Crash and Turn

Growing up in Colorado, I used to be an avid skier and would go skiing numerous times every winter. On December 29, 1993, my view of skiing, and more importantly, my view of God’s plan for my life, changed dramatically.

Two of my friends and I, all three of us very good skiers, had been tackling black diamond (difficult) runs all morning. We decided to race down a blue (intermediate) run. Wanting to win the race, I was essentially skiing straight down the mountain. I have no idea how fast I was going, but it was fast. Right when I recognized that I was on the edge of being completely out of control, I saw a sharp turn forced by trees quickly approaching. I knew I needed to slow way down. I decided to attempt a giant hockey stop/slide, and it didn’t end well. I crashed badly, and while I tumbled down the mountain, I felt my leg bend as if a new joint had formed in the middle of my shin. I instantly knew my leg was broken.

I finally slid to a stop and waited there until my friends caught up with me. Not knowing I was injured, they both sprayed me with snow and jokingly criticized me for littering my ski equipment all over the slope. Once I convinced them that my leg was indeed broken (one of them actually told me to get up and shake it off, not realizing that might have actually been literally possible at that moment), they skied down the remainder of the run, got the ski patrol, and came back to where I was lying. The ski patrol positioned me on a sled and took me down to the lodge.

I knew my leg was broken, but I didn’t know how badly it was broken until I saw the look on the ski patrol guy’s face when he cut open the leg of my ski pants. I looked down and saw my tibia sticking out of the skin. I had what is known in the skiing world as a “boot break,” a compound open fracture of both my tibia and fibula (the two bones in the lower part of the leg).

I had surgery that evening. Surgery was followed by two months in a cast from my waist to my toes, followed by six weeks in a walking boot (with minimal walking allowed), followed by another four weeks in the walking boot (with more walking allowed). Praise God, I made a full recovery and the injury rarely bothers me.

I went skiing the following winter, but quickly realized that I had turned into a very different skier. Instead of black diamonds, moguls, and jumps, I was simply making big S’s down intermediate runs. The crash, injury, and recovery had ended my love for skiing. I still enjoy it somewhat, but I have no passion for it. I am open to going skiing. But, I seriously doubt I will ever be an avid skier again.

Far more important than how the injury changed my view of skiing, God used the recovery time to change my view of His plan for my life. The injury occurred during the Christmas break of my freshman year of college. I knew God wanted me to go to Bible college, but I was fighting it. I was resisting what I knew was God’s desire, partly out of uncertainty of what I wanted to be when I grew up, and partly out of a desire to finally win the heart of a particular girl I had a huge crush on (which never happened). But, whatever the reason, I was outside of God’s plan. I had the wrong priorities, the wrong plans, and the wrong perspective.

Because of the injury, I had to drop out of the spring semester of college. I was stranded at home and had a lot of time to myself. My youth pastor gave me a stack of books to read, with the Bible on top, of course. I had never really read and studied the Bible for myself. I think I read most of the Bible during my recovery time. God seemed to especially focus my study of His Word on the importance of eternal things, taking my eyes off of the things of this world and instead living for things that matter for eternity (Matthew 6:19-21).

I don’t remember all the books my youth pastor gave me to read, but I vividly remember reading the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. The way Screwtape and Wormwood conspired to distract “the Patient” from following Christ was eye-opening. By the end of my recovery, I not only knew God wanted me to go to Bible college, but I wanted to go to Bible college. I didn’t know what God had planned for my life, but I knew I wanted His plan.

I’m sure I had pity-parties after the injury. I am sure there were some “why me?” and “how could You do this to me?” moments. But, by the end, I knew why God had allowed it to happen. God used the crash, the injury, and the recovery to turn my life in a different direction. He used it to change my heart and open my eyes. While I still wish I could have learned the lesson from someone else’s mistake, instead of by my own reckless stupidity, I can now say without any hesitation that I am glad I broke my leg.

I refer to it, lovingly, as my “crash and turn” moment.

S. Michael Houdmann

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Crash and Turn