It was 10 years ago, exactly, that Joe Beene’s world changed instantaneously. On Nov. 8, 2000, Joe was a 17-year-old, playing linebacker for his Permian High School football team in Odessa, Texas.
It was their final practice of the year before they were to meet their arch-rivals from across town, Odessa High School. Joe, a senior, made what seemed like a routine tackle. But the tackle was anything but routine. “I was tackling somebody, and my neck went back,” said Joe in a sort of matter-of-fact manner.
He remembers the time immediately after the tackle very well. “I stopped breathing. I was awake. I was wondering what was going on — you know, you can’t breathe.”
He knew something was wrong, but all he could do was lie there. “I couldn’t speak, but with my eyes I was saying, ‘Do something! Do something!’ I went without air for seven minutes. I should be dead or brain dead. But God kept me alive.”
Joe says he didn’t realize right away the seriousness of what had happened, “not until about three days later, after surgery. They fused C1 and C2 [vertebrae] together. I woke up after surgery and my dad told me what happened; I started crying — because I was thankful that God kept me alive and I wasn’t brain dead.”
What happened to Joe 10 years ago on that tackle left him paralyzed from the neck down. But what happened to Joe 10 years ago also turned his life on a path that led him closer to God and into a powerful relationship with Jesus. In the decade that’s gone by since his injury, he’s become an ordained minister, and he just got his degree this summer from the University of Texas of the Permian Basin, where he majored in history and minored in business.
“It was amazing,” said Joe about the injury. “I should have died; I should have been brain dead.”
But he wasn’t. What overwhelmed Joe wasn’t the devastating injury, “it was that God had kept me alive for that long; maybe he had given me another chance at life. I started crying because I was thankful for that.”
Joe takes a larger view of the accident that left him a quadriplegic: “Everyone goes through hard things. It’s not like I’m an exception to the rule.”
We wanted to know — did he have strong faith before the injury? His answer was surprising:
“Absolutely not,” says Joe. “My parents literally made me go to church, and I hated it. So what I’d do is I’d go up into the back of the church and sleep so I didn’t have to pay attention. It was at the end of June or beginning of July of 2000, I was asleep in the balcony and God literally woke me up and told me I was going on a mission. Me and my friends made fun of it that day, laughed about it and just forgot about it.”
Little did he know then, in the summer of 2000, what lay ahead of him in the fall.
“After He kept me alive, I knew there was a calling in my life, but I didn’t want to receive it and I sure didn’t want to do it. So what happened — He kept me alive and I got born again and saved and I found out, ‘Hey, look how good He is,’ and it’s like, once you know who He is you don’t ever want to live without Him.”
Talk about a wakeup call.
“You go from hating who He is to understanding what He stands for, and you get born again and you actually know who Jesus is. He’s alive inside. And so that’s what changed me, Jesus changed me, not religion.”
It’s a relationship that Joe explains this way: “If I would have never met you and you screamed out in a crowd, I would not know who you are. But if I spent time with you every day and you talk to me, I would know exactly who you are. So when you spend time with Jesus, and where He starts to speak to me here … it took me about three years to know His voice, spending time with Him.
“Are you married?” asks Joe.
“Alright, what if you never spent time with your wife? Would you know her voice? If you spend time with Jesus, you know His voice. You know what He likes and His personality. You know who He is. It’s an everyday relationship. The more you get to know Him, the more He’s there. The more you get to know Him, the more you can’t live without Him, and you don’t want to live without Him. He is literally the coolest person I’ve ever met. I talk to Him about everything. We talk all day long. We talk like friends. We talk about everything, from girls to clothes. I’m not kidding.
“He’s everywhere. Everyday I’m always with Him. He’s always with me. And so it’s not just like I just spend an hour with Him. I spend every day talking with Him. He keeps me out of trouble, he keeps me safe. It’s being married to him, and loving Him. It’s like he never leaves. He’ll never leave you or forsake you. A lot of people don’t know that. They don’t know what he’s like and therefore they don’t know what his voice is like.
“I can’t wake up without Him being on my mind. I wake up, I tell him I love him. I ask to be a blessing for someone today. I just say, ‘What do you want me to do today?’ And He’ll tell me. We talk every day. I’m anything but perfect, but my heart’s always toward him.”
Joe said that when the Holy Spirit changes your life, you can’t help but tell somebody about it. “So I started telling people,” he says. “That’s just the road he took me down. You’re not satisfied in life unless you’re doing what you’re called to do. And that’s what I’m called to do, I find joy in helping people.”
How does Joe help people, being a quadriplegic? He speaks to groups — anyone who is willing to hear him and hear his message. He speaks to groups of children, underprivileged children, teenagers, at churches, to older people, businessmen, football groups, support groups, youth groups, in schools. “You name it, I’ve probably spoken to them,” says Joe.
And what’s his message?
“Every message is different. I literally spend time praying about it. What I have to say won’t change someone’s life; but one word from God will change someone forever. And so it’s not about me. It’s about what God wants those people to hear.
“So I pray about it and say, God just tell me what you want me to say, and so he always gives me the words to say. The funny thing is, is people say, man, Joe you’re so articulate. I’m not an articulate person. I can talk correctly when I need to. God always gives me the words to speak and how he wants me to say it.”
One of his recent talks was at an all-star football banquet at Lubbock. “The basis of the message would have been, with God all things are possible; and to those who believe, all things are possible. And the second part of that message was Romans 15.1. And Romans 15.1 just talks about those who are strong should be strong for those who are weak. And not just live life for yourself.”
Joe’s the strong one. That’s the way he sees it. He entered into rehabilitation and therapy to begin his road to a physical recovery just 13 days after he was injured on that fateful fall day 10 years ago.
“God told me, ‘You’ll walk again, it’s not a big deal.'”
And Joe absolutely believes that. Without hesitation, and with a firmness of commitment he immediately affirms that message himself: “I see myself walking. I see myself traveling and preaching the Gospel.”
Joe works out perhaps more than he did when he played football in high school — three to four hours a day, almost every day of the week. And it’s not what you might expect a quadriplegic’s workout to be. He works out to prepare himself to fulfill what God prophesied to him.
“I enjoy working out,” Joe says. “Once you’re an athlete … it’s one of those things that once you start doing it, it’s hard to stop because it makes you feel so good. It’s not a possibility, it’s a definite that I’ll be walking one day. I’ve seen so many miracles that God’s done. So you’ll see me up and walking very, very soon. It’s not like, maybe I will. Nah, it’s like, I will be very soon. You don’t enter a race not to win. You don’t keep fighting to lose. I wouldn’t go through everything I’ve been through not to walk. You don’t enter a race just to quit early. So I’ll be up and walking shortly. Very, very soon, actually.”
And his workouts are rigorous. “I ride my bike about 10 miles,” says Joe. “I do my upper body, arms, chest, shoulders.” His workout equipment is made specifically for him. The machines provide electrical stimulation for his legs and arms.
“My muscles actually push the bike, and so it’s a real workout. Upper body — I just do the kind of things and stuff I did playing football. With electrical stimulation, we can make the muscles actually contract and do resistance workouts. It’s just a normal workout like you would do. I’m literally in better shape than 75% of people in America.
“The thing is that everything I’m doing now was [once] medically impossible. I’m able to eat and not just be like a vegetable. A vegetable doesn’t graduate college. If you saw me, I’m not like, fat, I’m not skinny either. I work out. For someone to say something’s impossible, they don’t have that right.”
Joe has had a lot of help along the way, particularly from his family.
“My brother John and my family are amazing; my brother is my best friend. He came home from college to help with my rehab. He left his life to help me. For about two to three years he stayed home and he helped with therapy. He learned to totally take care of me. He would stay with me at night, stay with me during the day, go to college at night.” John eventually entered the Coast Guard but he got out about two years ago, according to Joe. “He still takes care of me.”
Every day is different for Joe now that he’s graduated from college. He wakes up, gets dressed and goes outside to enjoy the sunshine. “Sunshine makes me feel good. I know it sounds strange, but sunshine makes me feel so good. And so I’ll spend about a half hour to an hour in the sun, then I’ll eat. I just graduated about a month ago, so it’s different now. It’s a weird time period because everything’s changing now.”
But when he looks down the road at what’s next for him, he’s set his sights on two things: preaching the Gospel and traveling. “I do not want to be a pastor and I do not want to be a youth minister,” says Joe. “It’s not me. My calling is not to stay in one place for a long time. I know who I am; I’ll be traveling and preaching the Gospel. Helping people — helping people that others don’t want to. People in prison, people who don’t have nice things … people that Jesus talked to are people I want to talk to. I want to go through the world and help people who need help.”
And let’s not forget walking. “I see myself walking and I see myself all over the world. Especially Latin America. I don’t know why, but Latin America, my heart goes out to them.
Despite the injury that left him a quadriplegic, Joe still likes football and follows the University of Texas and Texas Tech. And he follows the pros, too. Particularly St. Louis. “I used to watch St. Louis a lot when Marshall Faulk played for them. He’s been very, very good to my family.”
For about four years, Marshall Faulk held a golf tournament in St. Louis, and he would pay for Joe and his family to travel and stay there. Joe said he and his family “would stay in the most expensive hotels, he would pay for our meals — everything — and treat us like we were kings. He did that for about four years. If there was something I needed, we would call him and he would do it for us. He treated me and my family like we were his family. And I had never known him; he was just one of my coach’s friends. So he treated me like I had been his kid, he was very faithful to us. He is an amazing, amazing guy.”
What Joe says about inspiration also is interesting. He doesn’t see himself as inspiring. His take:
“Ultimately no one can inspire you. It is yourself you have to inspire. You have to make the decision. No one can make you get up and do something. You ultimately have to inspire yourself. Other people can persuade you, show you how, lead you and encourage you to get your strength, but ultimately it’s yourself that inspires yourself. It’s Jesus that gives you strength to get up. This life is not just about us, it’s about helping others. My job’s not done here. Once my job is done and I’ve finished administering to everyone that God wants me to, I can leave then. But I can’t leave a job unfinished.”