November 8th, 2014 started like any other Saturday. Except, it wasn't any other day.
That morning I got up, ate breakfast, brushed my teeth and made my bed. I took my dog for a walk and toyed with the idea of going to meet my sister and brother-in-law at Key Lime Cove's indoor waterpark for their niece's birthday. She was more than just Nikki and Ryan's niece, she had become mine too. I loved her like one, and she loved me like an aunt, enough so that I adopted the nickname "tt."
My sister and I went back and forth about the cost, and whether I should spend it, or not, and join them for a couple of hours. I decided against it. I also played with the idea of going to the movies with a friend of mine who lived on the north side of Chicago that evening. Needless to say, I was currently living in the Southwest suburbs, so someone would need to travel.
Then late in the afternoon, a good guy friend of mine texted me to ask if he could come over to fix my computer. I had been asking him for help for days. I thought twice about saying no and asking him to come the following day, but again, decided against it. He came over, brought me dinner, and helped me with my computer.
Then in the spur of the moment, at around 8:30pm, while I had some extra help, and manly muscles, I decided to ask Gino to help me carry my very old, and somewhat juvenile, furniture to the curb. I had had this bedroom set for close to 20 years. After all, I was nearing 30, and it was time to upgrade to something more sophisticated.
Time passed, and I knew it was too late for my gal pal to come all the way from the north side of Chicago to the southwest suburbs by train. We agreed to meet at the new Icon theater on Roosevelt Road near UIC.
My mother told me to stay home. I said no, justifying it by recalling when I had visited my friend last, and had been an hour late. "I'll be fine mom, it's not that late. I'll be home before you know it, I promise.”
I got in my 2006 Scion TC around 9:20pm. I texted my friend to let her know I would be about 10 minutes late. With no traffic, I knew I could make it to the Dan Ryan by 9:40pm. The show started at 9:40pm.
"You also have to park and then walk to the theater," she wrote back.
Taylor ended up exchanging our tickets for the 9:40pm showing of “Gone Girl” for the one at 10:30pm. The movie got out at 1:00am, putting me on the road at one of the most dangerous times of the day according to a 2013 traffic report. I didn’t know that then.
And as the night of November 8th gracefully folded into the wee hours of the morning of Sunday, November 9th, no one could have anticipated what happened next. In one moment, my life would be literally stripped away from me, and the date of November 9th, 2014 would forever be engrained in my mind as the day the single most devastating event of my life occurred, and yet, simultaneously, it would prove to be the most rewarding spiritual experience to date.
This is not just another story of a girl who was hit by a drunk driver and almost died. This is the story of the prayer that changed everything and the girl who refused to give up.
The path to the moment of the crash, the moment I am leading up to, was long in the making. People say that God doesn't waste any opportunities, good or bad, for his good. I believe this statement is true, and that all of the mistakes I had made, all of the hardships I had endured and all of the events of my life prior were used to prepare me for this specific event. I had to just decide how I would respond.
This takes me to April of 2014.
I had just begun working at a trade publication in my field only one month prior, and my boyfriend of literally two days short of a year and I had just broken up. I remember talking to a friend about the break-up and she encouraged me by saying, "Run as fast as you can towards God and see who follows," which closely resembles the quote that says,
I am not sure of the author, only that there are a lot of images on google with this quote overlaid on top.
I knew it was time for a spiritual revival. I knew I needed to deepen my relationship with God, not because I wanted anything in return, and not because it would lead me to a husband, although I really hoped to get married some day, but because I was hurting and I knew that nothing else would satisfy the longings of my heart. I could distract myself from feeling the disappointment of yet another break-up and the lack of security with a job, but that would do just that- distract for a time, but I would only be left wanting. Believe me, I had tried.
I think of Proverbs 19:3, which says: "A person's own folly leads to their ruin, yet their heart rages against the LORD."
One morning I remembered a suggestion one of my closest friends had given me about a preacher named Francis Chan. I decided to start listening to his sermons while working since I listened to music anyway, and just see what they were about. I listened to one and I was hooked. I had never seen a preacher get up on the pulpit and fall to his knees, begging God to give him the strength to say only what He wanted him to. I admired Francis Chan's ability to praise God with such genuine fervor, and I even more appreciated the scriptures Francis used to illustrate God's holiness, scriptures that I had read many times before, but had not taken a serious look at until then.
During one of the most convicting sermons I had ever heard, Francis referred to the scripture in Revelation 4:1-9, which talks about God's holiness with some vivid descriptions of His throne.
"After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here,and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit,and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. 3 And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. 4 Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads. 5 From the throne came flashes of lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder. In front of the throne, seven lamps were blazing. These are the seven spirits[a] of God. 6 Also in front of the throne there was what looked like a sea of glass, clear as crystal.
In the center, around the throne, were four living creatures, and they were covered with eyes, in front and in back. 7 The first living creature was like a lion, the second was like an ox, the third had a face like a man, the fourth was like a flying eagle.8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under its wings. Day and night they never stop saying:
“‘Holy, holy, holy
is the Lord God Almighty,’[b]
who was, and is, and is to come.”
9 Whenever the living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honor and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”
The beauty of God's throne and the fact that the elders fall to their knees day and night, and for all eternity say, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty," was such a powerful illustration for me.
As a kid I used to fear the idea of heaven for the sheer fact that I imagined what it would be like to worship God all day long, and secretly I was mad at Him for desiring that kind of praise, as if God reveled in our worship due to a selfish motive. After growing a lot spiritually once I decided to make Jesus the Lord of my life in 2004, and the choice I made to pursue a spiritual revival in 2014, I no longer viewed God being worshipped in that way as a selfish act, but moreso I was in awe that there could even be a Being that holy and worthy of such praise. I was simultaneously humbled that God would choose to love me despite my obvious flaws, and at times absolute disregard for Him and His holiness.
So, here I was in the early part of 2014, having earned my master's degree from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in December 2012, and with literally nothing that I thought I would have at this stage of my life: a permanent full-time job — I was hired as a temporary employee with the potential to be hired permanently, but wouldn't know until at least that fall— I had never been married, and was living at home with my parents again. But something else was driving me. Something else came alive that year, and that something was what I believe was the very small flame that prompted me to apply to the University of Illinois at Chicago for undergrad in 2002 with the hopes of studying social work in the first place. Unfortunately, during my second semester at UIC, social work as a degree was budget cut out of the Jane Adams School of Social Work for undergraduates. I then went on to pursue a Bachelor's of Arts in Nonfiction Creative Writing and earned my degree from UIC in December 2007. And that little flame developed in other ways until 2014.
So I began to pray. I prayed for my job. I really wanted some stability, yet the desire to make a difference in the world was what I was really longing for. I also began to pray for my best friend Misha who had left the church I was attending only a few months after joining in 2009. But it wasn't that she left my church (Chicago Church of Christ- which is a smaller group of non-denominational churches affiliated with the International Churches of Christ), it was that she left God that broke my heart, and I hadn't said anything. I didn't have the guts to even ask her why. And this had been five years prior. I asked myself, when was the last time I got on my knees and begged for Misha's soul?
At the same time I was extremely inspired by Francis Chan's love for the poor, his charges to the members of his own church to give up everything and go anywhere (which is also the motto of the church I joined in 2004, and is one of the many reasons I have stayed a faithful member of this movement for now 12 years) for God because our treasure is in heaven, it does not reside in the money we possess or the things we own. Francis Chan shared in several sermons how the more money he gave to God, the more God literally blew him away with blessing.
Our society tells us to save and store up treasure for ourselves. It's amazing that the Bible is a complete dichotomy in every way: the more you give, the more you receive (Malachi 3:10), Jesus died so we could have life (John 10:10), if we give up our life for Him, we will find it (Matthew 10:39), etc.
At the same time my fire to make a difference in the world was aflame. I decided that I would go to Tanzania with my sister and her husband to volunteer at IOP — the Ilula Orphan Program — the following year, and I was inspired by a banquet idea Francis Chan had shared about in one of his sermons. At this point, I had listened to every single sermon by Francis Chan available on YouTube. I wasn't joking when I said I was hooked after listening to the first one.
I was trying to copy this banquet idea that was based off the premise of Luke 14.
13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
Francis and other members of his church literally washed homeless people's feet as an extension of the love that Jesus showed his disciples. Jesus was, according to the Bible, a king, but lowered himself to that of a servant and washed his disciples' feet. This act was culturally very significant, because to wash another man's feet was a job for the lowliest of servants.
So, I also talked with my church leaders and friends about throwing our own banquet of sorts. I wanted to invite the community and to lower myself as Jesus had lowered himself. So, I prayed to God for the banquet, and I prayed to make a difference. I wanted my life to mean something. I wanted to leave a legacy. I wanted to do something great, and not just live a life where I strove for the things the world told me I needed: an education, a spouse, a career, a nice car and house, and other materialistic things that can't be taken when I die. I realized how selfish I had been, how focused on the things I didn't have, or wanted, instead of the grace God had shown me and the things God had given me as tools to live out my purpose. So, I asked God what it would take for these things to happen.
For those 7 months —from April to November 2014— I prayed these prayers, begged God, battled with my own fears and insecurities, and was literally desperate for whatever the answer was. Because I wanted Misha to come back to God. And I wanted to help make an impact to change the world for the better.
On November 5, 2014, I went to midweek. This particular week it was house church with the women only. We fellowshipped. We laughed. We took pictures. That night, after taking a series of photos I noticed something really strange in two of them. I had always heard of orbs, but although I didn't believe in ghosts, I believed in spirits. In both of the photos, near the left side of my pelvis were two little blue lights. And in the second photo, the orb jumped. I thought it was weird, so I showed it to the other women. We all got goose bumps.
"Why might there be an orb in my photo," I thought?
I walked to my car on that chilly November evening and thought about the photos. And I was filled with fear. I got in my little blue car and googled blue orbs. The results mentioned that blue meant protective. I immediately prayed for my guardian angel to be with me because I was terrified of getting into a car accident that night. I made it home, and posted the photos on FB, laughed about it and then forgot about it the next day.
November 6, 2014, I went on the same prayer walk I went on everyday after work with my little black-and-white dog, Gizmo. I circled the block and came around near the cul-de-sac side and I began praying for the banquet and Misha again like I had done hundreds of times. But this time, I was stopped in my tracks. This time, I felt God respond to my prayer, and this is what He said:
"Erin, something tragic needs to happen."
In that moment, I had no idea what God meant. I wracked my brain, and immediately thought about Misha and her family.
Then I heard God say: "Erin, it is going to happen to you."
I stood there at the end of my parent's cul-de-sac, the street I had grown up on, and I was baffled. What could that possibly mean? But I wasn't filled with fear. I wasn't hyper-fixated. I was sure. I knew that I needed to surrender to whatever God's will was because my desire to see the things I had prayed for to be fulfilled superseded any fear for myself in that moment. I also wondered how I could question God about his response after I had literally begged him for months to answer me. And so in that moment, I looked at the sky and I made a request.
I said, "Okay, God. Do whatever you need to do, just do not take my life."
And I went home and didn't think of the prayer or God's answer again.
Two days later, on a colder November night that melted into the early hours of November 9th, I left the movie theater. I asked Taylor if she needed a ride home. She said no, telling herself that if I insisted on driving her home, she would decline because she knew drunk drivers would be on the road. But she didn't tell me this until months later.
We parted ways and I asked Taylor to text me when she got in the cab. I walked to the underground parking lot and got in my little blue Scion TC for the last time. I called my mother to let her know I would be home in 20 minutes and to tell her it was okay to go back to bed.
And at approximately 1:30am I was hit head-on by a drunk driver traveling the wrong way on the expressway, (northbound in the southbound lanes) but my memory ends several minutes before the crash.
The last memory I have is of driving on I-55 going South, listening to the radio. I remember the street lights at night and how much I love artificial light. The expressway was completely clear and devoid of traffic.
The first memory I have directly following the collision, is of being rolled head-first into an ambulance.
The paramedic comes over to me, grabs my hand and says, "You are lucky to be alive. People do not survive accidents like this."
At this point, I don't even have the energy to ask what happened, but I muster up the strength to question the paramedic about the small ambulance size. You'd think that after not remembering what had happened to me, that I would find a way to ask just that. But in this moment, I am too concerned with how claustrophobic I feel strapped in on a gurney. I wouldn't put the pieces together of what was really driving this question until much later.
The paramedic responds to my somewhat odd question and says, "That's because it is a one-person ambulance."
I can barely speak. All I can think about is the pain. So. Much.Pain.
And in that moment, I remembered my prayer. And it sustained me.
I found out later that I had to be extricated from the vehicle because of the extent of the damage. After the firemen were able to pry me out of the car, I was told I was lucid and talking, though I had lost consciousness on impact. So much had happened during those vital moments directly following the crash, and I couldn't remember any of it. Science says that when your body is in shock, the brain stops making memories because it is concerned only with survival.
I didn't know this then, but my organs were seeping and my spine was in shock. I was slowly dying.
I truly believe that had I not prayed that prayer and asked God to preserve my life, I wouldn't have made it.
I would like to point out something right here: God didn't make the girl who hit me sin. He knew it was going to happen. He had been preparing me for this moment for a long time. I needed to surrender, so God's will could prevail.
I also want to point out that the reason I call the collision, a "crash" is because it was not an accident. Drinking and driving is a choice, and a completely preventable crime. If the 22-year-old girl who hit me that night had set up proper precautionary measures, such as taking a cab home, or asking a friend to serve as a designated driver, the crash could have been avoided entirely.
Here are links to several news articles about the crash. The news outlets were wrong about one thing: my injuries were immediately life-threatening. We would find out how life-threatening in the hours, days and weeks to come.
(the photo at the top of the page is the photo of my car)
Those early morning hours were the beginning of the hardest road I had ever traveled, but would not be the only difficult road. There were many to follow. But one thing remained sure: God was faithful to His promise and what He told me while I stood on the cul-de-sac that day. Despite the hardship and the days, and initial weeks, following this tragedy, I was not alone. And I was deeply loved. I would see my own story and God's faithfulness literally unravel before my eyes.
And although this road is not one I would have chosen for myself or wish upon my worst enemy, it is my path. And I love it for that.
This post is the first of many in this series: "The Prayer That Changed Everything. How I Survived a Drunk Driver and the Story I Couldn't Tell Until Now."
Please look out for subsequent posts. There is so much more to tell.
If you like what you have read, check out the following posts in this series here!
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Tags: car crash, Christ, courage, Drunk Driver, drunk driving, event, Faith, Family, Francis Chan, Friends, God, hope, Jesus, love, perseverance, prayer, sacrifice, survivor, trust, wrong-way crash, wrong-way driver