Stranded But Not Alone

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Stranded But Not Alone: Peace in Overnight Highway Logjam

Story by Margot Bass
Photos courtesy of Bobbie Ramirez, Virginia Department of Transportation and wusa9.com

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God. These words from Philippians 4:6 became vividly real for Seth Ramirez when he became one of hundreds stranded on an icy, snow-covered portion of Interstate 95 near Fredericksburg, VA, overnight on Monday, January 3. Seth exclaimed with joy, “And this is what I experienced, from Philippians 4:7: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”

Seth -- who graduated from Calvary Chapel Bible College in 2015 and is the youth and young adult leader for CC Fredericksburg -- ventured out Monday at 5 p.m. to return floor sanding equipment to a Home Depot store to avoid costly charges for extra night rentals. The store is normally no more than 30 minutes away. However, that day, up to 14 inches of heavy, wet snow had fallen in the Washington D.C./Northern Virginia area, toppling trees and downing electric wires, leading to widespread power outages that still linger. When Seth got to the store at 7:45, he found it dark and closed. 

“At this point my phone is at 1%. I had no chargers in the car because they got moved to the other car and just didn’t get put back. I texted my wife Bobbie, and said, ‘I’m really frustrated, and I’m going to get on one of the major roadways. I’m not taking back roads. But I will get home.’” He chose nearby I-95, even if it meant inching along. “Even if it took me four hours to inch, I was fine with that,” he admitted. Seth learned soon that his four-hour estimate was optimistic at best. Once on the highway exit, it took 45 minutes for him to move 300 to 400 feet before all traffic stopped. “That’s where I sat for the next 15 to 16 hours. There was no way out,” he stated.

The gridlock on I-95 began earlier on Monday after a tractor trailer jackknifed, triggering swift chain reactions as other vehicles lost control. Both northbound and southbound lanes were jammed over a 40- to 50-mile stretch. Disabled trucks blocked the roadway and cars were abandoned. Some drivers were stuck for more than 24 hours and ran out of food, water, and fuel.

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A birds-eye view of Interstate 95 on Monday night, January 3, near Fredericksburg, VA. A chain reaction resulting from a jackknifed tractor trailer led to a standstill on the busy North-South East Coast corridor. Hundreds were stranded overnight in freezing temperatures, many for more than 24 hours.

Scripture & Song

For the first two hours, he confessed, he was on the brink of a mini panic attack. “My anxiety’s high, I’m regretful, thinking about all those things I could have done, why did I leave, this crazy scur of anxiety. I’m surfing to find radio stations to listen to music, and I’m distracted and very frustrated,” Seth said. “Finally, I realized, I need to pray, to ask God for help. Instead of looking for whatever’s on the radio, I need to look for a Christian radio station.” He discovered K-LOVE, a popular Christian music station.

At that spot on the dial he heard two songs that really ministered out to him—one funny and one that reoriented his thinking. “The first one was ‘God, Turn it Around.’ Seth laughed heartily as he remembered. “I was like, ‘God, turn this traffic around.’ But it’s actually a really sweet song because it’s about knowing that God is on the move and still working.” The second one, called “Rejoice,” basically says we can rejoice in the good and bad times. “I’m hearing this, and I’m looking toward the sky, saying, God, You’re greater than this, and this isn’t as bad as anything could be. Yes, I am anxious, I am worried, I am going stir crazy right now. I’m stressed out, angry, just not right. That’s when those words came: Be anxious for nothing.

Seth firmly believes that God used those songs and memorized Scripture to calm his spirit. “I didn’t have my Bible or my phone; I only had that Christian radio station and the Word of God hidden in my heart to remind me. The Holy Spirit is going to remind you. He’s faithful. There are moments when you’re not prepared, and the Holy Spirit prepares you for it in the moment. But it’s not because of anything that I did right,” he reflected.

Another Scripture that came to mind was Psalm 34: I will bless the Lord at all times; His praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul shall continually make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear of it and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me. And let us exalt His name together (verses 1-3). “I love this in verse 4,” Seth emphasized, I sought the LORD, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.”

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Seth (right) and his wife Bobbie Ramirez joyfully reunite after his return home on Tuesday afternoon. Seth had been stranded on I-95 for approximately 17 hours. He is the youth and young adult leader at Calvary Chapel Fredericksburg, VA. God used memorized Scripture and Christian radio to carry him through the long night.

A New Perspective

After that, he found himself less anxious and more able to rest. “I started to be able to put my chair back a bit and begin to doze off here and there for 15 minutes at a time. The songs helped to reorient my mind and heart to see that even though my circumstances didn’t change, I was able to have peace. At that moment, I still had 15 hours of sitting in traffic.”

What Seth learned later from Bobbie surprised him. At that same time, not knowing where he was, she had her friend praying for her husband—that he would begin to worship, to bless and praise the Lord, even in the midst of that trial. “What’s cool is that I realized I need to not make God my spare tire; I need to make Him my first priority and start to praise Him and reorient my mind. It was really cool to hear that after the fact.”

Seth openly admitted that he still experienced moments of frustration and doubt but kept reorienting his thoughts: God is good, and it’s going to be fine. I’m going to make it through. “My biggest anxiety was that Bobbie didn’t know where I was. I prayed for my wife, that she could be strong for me while I was gone.”

Trying to sleep was a struggle, Seth explained. “It feels like you’re on an airplane for a long time. You get really bored and don’t know what to do. But I was the pilot of my car, so I felt like it would be neglect for me to sleep for a long period of time. I had it in my mind that I’m driving and had to stay alert.” He was more fortunate than others because he had plenty of gasoline in his car and was able to stay warm. To reserve gas, he began turning the car off about 3 a.m., turning it back on if he got cold or wanted radio updates. They proved frustrating, though, Seth shared, as he heard the same news feed for 11-12 hours, or that the northbound lanes were moving as he was stranded in the southbound lanes. The morning sun warmed him enough to turn the car off as well.

Around 9:30-10 a.m., Seth was able to borrow an I-Phone charger from fellow travelers to call his wife and parents—his father, Mark Ramirez, is senior pastor of CC Fredericksburg. “That helped settle my heart, too, because now my wife knew I was alive,” he revealed. Around 10:30-11 a.m., traffic started moving, he recalled. By the time he got off the interstate, he had made it up one exit. “Only one exit,” he said with a chuckle. He returned home by 12:30 p.m.—still with the sander—to Bobbie and his three young sons, a joyful reunion. “I was able to just have a release moment. It wasn’t the worst thing that could happen, but when it’s unexpected, you’re just not prepared. It was a night to remember, for sure.”

When Seth texted that he was coming home the night before, Bobbie was reading her Bible and her devotions, her normal routine, he noted. She spent the night in their living room with her head resting on the windowsill. “She would doze, and if she heard a car, she’d look up and see it wasn’t me. It was pretty stressful for her because she didn’t know where I was. She didn’t know I was on I-95. It could have been other roads. She assumed I was but didn’t know for the longest time.”

Days later, as Seth recalled the events of those hours, he emphasized that the Holy Spirit is faithful to remind us of the truth in all situations. He also stressed the vital importance of Christian radio. “People are quick to write it off as going out of style until they’re in a desperate moment. In that moment, God uses it in such an amazing way: God, you’re working. Even though my circumstances didn’t change, you changed me to be able to endure the circumstance. And you used the Word of God and a Christian radio station to help me. It is an anchor of hope, a reorienting tool that God can use in our lives in desperate times like this.”

                  

CC Fredericksburg operates its own verse-by-verse teaching radio station, The Lamp, locally at 102.7 and 94.1 FM. You can access the station online at ccfred.org.

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Bobbie and Seth Ramirez enjoy playtime with their three young sons, Nehemiah (left), Henry (center), and Noah.

                  

(To learn more about Calvary Chapel University, visit their website or read our past coverage on the school)

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All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.

© 2022 Calvary Chapel Magazine (CCM). All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.