Leaving Christianity

How an Old Man helped save my faith

“As we studied the Bible together, I realized that sometimes followers of God get notoriety and riches, but a lot of times they get dragged outside of the city and are stoned to death. As we studied God’s Word together, I started to really believe that things seem so hard in this world because none of us were meant for this world. “

 

When I was in 10th grade, the Power Team came to my church. They were a group of powerlifting Christians who went around from mega-church to mega-church, lifting weights and smashing bricks in order to bring “glory to Jesus.” I was excited to see them “perform/preach,” but I was mostly excited that my friends and I got to work out with the Power Team at Gold’s Gym one day between their nightly sessions. One of the members, Eddie “The Gripper” Dalcour, gave me some tips on which whey protein to drink after workouts. The highlight of the week came that night when Eddie “The Gripper” ripped not one but two phonebooks in half and everyone said, “Wow, how amazing!” Of course, the theme verse of the Power Team was Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

This world of white, suburban, prosperity-gospel-lite, Ronald-Reagan-loving evangelicalism was the world I grew up in. I could do anything through Christ who gave me strength. I knew I could do anything because God knew the plans that He had for me and they were plans to prosper me and not to harm me; they were to give me a hope and a future. Besides, even if something bad did happen, I knew that God worked all things together for good for those who loved Him and for those who were called according to His purpose.

What I most wanted to do at that time was play college football for a big SEC school. My dad had played college football for Auburn University and he was my hero. I wanted to be just like him. He hadn’t just been a great athlete, either. He was a great dad, a great husband and a great man, and he was the pastor of our church. The church had grown rapidly under his leadership, and it seemed like he had been able to do “all things through Christ.” He really didn’t have any weaknesses. So that is what I was going to do – I was going to be just like him. I was going to trust God, get tips from “The Gripper,” work hard, and I was confident that good things would happen and that, one day, I would be able to play college football in order to follow in my dad’s footsteps.

Between 10th and 11th grade, I got a lot faster, bigger, and stronger, and my dream of playing college football was beginning to become a reality. I played tight end on offense and middle linebacker on defense, and seven games into my junior season I was leading the whole city of Huntsville, Alabama in tackles. Schools from all over the country started calling and sending letters. In the eighth game of the season, I was chasing down a running back on a regular pitch play. In the midst of the tackle, I tore my right ACL and some meniscus cartilage in that knee. It was a big blow, but I knew the Lord had good plans for me. My faith was strong, and I knew God was going to use this bad thing for good. I had surgery on that knee, repairing the ACL and cartilage, and I immediately got back to work. Only this time I was working even harder than I had before. Fortunately, there was enough game film and enough on the stat sheet to keep the recruiting buzz high. Letters poured in that spring and schools began inviting me to visit them during spring games and to attend their summer camps. My rehab was going great, and I was bigger and stronger than ever. My dream of playing football in the SEC was becoming a reality.

But that May, another blow came. I was lifting weights one day and felt a strange sensation in my head, a “release” of pressure, as I was trying to push out one more rep. I asked my coach if you could tear an artery in your brain and he told me, “That’s called an aneurism and if that would have happened you would be dead.”

For the next few days I had a major headache but obviously wasn’t dead, so I just toughened up and went on with my life. Two days later, on a Friday, I was back in the weight room. After my first exercise, I blacked out and was overcome with pain from my head. After this, my coach told me to go home to see a doctor. That day, I went to my primary care doctor who immediately encouraged me to see a neurologist who did some tests and told me to come back on Monday for an MRI. I got a lot of rest that weekend and was really feeling better by Monday. I went in for the MRI, excited to get it done, finish up the day at school, and join my friends that afternoon for an end of school year pool party over at Katie Flynn’s house. As I was leaving the doctor’s office, they told me to come back later to get the results. This would make me a little late for the pool party, but I hoped it wouldn’t take too long.

When I went back to the doctor’s office, I learned that it wouldn’t be a short trip. The doctor had called both my parents and told us we had to go immediately to the hospital for one more test. The doctor saw something abnormal in the MRI. By this time ,I really was feeling fine – five days after the initial head pain – and I was a little annoyed that they were being so cautious. We went to Huntsville Hospital and, after a painstakingly long arteriogram, the doctors came out shaking their heads saying, “We can’t believe you walked in here today.”

They explained that I had a 2.5 inch tear in the basil artery of my brain. Arteries have two layers and, somehow, the interior layer of the artery had torn and the exterior layer was still intact. At first, I had no idea what this meant and my first question was, “When can I start training for football again?” One of the doctors told me that I would never play football again, and that he was worried I could have a full-blown aneurism or stroke. He told me I had to go on blood thinners immediately and that I couldn’t strain myself in any way. No walking faster than three miles per hour, no lifting more than ten pounds, and certainly no football.

Obviously, I was devastated. Those were the worst words I had ever heard, but I was a part of a loving community and somehow my faith was strong. I believed that “all things worked together for good” and I believed that “God had plans to prosper me and not to harm me, plans to give me a hope and a future.” My coaches, friends, and family members were incredibly supportive and kind to me during this season, and I persisted. I also learned a lot about prayer during this time as it seems like everyone I came in contact with that summer was praying for me.

Mine was such a rare case that the doctors didn’t really know what would happen, so the following September, I went back to the doctor to get another opinion to see if the tear had progressed. They did another arteriogram and this time, the doctors came out with huge smiles. My head was okay, there was no tear – whatever had happened was gone. I don’t know exactly what happened that summer, but I walked out of that doctor’s office believing that God had answered prayers and had given me a clean bill of health. I was going to be able to live a healthy and normal life.

Even though I was healthy, that injury ended my football dreams. All the schools that had been recruiting me stopped the recruiting process when they heard about my head injury and, because of the injury, I wasn’t able to finish the rehab on my knee. I was also in really bad shape. When you are used to eating 5,000 calories a day and suddenly stop all activity, it’s not a good combination. But I was grateful.

One dream had died, but I knew others would come.

In fact, the following spring, I was able to get back in shape, and I was thinking about walking on to play football at Auburn. My strength was back and my speed was slowly returning. But then, in a simple game of Ultimate Frisbee after church one Sunday, I tore my ACL again in the same knee. I was even wearing my brace which actually made the tear worse. I knew what happened as soon as it happened because it was the same pain I had felt 18 months before, but I didn’t have the heart to tell my parents. I was just about to go on a graduation trip to Colorado, so I hid the swelling and pushed through it. A few weeks later, I graduated high school and went out to Colorado for a week of mountain biking, rock climbing, river rafting and mountaineering.

It was a great trip. On the last day, I called home and got the sense from my mom that something was wrong at the house. After I pressed her, she finally put my father on the phone. Remember, my dad was my hero; he led me to Christ, he discipled me, he was my pastor and model in all things. But on the phone that night, he admitted to me that for the past several months, he had been having an affair and that he was going to have to resign from the church. In that moment, it would have been easier if someone would have told me that he was dead. I was so crushed, so hurt. He was the greatest guy I knew and now he had done this evil thing to my mother, to his church, to us, and to God. That night in Colorado was one of the worst and longest of my life. My family was in worse shape than my torn up knee, but somehow my faith survived.

Somehow I kept believing that God had good plans for me, that God would work out all things together for good.

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