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Author John O’Leary Uses Life Story to Inspire

Childhood burn victim encourages others to be overcomes and to have aspirations for great things. Read Transcript


NARRATOR: John O'Leary was just 9 years old

when he suffered severe burns to 100% of his body.

He had seen some older kids playing with gas and fire,

so he tried it in his parents' garage.

Recovery was painful and demanding,

but he vowed to press on.

With little muscle tissue left in his legs

and all of his fingers amputated,

he learned again how to walk and write.

Now, as a motivational speaker, John

inspires others to live life fully.

In his new book, "On Fire," he shares

key choices we could make to positively transform our lives

and the lives of others.

We are in for a treat.

John is an inspirational gentleman.

John, what do you remember about that day?

You're nine years old--

Yeah.

--and this fire starts.

Tell us about it.

So, Andrew, I think most of our memories

as children are washed away through the gift of time.

But the big experiences we remember

forever-- good and bad.

I remember every single detail of the day I was burned,

every detail.

I remember walking into the garage.

I remember bending over the can of gasoline.

I remember lighting a little piece of paper on fire.

I remember bear hugging the container,

and I remember very carefully-- right--

tipping and pouring, waiting for liquid.

And then the fumes grabbed the flame, created

a massive explosion, picked me up, and launched me

20 feet against the far side of the garage.

So for people who haven't read the book,

why were you doing this?

Yeah, so the men right now are saying, well,

clearly he's doing it because he wants

to see what's going to happen.

The ladies are thinking, gosh, this boy is crazy.

What is wrong with him?

Little boys are curious.

And I assumed, watching bigger boys,

these guys were every bit of 11-- practically men.

I figured if they could do it, so could

I. This is typical male behavior as nine-year-olds

and, candidly, even as we age through life.

And that's OK if we're following the right shepherd,

if we've got the right leader out in front.

Fortunately, a sibling was there, parents were not.

That's exactly right.

Mom and dad were out running their errands

on an early Saturday morning.

My brother Jim was there.

He heard the explosion.

He raced toward me.

Once I came through the garage, I

ran through the kitchen, the family room,

stood in the front hall.

Jim sees me with flames, Andrew, leaping three feet off

of my body in all directions, just fueled by gasoline.

And this least likely among us, the 17-year-old boy,

picks up a rug, begins beating down the flames,

even though he is burning himself in the process.

Burns himself, saves my life, becomes my hero,

changes his life, and certainly changed mine.

You're in the hospital.

Yeah.

Your mother walks in the room.

And before you tell us what the question was she asked,

what were you thinking as mom comes in?

Of course.

So I'm laying there, 9 years old.

I have no clothes on.

I have no skin.

It is an absolute mess.

I remember shutting my eyes.

I'm by myself.

And, for me, the thought was, oh, my gosh.

My parents are going to kill me when they find out.

They are going to absolutely freak out at what I did.

My dad came in first, Andrew.

He walked over to me.

The first thing he said was, "John, look at me

when I'm talking to you.

I love you.

And I'm proud of you."

And I remember, my eyes now shut again, thinking, oh, my gosh.

Nobody told my dad what happened.

Maybe I can get away with this then.

Maybe he'll never find out.

Maybe my brother Jim is painting the garage, right now.

And yet, I had a feeling, looking back on it,

my dad knew.

And right behind my dad, came my mother.

She walks in, she takes my hand, pats my bald head,

and she says, "I love you."

For us, that day, it was all about love-- all about love.

And it still is.

But I remember looking at my mom and saying,

mom, knock it off with the love.

Am I going to die?

And her response was, "Baby, do you want to die?

Because it's your choice, baby.

It's not mine."

And I looked up and said, "Mama, I do not want to die.

I want to live."

So her response-- it's so spirit filled-- was, "Good.

Then, look at me.

Baby, you take the hand of God.

You walk the journey with him.

And you fight like you have never fought before."

She said, "Your daddy and I will be with you

every step along the way, but this is your fight.

Choose it."

Good advice for all of us.

And it's a fight we choose, not only the day we're burned,

but the day after-- months after, years and decades after.

It's a fight we have in our marriages,

and against the evil one, and toward our God,

and in our marriages, and in our parenting.

It's a fight we choose every day.

And it's a fight we've got to embrace.

We can't run from it any longer.

How serious were your injuries?

Oh, gosh.

So the way they figure out mortality today

with burn care is they take the percentage of the body burned,

they add your age, and they've just uncovered mortality.

So in 2016, there is 109% likelihood that this patient,

should he present, will die.

30 years ago, there was no reason for hope.

There's no chance.

I'm going to die.

And yet, we believe in a mighty God.

We believe he works through all things.

We believe he uses the hands and the feet

and the efforts of nurses and doctors and volunteers.

We believe he used a letter from President Reagan saying he

and his wife Nancy were praying for us.

We believe he used the volunteers, and the donors,

and all the men and women who made a difference in our life.

So I could have never done this thing by myself.

But we believe in a God big enough

to use other people to make miracles happen.

And on would-- [CLEARS THROAT] excuse me--

one would naturally think, if you could do that day over

again, you would never go near those flammable objects.

But you have a different perspective.

It's a great question, Andrew.

I get asked frequently, would you do it again?

Would you do it again?

And the obvious answer is of course not.

I would sure love to have hands.

And I would sure love to have no pain and my beautiful body

back.

That would be awesome.

And I felt that way for a long time.

I wanted my old life back.

And then, eight years ago, it became

revealed to me that God used this story perfectly

for his purposes-- just perfectly.

It led to strength and faith.

It led to my character.

Led to my passion each day, my level of gratitude each day.

I don't take anything for granted.

It led to where I went to grade school, and high school,

and college, which led to a chance encounter

with the most beautiful girl I've ever seen,

who ended up saying yes to me when I asked her to marry me,

which led to four kids.

It led to you and I sitting across from each other today

on the "700 Club."

What is the chance of this?

I could have never ordained it, but I know God can.

And he used gasoline and an explosion to do it.

And you motivate and encourage a lot of people

around the country and around the world.

And in your new book, you talk about seven choices

that we are faced with and we can

make to live a particular type of life.

Tell us about those.

Yeah, so we call it a radically inspired life.

I think most people live on cruise control.

We wake up when the alarm tells us to.

We shower because we think we're supposed to.

We do our work.

It's not that great.

We come home, we're in traffic.

That stinks.

And then we get on with life.

But someday maybe we'll retire.

This book is rattling the cage saying, people, wake up

to the gift of your life.

Don't wait for tomorrow.

Don't bet on that one.

It may never show up.

So wake up to the sacred gift of this moment, this relationship,

the relationship with your Savior,

the relationships at home, the gift we have each day placed

in front of us to do bigger things for those around us.

Don't wait any longer.

And I think one of the things people

will receive when they read the book is that you

don't need to be extraordinary.

You don't need to be a hall-of-famer

You don't need to be in media.

You just need to be bold enough to say, yes, to this moment

right now.

Speaking of hall-of-famers, let's go

into baseball for a moment.

Yeah.

You, as a young man, received a very special visitor

in the baseball world.

Tell us about that.

Yeah, so I'm nine.

The day after I'm burned, they have me tied down to the bed.

It's to control your contractors.

But it means, for me, for five months, I can't move.

My lungs were burned, so I can't breathe.

They put a hole in my neck.

It's called a trach.

So now I can breathe, but I cannot eat or drink,

and I can't talk.

There's one more challenge because

of swelling when you're burned.

I can't open my eyes.

So I'm laying here in absolute darkness.

I'm broken, I'm sad, I'm mad, I'm in pain, I'm dying.

And my door opens up.

I hear the door.

I hear footsteps.

I hear a cough.

And then I hear the voice.

And you'd have to be from the Midwest to really get this.

Oh, that voice.

I'm a St. Louis, Missouri, guy.

And growing up in the Midwest in the mid-'80s, we follow

Cardinal baseball.

We bleed red, Cardinal red.

And the voice I'm referencing is a guy named Jack Buck.

Jack Buck was the voice of the Cardinals for 49 years.

He was my hero for nine.

I had never met him, live, before this day.

He walks in.

He speaks light into my darkness, and what he said,

Andrew, was, "Kid, wake up.

You are going to live.

You are going to survive.

Keep fighting.

And when you get out of here, we are going to celebrate.

We'll call it John O'Leary Day at the ballpark.

Keep fighting."

And then the old man walks out.

He leaves me tied down in darkness,

but absolutely on fire for life.

When he leaves, he puts his head against the glass

door outside, just starts weeping,

which we all know is the sign of great weakness--

except, of course, we know that it's not

a sign of great weakness, it's a sign of great strength.

The shortest verse in the scripture, "He wept."

You know, that's not weak.

I think it's strong.

It's compassion.

It's love.

It's relationship.

He wept.

So Jack weeps.

A nurse comes over to him, looks up, and says,

"Mr. Buck, are you OK?"

What she's really saying is, you're

the only celebrity in St. Louis.

We can't lose you.

And Jack says back, "I'm not sure if I'm OK.

Is that little boy going to make it?"

And the expert-- because we all have experts

in our life-- the expert, on her knees, looks up and says

there's absolutely not a chance.

Jack hears the news, he gets the diagnosis, he takes it home,

he prays about it.

And the following day, a little boy

is laying stretched out a bed, dying.

I get emotional thinking about it.

And the door opens up, a guy walks

in-- a guy who is busy and has more to do in his life

than visit a burnt up kid-- sits down next to me

in that darkness, and says, "Kid, wake up.

I'm back."

He visited me for the five months that I'm in hospital.

And when he had to go on traveling trips,

he would send other people in his stead.

Every day, there were visitors coming into this little boy's

darkness, bringing light and hope and faith and the truth

that the best is yet to come, but you've got to fight for it.

I know I'm getting wrapped, but I've one more question.

So people who feel like they're in darkness.

You talked about laying there in darkness.

You were tied down.

People in their circumstances who feel hopeless--

Yeah.

--that they're too far gone, for whatever reason,

what do you tell them?

Yeah.

I've been there.

I am there, occasionally.

And yet, what I know from my days

of being a hospital chaplain.

Because I had three years where I was lucky enough to do that

work.

From my experience traveling the world as a speaker,

from the stories within the book itself,

is that God seems to use our dark days more

than he uses the days when we are walking om light.

It seems to be-- we are an Easter people,

but the only way we get to Sunday is to endure Friday.

It is the only way.

So my encouragement is to, hey, be on that cross today,

but to realize Sunday's coming.

Wait for it, because the best is yet to come.

Amen.

Thank you for your story.

Guys, get this book.

It's called "Of Fire-- Seven Choices

to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life."

I highly recommend it.

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