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California Baptist University alum encourages community to ‘Walk with Grace’ amidst hardships

After a devastating accident, a CBU graduate authors a book to encourage resilience and hope.

Grace and Ivan Utomo speak to students at California Baptist University.

Grace Utomo began her journey at California Baptist University as a transfer student in January 2013. She studied healthcare administration and participated in several musical ensembles.

It was at CBU that she met her husband, Ivan. Then in December 2016, their hard journey began. The two were newlyweds, accomplished musicians and Grace worked at CBU in the College of Health Science.

Grace was meeting Ivan to drive to a Christmas concert. As she crossed Magnolia Avenue, sheet music and violin in hand, she was hit by a car going 40 mph. Life would never be the same.

The accident was so severe that she was placed in a medically induced coma. When she awoke a week later, she did not know how to read, speak or walk. Over the course of the next five years, Grace would fix her eyes upon God as she endured immense physical and emotional pain.

Visiting from Northern California this spring, the couple spoke to the CBU community, sharing their story.

“As Christians, we have the belief that God is sovereign, and God is good,” Grace said. “So, when something bad happens, what are we supposed to believe?”

Grace underwent extensive rehabilitation treatment to help her learn once familiar skills again.

She suffered a traumatic brain injury from the accident that caused seizures, upward of 10 per day. Her seizures were triggered by light, and she was unable to go outside for fear of triggering an episode. She was bound to her home, unable to see the light in what felt like a never-ending darkness.

“At some point in our lives we are all going to walk through a period of darkness, and I think that is just part of what it means to be human,” Grace said.

The ability to do the things she loved seemed gone forever, from writing to playing the violin.

“You have to trust the Lord with His plan, whatever you are going through, have been through or may go through in the future,” she advised.

Grace and her community of support prayed endlessly for her seizures to subside. She was eventually weaned off medication and has been seizure free since September 2023.

Having completed both her bachelor’s and her master's degrees at CBU, Grace credits Dr. Wayne Fletcher, associate provost for academic services, as a faculty member who has supported her over the years. As the professor of a challenging health science class, Fletcher helped her find her footing. When he invited her back as TA, Grace was able to sharpen her teaching skills that also benefitted her music students.

Fletcher would continue to be a key player long after graduation, even helping her family get Grace placed in a specialized neurological rehab facility immediately following her accident.

“The darkness we go through is not dark to the Lord,” Grace said. “It is as bright as day to Him, whether you can see it in the moment or not.”

Ivan started a blog, “Walking with Grace,” in 2017 that evolved into weekly updates on Grace’s condition, drawing in a global audience. Coupled with a thesis project assigned to complete her MFA in writing, Grace knew that her story could inspire others, and it was time to write it. “Walking With Grace: Embracing God’s Goodness in Trauma” became more than just another memoir.

 Now, Grace and Ivan are able to share their continuing story with people all around the world, offering hope to those that are also suffering and proving that all things can be used for good.

“This taught me what it truly means to rely on Him,” Ivan said. “I think maybe we as humans tend to overestimate the amount of control or influence we might have over our lives. Looking back on that time, we had no idea how we did it and the only possible explanation is the grace of God.”

What’s more? Grace is trying violin again.

Read more about her incredible story, available for purchase at CBU’s bookstore and on Amazon.