I was nervous about our first meeting.
I was unsure of the dynamics. Was it my job to put him at ease or his job to put me at ease? I didn’t know and spent way too much time thinking about it. I arrived a few minutes early, knocking on the office door. Amanda, the Foundation Director, answered and welcomed me in. I hadn’t taken more than two steps when I learned the answer to my question.
O.J. Brigance is so full of joy that the question of “ease” melts away. O.J. works for the Ravens and has ALS. That’s the disease that robs your body of the ability to move, speak, or even breathe. O.J. is in a wheelchair with a machine that breathes for him and a computer that talks for him. He controls it with the movement of his eyes.
This summer I approached O.J. and his wife Chanda about doing a weekly series on 95.1 SHINE-FM that would let listeners get to know them and their story better. They liked the idea and we set up a meeting at the Brigance Brigade Foundation office in Hunt Valley. As that meeting got closer, I started pondering my “who puts who at ease” question.
While O.J. can’t move, he can still smile and his face beamed as the computer greeted me by name when I arrived for the meeting. I was with O.J. and Chanda for about an hour. The conversation was easy, but different. After asking a question, I had to wait for O.J. to answer. There was silence while he did that. I had been told in advance this was the case, so I patiently waited for O.J. to finish typing. As the computer “spoke” each answer, he would look at me with his big smile.
O.J. and Chanda agreed to the series and I returned a couple months later to do the interviews. I gave O.J. the questions in advance so he could prepare his answers, which were thoughtful and complete. I greatly appreciate the time it took for him to do that.
The series, Purple Fridays with O.J. and Chanda, has been running since early September and will continue every Friday until the Raven’s season is over. People want to know my impressions of this amazing couple who are walking an incredibly difficult journey together. The answer is two-fold: joy and gratefulness.
O.J. and Chanda are full of God’s joy. They have chosen to lean into their life and not run from the difficulty. They started a foundation to help others walking the same path. O.J. works for the Ravens and has a tremendous impact on the entire team. They embody what Godly joy means.
Getting to know O.J. and Chanda has also made me more grateful. Candidly, I am more aware of the everyday things that I can still do that ALS has taken from O.J. I am grateful for that. But, more importantly, I am moved by how much O.J. and Chanda have embodied the Scriptural mandate to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thes 5:18). That has challenged me deeply.
If you would like to have your “thanksgiving muscles” challenged, you can hear Purple Fridays with O.J. and Chanda every Friday on 95.1 SHINE-FM. You can even get caught up with previous episodes here.