So this is super long (sorry) and contains some content that is from a dark time in my life. So I do not advise children to read this.
Two years ago on this day (January 29, 2012) I was at Camp Mantowagan for the Winter Retreat when on the way home our church van slipped on ice causing us to go off the highway, flipping the van 2 times landing on its side in the median. I remember the thought that was going through my head while we were flipping (which seemed as though it was in slow motion) was, “I’m going to die…” And I am not exaggerating when I say that, that was the one thought that went through my head. I remember going home and having to have my mom hug me to sleep because I was afraid that I was going to die in my sleep. Although the EMTs were at the scene, they did not take us to the hospital, but only asked us if we felt ok, so I was terrified that I was internally bleeding or something that would cause me to die in my sleep. There is a lot more details so, if you want to hear more of the story, feel free to ask.
So that’s the event that occurred on this day, but that’s just the beginning…I thought that I had faced the worst, but I had no idea what was coming up in the next few months.
After a retreat where we learned about Fearing God and Trusting Jesus (pretty ironic huh?) you think it would be easy to think of this conclusion and it was, but believing it was a different story. So, I was then trying to find God’s purpose in allowing this accident to happen. I was asking questions such as, Why are all 12 of us still alive? How are we still alive? Why do I have to have a concussion? Why did the van buckle out instead of in (this allowed more space for us to “move” while it was flipping)? And the answer to that question was Jesus.
But throughout that time of questioning why, I was being attacked by Satan. And I just don’t mean little things were happening that caused me to have a “bad day,” I mean I felt so attacked that I have thoughts of taking my own life, cutting myself, anything that would end my pain, and eventually almost develop anorexia 3-4 times in 10 months. When I was going through this time of depression I would go to my room, shut my door, and be alone for hours. I didn’t want anyone around me, I pretty much hated people. I didn’t want to do anything I loved, so I stopped singing around the house and listening to music. I would literally lay and do nothing for hours. I felt as though I had no purpose. I felt as though I was alone and no one was there for me. I completely shut down. So, the innocent questions turned into, “How could a loving God allow me to go through this? I accepted Christ and have been living for Him for years, why me? (And because I was doubting my faith) If my sin is going to send me to Hell, why wouldn’t I just kill myself and go now?” These thoughts and questions led to panic attacks and not those little ones that are easy to get over. I literally had to crawl into a ball when my panic attacks started because I had the urge to hit someone/something, throw something, and just scream. There was one night in particular that I remember coming home from youth group on a Wednesday night in March feeling so attacked, I went up to my room and my brother and I began to talk. I was trying to tell him through the attack that I couldn’t “do it” (live life anymore), and didn’t understand why God was “letting me go through this.” And he didn’t know what to say other than, “It’ll be ok, we’ll get through this.” He said this while I was laying my head on his lap, both of us crying. We had no idea what else to do. I barely got any sleep (which was normal at that time because I was afraid to go to sleep), but woke up the next morning unable to go to school because I started to have a panic attack as soon as I woke up. This was not the only day of school that I had to miss for that reason. I remember begging my mom through the tears to call a counselor, pastor, anyone who would know what to do because I sure didn’t…You may be saying, “You should have turned to God.” Well, I wasn’t ready to believe that He could help me through this. That’s right, the “good church girl” hated church and wanted nothing to do with God. Anyways, when I did go to school, I wasn’t able to do anything because I had a concussion. I showed up to school so that I wouldn’t be considered absent and went to the nurse’s office almost every period with my friend Michaela, who was also in the wreck, and had “sleepovers in the nurse’s office” (we tried to make the best out of every situation. When Michaela and I were there we would just talk about life, what remembered from the accident (which was bits and pieces), and how annoyed we were at the fact that we couldn’t even take notes in class.
I “got cleared” from my concussion a few weeks later so I decided to start track up for the season. Track that year was a challenge as I would have to take multiple pain killers every time I ran to prevent headaches and take my back pains away the best they could. I started physical therapy as well and soon found out that I had 7 vertebrae that were dislocated in my back and neck….My neck healed rather quickly, but after 27 appointments I still had pain in my lower back and they had no idea what was going on.
So summer came, I remember telling my mom the morning that I left to go to Camp Mantowagan (my church camp) for a week that I was having suicidal thoughts and had been for about 4 months at that point. After I told her, I had about 5 hours and then I was off to my “happiest place on Earth”, Camp Mantowagan, the camp where we had the retreat…it was slightly terrifying. But that week was full of growth. I realized that I had to tell my story and since I had no interest in looking for Jesus, I sought out people who would tell me about Him. So telling my story meant that I had to break down the wall that I had built up for 6 months and trust people by sharing about my hurt, pain, and brokenness. After coming home from camp on a Saturday, my parents drove me to Ohio for the orientation of a 6-week missions trip that God would use to help me grow through this pain, Operation Barnabas.
I instantly felt like I didn’t belong because I was surrounded by the “good Christians” and I was completely broken, but throughout the course of the summer I would soon realize that I wasn’t alone. I was on Team 611, based off of 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 which states, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” We focused on verse 11, “Such were some of you” throughout the summer, but had the opportunity to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ in many ways. I was slowly beginning to realize that my sin didn’t define me, I was being attacked, the sin I was dealing with wasn’t who I truly was because I had been washed (I accepted Christ at the age of 7). I was also encouraged by the stories that my fellow team members told me. I also realized that I wasn’t alone.
It was also on Operation Barnabas that I got the calling into full-time ministry. Up until that point I wanted to be a music teacher because music was the only thing I was good at. And in the summer of 2011, I felt the calling into missions, but figured in my mind that I would major in music and minor in music (do what I want to do, but let God have a little part as well). But, after the accident my passion for music went away, yes I still love it, but for fun. Anyways, we were at an apartment complex in Mansfield, OH. My friend Anthony and I were sharing the Gospel with a 23-year-old woman, Jennifer, and her 3-year-old son, Dante. After sharing the Gospel she began to share all the sins that she had done, and I had the opportunity to share my story with her. At that moment I realized why God was allowing this to happen (although terrible), He was going to show people His love and forgiveness. I realized that I can relate to those in the inner-city, those who feel alone and don’t know where to go.
Coming home from Operation Barnabas was one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do. I lost my support system of 38 people that I had grown to love and trust. I began going to a counseling center about 45 minutes away from my house and I continued to go to physical therapy, until they told me there was nothing else they could do and sent me to my family doctor to get referred to a better doctor. So during my senior year of high school I missed a total of 15 ½ days that were full of doctor appointments to Pittsburgh (2 hours away from my house) and a few other days for other health issues. These days didn’t include school related events such as County Band, District and Regional Band and Chorus, and Forensics. In other words, I was barely at Central Cambria High School for my senior year but, I am thankful for the patience of the teachers that I had my junior and senior year.
When going to doctors in Pittsburgh I found out that I still had my concussion, which I wouldn’t get cleared from until May 14, 2013 (the day before my school’s senior night for track…so I wasn’t able to run at all during my senior year). Although I got cleared from my concussion, they still were not sure what was wrong with my back, so I was sent to yet another doctor (this was the 5th place that I had to go for medical treatment on my back). After examining my back they thought that a back brace would be the best step to take next. I would have to wear it for 2-3 months, starting with 1 hour a day and adding an hour per week…this is what it sounded like in my mind, “Jessie, you’re going to have to rely on other people all summer including at camp, City Life, and Momentum because you are going to need someone to help you put this brace on every day.” For being someone who was independent, this is not something that I wanted to hear, but I survived. I still have to wear it on long car rides, but the back pain has definitely went down.
Well, like I said, it was my senior year. Side note (because I do that a lot), when I got my senior pictures done, my mom would not order a picture of me not smiling because she said that she saw me not smiling too much over the months leading up to that. She also said that there was a sadness that was in my eyes when I would do a “serious photo.” Back on track and GO! So senior year…I graduated Central Cambria High School and turned 18 on the same day…it was a very exciting day at my house! (: Then, I went to Camp Mantowagan for the last time as a camper and got to share my story and how God was working through it. I then left for a 15-day missions trip called City Life and got to travel on a team with 15 fantastic people, sharing the Gospel with people in New York, DC, and Philly. God definitely confirmed my calling into urban ministry during that trip. And after a busy summer, I left home and started the next chapter of my journey in Lynchburg, VA at Liberty University.
And that’s where I am now…but I’m a completely different person this semester than I was last semester and even more so then I was last year and 2 years ago. I went to my high school to visit some teachers over my Christmas break and one of the teachers look at me and said, “There’s something different about you. I don’t know what it is, but you seem different, but in a good way.” Well that difference is that (and I’m super excited to be able to say this with full confidence), God took my depression away last semester. After almost 1 ½ years of struggling with depression, God took it away. Now I’m not saying my life is perfect. My life is anything but that, but God has been revealing Himself more and more to me throughout the past few weeks. Since my time back at Liberty this semester, God has been teaching me so much and giving me a better direction for my life. He has been breaking my heart for what breaks His, for people, for brokenness, and is allowing me to tell my story and it be used by Him. God has shown me that although I love ministering to all people, He has given me a heart to work with young girls, girls that need to know that they can find their identity in Christ. I would have never thought that I would be where I am today on January 29, 2012, but I am blessed that God has worked through my brokenness to bring Him Glory.
Before I close, I want to share a verse that I heard for the first time the day of the accident, before we left the camp and it has been a verse that brings me so much hope. 1 Kings 19:11b-12 says,
And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. And after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire the sound of a low whisper.
There may be “big” events that occur in your life (the wind, fire, and earthquake), mine was the accident, but through those events you have to be willing to listen for the whisper because that is what God is trying to point you to. He wants you to see how much you truly need Him. Man, I could just go on, but I know you have read a lot already so that will be for another day.
I personally would never wish anyone to go through what I went through and I would never want to go through it again, but I am so grateful that God has and still is revealing Himself and His plan for my life through this tragic event.
My challenge to you is no matter who you are or where you are in life, YOU ARE NOT ALONE! And there is hope and that hope can be found in Jesus Christ. The only way that you can receive this hope is by accepting Jesus as your personal Savior and by having a relationship with Him. We are all broken people some may seem more broken than others, but we all need Jesus. You do not need to go through a dark time in your life to need Jesus because it says in Romans 6:23, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” It says in Romans 10:9-10, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved.” You can have eternal life and be forgiven of your sins by confessing your sins to Christ and believe with your whole heart that Jesus Christ died and came alive again 3 days later, being able to forgive our sins. You can never earn your way into Heaven, there are not enough good works you can do. “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away (Isaiah 64:6). Our righteous (good) deeds are like “filthy garments”, in another translation, “filthy rags.” And it’s not just a prayer that we repeat after someone, because the words aren’t “magical”, it is the condition of the heart that make the words we pray mean everything. God saves those who ask for forgiveness with a genuine, broken spirit.
So I again challenge you, take a look at your life and look for brokenness. Although Jesus has taken my depression away, I still fail Him daily. But, I know that He is great and faithful and I am His! Again, I’m sorry that this was so long, but that’s part of (yes, only part) the story of the day that changed my life. And I’m not the only one who has a story, there are 11 other individuals that were in the same van, but we have all faced different trials afterwards and God is revealing different things to us through this event.