TBT – Bundle of Joy – LaDainian Tomlinson – RB- San Diego Chargers

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A photo of my 4 daughters from this past summer.

For today’s post, I am going to share a little more of my family’s story and how God has been gracious to us through pain and sorrow bringing us joy and peace along the way. To do so, allow me to introduce you to the newest love of my life. Her name is Isabella Virginia Page and she was born on the 3rd of May 2016. She is our 4th daughter and in her first 5 months of life, she has brought immeasurable joy to our family. I am a proud dad, that is to be sure, and all 4 of our daughters are so special. My heart is overflowing with love for them.

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Former Chargers star running back LaDainian Tomlinson

With Isabella (Ella) though, the experience of the pregnancy was different than it was with the other 3 girls. You see, in December of 2014, we learned that my wife was pregnant. We were excited for this new addition, but in March, at a routine ultrasound, we learned that the baby had died. My wife delivered our child, stillborn, the day after the ultrasound. We named the child Ilya. I had never experienced grief and heartache like that before. I shared a little about the story in this blog post this past summer. God was present and comforted us through the grief and pain. Just over a year later, He allowed us to have another baby. The experience was different this time as there were weekly ultrasounds to make sure that all OK. All of the landmark moments that a pregnancy brings (hearing the heartbeat, feeling the baby kick, seeing the baby at the ultrasound) were not moments of joy this time as much as they were moments of relief that things were OK.  Even after Ella was born, there have been panicked moments where my wife or I will feel like something has happened to her and rush to check on her, only to find out that she is sleeping peacefully and that everything is fine. We hug all our kids a little tighter, tell them we love them and are proud of them a little more frequently and enjoy time together as a family more after going through the loss of Ilya.

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LaTorsha and LaDainian Tomlinson and their son Daylen

Former NFL MVP and future Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson and his wife LaTorsha also had the experience of losing a baby during pregnancy. You can read here about the heartbreak they went through, and the joy that they have in the birth of their son Daylen. It is a story that again reminds us that there is more to life for pro athletes than what happens on the field. There are events and circumstances that they go through that bring pain and sadness. Tomlinson’s story is more than what we could see on the field.

Although the things that he accomplished on the field were pretty special. He was drafted by the San Diego Chargers with in the first round on the 2001 draft with the number 5 overall pick. He had become a star at TCU as an All-American in 2000. He was also a 2 time WAC offensive player of the year in college. In the NFL, he was 2 time rushing leader, 5 time Pro Bowl selection, and a member of the “All-Decade team” for the 2000’s. He was a league MVP and his #21 has been retired by the Chargers. He owns or shares the NFL record for consecutive games with a TD (18); rushing TD’s in a season (28) and total offensive touchdowns in a season (31).  It was an impressive career for Tomlinson, and the expectation is that when the 2017 Hall of Fame class is announced, Tomlinson will be on the list of new inductees. Tomlinson is quick to share the important role that his relationship with Jesus plays in his life. You can read more about it in this article from CBN.

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Tomlinson and Drew Brees were taken by the Chargers in the same draft.

I have long appreciated LaDainian Tomlinson. He was easy to cheer for because of his skill and his humble attitude. As I learn about this part of his story, I am an even bigger fan. When I hear about how he leans on his faith in God, then I want to share that part of the story with others, too – so that the way God has been with him in good times and hardships can encourage all of us as we battle through our own lives. In an interview with Chad Bonham, Tomlinson says “My job is to let everybody know what I stand for and to let my light shine. I want to show others the way I live so that hopefully they follow. I can also tell about my experiences as a Christian so that I may help bring others to Christ.”

Here are my takeaways from Tomlinson’s story:

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Tomlinson was arguable the best running back in the league for much of his career. He holds the NFL record for touchdowns in a season.

1- Joy Exceeds Pain – The Tomlinsons’ story of heartbreak at the loss of their unborn baby is tragic and sad. It connected with me as my wife and went through that too. But as we struggled through the grief, God’s presence was strong and evident. And with the birth of Ella, the joy that we have felt from having her join our family, holding her, seeing her smile, hearing her laugh and all the other joyous moments of parenthood are so much sweeter than we could have imagined. God has given us this beautiful baby to love. The joy that she brings to us exceed the pain that we felt.The pain was real and deep-reaching, but so much more is the joy that God has granted through Ella. This is a small picture of the ultimate result of a life lived for Him.  There will be hardship, pain and heartache over and over in our time on this planet. But there is more to come – in fact the best is yet to come. We are invited to be with God in a place where there is no pain, agony, tears or sorrow. The joy that is to come far exceeds the pain that we feel here.

He is with us in the hardest of times and His presence and His love is all that we need to get us through the pains of this life. He does not answer each situation we face in the same way but He does answer in the perfect way. Trust Him and lean on Him in the midst of whatever hard things come your way.

 

A Reason to Rejoice – Clinton McDonald – Defensive Tackle – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Tampa Bay Buccaneers D Lineman Clinton McDonald

I enjoyed playing sports all throughout my youth. I played lots of baseball, and a little basketball on an organized, competitive level and a bunch of others for fun. Because I was not in a lot of competitive sports, I didn’t ever feel the pain of being cut until I was in 9th grade.  I tried out for my junior high school soccer team and sailed through the first tryouts which were for all grades at the school. But being a ninth grader, I was only qualified to play Varsity – I was too old for Junior Varsity. So even though I sailed through the first round of tryouts, when I got to the Varsity tryouts, I struggled. I was cut on the second day of tryouts and not invited back for the final day. I was crushed. I really wanted to make the team. That is the closest I’ve ever come in sports to understanding the feeling that a player must feel when he is cut from a professional team. It has to be even more crushing than my junior high school experience because it involves a career, a livelihood.

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McDonald (behind Broncos #27) forces a fumble in the Super Bowl as the Seahawks routed the Broncos.

Clinton McDonald was cut from the Seattle Seahawks at the end of the 2013 preseason. Arkansasleader.com shares how he thought he’d had a solid preseason and he was shocked to be cut. He was not worried about it being the end of his career, he was sure that he would catch on somewhere, but he was saddened by the thought of losing the relationships that he had built with the Seahawks. He kept working out, hoping to get a call from an NFL team that would allow him to continue his career. He was invited to work out for the New England Patriots. They seemed ready to sign him when his phone rang with an offer from another NFL team… The Seattle Seahawks. He returned to Seattle and joined the team and stuck through with them all the way to the Championship as they defeated the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. So what helped McDonald recover and make the most of this new chance? It would be easy to get down or carry bitterness and let that be the motivating factor – setting out to prove everyone wrong when they cut you. That is a natural reaction, but it is not the one that McDonald took. Instead, he took joy in the training and let the stress of trying to win a job back fall to the side.  He says “God got me to step back and take a look and say, what are you going to do with your new opportunity. When he showed me that, I felt relaxed. I wasn’t worried about it anymore. I just felt like I was blessed to have a name that was in the NFL, and what I could do to glorify God because of that.”

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McDonald, now a Buccaneers captain, can often be found reading his bible and praying.

Another chance did come calling and led McDonald to the top goal the NFL offers – a Super Bowl win. Here are some thoughts McDonald shared about that experience.  He says “it just amazes me that God has blessed me, and not with being in the NFL or playing in the Super Bowl. God has blessed me by writing my name in the Lamb’s Book of Life. To be honest with you, the Super Bowl win feels good. But having that responsibility of being a child of God, that’s heavier to me than wearing that ring….We, as children of God, we have to go out there and fight the good fight. He gave us mercy and grace through his Son Jesus Christ who died on a cross because we have sinned. We don’t even see how unworthy we are. And for Him to give it freely, we’re being selfish if we’re not living for him and giving it all back to him. So I trust Jesus, and I try to stay grounded and lean back on the Lord

Here are my takeaways from McDonald’s story:

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Each off-season, McDonald offers a football camp in his native Arkansas. The Iron Sharpens Iron football camp

160429-f-xk483-001 1- Book of Life – McDonald, in this last quote brings to mind a great passage from Luke 10. Jesus has just sent out 72 followers into the communities to declare the arrival of the Kingdom of God and to heal their sick. They returned with amazing experiences and stories of how they saw God at work. They say “Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.” They have been given authority to accomplish God’s work in their region. But Jesus offers them some important words in verse 20. He says “However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” What does this mean?  Don’t get caught up on keeping track of all that is going on in this life. The exciting part is in the life that is to come and that will last forever. McDonald reminded me of this passage with his words. Super Bowls, success, God’s blessings, these are all nice and make us feel good, but they pale in comparison to what is truly important and that is that God has prepared a place for us to be with Him forever. Have you accepted this invitation? Its easy to get caught up in all that life is bringing our way, good and bad, and letting that cloud the vision of what is truly important. God loves us and Jesus died for us so our sins could be forgiven and we could be with Him forever. That is truly worth celebrating.

2- Iron Sharpen Iron – This is taken from Proverbs and means that challenges and friction will make us stronger. This happens when God is a priority in our life and we allow Him to refine us through the trials of life. This is such an important verse for McDonald that he has named his annual football camp the “Iron Sharpen Iron Youth Cheer and Football Camp” McDonald is using his life in football to impact youth by helping them develop football skills, and also by pointing them to the importance of faith in God. Check out this video to learn more about the camp

Clinton McDonald Iron Sharpen Iron 2014 Football Camp from J Booker on Vimeo.

TBT – Actions Speak Louder than Words – Brent Jones – TE -San Francisco 49ers.

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49ers TE Brent Jones – a 3 time Super Bowl Champ.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, meaning that it is easier to explain or describe something with a picture than with words alone. They also say that actions speak louder than words. These are a couple of strange expressions to write about in a blog post, but they are seem fitting in sharing part of the faith story of Brent Jones, former Tight End for the San Francisco 49ers.

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Jones went from an injury to being  a key part of the 49er dynasty

Brent Jones was drafted in 1986 by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 5th round. but as you can read in this article from 1995 in the L.A. Times, Jones was involved in a car accident a couple blocks from his house just 5 days after the draft. He injured his neck and would be unable to practice or compete for a spot with the Steelers. They kept him on the roster through the off-season and into the start of the 1986 football season, but cut him a month in. The next off-season, he was offered a tryout with the 49ers, and despite being “eight string” at the time of his tryout. However, he impressed enough that he made the team and made his NFL debut that season.  He would appear in 11 games the season after that and took over the starting role for the 49ers in 1989. He would go on to a great career with 33 career touchdowns, 4 Pro Bowl selections, 3 Super Bowl Championship rings and a Bart Starr Man of the Year Award.

But of all the potential parts of Jones’ legacy, what comes to mind for me about him is his strong faith in God. In this article from LosAltosonline, You can read about Jones and how interested he was in learning about God as a youth. He talked about the youth meetings he would attend where there would be fun activities and the last 15 minutes would be teaching about Jesus. He became a christian but like all of us, there were times when he would put other things ahead of God. One of the most telling lines he shares is when he said “As great as it is, there’s devastation at the top of that (football) hill. You get there and realize, it’s just a ring. Is that all it is? … You’re shaken..” They had strived to reach the pinnacle that all most all of humanity will never know. They were Super Bowl Champs and what was the lingering feeling? emptiness.  The accolades of this world wind up disappointing. You can read more about his story from The Goal and check out this video from CBN.

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Jones (#84) was part of the first ever on-field post-game prayer circle.

But one of my favorite stories from Jones’ career is the story he shares in this article from findinggodinsiliconvalley.com. There he talks about a game in December 1990. It was a time when being a Christian was not very popular in the locker room. But the article says “Jones found a core of players on the 49ers who were also committed Christians.  Jones recalls, “We wanted to do something special to impact the world for Christ.”   In early December 1990, the opportunity came.  The 49ers were scheduled to play the Giants in New Jersey.  The Giants’ chaplain approached the 49ers chaplain and asked if Christians on the 49ers would be interested in meeting on the field after the game to pray.   Jones comments, ‘It was not cool at that time to come together with opponents after a game, except for a brief greeting.  But we did.  After the game we knelt and prayed with the Giants players’.”  This was the first time that this post game prayer circle happened in the NFL. The NFL threatened fines for all involved but when the prayer circles continued to appear around the league, the NFL chose not to carry out the fines.  Here is Guy McIntyre – a teammate of Jones and part of this circle, talking about it 25 years after it happened.

How cool it must have been to be a part of that and openly sharing with the world that you are living for God and are willing to join others, even the “enemies” (other team) to pray for each other and celebrate God.

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Jones finished his career with 33 TDs.

Here are my takeaways from Jones’ story:

1- Everything is Meaningless – King Solomon, the bible tells us was the wisest man around in his time. 1 Kings 4.30 tells us as much. Yet later in life, as he is writing some books of wisdom to share with the people, he begins the book of Ecclesiastes with those words. Everything is meaningless. The Apostle Paul wrote it this way in Philippians 3. I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him.  For Brent Jones, it was the emptiness of his life when he put sports ahead of God in his life. He reached the top level in the most popular sport in the world but it left him feeling unsatisfied. I can agree with this. I know that I feel like something is off when I put anything else ahead of God on my priority list. Apart from knowing Him, everything is meaningless. But knowing Him brings meaning and purpose to life and all the different parts thereof.

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Jones’s story challenges me to let my actions each day reflect my faith in God.

2- How Loud are Our Actions –  A quote commonly attributed to NCAA basketball coaching legend John Wooden is “If I were ever arrested for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to get a conviction?” Jones and his fellow Christians were going to get together with believers from the hated Giants and pray together at the end of a highly watched Monday Night game. There would be a cost. Maybe some awkwardness among teammates who didn’t share this belief in God, fines and threats from the League. But despite it all, they chose to honor God anyway. And those actions sparked a movement that continues to this day. How do my actions reflect your belief in God? Are they loudly heard by people in my circles – Not for my own visibility or to impress people with how spiritual I am, but because God is the most important part of my life and I want to honor Him in all that I do? What a challenge to take into life tomorrow and each day for the rest of my life. May our actions speak loudly about God and what He has done/is doing in our life.

Expecting to Win – Sam Bradford – Minnesota Vikings

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Vikings QB Sam Bradford

Week for comes to an end tonight, and while many predicted that the Minnesota Vikings would be very competitive this season and in the mix for a solid playoff run, some of those thoughts started to waiver when quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down with a season ending injury. But the Vikings made a quick deal to get quarterback Sam Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles. Bradford was set for his second season with the Philadelphia Eagles but the Eagles drafted Carson Wentz this off-season and Bradford, all of a sudden, was being pointed to the bench. Bradford has struggled stay on the field since he was drafted first overall by the St. Louis Rams in the 2010 draft. He had come to the NFL with an impressive resume. He was the Heisman as a sophomore in 2008 as well as a slew of other impressive awards. He continued to have success as a rookie, winning the 2010 Offensive Rookie of the Year award. But then, injuries cut 2 of the next 3 seasons short and eventually led to the Rams moving on without him.

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Bradford’s 2 TD performance in his debut led the Vikings to a win against the Packers in week 2.

As you can read in this article from CBN.com, it was not the first time that Bradford struggled to find his place. As a freshman at Oklahoma, Bradford was on the bench. This was very unfamiliar to him because as he says “Every sport I’d ever played in, I’d always played. I never sat the bench. And, I kind of turned my back on the Lord. I was like, ‘Why are you doing this to me? Why are you putting me in this situation?”  But even though he was struggling with his place, he continued to go to FCA, following the faith that had begun in him as a middle schooler.  A leader in the OU FCA group challenged him in his relationship with God. He shares a lesson he learned from that experience. He says “When I second-guessed Him, I thought He was going in the totally wrong direction. I mean, He knew exactly what He was doing; He had a plan for me. He’s had a plan my whole life. For me to not trust him, it was just ridiculous. So I think to be patient and persevere through hard times when you’re really not sure what God’s doing – that’s something that I’ve learned. You’ve got to learn to trust Him and know that He knows what He’s doing.”  Bradford did get his chance and made the most of it as he starred for the Sooners and won the Heisman Trophy in 2008.  You can hear him discuss his faith in God and the role it plays in his life in these videos from I AM Second

and from Sharing the Victory

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Bradford’s shoulders have known expectations his whole career. Now the Vikings are hoping he will carry them to a title.

Now he is getting a chance to join the Vikings and so far, the reviews have been very positive. There is hope and excitement here in the Twin Cities and despite further injury issues (running back and Offensive Line). Tonight, as the Vikings take on the Giants, we will see if Bradford can lead the Vikings to a 4-0 start.

Here are my takeaways from Bradford’s story.

1- God is with me – Bradford has gone through injury, free agency and trade (2 times). There has been a lot to go through but Bradford says that God’s presence is enough to carry him through the challenges. You can read more about his mindset and the gratitude he feels for the opportunities that he has received in this article from the Christian Post. He know that God is with Him sees spending time with God as very important. He says “To have a relationship with the Lord, and to be able to spend time with Him every week, it’s something that really just lets me get away from everything else. When I’m with Him … I stop thinking about football. I stop thinking about any other problems that are going on in my life.

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Bradford has had a lot of success in his career starting in college.

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But he knows without God, he would never be where he is today. He considers following God the most important part of his life

2- Expect to win –  The expectation when a team drafts a quarterback #1 overall is that the team will start winning with the new QB in place and that success will stick around for a while. Bradford has had success – Rookie of the Year is a pretty legit award, but with injuries to Bradford and other key players with the Rams meant that the wins didn’t come. And so time ran out with the Rams. He didn’t meet expectations, even though the issues were not all of his doing. But Bradford is playing football and living life for God who has already secured the most important victory for us – Victory over Satan, death and sin. Knowing that God has already secured the victory for all who choose to follow Him. That is a truly amazing truth that we can trust and take comfort in.

3- Middle School Ministry – Bradford says in this article from Sharing the Victory that he started attending a middle school ministry at a friends church. This connects with me because I am a firm believer that while it is possible to come to faith in God at any age, many people are making up their minds about what is going to be important in their life while they are in middle school. I love working with kids in the 10-15 range and sharing the truth about the bible. Do you  have any middle schoolers in your life? Be honest and open about your faith in God and let Him speak through you to draw their hearts.

Leveraging your Position – John Offerdahl – Miami Dolphins

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Former Dolphins Linebacker John Offerdahl

Throwback Thursday time this week brings us to the Miami Dolphins. John Offerdahl is the subject of the post. Offerdahl was drafted in the second round of the 1986 draft (#52 0verall). He would play 8 years in the NFL, all with the Dolphins and is listed at in this columns at phins.com as one of the top players in team history. (He is #25)

Five times he was named to the Pro Bowl including in his rookie season when he started at Inside Linebacker. He also won the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year award in 1986. He retired in 1994 after injuries reduced his time on the field the three previous years. He is a member of the Dolphins Ring of Honor.

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Offerdahl hosts a yearly event called the “Gridiron Grill-Off” food festival. This year will be the 7th annual Grill-Off.

Since the end of his playing days, Offerdahl has moved into the world of food. This November he will host the 7th annual Gridiron Grill-Off Food and Wine Festival . The event raises funds for many charities in Florida that work provide homes for children in crisis, scholarships to students interested in culinary and hospitality careers, and food banks around the USA. Offerdahl’s passion for food has come along since his retirement and can be seen in his chain of fast-casual restaurants called Offerdahl’s Cafe Grill.  But where did the desire to mesh food and charity together come from? When Offerdahl attended a Lifework Leadership class hosted by the National Christian Foundation, he was challenged to consider his significance and purpose in life. He asked himself “What is my significance, and how can I leverage what I do for eternal gain?”

In this article by the Sun-Sentinel, Offerdahl recounts his relationship with another charity – Sheridan house. where he played in a fund raising flag-football game and how it connected with his heart’s purpose. He says “They are serving the community in awesome ways, … and I believe in the values. They have very strong Christian values.” He continues saying “I guess you would say I am a very strong Bible-believing Christian, And I was looking for a ministry built on … Jesus Christ. While I was playing football [for Sheridan House], it turned into something more.”

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Offerdahl, a five time Pro Bowl selection, was added to the Dolphins Ring of Honor in 2013

This article from Calvary Chapel in Fort Lauderdale shares more about how Offerdahl came to faith in God. The Blog post reads “Growing up in Wisconsin with four older sisters and playing the French horn, John says, “I knew I needed God.” A stand-out football player at Western Michigan, John’s relationship with Christ deepened after he was drafted by the Dolphins and became a part of Pro Athletes Outreach (PAO) with fellow Dolphin Norm Evans. Early in my career I realized that although God had blessed me with certain gifts, I was just a ‘regular Joe’ in need of His grace and wisdom. In the business world, in my philanthropy, and in my daily life, I’m always looking for the balance between my faith and my environment.”

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Offerdahl now has a chain of fast-casual cafes in Florida.

So being in a place where Offerdahl can connect faith, family football and food is a place where Offerdahl knows he was created to be. The article continues by saying “Foster care children and homeless families are close to God’s heart—and mine,” John says. “To bring together my top priorities in one event that leverages football, families, and food is incredible. This is where it all comes together for me

My takeaways from Offendahl’s story:

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Offerdahl is using his skills in football and food to share his faith with others.

1- Leveraging – The article from Calvary lists a definition of leveraging as “an individual’s power of influence to accomplish an outcome” Offerdahl is using his leverage as a gifted food guy and former pro football player to help people in need and to share God’s love in his community and around the world. Ephesians 3.20 says “… Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us” That verse chokes me up. I want to be used, I want to have a purpose but I am so flawed and weak. But that doesn’t matter. God is writing my story and making me part of His greater story. He is able to use us and our story and all the parts that make us who we are to impact the lives of people around us. I have a pretty good imagination and to think that He goes far beyond my imagination is an exciting thought. I love being a part of what God is doing. I pray that He continues to use my story and life as the leverage to help others know Him more.

2- Regular Joe – Because I am just a regular guy, no different or better than anyone else. I need forgiveness, grace and God’s love to change me. But now, having experienced that, I want to let others feel the joy and freedom that I have felt in knowing God’s forgiveness. Offerdahl talks about the same thing. It is true for all of us. How has God worked in your life? How have you experienced God’s offerings to deal with your failures and shortcomings. Now is the time to share your stories with other Regular Joes so they can meet the God who changes lives face to face. Let’s impact our world!