how to not die: the “real” missing piece

A few posts back, I talked about the missing piece from my rock-climbing story. I was raised Christian and went to small Christian schools all my life, including college. When I had my accident, the entire student body at the university I was attending prayed for me. Both people I knew and people I’d never met watched as I went from nearly dying to fully recovering—a miracle they attested to the power of prayer.

I’ve already talked about how this incident affected me—how I slept through it all and came out an incredibly sick girl on the other side.

But there certainly are spiritual implications to my story. I cannot deny that prayer is what brought me through (it certainly was no power of my own): to say otherwise would be a slap in the face to both God and my dear friends . . .  This is true even if I don’t really know what God looks like.

So . . . the missing piece is you. The people who were most impacted were you. The people who saw the miracle was you.

I asked a few friends if they’d write down their remembrances, so anyone interested could hear my story from a different perspective. Here are two of their stories. Chad Stuart and Hilda Thordarson-Scott, from the bottom of my heart, thank you.


Chad Stuart was the student chaplain at Southern when I had my accident. Today, he is a pastor in Visalia, California. Here he is pictured with his wife and two of their three sons.


It was late on Saturday night, January 25th when I first received news that one of our students had fallen while rock climbing. That was all I heard—no name, no details. Just that an accident had happened. I said a quick prayer, but other than that didn’t give it much thought. I was in Ohio visiting my parents for the weekend. There really wasn’t much I could do.

The next day, around noon, I turned on my phone and saw several messages. The messages were from the student deans and our secretary at school. They were all updating me about what I now realized was a very dire situation.

I have to admit that at that moment I was glad I was in Ohio. I had just graduated with my degree in Theology. I was very comfortable organizing worship programs, visiting students in the dorm . . . even dealing with students’ relationship issues. But this? This was sounding like a tragedy far beyond my personal capabilities. Thank goodness I’m in Ohio!Surely someone will get there to minister to them before I get back and I’ll be off the hook.

Wow, even as I type those words now ten plus years later I realize how selfish they sound, especially now that I know all that Jessica was going through. But it was honestly how I felt.

I was still thinking these thoughts when the phone rang. It was the head chaplain at our school. He was in Washington state and . . . I knew what he was going to say before he said it: Ohio is a lot closer to Tennessee than Washington. I was needed back at the school as soon as possible.

I packed up and began to drive. I wasn’t in a hurry. I wasn’t looking forward to being in this type of situation with people I didn’t know. I had gone through tragedies before—deaths, horrific accidents, etc.—but always with loved ones and close friends. Never with strangers. By now I had heard the student’s name: Jessica Cyphers. It name sounded familiar, but, to be honest, with a couple thousand students on campus, there weren’t many names and faces I could easily put together. I figured I’d just put the name and face together when I saw her in the hospital.

I finally arrived back in Collegedale. I dropped my fiancée off at her place and my luggage off at my apartment. I drove back to the school, went up to my office . . . I was stalling. I called the women’s dean to get an update. She began to cry as she told me what was going on. The more she cried, the more I began to pray, “Jesus help me.” Finally, I took a deep breath. I hopped in my car and drove to the hospital.

As I drove, God was already answering my prayer: my thoughts were beginning to shift from myself to Jessica.

It was almost 9 p.m. by the time I arrived at Erlanger Hospital—more than 30 hours after Jessica’s accident, and nearly 24 hours since she had arrived at the hospital. Someone directed me to a waiting room where Jessica’s dad was sitting quietly by himself. I approached him and introduced myself. I apologized that none of the chaplains had been able to get there sooner. He was gracious.

I asked him how Jessica was, and he began to tell me all the agonizing details, including the fact that in that moment Jessica’s life was hanging in the balance. She was in surgery and the doctors were working to stop some bleeding and deal with clots in her lungs. I’m not medical, so I didn’t understand half the jargon he was spitting out (he is Dr. Cyphers, after all), but I knew what the words “We don’t know if she’s going to make it” meant. And I knew the tears in his eyes were more than just the typical tears of a parent—they were the tears of a dad that fully understood each agonizing detail of his daughters care and knew that optimistic talk was just that: optimistic talk.

For the next five hours we sat there in a dimly lit waiting room, waiting—at times in absolute silence, at times talking about Jessica. Steve, Jessica’s dad, asked me if I knew her. I told him that she’d been in our office once or twice, but, no, I did not know her personally. (I was still figuring I’d put a name with the face when I finally got a chance to see her.)  There was more sitting in silence. Then we talked about sports . . . He’s a Sacramento Kings fan, and, considering the situation, I decided not to hold that against him even though I love the Los Angeles Lakers.

Finally, around 2 a.m., we decided it was time to try to sleep, so I prayed with Dr. Cyphers, and then I left.

The next day I sent out a campus-wide e-mail informing our student body of the situation. I was thrilled to hear from the both the men and women’s deans that prayer groups had already been started by some of our students. We even organized a prayer gathering that night in one of the chapels. The place was full of prayer!

On Monday morning I headed to the hospital. Jessica had made it through her surgery of the previous night, and I wanted to see her so that I could finally put a name with the face and get an update to share with the students that night.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I saw. When I walked into the room in the ICU, there lying on the bed was an unrecognizable figure. The swelling was extreme. It was shocking!

That night all I could report to the students was: “Jessica needs prayer!”

I know God did not this great tragedy upon Jessica. But I live by and believe that He can bring good out of situations that Satan has intended for evil. Part of the “good” in this situation was that hundreds of students on our campus were in constant prayer for Jessica. At every school worship function, in classrooms, in dorm rooms, on the sidewalks . . . And when a report came that Jessica was conscious? The entire chapel erupted in applause.

Many of the details of those weeks and months have faded from my memory, but I will never forget how Jessica was pulled back from the brink of death on several occasions. Nor will three distinct moments in the weeks and months after Jessica’s accident.

I remember my first conversation with Jessica. I went to visit her at the hospital. I hadn’t been there for a while, and my heart nearly leaped out of my chest when I saw her sitting up in a chair next to her mom. The effects of the fall were still evident, but far less severe. Jess was no longer swollen beyond recognition. In fact, I thought to myself, they need to feed this girl more! She had her back brace on, but she was sitting up and smiling. I was amazed!

I said hello, and she smiled back at me. I asked her, “Do you know who I am?” Her response, sounding like a person with the worst case of laryngitis ever, was, “Yes.” That was all she said. Otherwise she just nodded and smiled and mouthed words.

As I walked back to the elevator tears streamed down my face. “Thank you Jesus! Thank you Jesus! Thank you!” was all I could say.

Jessica went home to California soon after that and I didn’t see her again for several months.

On July 13 in Turlock, California, my fiancée and I got married. And, lo and behold, Jessica and her parents were there! They had driven down from Sacramento to wish us well on our wedding day. When I saw Jessica standing to give me a hug, my eyes again filled with tears.

Three years later I was working in Georgia when I received an email message from Jessica. She wanted me to know that she would be sharing her story in front of the school. So I drove up to the university and, as I sat there and listened to Jessica tell her story and describe how God had used this tragedy for her good, tears once again rolled down my cheeks. All I could pray was, “Thank You Jesus! Thank You Jesus! Thank You!”

Now ten years later even as I remember and write this extremely long blog post, I find myself with tears in my eyes and thanking Jesus for the miracle of Jessica! :)

The next memory is from a college friend, Hilda.


Hilda Thordarson-Scott and her husband now live in La Porte, Indiana with their daughter and one more on the way!


I remember coming to the hospital and not being allowed to see Jessica. She was in surgery.  Her parents were not yet there—they were traveling from California.  It was late and some of us sat on the floor in the hallway.  Many tearful prayers were offered.  We felt helpless, but we wanted to do something!  So we sat in shock, and we prayed. This was the kind of thing that happened in the movies, NOT to one of your friends!!

We came day after day, sat in the waiting area, trying to offer some encouragement to Jessica’s parents, waiting to hear updates . . . More than once the doctors did not expect Jessica to make it through the night.  The entire university was praying for Jessica. I saw her story reported on the news.  How could this be real?

I remember hearing about how Randy had had to leave Jessica behind while running for help, and that, when he trespassed on someone’s property, he got shot at!  I felt horrible for Randy, too, and worried about how he was handling the situation.

Each day Jessica clung to life. She fought!  And each day brought new hope.

Finally the doctors allowed her friends to see her.  Her face was so swollen—I couldn’t believe it was actually her!  It didn’t look like Jessica.  But we were so happy to see her, even for just a short time, and we all hoped we said the right things to her, wanting to encourage her and possibly make her laugh.

Her story is such a powerful testimony of God’s love and power.  She is evidence of a present-day miracle and the power of prayer. Her parents were strong. Nothing is impossible with God!  Jessica recovered far better than anyone expected.

Here, too, is a poem Hilda wrote while I was in the hospital:

We know a sweet girl,
her name is Jess.
And everyone knows
that she’s the best!
The other day she had a little fall,
9-1-1 we had to call.

The helicopter came
to take her out,
They took her to the hospital
by the fastest route.
All her friends and
family came.
She was on the 11 o’clock news
which brought her fame.

We have all been praying
and wish her the best.
We know she’ll come through,
she’s a strong one, that Jess!
We want her to know
that we love her much.
We know she’ll be safe,
she’ll be healed by God’s touch!

P.S. If you’ve read this far, thank you! I am SO DONE talking about my rock-climbing accident now. Back to more exciting things, like Asia.



26 thoughts

  1. Jessica,
    I remember vividly the prayer vigils at Southern. I remember how you suddenly became a common subject with friends and in prayer in classes. I remember it so well, that I never forgot it or your face. I can imagine that developing such a high profile might have been awkward at times. But you were graceful about it and clearly thankful. Anyways, it’s been nice to get to know you on a more personal level. I enjoy your writings and questions.


    • Thank you, Heather. It’s neat for me to hear how you remember this, too. Yeah, the following year was an interesting time in my life. Thankfully it’s all in the past… Thank you for reading. I’m enjoying getting to know you better, too!

  2. I continue to read each of your updates with bated breath. I am enjoying the others who have brought their own perspective to the table. Jessica you continue to be courageous. Thank you for being a good example for me. :)

    • Lol, Terri. I’m not sure if that’s courageous in a good way or a bad way. But I’ll take it as a compliment. I’ve never seemed to follow the common path, but at least that keeps things interesting!

      I’m glad I was able to share others’ views. I think that rounded the story out well. As always, thanks for reading. :)

    • I think there is a “like” button for posts, but it’s easier for bloggers than non-bloggers to use. As for the comments, I know what you mean! I’ll have to give wordpress a talking to. ;)

  3. Thank you for sharing all of this story, not only of your own very real and personal experience physically and emotionally, but including this important piece of it, and the others involved, as well.

    • You’re more than welcome. It has been my pleasure. I’m glad it meant something to include others’ perspectives. I’m not always sure how my pieces will be received when first I think of them!

  4. this is truly awesome… I thought I should look at some of your older post cuz I’ve read all the recent ones… I am glad I did… this a great and inspiring story… prayer moves the hand of God.

  5. This was an amazing story! So glad you are here to tell it!
    I wanted to share someone with a little different story and perspective.
    When you have time take a peek at some of his posts… he is amazing!

    His blog changed the way I look at things. I truly feel that God does not cause bad things, tragedies, illness, etc… to people. Though because we live in a fallen world, He does allow them. It is up to us and our attitudes what we do with our own stories that make the difference. When we lost our store in 2003 due to an earthquake (another story another blog) I can’t say I always had the best attitude about it but I am a work in progress! So glad I stumbled upon your blog! You are an awesome writer. I have a keen suspicions that God is going to use you in mighty ways!

    • Thank you so much. You are so kind! And thank you for the link to “Unshakeable Hope.” I’ve actually already met and am following Bill—his story and perspective amaze me! He truly is an inspiration and a lesson for all of us… Also, I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your store. But, it’s true: God works in mysterious ways. I continue to see that daily.

      Thank you so much for the follow. I will take a look at your blog soon, too! Best regards :)

  6. Reblogged this on shift and commented:

    My story from my perspective has been told. But, as I mentioned previously, there is a missing piece: you. In part six, you’ll hear from others who knew me at the time of the fall and how my accident affected them.

  7. Thanks for sharing all of these. It’s impossible to read them without tearing up. Your life continues to be an inspiration.

  8. Love the beautiful photo of you & your family. It is great to see such love & happiness that old family photos hold (one of the best things my family does every year is a slide show ~ from the way past-to-present).

    It is great to see the strength that you and your family has for each other. Powerful stuff.

    • Old family photos *are* great, aren’t they? Weird now that my family is split, but whatever. Your family’s slideshow tradition sounds awesome! The family unit is definitely powerful.

An angel earns a pair of wings every time you comment.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s