Sunday, March 20, 2011

When I Was Paralyzed

In March of 1996, at the age of 19, I had the opportunity to do an internship at the Vineyard Church of Anaheim, CA. Fifteen years ago this month marked a turning point in my life. It was an incredible time as I lived with 10 other interns, from all around the globe, as we shared life together for 2 months experiencing and investigating God and learning what it is to be the church. It was at that time that I truly fell in love with the church (not the organization, but the actual family of God). That internship impacted and changed my life forever and is one of the primary reasons that I find myself following my heart and pastoring today.

I was greatly impacted by many opportunities and people during my time in Anaheim, but none had a greater impact on my life than the 24 year old who led the internship program, Jamie Gillentine. Jamie might have only been 24 at the time, but his wisdom and maturity, his passion and his intense love for the Kingdom of God and Jesus were indescribable. His love and his life were contagious and he quickly became a mentor, a role model and more than anything...a friend. I believe that I am who I am today, in large part because of Jamie. He taught me early on how to follow my heart, he showed me what it looked like to trust Jesus and he taught me how amazing the life of God is when it is lived out with the people of God.

A few years ago, I received word that my friend Jamie had a serious accident while enjoying a day at the beach. Just before it was time to call it a day, Jamie decided to take one last swim in the cool Pacific when he charged the water and dove straight into a sandbar. As soon as his head struck the sandbar he shattered his sixth vertebrae. He immediately lost all feeling and movement from his upper body down. By the grace of God, Jamie found himself on his back, able to breathe and call out for help.

The prognosis was not good, but Jamie, being the man of faith that he is as well as an intense fighter, underwent major physical therapy and today, just four years later, is more than 90% recovered.

Jamie and I don't speak often, probably about once every couple of years, but whenever we do speak, there is a bond that is not easily explained.

I called Jamie about 5 months ago, as I found myself in a difficult place in need to talk to my friend. Without going into all of the details, I basically found myself in a place of questioning certain things in my life, trying to work through and understand 'calling' and direction in my own life as a follower of Jesus, as a pastor, as a leader, as an active participant in the community of faith. I began to pick Jamie's brain asking him question after question about his life experiences and searching for whatever wisdom he could pass on to me.

When I asked him how he felt about dedicating his whole life to pastoring people, through all of the joy and excitement as well as heartache and pain that pastoring can bring about, he replied in a way that I will never forget for all of my life.

Jamie responded, "Brian, when I was paralyzed, I remember laying in my bed, crying out to God and saying, 'God, if this is how I'm going to spend the rest of my life, on my back in this bed, I just want to thank you for the opportunity that you gave me to spend the first 39 years serving your church.' There is nothing that I would rather waste my life on, than waste it serving the beautiful bride of Jesus, with all of her flaws and all of her mistakes, she is still beautiful. What better way to waste your life."

In 2011, I believe that the institutional, organized church in America does indeed have a lot of flaws and shortcomings. I am an optimist however, and I, for one, believe that she is redeemable and is beautiful and is very much worth 'wasting' my life on. When I hung up the phone with Jamie on that day, I decided that I would do everything that I can to continue working towards seeing the church become the beautiful family that Jesus gave his life for.

I am incredibly grateful for my friend Jamie, for his love, his example and his life. I am grateful that he 'wasted' two months of his life on me.

Here's a video of Jamie's physical therapy. I hope you enjoy!


Crispin Schroeder said...

Great story bro. Love the quote from Jamie. A refreshing reminder to stick with things even in the face of tension and doubt.

Thanks for the post

Rebecca said...

WOW! What an incredible story! God never ceases to amaze us with his wonder. This story and my own experience with being unable to walk will always remind me that things could be worse but keeping our faith in God will see us through anything.

Great post Brian

Pi Man said...

Amazing... I'm speechless and tear-filled. What a story. I was so moved seeing him run at the end.... Thank you, Bro. TA

Anonymous said...

I can't believe it was 15 years ago... I count it a privilege and an awesome blessing to have been able to share those two months with you guys too. I have shared Jamie's amazing testimony to many people and seen his life and story impact many and they in return have shared it with others. I have so may great memories about that time which is now so long ago but on the odd occasion it feels like yesterday. I love hearing what God is doing in and through you... be blessed my friend and I thank God that he took 13 people from different parts of the world to that one little house and did an amazing work.
Love Rochelle - the kiwi