It was fall 2012. Like many millennials, I was over-committed to a variety of service and extracurricular pursuits—none of which I was willing to subtract from my life, but the sum of which left me completely drained.
I was in the process of accepting the invitation to become a deacon at my home church and in an essay, had penned a few lines reminding myself of God’s goodness and sovereignty. It said, “One of the current lessons in this stage of my life is that God is always providing what is good for us even when we aren’t getting what we think we want (however good and noble those desires may be). In the painful times of receiving continual ‘no’s’ to my plans, I will try to think back to this time and know that God is sovereign over all circumstances and is working them out for my ultimate good.”
I couldn’t have imagined how I’d be challenged to live out those words in a journey I would soon begin.
Less than a week before Christmas—exactly half way through my clinical fellowship as a Speech-Language Pathologist—my parents and I had to attend my grandmother’s memorial service in another state. I was going to play my cello during the service, so we squeezed the large instrument into the already crowded vehicle. We buckled our seatbelts and said a prayer, dedicating our trip and the upcoming memorial service to God. I took a seat in the back of the van and quickly succumbed to sleep.
Several hours into the drive, a momentarily lapse of attention caused our vehicle to drift and collide with an 18-wheeler semi-truck. By a divinely-ordained coincidence, there were two off-duty nurses driving in the opposite direction on the highway at the time. They pulled over and ran across to come to our assistance. Later, we learned that they were fellow believers.
The van’s side was peeled back as if by a can opener, and I was dangling in the open space, held by the seat belt tethered to my waist. Due to the severity of my injuries, any incorrect movements by well-intentioned strangers could have easily killed me or left me paralyzed.
One of the nurses attended to my mom, who was unconscious, while the other nurse supported my broken neck. My dad was conscious but in a serious state of shock. An ambulance took me to a local hospital to be stabilized, then I was transferred by helicopter to a larger facility that was better equipped to handle my serious injuries. Thorough testing revealed that I had suffered a moderate-severe traumatic brain injury and had broken many bones, including my jaw and several spinal vertebrae. Initially, my family and friends were given very sobering predictions regarding my future physical and cognitive abilities.
At the time of the accident, I was wearing around my neck a silver pendant I had inscribed with the Hebrew phrase “Talitha Koum”, which means, “Little girl, I say to you, get up!” This is based on Mark 5:41, which tells how Jesus spoke those words as He raised a young girl from the dead. I had always been drawn to the story, recognizing that Jesus assuredly answers our cries for healing, although His response may or may not come in the restoring of physical ailments.
I was treated in several hospitals for a total of 72 days—of which I have no memory. I advanced fairly quickly from being bed-bound to using a wheelchair, then from using a cane to walking unaided, and also from relying on a ventilator and tube feedings to breathing and eating unassisted.
Now, nearly four years and innumerable hours of physical therapy later, my deficits are largely invisible at first glance. You can see the scars on my petite frame only if you look closely, and you might not notice the weakness in the left side of my body. I use subtle, compensatory strategies to make up for my poor, short-term memory—which I am likely to experience the rest of my life. Being a very determined person, I have pushed myself hard in physical therapy, but some of the activities I once loved to do are currently still impossible for me, including playing the cello.
I don’t know why God allowed this accident to occur. But more importantly, I also don’t know why He allowed me to experience such a remarkable recovery. My oldest sister, Annie, died suddenly and tragically when I was less than a year old, so I grew up personally experiencing God’s love and sovereignty and understanding that His character remains constant despite sudden changes in life plans. I am grateful that even before this accident, I knew I was secure in God’s hands and that He was sovereignly guiding my life. In my case, His “Talitha Koum” for me has included amazing healing that came amid huge losses, uncertainties, and complete shake-ups to my plans.
Throughout this journey, which has included moments ranging from nearly unbearable grief to amazement and joy, I have valued the lessons God has gently reinforced, and which I will continue to appreciate throughout my life. I have had a few, very dramatic and life changing years, but I do not consider the resulting uncertainties to be wholly unique to those often faced by others in my age group.
Even if an 18-wheeler didn’t collide with your plans, this time of your life is usually marked by choices that could determine your future. Choosing jobs, starting relationships, other moves . . . the possibilities seem endless. Some ambitions may seem elusive, while in other cases, you may be fearing the consequences of bad decisions.
As in the earliest days of my recovery, I find it most comforting in such uncertain times to hold on to what I know to be true. For a Christian, the unchanging character of God and His sovereignty over all situations offer the assurance that He is above any circumstances. It gives us resilience.
Although we can’t predict what our life journey will look like, if it is done for the honor of God—given to Him for use—we can be confident of it being used by the Creator to have the greatest impact. The older I get, the more I realize just how little I can control.
Thanks to my damaged, short-term memory, the initial months after returning home from hospital included the painful, daily discovery of my newly-acquired deficits. One time, when I was experiencing the raw, bitter reality of these losses, I typed a note into my iPhone as a constant reminder: I hate not being able to run, rock climb, work, play my instruments like I used to, be as independent as I used to be, involved in the ministries I used to be, or as social as I used to be . . . But I’ve currently been called to a very unique, emotionally and physically strenuous role. May I live each day in a way that is worthy of this calling.
There isn’t a lot we can control in life, but we can direct our response to glorify to God, then rest in Him however the situation plays out.