On Aug. 16, 2008, an airplane carrying husband and wife Christian and Stephanie Nielson, along with flight instructor and Nielson friend Doug Kinneard, crashed in St. Johns, Arizona. Confident that his wife was right behind him, Christian got out of the plane and Stephanie awoke to a wall of flames in front of her. She made it out of the wreckage, but all three passengers were in devastatingly critical condition. Doug wouldn't survive. Christian was burned over 30% of his body and had a broken back. Stephanie was burned over 80% of her body. Both were in medically-induced comas; Christian for weeks and Stephanie for months.
Heaven Is Here is Stephanie's memoir and it is beautiful, moving and life-affirming. I had started reading Stephanie's blog about a year after her accident and I remember crying when I read about what had happened and saw all the photos of her and Christian and their four children before the accident. I remember thinking how difficult it must have been - and still is - for the family to pick up the pieces and try to move forward. But reading the blog and, now, reading the book has given me a new perspective. I so admire the grace and strength of Stephanie and her whole family. I admire her courage and determination and perseverance and the hope she shares.
This book has taught me so much - about my own self and my own faith and my own ability to share and spread hope. And, especially for me, a woman who, for much of her life has felt like an ugly duckling, this passage from "Heaven Is Here" was very moving and thought-provoking:
"I know, now, without a doubt that the true source of happiness, self-worth, and authentic beauty doesn't come from the outside. Women are constantly being persuaded to want something unachievable, to look younger or thinner and above all to fit in because being different is too painful and embarrassing. I have accepted myself in a world that does not accept me, because I have learned -- and more than any of the lessons of my accident, this is the one I wish I could teach everybody -- that our hearts matter most. Your heart matters moves, so be gentler and more patient with yourself, and their hearts matter most, too, so be kinder and more compassionate to others. It's a beautiful heart, not a perfect body, that leads to a beautiful life."
I have tears in my eyes as I type that quote out and I plan to write it into my book journal this morning, as well. (Along with a few other quotes and passages from the book - do you keep a book journal?) "Heaven Is Here" is a wonderful book, one of the best I've read in a long time, and I truly encourage you all to read it. There is so much to learn from Stephanie and I'm looking forward to celebrating each step of progress with her as she moves forward in her recovery. And I know there's so much more she can teach me from her journey, as well.