Five years after fatal accident, family finds faith, forgiveness, and strength

It was a story we covered years ago, but one that is still on the minds of many.

A family was hit by a wrong-way driver on the bypass in South Bend. The father was killed and one of the children was critically injured.

That was five years ago.

Now, we bring you this family's new story, which is one of faith, forgiveness, and strength.



Part One: A Reintroduction
May 18, 2009

It's amazing that anyone survived.

On a summer day in 2004, a family outing after church turned tragic for John and Rose Cauffman and their three children.

"We had a great lunch together, everybody was excited," Rose remembers. "We left, and five minutes after we left we were in this accident -- a head-on collision on the bypass."

A mildly disabled woman, distracted by a detour, made a tragic turn on the U.S. 20 bypass. The wrong-way driver hit the Cauffmans' minivan head on.

In an instant, John Cauffman was killed, and his wife and three children injured -- most seriously, the eldest child John Michael.

"From the beginning, I said, 'Okay God, I don't get this, but you're going to have to bring something good out of this. Somehow, by some miracle, you're going to have to bring some good out of this,'" Rose explains. "And He has."

The good has come in many ways.

Rose found love again and married Clint Schwartz, a local pastor and divorced father of two.

The busy parents keep up with the lives of their busy children, including John Michael.

John Michael is now an active 13-year-old. He's just like all of the other kids at his school, except for the way he gets around.

The accident left him paralyzed.

"Being in a wheelchair is really hard," he admits.

While it's certainly not easy, John Michael makes it look like it is -- especially on the basketball court.

He is the youngest member of the River City Rollers, a local wheelchair basketball team.

"I just like shooting around at practice," John Michael says.

And he's getting good, too. It has helped him figure out what he wants to do later in life.

"Maybe play basketball or be a broadcaster in sports and stuff," he explains.

John Michael isn't only good at basketball -- he excels at school as well. At Covenant Christian, he's a good student and loves all of his subjects. But he especially enjoys recess.

"People want to be on my team so they can mostly win," he says. "Mostly, when I play, we win."

John Michael's winning spirit inspires his family as well.

"He's got dreams just like anybody else does," Rose explains. "And he can do it. We really believe that he can do it. He can do whatever he sets his mind on."

"He just has a unique personality, a unique perspective on life," Clint adds. "He doesn't want anyone to push him around. He doesn't want anyone to help him. He's very independent, and that all helps him a great deal."

But the greatest help to this family comes in the form of faith.

Rose and Clint give thanks to God for giving them hope.

"The bottom line, it's because of our faith in God, leaning on Him. And that's our foundation. That's why we're okay," Rose explains.

It is a foundation that helps this family move forward.




Part Two: Building a New Family
May 19, 2009

Healing from the emotional and physical pain took time and forgiveness.

Rose says she holds no anger toward the woman who caused the accident.

"I have forgiven her," Rose says. "It's okay. It really is okay, because there's been a lot of good. There's been a lot of good that's come from it."

Once a little league star, John Michael became a standout athlete in wheelchair basketball.

He's a good student as well.

"I just like learning new stuff. I like to be challenged in math a lot," John Michael explains.

And his mom had to learn new stuff too, like how to take care of her paralyzed son -- in addition to two other growing children.

It took time and a lot of prayer.

"God knows what He's doing, and I have to trust that," Rose explains.

While Rose was hospitalized recovering from her own injuries, members of her church filled her room to pray -- including Clint Schwartz.

"This was a time in my life when I needed people more than ever. He didn't even know me, but he cared enough to come up and pray with me," she recalls.

Rose never forgot that kind gesture.

Months later, they talked and prayed again, and that's when a friendship began. It was a friendship that led to something more.

"She brought joy back into my life, and joy back into my home," Clint admits. "Where I had an emptiness, Rose has filled a large part of that."

Clint had been through his own storm. This divorced father of two was still accepting his own life circumstances.

"Divorce is like death, except it's not treated the same," he explains. "When you have a death in the family, people are there. There's a funeral. People send you cards, they send you flowers, they care for you. When you go through a separation and eventual divorce, people aren't there like that."

Once broken, these two built a new family and a new home together.

With insurance money, they were able to make accommodations for John Michael, such as an elevator and plenty of wheelchair-friendly space.

"We have pocket doors throughout the entire house that are a lot easier for John Michael to open up. We have wider hallways, you might notice, so he can get through," Clint explains.

This couple is always making room, not only for their family, but for God's will in their lives.

Clint was recently ordained as an associate pastor at the Vineyard Church on Jackson Road in St. Joseph County. With God's help, Clint and Rose are helping others heal as well.

"We're not the same people we were before we went through hardship and tragedy," Rose explains. "We both had to decide to become bitter or to become better. That's a decision that everyone has to make when they go through tragedy. So we've taken the other route and tried to become better through it. And God has used us in that, so it has been good."

You may be wondering what happened to the driver who caused the accident.

Sadly, she passed away of cancer at the beginning of this year.



For more about the Schwartz family, visit their family scrapbook website at www.schwartz7.com. For additional details about their church, visit www.thevineyard.org.


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