Hidden Blessings – Nate Solder – New England Patriots – OL


Patriots OT Nate Solder

Football can be a brutal sport. Every year there are players whose lives are impacted by an injury in one way or another. Sometimes it will be the end of the season, sometimes it can lead to the end of a career. For Patriots Offensive Lineman Nate Solder the injury he sustained on October 11,2015 provided a way to be with his family during a particularly trying time.

In a win against the Cowboys, Solder suffered a tear in his right biceps that would cost him the remainder of the season. Eight days later, the 2011 Patriots 1st round pick out of University of Colorado would learn that his infant son Hudson had been diagnosed with a Wilms tumor (a rare form of cancer) on his Kidney. Solder, and his wife Lexi would see their 3 month-old son undergo a series of Cancer treatments. As the Patriots and Solder prepared for the Super Bowl last February (15 months later), Solder shared the lessons he has learned on this journey with his family. He says “We get caught up in our own personal issues, our own personal pains and sufferings, and we forget that there’s a lot of other people out there that are suffering. “We have an opportunity to help those people and not to get lost in our own pain.” He continues “It’s not just about suffering well in your own life,” he said. “It’s about entering into other people’s suffering, just as Christ would.

Lexi and Nate Solder with son Hudson

Solder sees this challenge as another way that God has shown up in his life.  The story of Hudson has resonated with people in a powerful way. Solder says “I think it was totally in the providence of God, as all things are.”… And after they came out publicly about Hudson’s condition, he heard from several parents who resonated with his story. “That was just one of the many ways that God’s used Hudson’s issue to touch other people’s lives. I don’t know why God does all of the things that He does, but it’s been an eye-opening experience, for sure.”

Where did this strength of faith come from? Well, remarkably, this hasn’t been the first encounter this young family has had with cancer. Just 3 weeks before Nate and Lexi were married, it was discovered that Nate had testicular cancer.  He underwent surgery and treatment that has left him cancer free.  In this article from Patriots.com we learn that dealing with his own cancer brought him a renewed trust and dependence on God.

Solder and Tom Brady after Solder’s Surprising TD catch against the Colts in the 2014 AFC championship game.

The article says “And through the surgery, his recovery, his wedding, his championship season, and his imminent fatherhood, Solder revealed he has become something else in the past year: a renewed Christian. He found his faith strengthened by the cancer ordeal, and chose to be baptized again because he felt like he was making a conscious decision to recommit his life to his religious beliefs.`It happened so quickly,” added Solder, “I had such a minor case, I had such good care with the doctors and trainers here, the fact that Lexi is such a strong person, we were able to weather the storm, and our faith through the whole deal was made stronger. It was such a blessing to have that.‘”

Their faith and desire to be positive in the face of challenging circumstances have been noticed by the Patriots family who named Solder the winner of their Ed Block Courage award last season.

But far beyond success on the field, awards, Super Bowls or recognition, The new perspective that Solder has on life is his biggest takeaway. He says “I just know how frail everything is, how easily it can be taken away and how fortunate we are to be out here every single day. But I have my priorities set, and my top priority is God and then my family. When those things are squared away, everything else falls into line. My faith in the Lord is so much bigger than anything we’re doing here, so much bigger than the Super Bowl.”

Nate and Hudson celebrating a Super Bowl victory a year ago.

Here are my takeaways from Solder’s story.

1- Striving– Why are we so inclined to think that fame, success and reaching the pinnacle of what the world seems to value will truly satisfy? Over and over again on these pages, I have come across stories of people who have learned that putting God first and living the way He desires of us is the best way to live. We can dress it up any way we want, but putting other things ahead of God is a recipe for disaster. We see it over and over in the Bible, and it is easy to see in our own lives, too. I pray that we may all be able to say, as Solder did, that our faith in the Lord is so much bigger than anything we are doing here. If we are going to strive, let’s strive to show His importance above all else in our lives.

2- Hidden Blessings –  Solder suffered a painful injury that ended his 2015 season. But that injury turned out to be a blessing because it freed him up to be with his young family as they navigated through their son’s cancer diagnosis. For the Solder family, they found blessings in their hardship. Cancer diagnosis for Nate leads them to renewing their faith in God. An injury to Nate helps the family be together in a time of crisis. God uses all parts of our story to draw us closer to Him. Anything that does that is a blessing.

Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own world as we are trying  to carve our spot, secure our place and build our legacy that it becomes hard to trust God’s plan. Sometimes, bad news helps us out. It invites us to trust in Him, lean on Him, cling to Him and know that with Him, all things are possible.

Keeping Track


This is the third post in a mini-series among the Tangible Truths that our Radical Jesus has challenged us with. We talked about loving our enemies, we talked about loving our neighbor, even if that neighbor is an enemy. And as we have talked about loving others, we will finish this mini-series by looking at what true forgiveness is in relation to the love we are called to show to others. Our text is Matthew 18. verses 21-35.

Here we see Peter comes to Jesus and asks a bit of a loaded question. “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Now there is not a lot of context here as to what Peter may have been thinking, but I picture it as Peter attempting to show Jesus how he “gets it”. He is showing Jesus he understands what Jesus has been teaching and demonstrates this learning with what he feels like is a pretty radical concept. Forgive someone seven times?  After all teaching of the day suggested that forgiving 3 times was the limit. So imagine how Peter’s mind would be blown by the answer of seventy times seven. If Peter is attempting to prove the depth of his spirituality, he is outdone by Jesus answer.

But here is the way my mind was blown as I was studying this story. I read it just a couple days after a bible study that focused on 1 Corinthians 13. And there in the midst of that chapter, clear as day, it says in verse 5 (love) keeps no record of wrongs.  Did you catch that?  Now let’s put it together with the “loving others” we’ve been talking about for the past few Tangible Truths. If we are loving others, we are not to keep record of the wrongs they do to us. If we are loving them, we will not dig out our tally sheet and put another notch on the page beside their name. That is not loving forgiveness. And again, Jesus models this for us as the writer of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 8.12For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.”

But in case you missed it, Jesus drives his point home with a parable. He talks about a servant who owed a great debt to the King who has called for his debts to be settled. This servant doesn’t have the means to repay the large debt and the King calls for him and his family to be sold to repay what they owed. The servant pleads with the King, and the King, taking pity on him, releases him and forgives the debt completely. He owes nothing!

This servant, freed from this penalty, finds another man who owes him a small sum. Like the servant with the king, this man also pleads for mercy, saying he cannot repay the debt. Finding that unacceptable, the servant grabs the second man by the neck and begins to choke him. He then has that man thrown in prison until the small debt could be repaid. Word got back to the King who called the first servant back in, reinstated the debt and had the first servant thrown into prison until the large amount he owed was paid in full.

We deserve to be on the hook to repay everything that has been done for us, but God knowing that we will never be able to repay that debt, doesn’t require it of us. He has cancelled the debt and freed us from any sentence that it held. But as we discussed in the previous two Tangible Truths, He calls us to do the same for others – forgive them, not hold their actions against them and remember that we are no better than them. We also have been forgiven of much greater offenses than another person could ever commit against us.

I am challenged by these lessons on love. It is so much easier to hold on to grudges and withhold mercy and forgiveness when people hurt us. But if we want to follow the example Jesus set for us – if we want to follow His teaching and live the life He calls us to, then we are compelled to remember that He calls us to love others – our neighbors, our enemies, those who are hurtful to us. I pray that I will never again overlook these lessons and that His presence in my life would be demonstrated by helping me carry out His commands to love and forgive.

Support – Aaron Colvin – DB – Jacksonville Jaguars


Jaguars defensive back Aaron Colvin

Aaron Colvin was invited to the Senior Bowl after finishing his outstanding career at University of Oklahoma – kind of like being called in for an interview, so imagine the disappointment he must have felt , when he tore an ACL during the practices for the Senior Bowl. Not only would he not get the chance to play in the game, but he would face a lengthy recovery from the injury- missing the combine and other work outs as well. He expected to possibly be a first round draft pick but the injury would make slide down draft boards.

In his second ever game, Colvin returned a fumble for a TD against the Giants.

The Jaguars took a chance on Colvin anyway, drafting him in the 4th round of the 2014 draft. He worked on his rehabilitation and made his debut in week 12 of the 2014 season. The next week he returned a fumble for a win-securing Touchdown. It was a relief for Colvin to get back on the field and play. He says “It kind of just brought me back a little and opened my eyes that everything paid off. It took me a lot to get here — 11 months of rehab. The first game, there’s always going to be growing pains, but I harp on myself to get better and come back the next week and make plays.

Colvin (22) and Jalen Ramsey (20) now patrol the field together for the Jags. During his suspension, Colvin helped bring Ramsey learn the NFL game and the Jaguars system.

This was not the only time that Colvin would miss time. He was suspended for the first 4 games of the 2016 season for taking a substance that was on the banned list. He knew that he had made a mistake and owned up to it but having secured a starting role in 2015, the team would have to name a new starter. There was  a possibility that the new starter could excel and that would put Colvin’s return as a starter in question. But as you can read in the linked article, Colvin showed a team-first approach and help his potential replacements get up to speed on the playbook and coverages. He said “At first it was pretty tough – I can’t lie – and as a competitor, I’m sure any of these guys would feel the same way. “When you have to take a step back, when you know you can help this team and this defense, it can be challenging at times but you can try to find the silver linings in any situation. That’s what I’m doing right now and I know this defense pretty well, so I’m just helping the new guys and the younger guys to help them go out and do some of the things that I did.” He continued “It’s weird man, it’s crazy because I’m only going into my third year. “But I’m mentoring a rookie and it’s different. I take it as a challenge.”

Colvin had an interception against the Bills last week to secure the victory. How far will the Jaguars playoff run go?

Upon his return from suspension, he played in 10 games, making 4 starts. Then an ankle injury sidelined him again. More adversity. But he returned this year to play well. He had a key interception in last week’s win over the Bills and was named the Jaguars Ed Block Courage Award winner, given to one player on each team who is seen by his teammates as a role model, inspiration and/or courage. He said “Everything I do is for God, but to have my teammates’ support and approval and to realize that the hard work that I’ve put in and the challenges that I’ve overcome to be in this situation, it means the world to me… “My faith is kind of what changed it all. I relied on my faith, my family and my friends and because of the situation with the Senior Bowl I knew what to expect, I knew how to go about my rehab, I know what I did right last time and I know what I did wrong last time. It was an easier transition than the first injury. My faith allowed me to not have any worries. I never doubted God once and I knew that it happened for a reason.”

Now he and the Jaguars take on the Steelers for a chance to go to New England and play the Patriots in the conference championship game next week. It has been a quick rise to playoff caliber team for the Jags. Will their season continue today?

Here are my takeaways from Colvin’s story:

1- Lean on Support – Colvin has been sidelined with injury and with suspension. In each situation, his teammates have were supportive and helped Colvin with his rehab and his return to play. They continue to support and encourage him by naming his their Ed Block award winner this season. Friends and family are great supports and leaning on faith in God is even more dependable. Will you lean on Him for support when adversity comes your way. It may be adversity brought on my circumstances out of our control (like Colvin’s injuries) or one that are in our control (taking a banned supplement). We are called to live in community with others, let them be your support.

2- Support others – When Colvin was facing the suspension for a banned substance. That meant that he would lose his starting job for at least those 4 weeks. He chose to support his team and help them out by working with his replacements helping them trend towards success even though their success could mean (and did mean) loss of playing time for him. There is a lesson to learn for us about selflessness. Are we willing to sacrifice our comfort, our status for the sake of others? I used to work at Trader Joe’s. In the staff room there is a graphic of their company hierarchy. It is an inverted triangle with the customers on the broad top, supported by the crew who are supported by management who are supported by corporate headquarters. it is a backwards hierarchy. You would expect the bosses to be higher than their employees, but they have chosen a model of servant leadership. Jesus demonstrated servant leadership as well in washing his disciples feet and by dying for his enemies. Let’s look for opportunities to serve and support others around us, putting them above us in our hierarchy.

 

Relearn the Game – Vic Beasley Jr – LB – Atlanta Falcons


Vic Beasley Jr – LB for the Atlanta Falcons, led the NFL last season in sacks

Things looked great for the Atlanta Falcons to win their first ever Super Bowl last February 5th in Houston Texas. They had taken a 21-3 lead into half time and were surprising many as the Patriots were favored to win the game. The Falcons would score first  in the second half, too building a 25 point lead midway through the third quarter. But then, the unthinkable happened. The Patriots calmly started to catch up. They scored 19 a third quarter touchdown and then 19 points in the 4th quarter to send the SuperBowl to its first ever overtime game. The Patriots won the coin toss and drove down the field to score the winning touchdown. It was a remarkable comeback that was celebrated all over Patriots Nation. But in the other locker room, the agony of defeat was immense. They had a chance to defeat the mighty Patriots and win a championship, but couldn’t hold the lead. It was the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history.

I’ve tried to come up with some scenario from my life that would help me relate to this situation, but I came up empty. All I can say is that it had to be a stinging loss.  Victory seemed imminent but ultimately was not to be. I can only imagine the sick feelings that filled that Falcons locker room on that day. As you can read in this article from the Christian Post, even in the midst of that tough loss, Falcons linebacker Vic Beasley was keeping his mind and thoughts on God. Shortly after the game, he tweeted “Some things in life you never FULLY UNDERSTAND!!! BUT in the midst of all God is still good!

Beasley (center) with parents. His father passed away during Beasley’s senior year at Clemson.

Vic Beasley was finishing up his second year in the NFL. An 8th overall pick out of Clemson, it was the end of a breakout year for him and a sign that great things are to come for this Atlanta Defense. During his college days, he faced the challenge of learning different positions. Since starting high school, Beasley has played 7 different positions. His final position change was after joining the Falcons who turned him from a Defensive End to Linebacker. He was named an All-Pro last season after leading the league with 15.5 sacks. This season he battled injury early on, but has been an important part of the return to the Playoffs for the Falcons.

Beasley hits Tom Brady for an incompletion during Super Bowl LI. The Patriots completed and epic comeback to defeat the Falcons

The Super Bowl loss was no doubt tough, but Beasley had battled even tougher losses than that one. This Christian Index article  and This Washington Post article tell us about how that “during his time at Clemson Vic’s father and brother both died and he had to be strong and a source of strength for his mother and other family members. They discovered they could draw from his faith and dependence upon God. Dunne declares, “He (Beasley) persists as a source of joy to everyone around him. The call him ‘a different bird,’ a ‘devout Christian’ … and a ‘beacon of light.’” He is also quoted as saying “God has strengthened me through the death of my dad. He’s been my armor the whole time, all the time I grew up and my mother taking me to church and stuff. He’s always come through for me. I might not have always done the right thing, but God has always been on my side.”

Here are my takeaways from Beasley’s story.

Beasley scored a TD on a fumble recovery earlier this season. The Falcons are hoping to get back to the Super Bowl again this year.

1- Praise God in adversity – I heard a speaker once say that faith is like a muscle – it grows when it is exercised. Faith is exercised when we need to depend on something to help us because things are out of control. We put our faith in lots of different places. We put faith in ourself, our money, our family, and when all else fails, we put faith in God. We seem to have this backwards. The reality that this life teaches us over and over again is that  we are not in control of anything except our decision of whether or not to put our faith in God. Beasley shows through his story that faith in God is all that consistently supports and sustains us.

2- Relearn the Game – I mentioned that Beasley has played 7 different positions. He started as a defensive back and wide receiver, transitioned to tight end, linebacker and running back (his preferred position) he even returned a punt. When he changed position, he had to learn some new things about football. His coach Marion Hobby said “(the) first mission… was to completely rewire the way Beasley thought about football. Beasley needed to learn the proper stances, how to play the six- or five-technique, react to the ball movement, reading keys, taking angles, recognizing formations. Everything. It was basically Football 101 from the beginning, It was a process that I knew was going to take some time.”

I find it interesting that it seems the more I learn about God, the more I see that I don’t know. God reveals more about himself to me and as I learn, I know that I will never understand how God works or why he chooses to stop some things or allow some things. But I learn more about the depths of his love and the vast reach of their grace. Each time that He challenges me to follow the example that Jesus lived, loving others around him, serving others and living righteously, I have to reset my mind to follow that example. But He is a patient coach and wants us to succeed.Dig out your playbook and let the coach help guide you.

Turnaround – A.J. Klein – LB – New Orleans Saints


Saints analyst Buddy Diliberto started the paper bag movement in 1980.

I make no attempts to hide the fact that I am a huge New Orleans Saints fan. Have been since my youth – almost as long ago as when Buddy Diliberto donned the grocery bags and started the `Aints movement. But with that comes the understanding that there is more history of bad football than good football in the Big Easy. Things have been better since for the last decade or so, even winning the SuperBowl 44 in 2010.  But since then, the offense has been fine, but the defense has been bad – historically bad. They replaced much of the defensive coaching staff, keeping coordinator Dennis Allen but he had to be feeling the pressure. And then the Saints started off this year 0-2 and it seemed like the defense was not yet fixed.  But solid draft picks and key free-agent signings began to gel together and figure things out. In the past 6 seasons, the Saints defense has never ranked higher than 27th. This year, they finished middle of the pack – a vast improvement over recent years and a hope that things are trending in the right direction.

Despite an 0-2 start, Klein and some other new Saints turned the season, around to win the NFC south

One of those key off-season signings was A.J. Kein, a linebacker that had been playing with division rivals (and today’s Saints opponent Carolina Panthers). Klein was a 5th round pick by the Panthers out of Iowa State. In 4 seasons with Carolina, Klein had risen from ranks of a special teams player to reliable linebacker, gaining much experience filling in for injured players ahead of him on the depth chart. He was part of a deep Panthers playoff run, playing with them in the SuperBowl. The Saints had taken notice and signed him on the first day of free agency last offseason. They put him in their starting lineup and named him captain before he played a game for the Saints.  He played very well until an injury sidelined him for the remainder of the season. He will be missed in this playoff run for the Saints, but expects to be ready at OTAs in the spring.

Klein’s tattoo pays tribute to “faith” and “family” important parts of his life on and off the field

The injury is, of course, not the first adversity that Klein has faced.  As you can read in this article from the Advocate, Klein’s father lost a battle to cancer 4 games into last season. Klein said “Last year was not a good year for me; I’ll be completely honest. I don’t want to say I was struggling on the football field, but last year was the most I’ve struggled with off-the-field issues, whether it be my emotions or all that stuff.”

And when the hard times came, Klein knew where to turn for help in dealing with it. He says “My faith is the most important thing to me. I was raised in a Catholic household and a Catholic family. My parents taught me the values of humility and character, obviously faith, and never to stray from your beliefs.” His time in the NFL has also strengthened his faith. As you can read in this article from Cross the Line, he found his niche as a faith leader on the Panthers. He says “Every week I get up and do the readings… I try to share my experiences of what I have been through, with and without God to answer people that have questions. There are a lot of things I can’t explain, but I always go back to having blind faith and I actually just finished reading a book called ‘Proof Of Heaven’ by Dr Eben Alexander, a neuroscientist who was an atheist but then had a near-death experience. The book is amazing and like I said you just have to rely on God’s love and know that no matter what happens to you in your life, he is always there for you.”

Klein won’t get to play against his old team today in the playoffs, but he will cheer them on, and look to be ready again next season.

Here are my takeaways from Klein’s story:

1- A Crutch – In hard or confusing life circumstances, it is comforting to know that God is by our side and will be with us through whatever life brings. Some detractors call faith in God a crutch. But as a speaker once said “Yeah, but when you are crippled, a crutch is not a bad thing”. Of course we lean on God in hard times. ANd with so much of life being challenge after challenge, we have to use this crutch constantly. That is the way it should be. We need Him and He is there for us. Sounds like a lifesaving relationship to me. Last season, as Klein’s father battled and eventually died of cancer, faith in God is what sustained Klein. I know that in the struggles my life has brought, I can say the same thing. God’s unquestionable presence and comfort in my most heartbroken moments proved his existence again and again to me. Life is hard and beats us up constantly. He will support us, love us and sustain us. Lean on Him!

Klein’s team leadership and play on the field as well as life off of it is all guided by his faith in God.

2- Use your gifts – Klein says “Football for me is a blessing but it’s what I do with that gift from God that determines whether I am using it for right or for wrong. You definitely have to put in the hours yourself but the whole foundation of it comes from him, in any aspect of your life God will give you gifts and blessings. It is then up to you whether you use them or not, I have made the conscious decision to use my gift.” I find this very challenging and important to remember. God has given us so much. We are so selfish by nature, we lose sight of all that God has done and is doing in our life. But he equips us not just to survive, but to be used by Him, too. What gifts has God given to you? Will you choose to honor God by using the gifts He has given you?