A deeper look at faith.
Gwen’s unique story gives insight into a personal crisis of faith and her willingness to lean into God to reimagine His character and place in her life.
HS: Tell us a little about yourself
Gwen: People tell me their first impression of me is someone who has it ‘together’. I’ve also been called “intimidating” (maybe because I’m tall and tend to be serious at first). But, as folks get to know me, they see my silly sense of humor, fluctuating love for my family, and desire to improve our world. Then, hopefully, they start to see me as complex as they are.
HS: What event occurred that altered your perceptions of God?
Gwen: I was doing my thing; I had completed two and a half years at community college and transferred to the university to continue my education. I was exploring working abroad and had just dropped off my resume at the professor’s office on campus. It was Thursday. Riding my bicycle home to my off-campus apartment, I looked forward to meeting with my girlfriend to get groceries and watch Friends together. As usual, I carried my daily load of 30 lbs of textbooks in my backpack.
Within ¼ mile of my apartment, I saw a delivery truck parked on the street. I moved to the sidewalk to ride around it. At the same time, the truck pulled away from the curb and made a wide right turn in front of me into an apartment complex parking lot. Suddenly, realizing that it was cutting across my path, I slammed on my brakes and whipped my handlebars to the right to skid to a stop. I didn’t want to slam into the side of the truck.
The next thing I know, I feel myself falling, the world around me blurs out of my vision, and I hear myself scream. And then I can’t breathe. When I skidded to a stop, I fell under the truck; my books pushed me off center and balance. The dual rear wheels of the truck drove over me, crushing my chest and abdomen.
I remember the paramedics came, cut off my clothes, loaded me up, and took me to the ER.
I recall faint memories of coming in and out of consciousness in the ambulance. I felt Fear. And then a bright warm light over me. I remember feeling and hearing, “I am here. Don’t be afraid”.
Then memories of doctors talking about internal injuries and the spinal cord. I remember mom and dad standing by my side, so far away. Bright lights blinded me as I tried to catch my breath.
My injuries included broken ribs, broken fingers, a fractured pelvis, a punctured colon, and three crushed vertebrae; the vertebrae were diagnosed as unstable and at risk of damaging the spinal cord. The doctors told my parents it was a miracle I was alive and that I may not walk again.
Ironically, those heavy books prevented my spinal cord from completely severing.
The doctors patched my colon, leaving 8 inches of staples up my belly. The doctors waited until after the surgery to deal with my spine. When they did go back in, they fused five vertebrae together with a bone graft. After that, I struggled with daily pain and spent over a year in a back brace.
HS: How did this event make you feel? How did you respond emotionally? Physically?
Gwen: Because I was young, I rolled with it initially. My supportive family and friends played a huge role in my recovery. But, for me, challenges came when a faith leader alluded to their belief that things like this happen to correct us. God allowed this accident and pain because I had something in my life that needed to be corrected. I wanted to trust this leader, but their philosophy differed from mine.
It threw me into a faith crisis. What did I believe? Was this the God that I believed in? What did it mean for the question of good and evil in the world? Was this God’s will? I had never thought of God that way, which didn’t align with my knowledge and experiences.
I questioned everything. I wondered, “Am I doing something wrong? Did God do this to me?”
I fell into a deep depression. God felt distant. I considered ending my life; the pain and confusion felt so overwhelming. I sought out counseling. Sought out my faith. I wrestled, read, reflected, challenged, questioned, and raged. Over and over again.
I found myself in a period of sorting through the inherited and imposed beliefs that defined my own faith. So I read a lot, soul-searching for answers regarding the evil in the world and where God exists amid pain and suffering.
HS: How did you overcome your crisis of faith?
Gwen: My physical therapist, Jim Bebee, became a dear friend and a safe place. I found a counselor and a new faith community and leaned on my mom. Other pastors connected me with the small church student ministry that became my home.
Here, I reimagined my faith. I stripped it down, eliminating all the doctrinal discrepancies and differences. I went back to the basics. The Very Basics, and I let go of the rest.
I eventually settled into a newfound peace in not knowing all the answers. I wrestled with God as Jacob did in the Old Testament. I focused on the scripture, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28, NKJV) I talked with people who gave me space to find my answers and moved away from those who wanted to provide me with their answers.
This was the beginning of healing. Regardless of the darkness, I know there’s a light at the end….that is God. I believe in God, Jesus Christ, and his life and death. The rest is water under the bridge - doctrinal differences shed off. I solidified a realization, a bit lesson, that it’s ok not to know and that I don’t have to have all the answers. Everyone will need different types of answers. So living with the mystery became acceptable but still solid in my faith. Still trying to figure out where I belonged, but it brought a sense of peace. I found my faith.
HS: What would you want other women in a similar crisis of faith to know?
Gwen: I had a privileged experience surviving this. I had two employed, mentally stable parents, stable housing, financial resources, social resources, and places I felt I belonged. This is not the case for many, many people. I cannot underestimate how this environment impacted my ability to reach the other side. My basic needs of food, housing, and physical and emotional safety were met. This allowed me to deal with emotional and physical trauma and have self-determination in my future.
This is a dramatic story of re-imaging. But the truth is, I/we reimagine every day in more subtle and equal, and more significant ways:
I reimagine who I want to be as a parent and what perspective I want to take as my kids evolve through their teenage years into young adults. As a result, I chose to rethink my negative assumptions and change my parenting approach.
I reimagine the story I’ve created about a coworker’s behavior into curiosity, grace, and acceptance. I reimagine the aloneness I carry from old relationship trauma, opting to share, ask for help (again and again), and accept my partner’s strengths and mine.
I’d tell women, “This is your story. Your work. No one has the answer for you. The answer lives within you. God has placed it there at your creation. The work is now to uncover it. One little crease, corner, and bit at a time. There is no guidebook or recipe. Only you can find the answers. And you travel your journey surrounded by God’s love, the Holy Spirit shining through the morning breeze, the night’s stars, a friend’s hug, a stranger’s smile. You travel your journey with millions of others who are doing the same. You are never alone. “Living into the Answer” “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” Rainer Maria Rilke
Rilke, Rainer M. "Quotable Quotes." Goodreads, Inc., 1 Jan. 2023, www.goodreads.com/quotes/717-be-patient-toward-all-that-is-unsolved-in-your-heart.Accessed 6 Mar. 2023.
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