I was worried that I’d miss my connection because my flight was late, but I got to Houston just in time. I was one of the very last to board, but when I finally got on and found my seat I, along with everybody else, was disappointed to hear the captain’s voice over the intercom telling us that there was a leak in one of the engines. We had to change planes.
I was already very tired after a very long day. The flight to Los Angeles was scheduled to land at 11:00 p.m. Pacific Time (which is 2:00 a.m. where I live). I was tired. So you can imagine how exasperated I was when I got settled on the second plane only to hear the same captain’s voice over the intercom saying that there was something wrong with this new plane. We had to change planes again?
The entire group of ticket holders groaned in concert, with the exception of one. The young lady who sat beside me on the plane, Erica, simply laughed out loud. She remained positive throughout the entire ordeal. She even managed to turn to the family behind us and translate the message for them in Spanish. She was smiling and upbeat, understanding that we wouldn’t make it to Los Angeles until well after 1:00 a.m.
I turned to her and said, “You are a very positive person.” Her response was, “I’d rather change planes than fall out of the sky.” So true, but so few people look at it that way, I thought. Boom, and the Lights Went Out Erica’s words forced me to focus on the very reason I had boarded the plane. I was headed to the famed hills of Hollywood, California, to meet the 2011 Dancing With the Stars champion and television star J. R. Martinez. He, it turned out, embodied the same type of perspective that kept my airplane buddy, Erica, so jovial.
You’ve probably heard the Martinez story already. He served in the Iraq War in 2003 as an Army security escort. While he was driving in line with his convoy on a routine mission, boom! As he said, “The lights went out.”
Martinez tells the story as if it happened yesterday. He said that the bomb’s impact was on the front driver side of the vehicle. So while his fellow soldiers were thrown out of the Humvee, he was trapped and burning to death. “I could feel the heat traveling up my body, and I knew I was going to die.” He did not die.
That was not the only time Martinez felt the heat of pain, suffering, and hardship. He grew up with no shortage of fiery trials. His mother was an illegal immigrant from El Salvador. She traveled to the United States to make a better life for her two young daughters; then he was born. After his father abandoned them, Martinez watched his mother mourn the death of his sister Anabel, suffer in abusive romantic relationships, run from immigration, work menial dead-end jobs, and struggle to make ends meet. But today he’s still smiling.
Even after suffering second- and thirddegree burns over 30 percent of his body, and suffering through three years of painful treatment and surgeries, he’s still smiling.
That smile, he admits, came from his mother. “It’s more than a smile,” he said. “It’s a survival thing. It’s a love thing. It’s a wanting-to-share thing.” And share is what he does frequently as he travels across the country speaking to veterans, burn victims, students, and those who simply need some motivation and encouragement.
I wondered what made Martinez tick. What made him become a motivational speaker, while so many others are burdened under a load of anxiety and depression? He is a man of action. He believes in the power of moving on, doing something with your life, seizing the day, and taking hold of the things that you really want to change.
“We don’t deal with change very well. We don’t like change. In my life I’ve had to deal with a lot of change,” Martinez explained. “There are two things I’ve learned to do—adapt and overcome.”
Given the fact that he’d experienced such miraculous experiences, I asked him about miracles, and if he believes in God’s providence and working in his life.
“Absolutely!” Martinez exclaimed. “God just needs me as a body so that people can believe that faith is so important.” People describe God in their own terms to make Him a part of their group, but God determines to work in all of our lives in order to bring glory to Himself. Then he said something that I don’t think I’ll ever forget. He said he thinks that “God gives us all a backpack that has all of His work inside of it, and we just carry it everywhere we go in order to represent Him.”
“God is the one who saved my life,” Martinez testified. “God is the one who in my darkest moments was always there to turn on the light. God is my Father. God is my Brother. God is my battle buddy. God is my Savior. He is the man who will never abandon me. He is the man that understands; if I do wrong He’ll forgive me, and He’ll give me an opportunity to make this right.”
As I sat there dialoguing with him, I really sensed a deep sacredness in the moment. I thought to myself, Here is a young that there’s nothing we can’t overcome.
Even now, I think about not only the ones around us but also the ones who have gone before us, and how they have overcome as well. I think about Joseph in prison, the three Hebrew boys in the fiery furnace, and Daniel in the lions’ den. David had to escape for his life from King Saul. And Mephibosheth was dropped as a baby, and paralyzed from the waist down. There were so many others: Job, Jeremiah, Paul—the list goes on and on. And then of course, there’s Jesus.
Jesus was falsely accused, tried in a kangaroo court, sentenced to death, and then hung on a cross to die. It is His resurrection from the dead that best reminds us that we too can have triumph over tragedy