I will thank the Lord with all my heart as I meet with his godly people. How amazing are the deeds of the Lord! All who delight in him should ponder them. Psalm 111:1-2 NLT

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Life Defined by God

This past week marks the 4th anniversary of an event that changed everything I knew to be true. Up until that point, I knew myself. I reveled in my gifts and titles. The smart girl. Awesome hairstylist. Speaker. Teacher. Administrator. (Egomaniac?) I defined myself based on these titles and it worked for me for many years. And then on January 18, 2007, it all changed.

I was driving with my husband to our home in Spokane from a meeting in the Seattle area. As we made our way onto the expansive Vantage Bridge over the Columbia River, a semi truck in the right lane of I-90 hit some debris in the road, flinging it at our car in the right lane. The next thing I knew, a giant steel post flew through our windshield, barely missing my husband but hitting me in the chest and arms as I drove.

I was panicked. I thought I had been impaled and that I would be dead within minutes. I couldn’t see out of the windshield, I couldn’t breathe, and I was struggling to stay conscious. And with my arms pinned behind the post I couldn’t drive. My husband and God somehow got us parked safely, almost neatly, on the left shoulder of I-90. I never lost control of the car, we didn’t hit anyone else, and we didn’t end up in the icy river around us. More importantly, I hadn’t been impaled, just hit really, really hard.

We were literally in the middle of nowhere, with the nearest town 30 miles in either direction. Even though my husband called 911 immediately, it seemed like forever before an ambulance arrived. I sat beneath the cold steel post in freezing temperatures, terrified that if I moved any part of my body I would do serious and possibly fatal internal damage. Needless to say, God had my full attention, and I clung to Him, His promises, and His love.

Everyone we met that night, from the state patrolman and DOT incident responder to the paramedics and doctors, were utterly amazed to see that I was alive and not more seriously injured. The state patrolman said that the post looked as if it had been choreographed through our car because it appeared to have come through the only way it could and not been catastrophic. It’s true and God is a great Choreographer!

And so, by the grace of God, the x-rays showed no broken bones. I did, however, sustain extensive tissue damage and issues with the alignment of my ribcage and spine I am still dealing with every day. Debilitating headaches kept me from my family and my responsibilities. And then in the days and weeks following the accident, we all began to notice changes in my personality. I was having trouble with vocabulary, memory, and logic. It turned out the force of the post’s impact caused something similar to shaken baby syndrome. I had a traumatic brain injury.

The nature of my injuries made it impossible for me to work. I had been a hairstylist for 20 years, my entire adult life, and now I wasn’t. The brain injury robbed me of my awesome vocabulary; I was mixing up words like “map” and “menu” and frustrated by simple conversations. I struggled to remember movies I’d seen or if I'd turned off the stove. All of my titles were stripped away. Who was I? I didn’t know. My definitions were gone.

And then I looked to God. I realized I was letting the world define me when I should have been defined by my Creator, the one who made me for His specific purpose. He reminded me that in the beginning, He made me a writer. I wrote stories from the time I could hold a crayon, and I was passionate. I wrote my way through school until one guy, a bitter college professor, told me I was a hack. Nice, right? But, I believed him and, pardon the cliché, I never wrote again.

“If you want me to write, show me,” I told God. And He did! He opened doors, gave me an amazing mentor and divine friendships with other writers. Support and encouragement came from every direction. It was undeniable.

There is so much more to this story than what fits here; more details that further illustrate how God has control of every aspect of the accident and the four years that have followed. God says (in Jeremiah) He knows the plan He has for me. Apparently that plan includes me writing, so here I am. A new creation, starting a new life. A life defined by God.

Do you have titles or definitions you hold tightly? Does God have something better?


  1. The screens as a sheen of tears veil my eyes. Amazing, incredible story, Heidi. I'm so thankful God spared your life that day. Otherwise, we wouldn't have had the chance to know you and love you!!

    I'm so thankful for you. I'm looking forward to reading the stories God has laid upon your heart.

    For years, I clung to the belief I was a nobody until God put people in my life to show me I was someone to love. Most importantly, HE loves me unconditionally, and for that, I'm forever grateful.

  2. So often we let the world determine who we are instead of focusing on who God says we are. We are His precious gift, created for works He ordained. And Heidi, He definitely ordained you to write! Blessings, my friend. Aswesome post!

  3. Heidi, Every time I hear this story, I'm so thankful God spared your life, so amazed how He uses you to teach me His truth! You are such a blessing to me, and I'm so glad to call you a friend. I can't wait to read the stories God has given you to tell!

  4. Heidi, my throat is tight as I think of how God protected you and "loved on" you on that life changing night. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It spoke to my heart. I, too, have let go of some titles. The one I try to cling to is Child of God. :) I can't wait to read your writings!

  5. Lisa- so many of us struggle with that concept of unconditional love! One of the gifts God gave to me was to show me that love by saving me. I should not have survived the post, and at best I should have been crippled or disfigured. But as the patrolman observed, the post was laid into the car with a sense of purpose. For the first time in my life, I knew I mattered to God...that He wasn't "too busy" for me. This may sound odd, but I *needed* to be hit. My stubborn will needed to be broken, I needed an attitude adjustment! But I also needed to know that I needed to be set back on my original path, humbled but deeply loved. I have bad days, both physically and mentally, but these only serve to remind me of the love my savior has for me!

    And I am so thankful for the gift you are to me, for the love and support you give me every day!

  6. Pat~ Isn't that the truth! And why in the world would we want the world's definition, when our Creator, the one who knit us together in ou mother's womb, know us so much better! His definition is perfect, His plan divine! It has been liberating to let go of the world's expectations and focus solely on His Word...which I do...most days, lol!

    Thank you for your friendship and your encouraging words! You are a gift!!

  7. Roxanne~ It's so funny that you say that God uses me to teach you His truth, since He uses YOU to teach ME His truth! I am watching you bask in the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and it reminds me what is possible when we trust God. You bless me, and I am thankful that yous is one of my divine friendships!

  8. Your story amazes me, Heidi. It's an I-believe-in-miracles story. What I love the most about it is how you trust God through it all . . . you are a woman of big, big faith!

  9. Jeanne~ You totally got it! "Loved on" is exactly how I felt! (And continue to feel!) Even though I have days where I feel sorry for myself because I'm in pain or mentally muddy, I believe this accident has been a gift. Writing is a little harder than it was before, but like Philippians 1:6 says, "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it." What a glorious promise!

    And "Child of God" is the very best title! I really enjoy the insights you have shared here over the past several months, Jeanne! I look forward to reading YOUR writing!

  10. Beth~ It is one of those stories that happens to other people, isn't it! And some of the other details make it even more miraculous. For instance, our pastor and his wife were sitting in the Costco food court sharing a hot dog when our pastor said, "Craig and Heidi were traveling to Seattle today...I should call and see how it went." He called almost immediately following Craig's call to 911. They were able to begin praying immediately...right there in Costco!! My friend Erika was getting ready to go out for a date with her husband. She glanced at the clock as she applied mascara and thought to pray for us on our trip. (I had requested "traveling mercies" at a Bible study earlier that week...I have a whole new respect for that sort of Christianese term, lol!) It was just minutes after the post hit us! God thought enough of me to put me on the hearts of people before anyone even knew there was a reason to pray! That STILL blows my mind! And don't even get me started about the local volunteer paramedic who's first words to me were "I've been praying for you since I got the call." What?!?! WOW!!

    I don't always feel like I have big, big faith but then He reminds me of the promises He whispered in my ear as He "loved on" me, as Jeanne so beautifully put it, and I have peace. And I always have your love and friendship to help remind me He has a plan!! =)

  11. Dear Heidi, As well as funny novels (I love your humor), this sounds like an amazing testimony or memoir book. So thankful you were spared and have such a sense of God's purpose in it for you, more than you and your family see yet, and w/ more blessings, harvest to come. Thank you, Father, for Your remarkable intervention!

  12. I can intimately relate to this post, Heidi. Like you, many years ago I was in a life-threatening car accident, and God miraculously protected me.
    I look back on that event with a heart filled with gratitude for His mercy, and a desire to use the time He has gifted to me for His glory. Teaching and writing are ways I "redeem the time."
    (And I was able to describe my experience in a story for a Chicken Soup for the Soul book many years later!)