Jeremy Statton

Living Better Stories

Jennifer O’Brian: An Inspiring, Secretly Incredible Woman

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From Jeremy: When we think of incredible people, we limit our search by looking for the obvious. We think of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. Influencers with a platform. Or whoever gets the most votes.

But being incredible isn’t about the magnitude of what you do. It is about the ability to change lives for the better, even if it is only one.

We have to remember to look for it in the secret, unexpected places. To keep our eyes open to the hidden incredibleness all around us. Today’s story is an example of why.

I want you to meet Jennifer O’Brian. Jennifer was nominated by writer and blogger Beck Gambill. This is her story about how a friendship with Jennifer has changed her life. To read more from Beck you can connect with her at her blog or on Twitter.

I met Jennifer several years ago at church. I’ve since moved, and miss her greatly, but I will never be the same because of knowing her and I’m thankful.

Jennifer is a short, thirty something woman with almond eyes, a ready grin and Down syndrome. As if one disability wasn’t enough she was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a young woman.

At first I pitied her. I gave her attention because I had compassion on her and a soft spot for her needs. In general I think that’s how most people responded to Jennifer, with kind sympathy.

And yet over time I started to think maybe I was missing something. I asked God to show me the real Jennifer, beyond her surface limitations.

I wanted to know what he saw when he looked at her.

Beck and Jennifer.

God graciously expanded my vision and I began to realize Jennifer wasn’t a person to be tolerated or patronized. She was a person of purpose. I was witnessing the biblical truth that “the one who is least among you … is the greatest (Luke 9:48).”

Jennifer was teaching me. Her funny little mannerisms, quick grin, sometimes moody behavior became more than just odd things to tolerate or be amused by, they endeared her to my heart. Jennifer was being exactly who she was, pure and simple, but it made her vulnerable. She could easily be taken advantage of, made fun of, or ignored.

God began showing me that Jennifer and I needed each other. That she needed the church and the church needed her. It was our privilege and responsibility to care for her. If we chose to rise up in love for her, honor her, protect her it would be for her good.

On the flip side the presence of Jennifer offered us the opportunity to develop kingdom eyes. We had the chance to value what God values, the weakest among us. Jennifer forced us to grow spiritual muscles of love and compassion, honor and grace.

God had gifted us with each other.

I haven’t seen Jennifer in over a year and I miss her hopeful grin, holding her hand, having her follow me around the church. I invited her to my birthday ‘party’ the year before I left, we had pizza, her favorite meal. And she invited me to hers a few months later, we had pizza again! She could tell you my birth date, she has an amazing memory for dates, sadly I can’t tell you hers, I think February.

But I can tell you I grew new eyes as I looked at Jennifer. The Holy Spirit broadened my perspective of people and the church. His value system, his purposes. his priorities aren’t mine, they’re better.

It makes me think of this wise statement from Paul.

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

– Romans 12:3b-5.

I recently learned of children with Down syndrome living in very poor conditions, abandoned by their parents, in Serbian institutions. I immediately thought of Jennifer and the lesson she taught me, everyone has value, sometimes more than we realize.

So, in honor of Jennifer I’m taking my new Holy Spirit eyes and traveling to Serbia. I want to see the truth of God there the way I saw it in Jennifer’s face.

I believe it honors God to remember that the weakest among us are a gift; we belong to each other.

Has anyone ever unexpectedly inspired you? Have you ever found value in the weakest?

Leave a comment by clicking here.

Know someone who is secretly incredible? Nominate them for the contest here.

About Jeremy Statton

Jeremy is a writer and an orthopedic surgeon. When not ridding the world of pain, he helps you live a better story. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook or Google +.

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31 Replies

  1. What a great reminder, Beck.  We are too quick to  look only at the outside and we miss the treasure on the inside.   I want His eyes to see the beauty in everything.  The more I live the more I’ve started to see the incredible beauty in the imperfect. 

  2. I love that  “it honors God to remember the weakest among us are a gift.” Everyone has value…so true. I remember in Bible School I had a friend who had Muscular Dystrophy and many of the guys offered to carry him back and forth to the different buildings for classes. We were all looking out for him and he really grew on me. That he could laugh at himself, his wisdom, his compassion…I think I learned more from him than anyone else that year:-) Thanks Beck for sharing…and that’s so awesome that you are off to Serbia!

  3. Diane Rivers

    This is a double-whammy “secretly incredible” post – Beck and Jennifer are both amazing!  We can learn from each of them in unique ways.  Now Beck has gone a step further and enlarged her heart for the “Jennifers” in Serbia.  What a great story!  

  4. It is as if our eyes have to change isn’t it? Or maybe it is just lenses we look through.

  5. Wow. That’s a great story too, Lorna.

  6. Agreed. I’m glad you picked up on that Diane.

  7. Mike Zserdin

    Absolutely beautiful. “She needed the church and the church needs her…” Encouraging and convicting.

    Thank you Beck and Jennifer for loving each other. Thank you Jesus for connecting them.


  8. This was a fantastic post. I have been unexpectedly inspired by MANY. Especially in the last year or so. My 2 yr old daughter inspires me more and more every day by inspiring me to be the best husband and father possible. 

  9. Mark Dutton

    “I wanted to know what he saw when he looked at her.”
    What a powerful request. One that has opened my eyes today. Praying to have that gift in all of my relationships. Oh how different it would be!

    Thanks for sharing!

  10. Beautiful post. Touched my heart!

    My kids inspire me. Daily. They help keep me young. And to see life as a child. Which is always a good thing!

  11. That’s a great story, too. your daughter will have an endless number of lessons for you.

  12. Thank you, Jesus for showing us something different so we can see past the obvious.

  13. There is so much to learn from them, if we notice.

  14. Dianne

    Thanks Beck for another special story about Jenifer. We are truly blessed having her in our family and we are doubly blessed to have caring people like yourself in Jenifer’s life. I know she misses you and loves you too. Dianne

  15. Beck, thanks for writing again about your friendship with Jennifer.  It’s a special blessing to read your words not only about Jennifer but your Serbian children you love so unconditionally too.  

  16.  It tickles me when God shows us the prayers he loves to answer. Eyes to see beauty in the people and circumstances of our lives is a sure fire prayer straight to his heart!

  17.  Thanks for sharing that wonderful story! I appreciate people who are courageous enough to embrace who they are and teach us all in the process.

  18.  Thank you for your kind words Diane. I love how God ties our stories to one another and it’s hard to tell them apart!

  19.  Thank you Jesus indeed! Thanks for your kind comment Mike, I’m glad you were encouraged!

  20.  Thanks Jim! There is no one like a child to inspire!

  21. It surprised me Mark when God led me to ask that question and then answered it! I’m so thankful that he shares his heart with us!

  22.  Thank you Michael for your kind comment. Kids are a great source of inspiration!

  23.  Of all the people I miss I think about Jenifer the most. Thanks for allowing me to share her story!

  24.  Thank you Sherrey for your encouragement. Sometimes putting that love and knowledge into practice is an act of discipline and obedience!

  25. VERY lovely.
    As I mom of a disabled child, I wish everyone could read this and perceive as you do.

    How precious it is to experience …not just learn…the Theology of Disability. 

    Have you read Henri Nouwen? Very much recommend: “Adam: God’s Beloved” and also Amos Yong latest on Disability and the Church. (I video interviewed him in the spring on it. Just google “amos yong video interview”.  

    Here’s something else you may LOVE: A BIBLE (with commentary) from a disabled perspective is in the works and will greatly help us see the world through fresh eyes)!

    (You’re welcome to guest post at my place, Beck!)

  26. Tom Sargeant

    People with special needs are on this Earth to teach. The rest of us are on this Earth to learn. The lesson is love

  27. I agree. Love is a lesson we all need.

  28. I’ve read Nouwen but not those books. He often speaks of how working with adults with special needs was one of the best jobs he had. Even better than being a professor at Harvard.

  29.  Lisa, thank you for your response! I’m always gratified when a family member of a disabled person appreciates the perspective God is giving me. It’s  not nearly as personal of a topic to me as it is to you and I feel that people like yourself are a great gauge.  So thanks for your feedback!

    Those resources sound excellent and the Bible especially exciting! I look forward to checking them out. Thanks for the offer of guest posting, I just might take you up on it!

  30. Mike Zserdin

     well said.

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