On August 16, 2008, Stephanie Nielson boarded a Cessna 177 Cardinal for a daytrip with her husband, Christian, who had recently earned his pilot’s license, and Doug Kinneard, Christian’s flight instructor and dear friend.
After stopping in St. Johns, Arizona, to refuel for their return to Mesa, the small plane sped down the runway and climbed into the sky. But without warning, the plane plummeted to the quiet neighborhood below.
The 27-year-old mother of four was knocked unconscious upon impact, only to awaken to the sickening smell of burning fuel and burning flesh—her flesh. “I was drowning in flames,” she recalls. “I reached for the seatbelt, but I couldn’t find it. I couldn’t get out.”
But then she suddenly felt someone at her side guiding her hand to unbuckle the seatbelt and guiding her to the airplane door—and that someone was her deceased nana, Aurora. When Nielson escaped from the plane, her body engulfed in flames, her grandmother told her: “Roll.”
“There were people from the other side of the veil helping me,” Nielson says. “I felt my grandmother and others there.”
In addition to help from loved ones beyond the veil, Nielson says there were other miracles that day.
“The first miracle is that when we crashed, we didn’t hurt anyone on the ground,” she says. And Nielson believes where the plane crashed was no coincidence—across from an LDS bishop’s home.
“I remember men running over to me,” she recalls. “The first thing they asked is if there were other people in the plane. Then they asked if I was LDS and if I wanted a priesthood blessing. They gave me a blessing that I would be comforted and that things would turn out the way they were supposed to, and that I would have limited pain. It was awful, but it was a very spiritual moment.”
Words from an Apostle
Despite these miracles, Stephanie Nielson suffered burns on 80 percent of her body. Not only that but now she had to grapple with a new problem, her self-esteem and sense of worth.
"I felt like a monster," Nielson said at a BYU-Idaho devotional on Tuesday. She continued, sharing her thoughts after the accident, "Who is this person in the mirror? Will I ever like the way I look again? Can I love myself if I look this way?”
It was during a particularly trying day that Nielson had a conversation with Elder Jeffrey R. Holland that helped change her view of herself. Elder Holland told Nielson that her scars were a "witness of a miracle."
With these comforting words and the teachings of the Church, Nielson rediscovered her infinite worth as a daughter of God, a value that transcended her appearance.
Finding New Hope
Because of this experience, Nielson has been able to help others find their worth through her charity, Beauty Rises.
As she's thought over these events, Nielson has realized her experience reflects that of the new Provo City Center Temple.
"We are all rising from the ashes," she shared at the devotional. "Your story might not include fire and physical pain, but as you look at the temple I hope it reminds you the beautiful transformation that took place . . . The temple for me is a reminder of God's healing powers and so much hope. We were both literally reduced to ashes and born again strong, brave, courageous, new wisdom, and a different kind of beauty."
She continues, “Now when I look in the mirror I see a woman of faith, a woman of courage, I see a mother, a daughter, and a wife," Nielson said in her talk. “In my scars, I see strength I see hope, I see miracles, I see God.”
Lead image a screenshot from YouTube.
To read more of Stephanie Nielson's inspiring true story, check out Heaven Is Here: An Incredible Story of Hope, Triumph, and Everyday Joy.