Jennifer O’Brian: An Inspiring, Secretly Incredible Woman
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.
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?
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Know someone who is secretly incredible? Nominate them for the contest here.