In 2008, I was a FOCUS missionary in Lincoln, Nebraska, and life was going according to plan.
On November 14 of that year, my boyfriend Brad got down on one knee, told me he loved me and that he thought I could help him get to heaven. Then he put a gorgeous ring on it.
We began to plan for the future. We planned to get married on May 16, 2009. I was scheduled to take my GMAT in January and start my MBA in the fall. All was still going according to plan.
But, then suddenly, everything changed.
On December 12, 2008, I was in a car with four other FOCUS missionaries when we were T-boned by a Mack truck.
I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and a stroke. The doctors told Brad that they didn’t think it was possible for me to live — and even if I did, there was no way of knowing what type of long-term damage had been done.
My life, our lives, and my family’s lives changed forever that morning.
Here are the things that helped me to trust in God’s will over mine. I write not from a mountain, but from my time in the valley, an experience we have all shared as we struggle to carry our crosses.
Continue to look for His love. I struggled at times wondering why God had asked me to carry such a big cross at the age of 22. Thanks be to God, the other girls in the car and I had miraculously survived — but with a shaved head, paralyzed face, neck brace, feeding tube, nonfunctioning right hand and cognitive setbacks, my fight had only begun.
My FOCUS Bible study began with each of us saying a way that we had seen God’s love that week. Changing my lens to be more aware of His constant love in an uplifting conversation or beautiful sunset served as a daily reminder of what drew me to Him in the first place. God’s love is unconditional, even in our suffering — and as I fought to recover in the hospital, I tried to also fight to keep my lens focused to recognize it.
You are not alone. One of the most common reactions to suffering is isolation. We stay quiet in our suffering because we think no one understands or cares about what we’re going through. Despite countless people providing my family and me with prayers, meals, visits and cards, I fell into these lies.
There is nothing further from the truth. You have family, friends and a community that wants to pray for and support you. For me, it was nothing short of beautiful to feel held up by the body of Christ. Even more importantly, you have a God that came into your suffering. He was rejected; He wept; He was misunderstood; He was betrayed by the ones he loved; He was cast out; He was even put to death. Wherever you are, even in your darkest places, He is with you. Never forget that.
There is always a reason to give thanks. I continued therapy for six months after the accident. I had to relearn how to walk, talk, tie my shoes, hear with one deaf ear and get myself dressed and showered, with my new physical limitations. It was frustrating to realize how much had been stripped from me.
The only thing that kept me from falling into despair and cynicism was realizing I still had so many things to be thankful for. On top of my amazing support group, I had the ability to walk, talk, eat and relearn life as I knew it. Most importantly, I still had my life. So many patients whom I was in therapy with had been deprived of these bare basics and, while the road ahead was hard, I counted myself blessed that I hadn’t.
Don’t let suffering allow your dreams to die. In my last therapy session, we set our own recovery goals and I worked toward putting my life back on track. I took a GMAT study book and went through it during therapy. I made and sent out my FOCUS newsletters to my supporters. Brad and I prayerfully decided to get married on the year anniversary of the accident to remember it as the happiest day, rather than the saddest, from that point forward. I worked to reschedule reception halls, the church, florists, etc.
On December 12, 2009, as I walked down the aisle to the amazing man whom I was sure now more than ever would help me get to heaven, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for Brad’s faithfulness, for God’s healing love, for countless prayers, for my recovery — and that the suffering had brought us closer rather than torn us apart. “We were afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:8 – 9). We were finally here.
Whatever you are going through, I’d encourage you to think with an eternal perspective. No suffering lasts forever. God hasn’t forgotten the beautiful plans He’s made for your life, even if the journey looks different than you anticipated. Continue to see God’s love. Continue to let yourself be held. Continue to give thanks. Continue to dream. Continue to run the race to heaven. Until then, I press on towards the goal and try to allow God to use me and my hardships to give Him glory. Will you join me?