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My Angelic Near-Death Experience

Bruce was pinned under a massive logging truck, certain he would die.

Bruce Van Natta's Near Death Experience

It was a big job, the kind I loved.

There aren’t many people who know how to tear down and rebuild the engine on a Peterbilt logging truck. I’d built my mechanic business from scratch and was proud of what I’d accomplished. Across central Wisconsin I was the guy to call for heavy machinery repairs.

On this particular November day I was finishing up work on an engine at the truck owner’s garage. I’d spent most of the last three days removing the head gasket and cylinder head, carefully disassembling clamps, cables and other engine parts. It took a lot of horses to power this big boy. The front wheels and axle alone carried over 11,000 pounds.

Now, in the home stretch of a 12-hour day, my mind kept returning to a discussion my wife, Lori, and I had two nights ago about our faith.

I wasn’t sure where she was coming from. God had already changed me so much, helped me overcome problems with drugs and alcohol. And he had given me this talent to fix engines and a successful business. Yet Lori believed I could deepen my faith still more, meeting God in my life in ways I had yet to understand.

I filled the engine with oil and coolant then started it to make sure everything was in running order. Almost done. I was putting away my tools when the truck driver and part-time mechanic asked if I’d look at an oil leak unrelated to my work. “Sure,” I said.

The passenger-side wheel was removed and the jack was still in place. I slid under the truck feet first on a creeper. Peering into the underside of the rumbling engine, I wiped away oil with a rag, trying to find the leak. As I looked up, I saw some movement in my peripheral vision, turning my head just in time to see the jack shoot out from under the front axle like a rocket.

Before I could react, the axle slammed across my midsection, crushing me to the floor. I screamed in agony till I was gasping for air, my lungs burning. Then a final involuntary cry from deep inside me: “God, help me!”

My arms strained against the axle. It didn’t budge. My arms collapsed, the pain too intense. Sweat soaked my face and hair. The engine rumbled, each vibration grinding the axle down on me. I heard the other mechanic calling 911. “Hurry! He’s smashed under the truck.”

It’s too late. I’m going to die. I tasted blood, felt it running down my chin. The mechanic turned off the engine. Then he began jacking up the truck again. The axle slowly raised off me, but the pain didn’t let up.

I reached back and grabbed the bottom of the front bumper with my hands to pull myself out. But I moved less than a foot before my muscles collapsed, only enough for my head to stick out from the bottom of the truck.

I thought about Lori and the kids. I loved them so much. I wished I could see them to tell them goodbye. But everything was fading. Turning black.

The next thing I knew it was as if I were watching a movie from 15 feet in the air, a scene unfolding below me, the logging truck in the foreground.

A man’s head stuck out from beneath the front of the truck, another man on his knees by him, stroking his hair. “Hang on,” said the kneeling man. “I don’t want to move you. The paramedics are coming. Please don’t die.”

The man under the truck was me…I was watching myself.

Intrigued, I looked closer. Was I alive? There was no sign of movement. I realized the pain was gone. Now I felt nothing. No, this can’t be the end. I shut my eyes tight, trying to will myself back into my body.

I opened my eyes again. No. I was still watching myself from above. But wait…there below me were two incredible figures kneeling on either side of the other mechanic. I knew what they were—angels.

They were like no angels I’d ever imagined—massive, powerful men, bigger than any NFL linebacker. I could see only their backs. They wore radiant, white robes made from some type of heavy material, almost as if it were woven from ropes. Curly blond hair fell halfway down their backs.

Their arms reached under the truck toward my crushed midsection. God had sent angels! Their presence filled the garage in a supernatural way. But watching from above it seemed natural, inviting. I wanted to feel their touch, to see their faces. Is this what happens when you die?

I saw a paramedic rush into the garage, seemingly oblivious to the angels. She knelt on the floor next to my head, the angels not moving. She was talking to me as I watched from above. Then she tapped me on the cheek—hard.

My face! I could feel again! In the distance I heard a voice getting louder. “Open your eyes!” When I did, I was looking up—into the eyes of the paramedic. “Hello, Bruce,” she said. “Keep those eyes open for me. It’s very important.”

I was alive! I looked to my right and left. The angels were gone. Excruciating pain ripped through my body. Where were the angels? Why had they left? I felt myself fading again, something telling me to let go. I didn’t have the strength to push back.

Then a clear, powerful voice: If you want to live, I’m here, it said. But it won’t be easy. You’re going to have to fight, harder than you’ve ever fought for anything. Are you willing? It wasn’t an angel speaking, or the paramedic. It was God’s voice speaking deep inside me, deeper than the pain. I’d have to fight. But not alone.

My mind flashed on an image of Lori and the kids. I thought of how much they needed me. No, that wasn’t right. I needed them, especially now. God, I prayed, I want to live. I want to fight for them and for you. I’ll do whatever it takes.

More paramedics, urgently discussing how they’d move me. Slowly they pulled the creeper out from under the truck. “We’re going to take you to the hospital now,” the first paramedic said. “From there you’ll be airlifted to the trauma center in Madison. We’ve contacted your wife. She’ll meet you there. I know you’re hurting, but stay with me. You’re doing great.”

For the next hour—till we reached the trauma center—I focused with all my strength on keeping my eyes open. Keep looking around. As long as you can see, you’re alive.

The doctors at the trauma center rushed me to the operating room. I have a vague memory of the anesthesia mask covering my nose and mouth. Then all went dark, as dark as death.

The next thing I remember is looking through a kind of haze. Lori was sitting beside me. Even in my stupor I could see the huge smile on her face.

“Bruce! You’re awake! The doctors have had you in a coma for two weeks. They said to cross my fingers. I told them I was going to pray. I’ve never said so many prayers!”

I wanted to talk, but a breathing tube filled my mouth. I wanted to write, but my arms were too weak to move. It was another week, the second week of December, before the doctor removed the tube and I could tell Lori everything. “Something happened to me,” I said.

“It’s okay,” she said. “The accident. You’ve had three surgeries. Don’t push yourself. You don’t need to talk.”

“No,” I said. “I need to tell you. It’s about our discussion. You were right. God has something he needs me to do. I know he’ll help me figure it out. Lori, I saw angels after the truck fell on me. He sent angels to save me!”

“Even the doctors said it was a miracle you survived,” she said. “Rest now.”

I nodded weakly. There’d be plenty of time. The future stretched before me like a blank page, inviting me to write a new chapter. God had sent angels to let me know he’d be there with me through the challenges ahead, that my relationship with him would deepen. That was the promise of the angels.

Doctors operated on me twice more—literally putting my insides back together. It was months more before the pain subsided enough for me to function.

Today, I travel around the world, sharing my story in churches, jails, schools and on the internet. I’ve even written a book. The accident has changed my life forever. I’ve learned how frail the human body is.

Yet I’ve discovered the strength the Lord offers us to draw from, present in ways I could never have believed.

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