Photo by Nicole Tarpoff
Two days before leaving for college, I was driving way too fast! It was the middle of a sunny afternoon and I wasn’t under the influence, but I was a little anxious to get down the road. I had stolen my father’s car.
I always crossed the yellow line on the curvy roads I grew up on, but this time, I hit another driver head-on at 65 miles an hour. The dashboard was in my lap and my pelvis was fractured. I broke my right arm in eight places, and my fresh young face hit the windshield. Thanks to his monster truck, the other young driver walked away. So grateful for that!
Right before the collision, I had a sense that “Someone” entered the car, and I heard a voice say, “Hold my hand.” To have this experience was foreign to me. I wouldn’t have even known how to talk about it. I didn’t grow up with people having spiritual encounters. If someone had asked me about the accident, I most likely wouldn’t have mentioned it, but I “knew” there was an angel in the car with me.
I put my right hand in the middle of the bench seat and held the hand of whomever was next to me. I have no memory after that. I don’t recall seeing another vehicle, losing control of the car, or skidding 250 feet before impact. I don’t know where I was in the road. Nothing. I didn’t have a safety belt on and it was a horrible accident. I should have been thrown from the car head first. It was obvious God spared my life!
My college plans had been arrested and I was hating it! The doctor told me I was on doctor’s orders not to go to university and I rebutted, “I will go to school if I have to go in a wheelchair!”
Then he gave me a choice, “You can either stay in this bed for 10 days or I can put you in a body cast.”
Great! I chose to stay in bed and he scheduled my surgery for the day I was to start college classes. Now I had pins in my arm and I was confined to bed.
“Recovery will be six months,” he stated. As they wheeled me out of the hospital, a former high school teacher stopped by. She had retired at the same time I graduated and was starting a community college in my hometown.
She said, “I know the doctor told you, you can’t go to university, but you can come to my school.”
There was some hope.
Not long after I was released from the hospital, I reconnected with an elderly woman from my church. We had become fast friends when I was a girl and stayed friends through my high school years. I moved in with her while I recovered. “Teeney” was a widow with no children of her own, and she had recently moved into a two-bedroom apartment within walking distance of the school where I hoped to take a few classes for college credit.
The first time I walked into Teeney’s apartment, it was like walking through liquid love. I don’t know how to describe it except to say the air was thick and I was at peace. It felt like that most of the time.
I never said anything to her about what happened in the car, but almost daily she would say, “No one would have lived through that but you. God must have a plan for your life.”
How did she know? How was she so certain that God had good plans for me? I grew up in a home no one wanted to be in. I never had a friend spend the night or even come inside my house. I always went to other people’s houses. Every one of us was ready to leave as soon as we could, and now my plans to escape had been shattered. How was God on my side?
I can easily forget the ways God works in my life, but God didn’t want me to forget this one. He took the impact of that accident for me. So, He reminded me daily through Teeney, “No one would have lived through that but you. God must have a plan for your life.”
One day Teeney looked me straight in the face and said, “I’ve been asking God why I’m not dead yet. All my friends are dead, but I’m not dead, ‘cause you need a momma.” I was beginning to believe God had spared my life for a purpose, and He had kept her alive to help me.
Teeney was 91 years old and she was a bird of a woman, little and frail, but her heart was big and strong. I slept in the bedroom on the left side of the hallway, and her bedroom was on the right. At night, I overheard her pray. She took her hearing aids out and put them on the bedside table before she started to talk to God. Maybe she couldn’t hear herself, but I could. That’s where I learned what God is like. I remember thinking, “Everything is going to be just fine because Teeney is talking to God and God lives here because she lives here.”
After I got my cast off, I could do a few things. I cooked meals for us, such as Jello and cornbread. We liked vanilla pudding. Often, we spent the days sitting in the sunlight room, watching Jeopardy or Wheel of Fortune at night. I typed my papers during the day near her. Her chair sat low to the ground and I would sit at her feet pushing my body as close to her as I could get. I remember wanting to crawl inside of her to feel what it felt like to be her.
When I think about religion, I think about complexities; certain things you have to know or do, but Teeney made things real simple. She’d say, “I talk to God like He is a friend. I talk to Him like I’m talking to you.”
She told me, “When I wake up I ask God to take my hand and keep me from falling, and He does.” I knew God was her friend, and I knew she was my friend, and maybe, I thought, somehow that makes God my friend. I was opened up to a whole new idea of who God was through her life.
In January, I went to university, and in no time, I was in the wrong crowd. One night at a party, my new “friends” were shooting up, and the needle was two or three people away from me. I thought, “If I put that needle in my arm, my life is over. These ‘friends’ will let me die.” Just like the prodigal son came to his senses, I came to my senses and walked two or three miles back to my dorm room alone at 3 a.m.
Teeney had shown me that coming to God was not a complex matter; I could talk to God like a friend. So, I knelt on the concrete floor in my dorm. My roommate was sleeping with her boyfriend on the other side of the room as I quietly said, “I want to know the God Teeney knows.” At that moment, I had a spiritual experience that lasted the rest of the night and into the next morning.
I’ve not been the same person since. I’ve had a desire for God I didn’t have before. I’ve had a hunger to read the Bible I didn’t have before. The Bible was the first book I read that wasn’t a homework assignment.
Within a few months, I moved to an apartment off campus with two closets off the bedroom. In one closet I put my clothes, and in the other I put a mattress and my Bible. I would tuck myself in there for hours to read the Bible. I covered the walls with scripture and drew pictures. It became my place to meet with God. This new hunger for God was supernatural. I wasn’t like that before. My nature had changed. I didn’t want the same things that I wanted before. I knew God personally now, like Teeney knew God. I was talking to Him like a friend, and He talked with me.
A few years later, at 21 years old, I joined a discipleship team and was preparing to go on my first mission trip when God told me to go home and tell Teeney goodbye.
At this time, Teeney was in a nursing home. I peeked my head in the doorway to surprise her. She saw me and leaned toward me to whisper, “Are you an angel or are you the real thing?”
What? Teeney as sharp as a tack! She knew exactly what she was saying! She obviously had seen angels, even “my angel” and thought it was here right now. I don’t have a theology for this and I’m not going to build one. I just know I had to walk over to her bedside to assure her I was the “real thing.”
I climbed in the bed with her and we were close the whole weekend. It was a sweet visit, and I had forgotten what God told me until I crossed the threshold to leave. God reminded me. It was like a rebuke, “I told you to tell her goodbye.”
Now, I’m certain I said goodbye, but God wanted me to release her to Him, and only I could do that. I turned around immediately and went to her bedside. “Teeney, I want you to know, if you die now, I’m going to be okay. I love you and goodbye.”
I just walked away after that. We didn’t talk. I don’t recall her responding with any platitudes, and that was the last time I saw her. She died two weeks later at 95 years old, the day I left on my first mission trip.
I’ve learned a lot about evangelism on the mission field but learned more from Teeney. She taught me about Christ without even talking about Him. She displayed His love. I was in the worst shape of my life when we were together. I was broken up in every way: physically, mentally, and spiritually. I was a mess, and she wasn’t the least bit anxious to fix me. She didn’t see me as a problem to fix. She knew only God could do what needed done inside of me, and she trusted Him to do just that.
God continues to draw me close to Him. Now I have a regular time with God, and I rearrange my life to meet with Him. I don’t feel compelled to make things happen in the lives of other people. Teeney taught me to have a deep confidence and trust in God’s ability to do what He does best: Redeem His children.
A Million God Stories is a Christ-centered ministry which offers a platform for Christians from all streams of Christian faith to give praise for how God has worked in their lives. Christ heals in infinitely creative ways and we acknowledge that His way of helping may differ from person to person.