BETHANY — Chris Wall made a promise to Dave and Juliann Sullivan the day they buried their only son. "For the rest of my life, for the rest of my ministry,” he told them, "I will tell Justin's story.” He never imagined he'd do it this way. For five years, the youth pastor told about the young baseball star who was named player of the year on a Sunday, then killed on Monday. Wall told them about the boy Justin taught to hit because the boy's mom was in a wheelchair and about the talks Justin had with his granddad about the Bible. He told, too, about Justin swerving his car, saving his passengers and taking the fatal brunt when two big-rig tires bounded across Interstate 44 one summer afternoon in 2002. But Wall always knew he had to do more. He could not shake the feeling that Justin's story had been entrusted to him, that it was in his hands. Now, his hands hold "A Life Worth Following,” a book inspired by Justin. Wall spent almost three years writing the devotional journal, using entries from Justin's own journal and weaving in stories about Justin's life. The work was as painful and tedious as it was uplifting and motivational. The book was so important Wall turned down a publishing house so he could make sure it was done the right way. The book breathed new life into Justin's story and Wall's faith. "God, this can't be the end of his story,” Wall prayed in those days after the accident. "It just can't.” Because of Wall, it isn't. Don't seek the spotlight, but if God wants you noticed, don't say no. — Justin Sullivan, March 22, 2002 Wall heard the big news when he got to church that Sunday morning. Justin was The Oklahoman state baseball player of the year. Wall met Justin when he entered Council Road Baptist Church's youth group as a seventh grader. Justin came every week, even sat in about the same spot in the middle center. Over the next six years, Wall watched Justin flourish. Valedictorian at Yukon High School. Aspiring surgeon. All-Star catcher. "Dude, all I want is tickets,” Wall told Justin when they talked about Justin's Major League aspirations. "I want to sit next to the dugout. I want to big time it in front of my son.” Wall would smile, and Justin would blush, and they'd laugh at what might be. Justin blushed a lot that Sunday morning, too. Having his picture splashed all over the cover of the Sunday sports page was unnerving for the reserved superstar. Church became a gauntlet of hand shakes and back pats. The last time Wall saw him, Justin was headed to a nearby burger place with a bunch of his buddies. While they were there, Justin went to the rest room and his friends told everyone there that he'd been on the cover of the sports section that morning. When he came out, everyone in the restaurant cheered wildly. There will come a day when we will all see God face to face. This is when we will understand things fully. When God asks me to believe something that's beyond belief, I decide if I will trust my five senses or have enough sense to believe in Him. — Justin Sullivan, March 19, 2002 Wall heard the bad news when his cell phone rang at lunch the next day. Justin's been in an accident. I think it's bad. Wall raced to the hospital, all the while thinking about what he'd say to Justin. This would be a test of faith, a challenge like no other. There would be recovery and rehab, but he could still realize all of his dreams. When Wall walked into the emergency room, Justin's sister spotted him. Sydni ran down the hallway toward him and buried her head in his chest. "Did he die?” he asked. It was 2 on a June afternoon. People weren't supposed to die in car accidents in the middle of the day. And someone as young and bright and promising as Justin wasn't supposed to die at all. But he had. An 800-pound pair of tractor-trailer wheels had broken off an eastbound rig on I-44, bounced across the concrete median near May Avenue and slammed head-on into the windshield of Justin's sport utility vehicle as it headed west. The next few days were a haze. A day or so before the funeral, Wall gathered those who'd been closest to Justin for a time of sharing at the Sullivans' house. Everyone told their stories through laughter and tears, and as they did, one thing came up time and again. Justin's journal In January, his mother gave him a study journal called "Men of Character,” and it became a constant in his life. "Can I see it?” Wall asked Juliann Sullivan that day at the house. They went to Justin's room. Wall thumbed through the pages, seeing words Justin had penned. He hadn't missed a day since his mom gave him the book. Some entries were short. Others were not. There were reflections and poems and meditations that sounded like words of someone much older. "Here's this jock, this hunter, a guy who loved his lab,” Wall said, "and he's taking the time to be intellectual and deep and philosophic. "I just couldn't believe it when I read it.” Others needed to know about Justin. Wall had to tell his story. Don't use excuses to turn away God's call. God wants us to be courageous and take risks for He is with us the whole way. Great opportunities usually lie within seemingly impossible situations. God will decide what we can handle. — Justin Sullivan, Jan. 31, 2002 Wall preached the message to hundreds of mourners at Justin's funeral. It was really Justin's message. Many of the pastor's words were taken straight from the student's journal. Wall kept a copy of the journal. For the next couple years, he thought often about the promise he made to Justin's parents and about the idea of writing a book, but whenever he read the journal and saw the handwriting, Wall would quickly put it away. The sorrow was too fresh. Then, in the spring of 2005, almost two years after the accident, Wall hit on an idea. He wanted to use writings from Justin's journal and stories from Justin's life in a devotional journal. Armed with two weeks of sabbatical, Wall went to work. After spending three days by himself, he thought he'd written a majority of the book. "I was so naive,” he said, admitting that he re-wrote every bit. "I had no idea what I was doing.” And there were times he thought that he wouldn't be able to finish.
One morning, he arrived at the church about 4 a.m. to write. After a couple hours deleting everything he wrote, he wondered how he could go on. He decided to open Justin's journal and type a few of his words.
Don't use excuses to turn away God's call. God wants us to be courageous and take risks ...
Wall stopped and read what he had typed.
"OK,” he thought. "I'll do this.”
Two years after starting, Wall finished writing. After editing, designing and publishing — all done by folks with ties to Council Road Baptist — a promise became a reality with "A Life Worth Following.” The cover is leather, made to look, feel and even smell like a baseball glove, and every book comes with a bracelet that resembles the red seams of a baseball.
"I don't know if it's any good still,” Wall said. "I'm so in the middle of it, I can't even have an opinion on it.”
Be thankful that life is not fair because if it were fair, we would not receive Christ's forgiveness. Find satisfaction in what God has allowed us to do. Don't dwell on what we have not done.
— Justin Sullivan, Feb. 21, 2002
The online orders come from Illinois and Arizona and all points in between.
Wall addresses the envelopes and ships the books himself. He's not sure how many books will be sold. Hundreds from the first run of 2,000 copies are still stacked in his office.
But already, profits from "A Life Worth Following” are going toward the Justin Sullivan A.L.W.F. Foundation. The hope is to start baseball clinics for underprivileged children as well as an elite baseball team, baseball tournaments and baseball mission experiences.
Through it all, Wall just hopes that people get a chance to rub shoulders with Justin.
"When he died, I thought, ‘God, this can't be the end of his story,'” Wall said. "The realization that I had the responsibility and the calling to be part of his story ... it just needs to be remembered.
"Justin needs to be remembered.”