Spiritual Life

A story of suffering, love and faith: the life of Gil Ahrens

A little more than a decade ago, Gil Ahrens and his wife, Kim, had their lives upended by an automobile accident. 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 new perspective on why God allows suffering.

Gil describes the accident and events surrounding it in his book, “Shattered, Shaken and Stirred: Reconnecting with What Matters Most after Loss and Adversity” (Positano Press, 2009).

I had opportunities both to read his book and to sit down with Ahrens to discuss the accident and his Christian faith.

Ahrens grew up in Suffield, Conn., as did his father. His mother emigrated from Germany.

“Both parents were involved in the church and I was raised in the church,” Ahrens said.

He came to the Bay Area in 1990 and worked as a strategic planner with Sanyo before getting into finance and investment. His career has taken him to the investment heavyweights Piper Jaffray & Co. and JP Morgan Chase & Co. among others. Today, he works as a private banker with Citigroup Inc.

The accident

Ahrens, his wife, Kim, their 3-week old baby, Olivia, and Ahrens’ sister traveled to Colorado in October 2002 for the wedding of Ahrens’ cousin John. As they drove from the wedding reception, a car driven by a drunken teenage driver traveling at 95 miles per hour crossed the median strip and hit their car Ahrens was driving 60 miles per hour in the opposite direction.

“I could see this thing unfold,” Ahrens said. “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.

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, multilevel San Francisco home, which Kim could not navigate. Friends and family rallied around the Ahrens and gave them love, prayers and support.

“The only way I kept from getting completely unwound and unglued was by throwing myself at God’s feet,” Ahrens wrote in his book.

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 with equipment adapted for her use.

“(Kim’s) growing freedom from within the confines of quadriplegia was directly correlated to her determination to work hard and to work with God,” Ahrens wrote. “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.”

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.

In the conclusion, he writes: “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.”

Skip Vaccarello is a longtime Los Altos resident. For more information, visit findinggodinsiliconvalley.com. Interviews from this site will be used as part of an upcoming book.

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