We’ve all been there. Our situation is so desperate, we are in such pain, our heart is breaking, or all of these at once. We may not believe there is a God, but when we are at the very bottom, we plead with God, just in case He’s there.
The following is just such a story related by Rev. Dr. Tim Ehrlich.
My Sister’s Car Accident
I was my first solo trip into the world. My junior year of High school had just ended, I had just turned 17, and to celebrate I hitchhiked up to Burlington Vermont from Long Island to visit my twin cousins Kim and Kerry who were attending the University of Vermont. I woke up happy on the morning of the fifth day of my visit. I had breakfast and was laying on the couch in the living room, singing along to the Beatles’ I am the Walrus when the phone began ringing somewhere in the house.
My cousin Kim came rushing to get me. It was my mom calling for me. Mom asked me to sit down because she had some terrible news: “Your sister has been in a terrible car accident; she has 14 skull fractures. The doctors say it is a miracle she is still alive but they say she is going to die in the next 2-4 hours. Would you like to try to see her before she dies or wait for the funeral?”
My sister Lisa was my only sibling; she was 13 months younger than I am.
She had been traveling up from Long Island to central Massachusetts with three teenage friends, to join a group of people who were helping the choir director of our church build a summer home.
They were speeding and as they came up over a rise in the road a highway department grass cutting tractor was crossing in front of them blocking both lanes. They swerved to avoid it and the car rolled over several times. The other three passengers had their seat belts on and received only cuts and bruises and one had a broken arm. My sister was not wearing a seat belt. She was thrown out of the car and her head smashed against rocks on the side of the road. Her face and her entire head was shattered.
I am told that when the troopers found her they thought at first she was dead so they tended to the others first. They transported her to a local hospital and notified my parents and my mom called me.
The Worst Crisis of My Life
In an instant my mom’s words took me away from feeling blissful to being consumed by the worst crisis of my life. When you grow up in a dysfunctional home like ours, (my dad was an alcoholic), your siblings become co-survivors and that is a special bond. That was the case for us and the result was that Lisa was to me—my sister, my friend and my co-survivor in a crazy household.
After I hung up with my mom, I told my cousins what happened, and I went outside and sat in the sunshine on the side of the small hill next to the house to absorb this news. I sat and I thought about my sister. My memories of her starting from our earliest childhood, ran through my mind. As I thought about loosing her forever, I realized that it would truly be very difficult for me to live without her. So I sat on the little hill, with my head down and the sun beating down on my back, and I began to pray. The air was cool and I still remember how wonderful the hot June sun felt on my back.
I am certain now that it was God’s timing because two days before, I had been on the green of the university when a group of students erupted out of a building onto the green. I asked my cousin’s friend who they were, and she told me they were the campus Christian group. As I looked at their obvious joy and unfeigned friendliness towards each other, I said to myself, “whatever they have, I want it!”
Nevertheless, if you had asked me an hour earlier if I believed in God I probably would have said no, or that I did not know what to believe about God. But now that my sister’s only hope was God, suddenly, all my intellectual arguments were gone, all the doubts and questions I held for years were silent, and instinctively I just prayed. I prayed as only a person with a truly broken heart can do. I prayed earnestly, truly, intently and with every bit of my heart.
The Essence of Prayer
As I prayed, I told God how I would feel without my sister, what her loss would mean to me, that it would damage me irreparably, that I wasn’t sure I could live without her. Finally, I begged God to accept my life in service to him in exchange for letting my sister live. I know this sounds like desperation and bargaining, but just because we are desperate and bargaining doesn’t mean we are not earnest or that God won’t respond to us. I was earnest about giving my life to God, and God did respond to me.
At that moment I was at the very bottom emotionally…completely brokenhearted. I have since come to realize from scripture (“The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” Psalms. 34:18 ESV) and from experience, that only desperation can produce in us the level of seeking that is required to produce the breakthrough to actually finding God as referred to by Jeremiah: “You will find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.”
All of your heart is a tremendous amount when you consider all we keep in our heart. To truly have an encounter with God we must put everything else in our heart to the rear and God to the front.
God’s Answer to My Desperate Proposal
So as I prayed that day, God gave me three great gifts: first, he miraculously saved my sister; second, he baptized me with the Holy Spirit; and third, he allowed me to join his service, fallen as I was.
As I humbled myself before God with my head bowed, suddenly a comforting warm sensation began sweeping down over me, outside and inside. I lifted my head and it continued to pour out on me and through me. It felt like water but lighter than water, like a large bucket of warm water slowly, gently being poured down on my head. It was approximately body temperature, as it felt warm on my skin but neutral inside me. It continued to pour down on me for several seconds washing me completely inside and out. This must be why it is called a ‘baptism’ of the Holy Spirit.
I now realize that God’s plan was to cleanse me first before accepting me into his service by pouring the Holy Spirit over me and through me; but at that moment I didn’t even know what the Holy Spirit was. All I knew was that God was pouring something on me that felt warm and comforting inside and out, and I knew that it meant God had accepted my offer and my sister was going to live. Relief flooded my heart and I felt deep joy and peace and calm assurance.
God has also given me the proof of his reality, a question that had tormented me for so long. How good God is to take me all the way from being filled with horror and desperation and anguish to complete peace and joy and assurance in an instant! To this day I know I have gotten the best out of the agreement I made with God that day. God saved my sister and saved me too, He saved me from a wasted life, a life without knowing the greatest Being to exist!
When I stood up from prayer I had such profound peace. I knew with complete certainty that as surely as God had just poured something wonderful all over and through me, that my sister would live.
My cousins in Vermont and everyone around me at the hospital were still fearful and horrified, but I was calm. They were all certain she was going to die but I knew my sister was going to live! And of course, miraculously, she did.
As one doctor indelicately described it, her head was “shattered like a hard-boiled egg.” We would soon find out she had not 13 but 22 fractures, and there is no way she should have lived! Her forehead was bashed in, the bones around her right eye were pulverized and there were fractures in the top, sides and back of her head.
When I got to the hospital I was allowed to her bedside in the intensive care unit. Lisa always had the coloration of Snow White: the whitest skin, jet-black hair, and beautiful blue eyes. Now she was unrecognizable, her head was swollen and round almost like a basketball; her skin was entirely black with tinges of purple and blue, her face was so swollen that the only recognizable feature was the end of her nose that was just sticking up above the swelling.
Amazingly she was conscious, she heard me and said, “who is that?” I said “Its me, Timmy.” She said “What are you doing here?” I said, “You have been in a bad car accident so I came to see you.” She said, “Why?” I said, “Because I love you!” she said “Oh.” I was so happy as I stood at her bedside because I knew God was saving her life. At that point she went into a coma which she remained in for most of the next month.
After about a month, she was conscious and talking and they discovered that she was nearly blind and could only see out of the bottom half of her left eye. After about a month she was flown by helicopter from Massachusetts to the hospital at Port Jefferson on Long Island. Lisa spent a total of four months in the hospital. She remains legally blind, but fortunately she can read and can navigate independently, although, she can still see only out of the bottom half of her left eye.
After spending several years learning to deal with her new handicaps she got a GED then a Bachelor’s and then a Master’s Degree and is now a social worker in the Veterans Administration, where she helps veterans ever day. I thank God every day for accepting the offer of my life in service in exchange for hers. I am so blessed and so lucky that God agreed to my offer. It is the best thing that ever happened to either of us.
Miracles Can Happen to Skeptics
If I look at what happened as an unbiased, detached theologian, the first thing that jumps out at me is how unworthy I was to have received such a miracle, much less to have been accepted into God’s service. I was an agnostic, or a skeptical inquirer, certainly not a believer. Theologically, it is significant that a person should have a profound, miraculous experience under those circumstances.
The stereotype and the expectation most people have is that miracles and spiritual experiences come to saints or at least to the devout and not to agnostics and skeptics living in sin.
I now know that none of us are ever worthy to receive a miracle from God, that his miracles are always given in grace. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter seven about his struggles with sin. He said: “ I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate” (7:15 GNTD). The greatest apostle in history struggled with sin and yet was a part of many miracles.
So I conclude from all this is that God loves and responds to the love and desire for Him that we have in our hearts. God also knows that, in the world, love and our higher instincts are often overpowered by physical and psychological desires.
For me personally, I was skeptical about the reality of God from an early age. Like doubting Thomas, I was resolved to believe in nothing I could not see or touch or that could not be proven to me. Even though I attended church and Sunday school regularly in all the years between age five and my sister’s car accident, I still didn’t know God, nor had I seen any proof of his existence.
The Seeds of Faith
When Lisa was miraculously saved I discovered that seeds of faith had been planted inside me by all the years of Church and Sunday school. Watered by the prayers of my deepest need in the darkest time for my soul, the seeds of faith burst forth suddenly with amazing life. I have come to realize that unlike physical seeds, which can take weeks to germinate and sprout, spiritual seeds can and do spring to instant growth when watered with the sincere and urgent prayers of a person facing catastrophe such as I was then.
I have also come to realize that this is an illustration of the reality of the words God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: “When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart” (29:13 NRSV).
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You will find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jeremiah. 29:13)
I do not understand what I do; for I don’t do what I would like to do, but instead I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15 GNTD)
The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalms. 34:18 ESV)
When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13 NRSV)
John 20:24-29 New International Version (NIV)
24 Now Thomas (also known as Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”