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My Christian life: Turning tragedy into blessing

A mother demonstrates the hope she has through her Savior following her son’s devastating accident.

“ ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11).

This ancient reminder of God’s faithful love and steadfast assurance has bolstered the hearts of many believers during tough times.

It is also the anchor of faith for Marla Austin, a mother whose life changed forever with a phone call in the summer of 2016. Her story is God’s unique plan for her family, but her hope is that other parents, especially the moms out there, will be encouraged by the way unbridled joy for Jesus has been unleashed in her son through very tough circumstances.


Marla grew up in Norfolk, Nebraska. As a child she attended a WELS elementary school that was started by her ancestor settlers—Lutherans from Wisconsin who crossed the prairie in wagons to make a different life for their children. She attended the WELS high school in New Ulm, Minnesota, with one year of college as well. After a few years in Arizona, God’s plan brought her back to her home state. She completed a degree in art and met Ken Austin, a man who loves the prairies of the Nebraska farmland. They married and were blessed with three children, two sons and a daughter.

My christian life may 2022
(Left): Al and his sister, Marisa. Marisa moved back home to help care for her brother after the accident. (Right) Al sporting his infectious smile and his mom, Marla. (Top photo): The Austin family. Back row: Josh, Marla, Ken, Alexander. Front row: Josh’s wife, Amber; their children, Parker and Ava; Marisa.

Ken and Marla live close to the land and have many opportunities to ask the Lord for his providential hand. Income is dependent on the weather, and neighbors are often miles away. But to illustrate how Jeremiah 29 has played out for them, we skip to the year 2016, the day of the life-changing phone call.

Their middle child, Alexander, was a test engineer in the prototype combine division for a large agricultural corporation. He lived in Kansas and loved his friends, his home, and his job. On a routine day in July 2016, he was testing one of the combines when his assistant heard a thud. In a freak turn of events, which only the Lord had seen, Alexander fell nearly ten feet to the cement floor. He suffered a traumatic brain injury along with many other injuries.

MCL May 2022 sidebar


The diagnosis was grim. But the almighty Lord was with this family of believers. God has shown his work of making Alexander an overcomer. The list is amazing.

  • Told he might not see his 30th birthday—he did.
  • Told he might not wake up—he did.
  • Told he would not be able to use his right side—he does.
  • Told he would not walk again—he does.
  • Told he would not speak again—he is daily putting more words together.
  • Told he would probably not remember anything—he does. He fervently sings hymns he memorized as a child.

Ask Marla and she joyfully and tearfully will tell you all the ways this tragedy has been a blessing to their faith. Mention Jesus to Al, and he beams with joy at the name; gives a thumbs up; folds his hands; and closes his eyes in prayer, saying, “Blessed I am.” His joy is infectious and convicting at the same time.

Unbridled joy

All this recovery has taken thousands of baby steps, daily focused therapies, and tons of prayers. Marla could have given up in exhaustion, but she has been energized to serve Jesus by serving Alexander.

She is not alone in this journey. The entire family is there for support. Al’s sister, Marisa, left her full-time position to move back to Nebraska and help her parents with the care that her brother would need. She regularly takes Al to the local hospital’s wellness center to exercise with him. She and her mom attend weekly speech therapy sessions with Al. No matter what the routine might be, the entire family participates as the learning continues.

Alexander’s abilities to help on the farm are returning. Initially it was all about muscle memory, but now he is able to problem solve and offer suggestions. When words refuse to come, he gestures to make his point. God has made Al a fighter; he keeps pushing forward despite any obstacles. Al is not distressed. Rather, he is consistently content because he recognizes his need to trust in God’s promises each and every day!

Al expresses his unbridled joy in Jesus multiple times each day, no matter the situation. His ability to remember the hymns he had learned as a youth was so beneficial to him when returning to church at Trinity, Hoskins, Neb., after the year in the hospital. At first he listened, but now his memory has resurfaced. Hearing him sing brings tears of joy to his mom. Rod Rixe, Trinity’s pastor, regularly gets a thumbs-up during the sermon.

Despite the injury, Al is able to focus on singing and praying. “He often tells us it’s time for prayer before meals or that it is time for our evening devotions,” Marla says. “He closes his eyes multiple times each day, folds his hands, and prays silently to his Savior. What an example to each of us!”

When the Lord’s plans don’t match ours, perhaps we can remember this mother and her family as a testimony to his love. God’s plans may not always be understandable, but they are definitely perfect.

In this world of uncertainty, Al’s faith and trust are precious to behold. But in eternity, his example of hope in God is priceless!

Author: Marilyn Sievert
Volume 109, Number 05
Issue: May 2022

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This entry is part 14 of 51 in the series my christian life

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