Ashlee Lundvall was pretty sure she had her life mapped out. As a high-achieving teenager with both athletic and academic aptitude, she hoped to keep excelling in sports while earning a degree in medicine. But God had different plans. When a terrifying accident dramatically changed Ashlee’s day-to-day reality, she found herself on a very different path than the one she’d imagined. Read her story to see how God’s plans for Ashlee took her on path filled with unexpected joy, beauty, and opportunities to glorify Him.
“As a pastor’s daughter, I don’t remember a time when I didn’t know about Jesus. I grew up in Indianapolis. I hit six feet tall in 6th grade, and I played year-round sports; my life was wrapped up in being outdoors and being active. I know I made a profession of faith when I was really young. But I only knew the story of my salvation through my parents. I couldn’t actually recall my own testimony to tell it. I went to summer camp in the early ‘90s, and I heard a lot of other testimonies. It made me realize that I wasn’t sure my heart was really right with God. So, when I got home, I talked with my mom, and I recommitted my life to Christ.”
With a newfound faith and trust in God, Ashlee’s heart was prepared for the adventures and the difficulties awaiting her. A family road trip gave Ashlee her first glimpse of Wyoming, and she found her heart unexpectedly drawn to the rugged mountains and the wild and windy outdoors.
“I remember thinking, this is going to be an important place in my life. I told my parents, ‘I will find a way to get back to Wyoming.’”
The opportunity to return to Wyoming came in the summer of 1998, when Ashlee spent two weeks at camp on a working ranch near Cody. The next summer, she came back for a three-week session: two weeks of ranch-camp, to be followed by a week of backpacking. On the morning of August 2, 1999, Ashlee woke up and headed out to help with chores.
“I remember leaving the bunkhouse, and then climbing up on a hayrack and pulling my pocketknife out to cut open the twine on a bale of hay. The bale slipped sideways, and I leaned forward and started to fall. I ended up landing on the wooden handle of the pitchfork. I blew out my back at T12, which caused a spinal cord injury.
For the first couple of years after my accident, I was in a dark place. On the outside, it probably looked like I was handling everything really well, but on the inside, I was dealing with a lot of hurt, a lot of anger, a lot of betrayal. I questioned why the accident had happened to me. I was a ‘good girl,’ and I couldn’t understand why God would let this happen. But I realized that there is nothing in the Bible that promises that once you’re saved, nothing bad will happen to you. I realized, too, that, with all the things I couldn’t control, the one thing I could control was the way I chose to respond. I had to choose: am I going to wallow, or am I going to keep my eyes up, looking to Christ?”
Ashlee chose to trust in God’s faithfulness. As she kept her gaze fixed on Jesus, He showed her that He had a new path for her, and that He would lead her.
But I realized that there is nothing in the Bible that promises that once you’re saved, nothing bad will happen to you. I realized, too, that, with all the things I couldn’t control, the one thing I could control was the way I chose to respond.
“I had my whole life mapped out, and then this thing happened. It was like God just told me, ‘I’m going to use this to put you in a different direction, and it’s going to be even better.’”
The first “fork in the road” occurred when Ashlee set off for college. Laying aside her dreams of leaving home and attending medical school, Ashlee chose to stay close to home and earn a different degree. After graduating, she pondered how the Lord might want to use her. What was next? Realizing that the Lord could use her story for His purposes, she began to think about pursuing training in Biblical counseling.
“When my accident happened, I didn’t have anyone to talk to, especially not any other women with disabilities. So, I planned to attend seminary in Wisconsin. Right before I started my master’s degree, I met Russ. I had assumed that no one would be attracted to someone with a disability, but, when I met Russ, my disability was actually the first thing that attracted him to me. His dad has MS and lives with a disability as well, so I didn’t have to explain anything to him. He was the first person who loved me because of my disability, not in spite of it. Russ saw what God done in my life; he saw how that journey had made a stronger Christian, and he liked that.”
After a year of dating long-distance while Ashlee pursued her counseling degree, the couple married. They returned to Wisconsin while Ashlee finished school, and then moved back to Wyoming in 2007.
“I had met the man of my dreams, and he was taking me back to the place of my dreams.”
Ashlee was nervous about living full-time in Wyoming while in a wheelchair. But she knew God had placed her on this path, and she watched in awe as, right away, He began giving her amazing opportunities to enjoy the outdoors while reaching out to others.
“So many of the opportunities I have been given would never have happened if I had been able-bodied. I started hunting and fishing, and immediately was engaged in helping others with disabilities get outdoors, too. It was neat to see how God used me to give other people that connection to the outdoors.”
Then, in 2010, Russ and Ashlee welcomed a beautiful baby girl to their family.
“I thought my disability would be a detriment to Addison, but I think it has been the opposite. She’s a better kid because of it. She has such a servant’s heart. Since she was born, she has been nothing but a blessing.
The truth is that all the good things in my life can be traced back to my accident. I have no idea where I would be if God hadn’t used that moment to send me on a different path.
There are still hard things. But God has been so faithful. Even in my darkest times, He’s never changed. He’s always had my good in mind, even when it didn’t look like it from the outside.”
The way God unfolded Ashlee’s story was different than the way she would have chosen to write it if she had been holding the pen. But, thankfully, God was the one authoring her life, and His plan for her included both struggle and sweetness – and the shaping of a soul He could use to further His kingdom in unique and powerful ways.
“It has been quite a journey, but I wouldn’t change it.”
“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy.”