Where it started…
My first radical encounter with God was in standard 7 (grade 9) at a youth gathering. It was the beautiful lyrics of the worship and, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit that broke me down to realise that I needed Jesus and He was what my heart was yearning for. (This is also where my love affair with worship and gospel music started – the powerful lyrics and melodies are the soundtrack to my life). There wasn’t anything that led up to my conversion, my family believed like a lot of families do (in form) – going to church (occasionally) was a chore, not a yearning. At the time there was no one to come alongside and guide me. But still my life was changed. I prayed and read the Word but there was no growth.
I’m quite strong-willed, with a definite rebellious streak that came out prominently after my parent’s divorce. By matric I was a proper rebel. My schoolwork was fine, and I held positions at school, but I started smoking and often skipped school with my friends for a party at a (empty) parent’s house. Not too wild, but there was enough alcohol and cigarettes going around.
By then my prayer-life and faith existed in form only.
After school I went on to study BCom (Law) – that’s what I always wanted to do, and I loved every minute of it. I was in residence and soon made fantastic friends-for-life that were just as otherwise as I. For the three years that followed we had the epitome of student life and relished our newfound freedom and independence and certainly made use of it exhaustively.
I was VERY dedicated to my studies, and although my social life was vibrant my studies always received preference – I soon discovered exactly what my brain was capable of (in High School I excelled in an IQ test prescribed by the school. To such an extent that my parents were told to enrol me in a special programme for the gifted – it wasn’t practical at the time and no-one took much notice – least of all me. Accordingly, it was soon forgotten. I did reasonably well in school but was never exceptional).
Living the dream…
It all changed at University when I discovered the satisfaction of pushing my brain to its limits and achieving exceptional results. It soon became an obsession and I built my whole identity around my achievements. I worked manically and thrilled at being the best. A distinction itself was not good enough unless I was the top achiever. And I LOVED the law and every moment of studying it. Soon I was appointed as an assistant at the Law faculty, and later served as part-time lecturer when the opportunity arose. I participated in the Law Faculty’s moot court competition in my first year LLB, was placed second and went on to participate internationally. When my partner and I won the international moot court competition I was elated and at the zenith of my life, or so I thought. The prize was a bursary to study an international diploma in Human Rights at the university in Strasbourg, France. Another dream come true – I accepted the bursary but when it came to it, I decided to live a little – I used the entire month to travel and explore Europe on my own – it was heady and certainly one of the ultimate experiences of my life (I had never travelled before). I really couldn’t imagine things getting any better. But it actually did – I was offered and accepted a full bursary to do my Master’s degree in Law at a university in Germany! I was in my fifth year of law – the top student of my year.
I have to add though, that it wasn’t a walk in the park – I worked exceptionally hard, but I loved what I was doing (and also loved the multitude of achievement awards and bursaries that went with it).
Still in my fifth year, to put the cherry on top, I was voted vice-chairman of the Student Representative Council and went full out for that too, with it came a trip to the USA where we visited a handful of universities but it was more like another Top 10 experience – loved it!
Sounds like a story of burn out …. wrong, read on….
It was December 1996, my fifth year complete with only one more year to go to obtain my second law degree (LLB) and then onwards to my Master’s degree in Germany– I had the world at my feet. Obviously, there was no church-going involved (no time) and prayer and scripture were side-lined. I was aware though that God was blessing me exorbitantly and was convinced that He had great plans for my life (in law of course). I believed He was steering me to become someone to be reckoned with, why else would He inundate me with all these blessings, favor and opportunities?
The movie Evita had just come out in January 1997 and I always loved the theme song – “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”. When I heard it was showing on 17 January (late-night show) in a cinema nearby, my younger sister and I went to join some friends to see the movie that I was so excited about. Alas, it was fully booked, to our great disappointment! We settled for something else – little did I know I would never remember anything about that movie or the entire evening for that matter.
Where it all changed… Forever…
The following events are not from recollection, it was revealed to me later and it took me a long time and several repetitions to understand. We watched the late-night movie and only left to go home after 12 PM. My sister and I left in my car and my friend tailed us. Taking the slipway off the highway we stopped at the robot where I wanted to turn right. As the light turned green for us and I entered the turn , a woman came speeding, racing at me me from the right, skipped her red robot and hit the passenger door right behind me at a tremendous speed and ferocious power – the G-force created as my car spun, violently flung me from the car and I crashed to the opposite side of the road, headfirst, severely fracturing my skull and shoulder blade. Everybody else, including the inebriated woman who caused the accident, were mostly uninjured.
I was rushed to the hospital for an emergency operation to stop the massive haemorrhaging in my brain. It was 1AM on 18 January 1997 – my mom’s birthday.
To make matters worse, both of my lungs collapsed and after the operation I was hooked to a ventilator, in a coma, fighting for my life.
When I eventually woke from the coma after 10 days I was tremendously confused and suffered amnesia. I still couldn’t breathe independently so I had to stay on the ventilator for another 10 days. A week or 2 later I was moved out of ICU.
The doctors couldn’t tell for sure what the prognosis would be, but when I insisted to be out of the hospital by early February to go back to university they shattered my world by telling me I would most likely never be able to go back.
And then HE spoke…
Until then I had never heard God speak to me nor have I ever recognised His voice. But at some point, during this incredible trauma, (that I can remember very little of), I do recall hearing God speak to me – and I recognised His voice instantly. He reminded me of two verses of Scripture that I was vaguely familiar with:
All things work together for good for those that love God (Romans 8:28)
My grace is enough for you – My strength is made perfect in your weakness (2 Cor 12:8)
Little did I know at that time that those two messages would be a lifeline for years to come.
And THEY spoke – a death sentence….
After around 2 months I was discharged from hospital – into nothingness.
My family and I consulted with an army of doctors over the next 6 months or so. To summarise their prognoses:
- I would never study again
- I would never drive again
- I would most likely never be employed
- I would require the assistance of a 24-hour caregiver
- It is inadvisable for me to ever get married or have children
- Certain abilities were severely compromised such as reading, writing and short-term memory
I was mortified, crushed – I had lost my entire persona – everything that I built my life around was now stripped from me, all my dreams, my hopes and ambition. Not only my future but my past was also nullified. Words cannot begin to describe the intense mourning I went through for the person that I used to be (and still deeply desired to be) – the neuro-psychologist that I saw regularly bluntly advised me to accept that the old Linda had died. Not only does a severe head injury change your abilities but it, in fact, also changes aspects of your personality (which is also seated in the mind). I was a complete stranger to myself – and one which I didn’t like very much.
But on the bright side, prior to my accident, I didn’t belong to any church but while in hospital a friend put in a prayer request at a local church on my behalf. I was touched to have been visited by one of their pastors AND upon release from hospital it wasn’t long before they visited me at home. An elderly couple that exuded the love of Jesus. I told them all the diagnoses, we spoke a lot about God, and they prayed powerfully for me. The visit was followed up with a handwritten prophecy from the pastor – it was beautiful and spoke of healing and miracles – I really struggled to believe a single word of it (but I’ve kept it till now).
My battles with God…
I battled with God – I had so many agonizing questions: my brain was the one thing about me that I loved the most – why did I have to injure my brain (I even professed that I would’ve preferred to have been paralyzed)? Why did He make me brilliant to start with, if He knew I would be reduced to one who could hardly read or write and what I did manage to read I couldn’t retain? Where was He when the accident occurred – couldn’t He have stopped it? Why did He just look the other way?
But yet again, a bright side: It has been said that you don’t know that God is all you need until God is all you have…How true for me – even though I questioned Him – I simultaneously clung to Him and those two promises that He gave me in hospital for all that I was worth. My love affair with gospel music exploded and so did my love for God. During the empty days when I would sit at home alone (I obviously had to move back home and my mom worked during the day) I listened to my gospel music non-stop (remember: reading was severely compromised) and whenever I came into some money I would spend it all on gospel CD’s that provided me with a lot of comfort and an introduction to the power of praise and worship. I came to realise that God is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. He cares deeply about my pain and when sorrow overwhelmed me, and tears were streaming I found comfort in believing my Father was embracing me with His immeasurable love that was able to heal my broken soul. I knew He stored my many tears in His bottle – not one was lost. They are all recorded in His book of remembrance. (Ps 56:8-9).
In essence, there was nothing to chase after anymore – so Matthew 6:33 – 34 gradually became true in my life and eventually it became my mission (even though I didn’t base the mindset on the Scripture itself): “So above all, constantly chase after the realm of God’s Kingdom and the righteousness that proceeds from Him. Then all these less important things will be given to you abundantly. Refuse to worry about tomorrow, but deal with each challenge that comes your way, one day at a time. Tomorrow will take care of itself “(TPT)
Picking up the pieces…
I joined the church that prayed for me when I needed prayer most and found Jesus all over again culminating in my baptism in 1999. I was deeply in love with my Lord and slowly the anger and raw sorrow dissipated, in due course I came to trust Him for another promise:
Jer 29:11 “I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future”
I won’t tell you the step-by-step story that followed in the five years after my accident – the anger, grief, mental and emotional trauma was excruciating and ripped me to pieces. Yet, when I finally took the focus off me and my self-pity and turned my eyes towards Jesus things started to change.
It turned out I didn’t need a 24-hour caregiver after all, and I was slowly taking small steps to being independent again.
The miracles I witnessed and experienced were astonishing but I also learnt a very important lesson in the process – sometimes miracles take time.
Since I had slowly learnt to read & write again with my retention and concentration improving (this was after 3 years), the burning desire to complete my Law degree kept growing – I desired closure. Shortly after the accident in 1997, the Dean of the Law Faculty visited me and promised that I was always welcome back. Their faith in me was so strong that he promised that my first subject would be sponsored by the Law Faculty – he exhorted me to just try. In 1998 and 1999 respectively I tried out one lecture and left in tears both times. In 2000 I approached the Dean and asked him for a serious last chance where I would do everything in my power to stick it out. I took one subject in the first semester. I recorded and transcribed each lecture so that I could have the most comprehensive notes (to make up for what I did not retain in class). I studied for that one subject every day and prior to the tests I would write every past paper that I could lay my hands on and practically rewrote all my notes. My writing was still problematic so I tested out every pen available to see with which I could write best and fastest. My anxiety was palpable – regardless of the extent of my preparation, who knew what my brain was capable of under pressure – will I remember anything?
The first test was very traumatic – I could hardly write (and the result was practically illegible), I was shaking all over, but the information was there!!! Shortly after the test the Dean called me one evening to personally deliver my results – I achieved 86%. I was overjoyed and my entire being praised and glorified God for this astonishing miracle!
Of course, there was a plan…
I completed my final year of law (that remained for my degree) over the next two years and gradually my self-confidence returned, and the anxiety eventually dissipated. My handwriting and retention improved greatly.
Long story short: I completed my Law degree in 2001 CUM LAUDE – just as I always dreamt I would!
God is so good – not only did He help me every step of the way and miraculously enabled me to do the impossible but I also came to see the plan that He put into action prior to my accident when I was over achieving and “exercising” my brain fanatically: when my doctor had to comment on the progress I had made it went along these lines: Other patients with her type of injury are entirely debilitated, but I believe that since her brain was so exceedingly well developed prior to the accident the (mostly) uninjured left side of her brain has now taken over the functions of the (badly injured) right side.
How brilliant was God’s plan! Now I know where He was during my accident – He was right there beside me, preventing the enemy from taking my life, but allowing him to take my idols. God had a perfect plan in place, prepared since my birth for how I would overcome the devastation of what the enemy believed would be my destruction. Oh, how great and mighty is our God – how much higher His ways than our ways, His thoughts than our thoughts!
The miracle of freedom…
It’s been a long story but if you’re interested to know about the remaining miracles, read on….
Shortly after my accident I bought a fabulous new VW Golf (navy blue – my favourite colour) – the car I always wanted but, sadly, wasn’t allowed to drive. That was pure misery! For someone who used to be fiercely independent it was agonizing to have to depend on a driver to drive MY car!!! But there were tests, reports AND a court order prohibiting me from driving. I prayed about it for years. Following my first successful year back at varsity, the Lord blessed me with the courage and determination to pursue my dream of driving – I was convinced that if His hand was upon me I would overcome my fear of driving and be safe on the road (“If your presence does not go with me, do not lead me up from here” Ex 33:15). Notwithstanding the opposition, I undertook driving lessons and eventually got the green light from my instructor and my family – the final obstacle was to overturn the court order which by grace we achieved. In 2001 I was driving my own car again with my well-loved gospel music blaring from the radio and the wind in my hair – the sense of freedom was almost overwhelming. This might seem insignificant to some, driving is something we all take for granted, but to me it was an awe-inspiring miracle and an answer to an ongoing heartfelt prayer.
Living a life of meaning & impact…
Last but not least: I was still attending my cherished church and in 2000 started a ministry of my own (consisting of me alone ) visiting a Care centre for severely head injured and cerebral palsied patients. This was my love service towards persons that reminded me that “it could’ve been me”. I sat with them, talked a bit, prayed for them and exhibited the love of Jesus as best I could.
In January 2001, my life was already regaining normalcy, my self-confidence and contentment had increased dramatically, having successfully completed my first year at university. I was even offered a part-time lecturing position by the Law Faculty. I hardly left home though and had no social life to meet new people.
After working late, the previous night I was woken early one morning to give instructions to a service provider that my mom called out for repairs required at our home. I was slightly agitated by the sleep disturbance and didn’t pay him any mind, just gave the instructions and went on with my work. As the morning progressed, he completed the work and, in parting, mentioned that he recognized my sister from a family photo on the wall. It turned out my sister used to be his sister’s best friend at school. Of course, her name rang a bell loud and clear – just never knew she had a brother. That started a superficial conversation. Yet, the conversation drastically evolved when it transpired that we were attending the same church and it emerged that he was a passionate believer. THEN we really started talking (and to my relief, despite my sister’s connection to his family, he evidently didn’t know about the brain injured family member – you will not believe how that stigma followed me everywhere I went). We spoke about faith, God, church and on and on it went, like kindred spirits – 4 hours after completing the job he finally left but not before I invited him to join me, that coming Saturday, on my ministry visit to the Centre for Cerebral Palsy & Head Injured patients. I was pleased that he agreed without hesitation. When he left, I called my best friend to tell about this special guy I had just met and added that if he turned out to be all that he appeared to be – I was going to marry him! (bear in mind I studied law – I didn’t believe in things like love at first sight ). Little did I know that, upon departure, he phoned his family saying basically the same.
With love from the Father…. a soulmate….
The visit to the Centre was memorable – his reaction to the patients was empathetic and caring (this was very important to me). In fact, he was so touched by the whole experience that he volunteered his services to the Centre, free of charge, to take care of some work they required. I saw the love of the Lord in him and a humility and kindness that meant he would accept my story without being judgemental (I always believed no one would want me because I was “damaged goods” and was still suffering from certain medical conditions, remnants of the head injury).
Our second date was to church and, after that, we were inseparable. Within 4 months we were engaged. At first my family would hear nothing of it, doubting my ability to make such a monumental decision. But if God delivers your soulmate to your front door – what decisions are left to make. We got married within a year, now going onto 20 of my happiest years. Meeting him in such a miraculous way and the passionate love and bond that we share is unquestionably an extraordinary gift from the God of Love. We share a passion for Christ (and he loves my gospel music collection that has grown exponentially through the years). We worship, pray and work together (he is a business owner) – after we got married I decided against a career in law – I was acutely aware that, despite my miracle recovery, I wouldn’t be able to handle the long hours and stress . It was logical for me to add my knowledge and skill to my husband’s business. That turned out to be the best decision I could ever have made. I love that we work together and that I can work my own hours from home.
AND God blessed us with three beautiful children!
You might have been wondering about that handwritten prophecy that the pastor gave me shortly after my accident? Every word of it came true – all glory to God!
When He says, “all things” – He means ALL things…
God pieced a shattered life back together again and from the shards he created something even better than the original – a beautiful life, from nothing but ashes! All things did indeed work together for good – just as He promised me in the early days in hospital – in fact, He did exceedingly, abundantly above all my wildest dreams, imaginations and prayers. I can testify that regardless of your catastrophic circumstances – God always remains faithful and where He promises that ALL things will work together for good, you CAN bank on it!
Yet bear in mind that, sometimes, miracles take time – mine took five years and even though I still battle with accident related issues, I never doubt the inclusiveness of my miracles and Jesus never leaves nor forsakes me. Whenever I am weak, He is strong – just as He promised me in the hospital He would be.
“Here’s what I’ve learned through it all: Don’t give up; don’t be impatient; wait upon the Lord. Be brave and courageous and never lose hope. Yes, keep waiting – for He will never disappoint you!” (Ps 27:14 TPT).
All His promises are personalised for each believer, we just need to lay claim to them in faith. “God is not a human that He should lie, not a human being that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfil?” (Num 23:19)
There was a time when I could only face tomorrow because He lives. And because He lives – I am not only alive today, but I can LIVE life to the full. Where I saw death (of the original me), God saw what He always sees: resurrection. In the process I came to know God not only as my loving Father, but also as a dear Friend, never losing sight of His awe-inspiring power and majesty. I have learnt that ours is a mighty miracle-working God who is always good and faithful. His plans for us are abundantly good and masterfully crafted – to prosper us and not to harm us. He has given me a hope and a future better than any I would ever have imagined.