Gil Ahrens and his wife, Kim, had their lives upended by an automobile accident on October 12, 2002. The accident left Kim paralyzed and Gil badly injured. Although the accident was tragic, it gave them something that they treasure today — a deeper relationship with God. And it gave them a new perspective on why God allows suffering.
Gil writes about the accident and events surrounding it in his book Shattered, Shaken and Stirred: Reconnecting with What Matters Most after Loss and Adversity. I had the opportunity both to read his book and to sit down with Ahrens to discuss the accident and his Christian faith.
Ahrens grew up in Suffield, Connecticut, as did his father. His mother emigrated from Germany. “Both parents were involved in the church and I was raised in the church,” comments Ahrens.
But Ahrens drifted from faith in college. He says, “I decided that I should spread my wings. I always believed in God. And I believed in what Jesus said but did not necessarily want to apply it to my life.” A few years later, a boyhood friend, Eric Metaxes (author of Bonhoeffer), jarred him out of his rebellion.
Eric challenged me by saying, “You are straddling the fence. You can’t have it both ways. Either you are a follower of Christ or you are not.” Over the next few months, God worked on my heart. I realized that I did have to make a choice and chose God.
Ahrens came to the Bay Area in 1990. He worked first as a strategic planner with Sanyo before getting into finances and investment. His career has taken him to the investment heavyweights Piper Jaffray and J.P. Morgan, among others. Today he works as a private banker with Citi.
In October 2002, Ahrens, his wife, Kim, their 3-week old baby, Olivia, and his sister were in Colorado for the wedding of Ahrens’s older cousin, John. As they were driving from the wedding reception, a car driven by a drunken teenage driver travelling at 95 miles per hour crossed the median strip and hit the car Ahrens was driving at 60 miles per hour in the opposite direction. Ahrens describes what happened this way,
I could see this thing unfold. Things seemed to slow down. The impact, I realized was inevitable. I prayed, “Oh God, Oh God, save us.” What is amazing is I palpably felt God’s presence. It’s chilling, even as I recount it. God said, “This is going to be bad, but don’t worry because I’ll be with you.” And I didn’t just hear Him, I felt Him.
It was bad, but God was with Ahrens and his family. Miraculously, his baby and his sister were fine. Ahrens was injured but conscious and would fully recover. Kim, however, was severely injured. She shattered her leg and broke her neck. Within a few days, it was discovered that she had no movement from her shoulders down and the long rehabilitation process began.
Faith, Friends, and Family
Over the next several months many other issues had to be addressed – getting back to the Bay Area, getting the right medical care, dealing with insurance companies, coping with the financial challenges, and having to move from their dream, multi-level San Francisco home which Kim could not navigate. Friends and family came around the Ahrens and gave them love, prayers, and support – physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual. In his diary Ahrens wrote:
If we did not have our faith, friends, families (and Olivia, of course) and the foundation of love for each other, it would be emotionally crippling to face the realities of what has happened. (Shattered, Shaken, and Stirred, page 45)
Ahrens is a businessman, so dealing with problems is a daily activity. But Ahrens found that dealing with the upheaval caused by the accident was beyond his abilities. He needed God.
The only way I kept from getting completely unwound and unglued was by throwing myself at God’s feet. I had to give in to Him completely and relinquish what little control I had. (Shattered, Shaken, and Stirred, page 88)
Kim’s Determination and Faith
With intense physical therapy, prayer, and courage, Kim gradually regained feeling and movement well beyond what her doctors expected. Kim eventually regained enough movement to be able to drive a specially equipped vehicle and even ski – a favorite family activity – with equipment adapted for her use. Ahrens writes,
[Kim’s] growing freedom from within the confines of quadriplegia was directly correlated to her determination to work hard and to work with God. More than anyone I knew, [Kim] did not just invite God into her life, she yielded her life to Him. She let Him take over. Her independence was because of her dependence on God. Consequently, everyone who knew [Kim] was blessed because they got to bear witness to God working in her life. (Shattered, Shaken, and Stirred, page 214)
God and Suffering
Ahrens observes that everyone eventually experiences something bad, but what is most important is what we do when bad things happen to us. For Ahrens and his wife, the tremendous disruption in their lives and their suffering drew them closer to God. Religious skeptics sometimes question how there can be a loving God when He lets good and innocent people suffer. Ahrens profoundly observes,
God did not want us to suffer, but He allowed it because it enabled us to further rely, depend, and lean on Him. It allowed us to be closer to Him…We prayed for God to perform miracles. What He gave us, however, above all else was His fellowship. He entered our lives and stayed beside us. The comfort and assurance of His fellowship were greater than any miracle we might otherwise have hoped for….We were once wayward travelers, not knowing that we were lost. But we got transformed into a beacon for other travelers like the ones we once were. This was only possible because of how God made us all. Whatever pain or anguish our minds and bodies experienced was eclipsed by the gratitude our hearts remembered. (Shattered, Shaken, and Stirred, page 215)
A Broader Perspective on Life
Ahrens’s experience has given him a broader perspective on life.
Most people think that eternity begins when we die. No, we’re living it now. The accident and its aftermath made me realize there is something much bigger going on.
His deepened Christian faith pervades all he does, including his work.
I don’t wear my faith on my sleeve, but think it is important that people know who I am and what I believe. More importantly, I want my faith to shine through in my behavior. For example, I will never show a client an investment opportunity which may give me a big fee, but may not be in the best interest of the client.
Ahrens is active in Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. In addition, he is a leader with the San Francisco chapter of the New Canaan Society, a network of men with a desire to deepen their relationship with Christ. He is also a supporter of Abilities United, a non-profit organization which helps people with disabilities.
In the conclusion to his book, he offers this perspective,
The key to everything – to surviving, coping with loss, adapting to changed realities, and managing to get by – is primarily an attitude defined by three words, Faith, Hope, and Love. And that is how we find and reconnect with joy – a peaceful, reassuring joy that comes only from Faith, Hope and Love. (Shattered, Shaken, and Stirred, page 219)