Little Matthew Murray’s miracle ride

Published 8:21 pm Saturday, October 21, 2006

I’ve been thinking that new cars should come with one of those little caution tags affixed to the top that reads: “Warning: objects left on top of a moving car are apt to blow off.” Such a tag might have saved my Bible one Sunday after Sunday school. I had laid it on top of the car while making a phone call and simply got in the car and drove off without remembering having placed it up there. A couple of weeks later it showed up in the church office (a bit worse for the ride) because some good folks had found it near the church and turned it in.

But my experience doesn’t hold a candle to the young author, Peter Jenkins, who was writing an article about his walk across America for National Geographic Magazine from New York to Oregon by way of the deep South. He had landed in New Orleans after walking from upstate New York and stopped in at the Baptist Seminary to rest and write for the magazine.. While there he met and courted my secretary, Barbara. They were going out for the evening in Barbara’s little red Volkswagon when he laid the half-finished manuscript on top of the car. Later in the evening it dawned on Peter what he had done and, although he spent the better part of the next week retracing his movements, the manuscript could not be found.

After passing the word among the students someone mentioned that the paper boy had found a set of papers. When Peter went to the boy’s home, sure enough the youngster had gathered up the papers and stashed them in his room without a thought that they were important. Unknown at the time, those were the pages that became one of the most popular articles in the history of National Geographic Magazine and later, were included in the bestseller, A Walk Across America. After they were married my secretary, Barbara, accompanied Peter on foot from New Orleans to Oregon and, in fact, she co-authored their three best sellers (A Walk Across America, The Walk West, and The Road Unseen).

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But even the car top loss of a famous manuscript does not compare to what happened when little Matthew Murray took his miracle ride.

Michael Murray went about honoring his wife on Mother’s Day by taking their two children to the hospital where she worked as a surgical nurse. They dropped off a gold necklace with the words, “number 1 mom” engraved on it and a single rose. Then they went down to the darkened parking garage where they had left the car. Murray sat the little infant seat containing three-month-old Matthew on the sun roof of the car and proceeded to buckle his twenty month old daughter into her seat. Forgetting about Matthew, Murray then placed the key in the ignitions, started the car and moved out of the garage into the bright sunlight.

They moved through the busy street toward Interstate 290 but no one honked or waved to Murray that he had left something on top of the car. Reaching the expressway that runs through the city, the father accelerated as he moved into the flow of the traffic. Then he heard the scraping on the roof of his car as Matthew’s tiny seat began to slide. He later explained, “I looked to where Matthew should have been in the car, and then in the rear view mirror and saw him sliding down the highway in his infant seat. That’s where he landed. In the middle of the Interstate, in the path of oncoming traffic.”

Like a scene from a horror movie, the seat had flown off the top of the car, landed in the middle of the highway and was sliding along almost as fast as the cars that were coming toward it. James Boothby, an antique dealer, happened to be traveling behind the Murray car and witnessed what happened. Here is how he described it:

“I saw something in the air. At first I thought someone had thrown some garbage out the window. Then I saw it and thought it was a doll. Then the doll opened its mouth and I realized this was a little baby. It just landed on the road. It bounced a couple of times and it never tipped over. It just landed on the road and slid along a bit. I slammed on my car brakes and turned my car around in the lane so that no other cars could go by. I jumped from the car, and I ran and found an uninjured baby in an undamaged car seat, and scooped him up in my arms and took him back and gave him to his father”. (From a collection of Stories for the Heart, compiled by Alice Gray)

God must have had a good reason for performing this miracle. What most certainly could have been a terrible tragedy turned out to be an incredible miracle. He surely must have had a special purpose for Matthew. But, when you think about it, he also has a special purpose for every person who ever lived. In this hazardous world we have all experienced close calls but somehow survived. In the words of the beloved song, Amazing Grace, we are reminded of those events. “Through many dangers toils and snares we have already come. Twas grace that brought us safe this far and grace will lead us home.” Clearly, we are all living miracles but when we fail to survive our last ordeal, as the old hymn reminds us, that grace will lead us home.