It hit me at the worst possible time. I had just started on a new team with a “prove it” contract. I was doing my best to prove to myself and to this team that I belonged. And to be honest, I was doing a pretty darn good job.
I came to this team with big dreams. I had hopes that in this, my fifth year in the NFL, I would finally play up to my level of expectation. As athletes, we rarely reach those lofty goals, but I was well on my way.
Two games into the preseason and I had put in two very solid performances – sack and interception in one, sack and forced fumble in the other. I’ll never forget running over to the sideline with the ball and hearing Coach Fox say, “Playmakers always find a way to make plays, they can’t help it!”
I had two solid performances in a row, following three months of showing this team what I could do in practice (or, as Coach likes to call them, “mini-games”). Things were finally trending in the right direction.
Then along came a surprise nemesis: cytomegalovirus.
I got the call on a Friday morning. “Sam, we just got your blood work back and things don’t look good. The enzyme levels of your liver are ten times the normal level. You need to come to my office ASAP.”
Being the typical football player I am, I responded, “Uh, doc, we have a game tomorrow and I’m about to go out to practice now. I need to be out there.”
But the doctor shut that notion down. “Sam, there’s no practice, no games, and no football for you until we figure this out. You need to come to my office now. This is non-negotiable.”
I hesitate to share some of the thoughts that crossed my mind during that 15 minute drive to the doctor’s office. Caught in the midst of nobility and pride, I talked with God, convincing myself that surely I was ready for whatever he had for me, whatever the diagnosis. But surely I was not.
In a moment like that, you want to think you’re brave. But I’ve seen true heroes. One true hero is Ryan Longoria, a 12-year-old warrior who lost his leg because of a cancerous tumor. That tumor has now been evaluated, and that research will help those fighting cancer get that much closer to a cure.
Ryan can’t say much, because he doesn’t have a lot of strength right now. But Ryan knows what took me so long to figure out. He knows that his pain has a purpose. He has seen it first hand. He knows what most of us are too fearful to find out, that “though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith –more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Christ Jesus” (1 Peter 1:6-7).
He also knows that those verses begin by saying, “In this you rejoice. . .” Ryan can rejoice even though he’s going through a life-threatening trial. I can rejoice when my career is interrupted by a scary question mark. You can rejoice when your marriage isn’t going the way you anticipated, or you’re struggling to find a way to make ends meet. Or when you’re battling, like Ryan and so many others, with an illness that leaves you with nowhere to turn.
So, what will you choose? Will you choose fear or trust?Faith or doubt? Desperation or hope?
I’ve made my decision, and I’m sticking to it.