes “you need to actively be on the lookout for every way you can redeem the hell you are put through by shining your light in the darkness.”

  • "Sometimes we won’t fully know God’s plan but we should feel privileged to be a part of it". - Our son, Trey

  • Choose Joy (we all have choices. “Continue to Choose Joy and Joy will again choose you.” -a dear friend) Actively look for the joy and it will then seek you out.

  • Joy is the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in all things. Kay Warren

  • “Carey On.” My maiden name is Carey and one of my sister’s dear friends came up with this one. It is amazing how many songs have “carry on” in them when you listen for it. They are always referring to strength and perseverance.

For me, there is no way I could have had the superhuman strength I needed to get through this without the strength that God provided me. I can not possibly try to fully understand the series of events that have happened in my life. I am determined to continue to Choose Joy in this life instead of living life in a darkness of despair and feeling alone. That would not honor anyone or anything, and I have a peace about that. This is a journey that I will always be on so We will have to choose to continue to Carey On each day.

If I could go back in time, I'd tell myself...

There are so many things that I wish I had known but I feel like the growth was a part of the process of who I am today. I would tell myself to be kinder to my loved ones and to cherish the time. I love the song by Macklemore “Good Old Days” and these opening lyrics:

I wish somebody would have told me babe Some day, these will be the good old days All the love you won't forget And all these reckless nights you won't regret Someday soon, your whole life's gonna change You'll miss the magic of these good old days

My biggest takeaway from being part of iGnite is...

iGnite was introduced into my life at a timing that can only be attributed to God’s timing. I was having a hard time motivating to do anything after our tragedy. iGnite was exactly what I needed with physical, emotional, and spiritual support. The new friendships and old friendships that have grown are invaluable. The experiences I have been able to take part of have been life-changing and bucket list fulfilling.

In my free time...

I love to hang out with friends, whether it is by a pool, river, lake, on a ski slope, at a concert, around a dinner table, or around a campfire.

I do enjoy sleeping late (and staying up late) when the time is available.

Something people may not know about me is...

I got certified to scuba dive open water at the age of 8. I was the baby of the group and proved early on that I could handle it so the instructor fibbed on my age a bit.

Also, my family and I have been to 2 Olympic games, Barcelona and Atlanta. We had tickets to take our kids to Tokyo this summer and hope we will be able to next summer.

My favorite accounts to follow are...

@enneagramashton @theholdernessfamily @elarroyo_atx @danceflavors @celestebarber

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