Joel Sonnenberg was only two years old when an 18-wheeler smashed into his family’s car. In the inferno that followed, he was burned on over 85 percent of his body. This is his story as only he can tell it. Experience the world from Joel’s perspective as he takes you on a personal journey with more twists and turns than a Hollywood movie. It’s been a life of both great struggles and of tremendous achievement and honor. Yet Joel asserts, “I am just an ordinary person whom people find extraordinary.” Be prepared to fall in love with a young man named Joel. We have known Joel since he first moved to Montreat, North Carolina, eighteen years ago. What an incredible boy he was; what an incredible man he has become. His testimony will stir your heart and forever change you. Ruth and Billy Graham Joel is a dear friend. His story is truly remarkable. I encourage everyone to read it. It is truly inspiring! Coach Mike Krzyzewski, Head Coach, Duke University Basketball Joel is an American hero. True courage is demonstrated in every page. Bob Dole, Former United States Senator, Kansas The dictionary doesn’t have enough adjectives to describe my love and admiration for Joel Sonnenberg. To spend time with Joel—whether in his book, at a soccer game, or over a soda—is to come away a different person simply because you’ve been with him. Joni Eareckson Tada, Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends Joel Sonnenberg’s story is more than just an uplifting tale of persistence and achievement. Rooted in tragedy, it’s the story of a mother’s love, a boy’s courage, and the resilience of the human spirit. Bryant Gumbel, Television News Journalist His story is one all young people need to hear . . . optimistic, confident, and filled with faith. Dr. Jay Kesler, President Emeritus, Taylor University
About the Author
Gregg Lewis is an award-winning author and coauthor of more than fifty books, including Gifted Hands, The Ben Carson Story, Take the Risk and The Big Picture.
Read an Excerpt
C h a p t e r 1
What happened to you? That's the first thought that pops into our minds when we see a person with a cast. If we don't ask it, we at least think it. I feel like I've lived my whole life wearing a huge, permanent cast with a lot of names written all over it. Everyone who meets me, everyone who sees me, wonders, What happened to you?
Rarely a day goes by that I don't hear this question. Some days many times.
Those people who don't come right out and ask still wonder. I can see the question in their eyes and in their reactions---their awkwardness, their silence, their double takes, and their stares. If people don't wonder about me and my story when they meet me, I worry about them. While I try not to take offense if they look at me strange, I definitely look at them strange if they don't.
I can never hide the fact that I'm different. So my response to their What happened? question is very often my introduction to people. I've learned that this can be good, or it can be bad---depending on how the story is told. Which is why I began speaking to groups.
Some people act surprised that I'm not too nervous to get up in front of large crowds. In part it's because I know that when I walk into any public situation--- whether it's a roomful of twenty partygoers, an auditorium with five thousand people, or a prime-time television show that has millions of viewers---everyone is going to be looking at me anyway. It's only when I'm given the chance to step in front of a microphone or stand up on a stage and share my experience that I have any control over how people look at me or what they think about me. So I actually feel more comfortable in a public-speaking setting where I'm given an opportunity to present myself. It's usually my best chance---sometimes my only chance---to ease the awkwardness, to help people see past the surface so they can understand, or at least accept, me for who I am.
I was not gifted with an incredible athletic talent like Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods. I'm not a musical prodigy who mastered an instrument by the age of six. Nor am I an intellectual genius who learned calculus by kindergarten or graduated from medical school by the age of sixteen. I certainly don't have the imagination or creativity of people like Bill Gates or George Lucas.
There is nothing superhuman about me. I'm just an ordinary person---with an unusual story that in one way or another seems to have an impact on every interaction in my life. Depending on how I choose to respond, this impact can be either positive or negative.
Some mornings I'd much rather sleep in than get up and face the battle of another day. Sometimes I tire of watching and envying people around me who are going through their comfortable daily routine, because what happened to me has determined that my daily life is anything but routine. I have been forced to cope by expecting the unexpected for so long that dealing with surprise has become commonplace for me. I live every day of my life outside the box, consciously trying to change the paradigm, in every interaction with others, to prove that things are not always what they seem. Others' preconceived ideas and false expectations are my constant battleground.
There are occasions when what happened to me becomes a barrier that separates me from other people. But there are also occasions when it has a positive impact on my relationships.
Because many people initially react to me with uncertainty and awkwardness, I'm often forced to tell enough of my story to answer unspoken questions and put people at ease. I've also learned to take the initiative in friendship and to be the first one to speak whenever I meet someone new. In this way I am forced to become more outgoing with others.
Knowing what happened often gives other people an unusual sense of intimacy with me. It makes me seem more transparent and therefore more approachable in many people's minds. I'm constantly humbled by how open and trusting, even vulnerable, many people are when they talk to me. So many hurting people seem to identify with me because of what happened.
We all know that our words, our attitudes, and our actions influence others. But I'm regularly reminded of this when someone comes up to me and says some- thing like, 'Joel, I've never forgotten what you told me that time we were having lunch together at McDonald's. It made such an impact on me.' And I'll have no recollection of what they're talking about. For them it was some life-impacting conversation; I was just eating a hamburger.
Stuff like that happens to me all the time. When it does, I'm reminded that what happened to me years ago makes me an example to others.
Not only am I forced to tell my story every day, but any person who has a relationship with me may be forced to tell it as well. Why? Because other people ask them, 'What happened to Joel?' As a result, in some peculiar way, my story becomes the story of those around me. Which means it's been told a lot. At least in part.
I've watched portions of my life reenacted on television. I've read other parts in newspapers and magazines. I've shared bits and pieces of my personal history with many acquaintances over the years. I've sat in front of TV cameras and stood on stage before live audiences to talk about my experience. But this book marks the first time I've ever told, from my perspective, the whole story of what happened. And I'm excited about the opportunity because I expect new friends, strangers, and people I've known for years, and even my family, will gain new insights---not just into my story but also into me. And into life.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I know Joel Sonnenberg; he is a Pastor at my church. I knew some things about what happened to him and was shocked. I bought his book to read his whole story. I'm glad I did because it was inspiring to say the least. I highly recommend this book. He is a perfect example that nothing is impossible especially with God in your life.
This book is an auto-biographical detail of a man who witnesses on behalf of the Lord telling his testimony to others and encouraging others to live a full life in spite of circumstances. Joel is an extraordinary man of God who has relied on his faith in Jesus Christ to help him through some otherwise unbearable times in his own life. I know Joel because he is a Pastor at my church in Ft. Lauderdale Florida and he is loving, courageous and a true minister of the Word. He is so beloved at this church and changes lives everywhere he speaks (around the world). God has highly blessed Joel. An inspiring, unforgettable, life-changing book. You will read it over and over.
One word to describe Joel 'courage', simply amazing.
It just made me tearing.. Just we cannot complain about our situations comparing to him. I hope that everyone who complains about situations should read and get a hope and thankful heart.
I have been forever changed by getting to 'know' Joel through his book. He is an incredible young man who rose from the ashes (literally!) and continues to enlighten and inspire, using the spiritual gifts that God has given him. Everyone should read this book! You will hug your loved ones tighter and resolve to look more closely at a stranger's heart, rather than his/her outward appearance. I feel so blessed by Joel's transparency and honesty. His humor is refreshing, and you can't help but cheer for his accomplishments! God surely has had His hand on Joel from the beginning!