10 Years Later

There are a couple definitions on Google of “testimony”. I like the one that talks about evidence or proof of the existence of something. There’s also the one that says a recounting of a religious experience, which works, but I still like the one about evidence and proof. I like to think of testimonies as giving proof for God and his goodness in our lives. Everyone has a testimony and every testimony is beautiful and amazing. I’ve worked with a lot of teenagers throughout the years who worry that their testimony isn’t good enough, which just isn’t a thing. A testimony is just an amazing story about what God is doing in your life. And I really feel like listening to (or reading) a testimony is a great way to get to know someone better. I wanted to get mine written out and published today if I could, because it’s a big anniversary of sorts. A lot of issues tried to keep me from getting this up today (thank you DTE for nearly calling the police to get into my house and find a super minor gas leak on my stove–way more dramatic than it needed to be), but I am determined to finish this today, so here it goes.

Ten years ago, on July 12, 2011, I almost died. Life kind of split into a before and after, because besides it being a physically traumatic event, it was also a spiritually formative one. So this story is definitely a testimony proving how good God is.

This is me 10 years ago right before heading to camp. My little brother graduated high school and I’m the one on the left with the really awful bangs (everyone makes mistakes).

So in 2011, right before my junior year of college, I was hired to work at Springhill Camps. Prior to this point in life, my faith had been a little shaky. I grew up going to church, so kind of knew some of the stuff in the Bible. But then I’d had some serious questions that I wasn’t sure I was able to actually find the answers for so I wasn’t sure that I believed all that stuff. Somehow, despite my struggling faith, I was hired to be a counselor for high school students at a Christian summer camp. Weird, right?

Luckily, Springhill had two weeks of staff training before campers would arrive. During that time, we had a chance to bond with fellow counselors and prepare to teach the curriculum we’d be working with all summer. 

Being in a place with hundreds of other young people who loved Jesus was exactly what I needed to jump start me into actually learning about who Jesus is and what He did for us. Studying the curriculum we would be working with, I started to actually fully understand the gravity of the Gospel.

We were teaching students two weeks of lessons based on the passage John 15:1-17 (the part about Jesus being the vine and us being the branches who need to remain in the vine). There were so many incredible lessons packed into such a short passage, but there were two points that really stuck with me. One was the whole idea of the Gospel and it came from verses 13 and 14. Jesus says that the greatest love is to give up your life for a friend and then Jesus says that he has called us friends. Like whoa! Mind blown. The greatest act of love, of all time, in all of history, came when Jesus gave up His life for all of us. For some reason, this verse just hit the truth harder than any other time I’d been told a similar version of the Truth. Suddenly I understood what people were saying when they said that they were giving their lives up for Jesus. Like, if He gave His life for us, and we call Him a friend, of course the natural next step is to devote and dedicate our lives to following His teachings. It was a whole perspective changer for me.

The other key lesson I learned was from verse two, that every branch that remains in the vine is pruned. With students this was such an important thing to discuss, because it’s kind of a tricky concept. Even when we are remaining in Jesus and attempting to bear fruit for His kingdom, we might end up getting cut back. We might be pruned. From a gardener’s perspective, pruning makes sense. We prune so that plants can be more fruitful. So we might end up experiencing times in our life that seem unfairly challenging. Like, we feel like we’re doing all the right things and following Jesus, but doors keep shutting or struggles keep hitting us. Those moments of being pruned are so we can be more fruitful in the future. This was such a great lesson for me to learn.

During the two weeks of Bible studies, curriculum training, staff bonding, etc. I started to actually understand the Gospel. Spiritually, I felt that I’d grown in drastic ways, but I was also hesitant. I knew that returning to College, with the same temptations I’d struggled with in the past, would be a challenge. How could I make my growth an actual life change; not just a short, one time feeling?

When summer fully got started with campers, I had two weeks with a group of teens and it was amazing. I was honestly shocked that I was getting paid to do this job–though it worked out to about $200 or so a week for 7 days straight of basically 22 hour days. Even still, I loved what I was doing.

This is me after destroying my phone. My cousin and I got ice cream in Tawas and this picture was taken by an actual camera. Camera phones existed at this time, but also totally sucked and were ridiculously expensive.

In between groups of campers, I had a weekend off. I drove off to my grandparents house on Lake Huron for a break, some good food, family time, and of course, free laundry! I threw everything I had into the washing machine and hit the start button. As I walked away, I went to grab my phone to send a quick text, but I couldn’t find it. I searched everywhere, and with a sinking feeling, wondered if somehow it had ended up in the wash. Stopping the washing machine, I sifted through and sure enough, I found my cell phone still in the pocket of the shorts I’d been wearing earlier.

I riced it. But it was no good. Nothing helped, my phone was dead. Important note, at this time, smart phones were just starting to be a thing. My phone was still just one of those old school sliders that only texted and called people. Those definitely were not water proof or even water resistant. It was very sensitive to water damage.

At camp, we used our phones as staff to communicate with our teams. I needed to get myself to a phone store as quickly as I could. So I chatted with my area director and made a plan to head to a town about 30 minutes from camp on one of our first days with our new group.

So on Tuesday, July 12th, I headed out to fix my phone.

And this is the point when I lose my memory. I don’t remember anything that happened for the next couple days, so I’ll continue the story by piecing together what happened next from the stories of friends and family. 

It’s honestly hard to find pics, but this is Baby, my adorable Beetle.

I left camp in my cute little red VW Beetle sometime in the afternoon. There is a good chance that I made a wrong turn or got on the highway going the wrong direction. Somewhere in a town called Reed City, I was on an exit ramp trying to make a left turn. In the process of the turn, I was t-boned on the driver’s side of my car by a truck. The man driving the truck walked away without a scratch, but when the EMTs got to my car, they said there was blood everywhere. Using the jaws of life, they were able to get the door of my car off so they could pull me out. 

This must have been when they found my dad’s contact information on the car’s registration. The first responders were very confused that they were unable to find a cell phone in the car of a girl my age. This is one of the forever mysteries of the whole thing–I had been heading to Big Rapids to get my phone fixed but where was my phone? Had I dropped it off at the store already? Did I forget it somewhere at camp so I was turning around for it? Did it fly out of my car in the crash? No clue. It’s a mystery. 

Anyways, as soon as they were able to reach my dad, my parents dropped everything and headed for the Reed City hospital while calling camp to make sure that no one else was in my car with me. Thankfully, no one else was with me.

This is when the first responders realized something. It appeared that I might have some sort of brain injury. Reed City has a smaller hospital without a brain surgeon. They realized that they needed to send me somewhere else. So I was sent to Butterworth hospital in Grand Rapids–the only helicopter ride I’ve ever been on in my life, and I have no memory of it.

This is an important part of the story. It shows the severity of the situation. Helicopter rides to hospitals charge insurance companies by the rotation of the propeller–which is insane. So they will legitimately not air lift a patient unless they really need to. I was apparently very beat up and needed some serious medical help.

My parents changed directions and headed to Grand Rapids to meet me in a hospital better equipped for brain surgeries. When I arrived, I was visited by a brain surgeon who told nurses to make sure that I didn’t eat anything, I needed to be ready for surgery. Scans were taken of my brain and they identified a dead spot. My parents arrived and we got ready for me to have brain surgery. Miraculously, the brain injury was really my only injury (except for some pretty nasty bruises on my left side and some small cuts from broken glass). I hadn’t broken any bones and I didn’t need stitches anywhere. They assumed that I must have had a nose bleed during the accident to account for all of the blood, but beyond that, there wasn’t any issue besides the brain injury.

At about the same time that the surgeon discovered the dead spot in my brain, word began to spread back at camp. Remember, my parents had called to make sure that no one else had been with me, so that meant that some of the higher ups on staff knew what had happened. That night happened to be a night that about half the counselors were given a short break to do some worship and debrief the week with other staff. So during that time, counselors were told what had happened and asked to pray for me. That night was also a campfire night, so counselors got back with their groups of campers and all across camp, campfires of students started praying for me.

The timing of all this is just inarguably miraculous. As hundreds of counselors and campers started praying for me, the brain surgeon began to consider waiting on surgery. I was closely monitored and nurses were still told not to feed me because I was going to need brain surgery. Time continued to pass, people continued to pray, the surgeon continued to monitor me, and eventually, he decided that my brain was beginning to heal and I no longer needed surgery. All I needed was time and we would see how well my brain recovered–no promises that I would get back any of the mental capacity I’d had before.

After about two or three days in the hospital (during which time a couple of amazing, gracious, and brilliant nurses insisted my hair get washed–otherwise the blood from the accident would have matted everything up and I would have had to chop it all off) I was sent to Mary Free Bed. Mary Free Bed is an amazing facility that offers all sorts of rehabilitation therapies. I was sent there in a wheelchair and a neck brace for speech, physical, and occupational therapies. Upon arrival, doctors there assumed I would be there for about ten days (I left in six and a half).

Mary Free Bed is where my memory kicks back in. It was all a little foggy, but I started to remember things. I think my first memory was when my college roommate, and best friend, Ashley got there with her mom. Somehow my sister had managed to track down their phone number using the yellow pages of all things. Ashley prioritized by decking out my room with beautiful glittery-ness and sorority letters. I loved having her there to make my room less boring and dreary. Over the next few days, I remember visits from other family and friends, but the most vivid memory of my time there came one of the first nights when I was by myself.. 

Ashley and me, the fall before all this craziness.

My dad was back home working, and my mom was able to stay at a family friend’s nearby home for a few nights. It was late at night, and I was finally aware and cognizant enough to  understand what had happened. I knew that my beautiful red beetle (her name was Baby–because nobody put Baby in the corner) was gone. I knew that I wouldn’t be heading back to work at camp for the rest of the summer. There were a lot of disappointing things that I understood, but instead of feeling all ‘woe is me’ like I would have a few months earlier, I just felt really grateful. I remember praying and telling Jesus how grateful I was that He had protected me during the accident. I told Him that I understood what was happening, it was just like John 15. I had been remaining in Jesus, but I was being cut back. I was being pruned. God hadn’t caused the accident (apparently my poor driving did) , but as much as it all sucked, God was going to use this moment to bring good out of it. I at least knew that somehow, some way, this was going to make me more fruitful for His kingdom. And I told him that night, that I would go back to work at camp the next summer and that I would tell this story and bring Him glory.

Now, that was really a weird thing to promise so confidently because there was a lot that went into making that a reality. But I was convinced that I was going to be heading back to camp the next summer. It took some work and overcoming a few obstacles, but I did actually go back. I actually went back each summer through 2014. And I did tell this story. And it did bear fruit.

So this is the testimony part, right? I survived a car accident in which the only thing between my body and a truck was a thin Volkswagen Beetle door. I was so protected that I didn’t break a bone or need stitches. Then, I was helicoptered to Grand Rapids for brain surgery because there was a dead spot in my brain, but due to the power of prayer, my brain was healed. The rest of my recovery was faster than any medical professional expected or really could explain. 

I left Mary Free Bed after just less than a week. I “tested” out of speech therapy and physical therapy after a day of outpatient. I was out of the wheelchair before leaving Mary Free Bed and out of the neck brace after maybe a week or so at home. I was cleared to return to college. I was cleared to drive. The driving instructor was one who made an interesting point about my recovery. He was a guy whose job was to test people who had had brain injuries to make sure they could be cleared to drive. After riding around with me for a bit, he told my mother and me that he had never seen someone so soon after a brain injury, without any sign of a brain injury. He guessed I had to be at least one in a million. We just called it a miracle.

The recovery was miraculous, but it also wasn’t easy. I returned to Hillsdale College and actually had to drop a couple classes. I was working on getting my teaching certificate while Hillsdale was working on getting rid of their education program (I definitely have some differences of opinion with the values of my alma mater). I had expected to take 18 credits of English and History classes to overload my schedule in order to be able to certify before they no longer had a program. But even though I was able to function pretty normally, my brain was not ready yet for an overloaded schedule. I was tired all the time. I had to drop down to 12 credits and be OK with the old adage that “Cs get degrees”. With a combination of summer classes and a weird Saturday course from a nearby University, I still managed to just barely get certified by the skin of my teeth.

The weirdest thing for that first semester was that I could actually feel that I was brain injured. Like, I could feel a weird gap in my brain. I remember having to read a short book on the Titanic for a history course (A Night to Remember if you’re curious. It’s actually a pretty good book). Our professor was going to give us a quiz on it. So I prepped for it and actually fully read the book (the same can’t be said for other books assigned during my four years…). I was actually feeling pretty confident about it all until I got to the quiz. I looked at the questions and my mind went blank. The questions were really easy by Hillsdale standards–stuff like, “what was the name of the captain of the ship?” I knew that I knew the answers. I knew that I hadn’t forgotten the information. I just couldn’t access the information. It was super weird. There was just a strange disconnect in my brain.

After bombing the quiz, I realized that I needed to attend the office hours of each of my professors to share about my brain injury and promise that I was actually trying, even if my work came back looking like a slacker’s. They were all pretty nice about it at the time, but then I never brought the whole brain injury thing up again, and they didn’t either. Looking back with my teacher’s perspective, I kind of wish that I had known to advocate for myself and ask for support or accommodations for my classwork. Instead I just fumbled through my classes and struggled to end up with Cs. One professor (whom I didn’t really care for) even straight up forgot until the end of the semester when he asked ‘wait a minute, didn’t you start the semester telling me you had a brain injury?’ So that was cool.

When I told doctors that I was moving into my sorority house, they told me that would be way too much stimulus for my brain. I really didn’t care what they said because I was excited to be living in a house with so many friends. Turns out all of the love and support from sisters was exactly what I needed. This is the quilt that Ash recruited sisters to contributed patches to. I still have it ten years later. Seriously so grateful for those ladies.

After that first semester–which was full of naps–I felt more like myself. I no longer felt like my neurons weren’t connecting right. I could find the information in my brain that I had studied. Another great positive of my experience is that I was told by the doctors that they didn’t know enough about the brain (need more evidence for God? Just look into what science has discovered and still has no clue about when it comes to the brain) or about alcohol’s effect on the brain. So I was told not to drink for a full year following my accident. This meant that all of the temptations I’d struggled with prior to going to camp–the ones I’d been so worried about returning to–were no longer options for me. This also meant that I spent my 21st birthday watching How I Met Your Mother and eating strawberry ice cream on a couch with a couple friends but hey, it all worked out just fine.

Today, exactly ten years later, there are only a couple things that even remind me of my accident. One is a small scar on my forearm. It’s the biggest scar from my accident, and of all things, it’s just a scar from an IV that was inserted wrong. I also have a small bump on the pad of my index finger, and one on my pinky, where I can still tell there are small pieces of glass. All the medical professionals told me that the glass would work its way out of my skin, but I guess these little guys are planning to just stick around forever. And finally, my memory. I’ve learned a lot these past few years about growth mindset and how the brain is constantly forging new pathways and becoming stronger. Well, after my accident, my brain started forging new pathways. I’m not sure if all my neurons had to build pathways around my dead spot and there’s still a random dead spot in my brain, or if the dead spot itself started to heal over. But what I do know is that my memory is better now than it used to be. I wouldn’t say my memory is photographic, but I think it’s maybe about a solid 75% photographic. Prior to my accident it wasn’t anywhere close to that good at all. 

It’s crazy that this all happened 10 years ago. A lot has changed in those last ten years. I’ve met some amazing friends. I’ve worked with hundreds (if not thousands at this point) of students through camps, schools, and churches. I graduated college, then graduated with my Master’s. I found a career I am passionate about and settled in a city I love. And then I met an amazing man, got married, and survived a global pandemic. 

My favorite thing about this testimony is that I can’t tell you about all of the amazing things that I did to overcome this brain injury–because I literally laid in a hospital bed and took a lot of naps. God was the one who protected me in the accident and then miraculously healed me afterwards. God clearly still had and has a purpose for me–I had some more work left to do on this earth, it was not my time to go.

Realizing that has also become proof to me that this reality belongs to each and every person. Every day that God gives us is a blessing and each new morning brings with it work and purpose for each of us. He’s not done with us yet. We’ve still got more to do on this earth. Each day we wake up is proof that we have purpose. So keep chasing your calling. Because if I learned anything ten years ago, it’s that our God is good, our God is powerful, and our God has a good, good plan for each of us.

It’s been an amazing 10 years. They’ve been better years than I could have ever imagined. So I’m definitely looking forward to whatever God’s got planned next.

“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.” -John 15:4