I was the guy who, as I started my day each morning, texted God and told him what my plan for me – not what His plan for me — was for the day.
“Hi, God, good morning. How are you? I just wanted to let you know that I will head to (Cleveland) Browns camp (work) first, then race back here and go to the kids’ basketball games. I’ll grab a bite to eat when I get home, watch a little TV and go to bed. Please keep me safe. Talk to you later.”
That’s not a good look.
I went to church every Sunday, even when I was on the road with the Browns as a writer covering the team. I hardly ever missed. I also said my prayer each morning on my run, remembering everybody who, and everything that, needed God’s help. And throughout the day, I tried to be the best Steve I could be.
But that was it. I otherwise just skimmed off the top. I never, ever even tried to dig – really dig, deeply dig – into my faith. I was comfortable with where I was with God. Come on, I didn’t need to work on our relationship. I didn’t need to stop and ask Him what he wanted me to do. After all, I was a very busy guy keeping up with all the “stuff” I had going on. Doing anything special – doing anything extra – would have taken time, and I had no more time to give, even for God.
This went on and on and on – smoothly, swimmingly, I thought – until it didn’t one day.
That’s when the things in my life – all the things, really, and I do mean all – started not just to come apart, but to come flying apart as if hit by a bomb.
And perhaps it had been.
In the span of about three weeks, I lost everything I cared about – a 32-year marriage, my kids, my house and my job.
The guy who thought he had it all figured out – the guy whose days were planned so fully and precisely for months to come that I could tell you, with tremendous accuracy, what I would be doing, and where and why and how I would be doing it, at 2:14 p.m. nine Tuesdays down the road – now didn’t know what I would be doing in the next moment. I couldn’t look beyond that, for it scared me to death. It caused me to learn what a panic attack was, at 2 a.m. one day when, after waking up with a start, I couldn’t get my breath. I thought it was a heart attack, but when my chest didn’t hurt, I realized it was something else as I stood bent over, hands on my knees, in my driveway.
Yes, things were changing for me – and quickly.
To this day, I can picture what my previously neat, tidy life looked like after it had been destroyed– a huge, triangular pile of gray slate, about 10 feet high..
I don’t wish to speak for everyone – or, actually for anyone other than for me – but when traumatic, life-changing things like this happen, if you don’t admit to wanting to end it all.
God had definitely gotten my attention. I began praying – a lot.
But I still wasn’t where He wanted me to be – not even close. Something else had to happen. And it did.
One day as I was cutting up a pine tree that had fallen over in a wind storm, the chain saw bucked. I have worked at lot with chain saws, so it was never a safety issue and I quickly got it under control.
I had an epiphany at that moment. Our house was a quarter-mile off the road, and I was working in an area that was hidden from view. There was no one checking on me – everyone had left; I was in the house by myself – and so if I had an accident and was incapacitated, I would have just laid there and died. No one would have come to help. Perhaps only weeks later, when the mail and newspapers piled up and the grass got high, would anyone have thought to check on me. I was that alone and isolated.
I said to myself, “OK, Steve, you’ve told everyone your tale of woe. They have listened and offered their condolences. All the while, that merry-go-round of life hasn’t stopped. Now it’s time for you to take a deep breath and get back on the ride. It won’t be easy or quick, but you must begin the journey back.”
Then I talked to God – at length for the first time in a long time, and very personally. There was none of the sameness and repetition of my morning prayer, “My way of conducting my life didn’t work out so well. So, God, I’m turning myself over to You and letting You run it. Tell me what You want me to do. Show me the way.”
Indeed, it wasn’t easy or quick, but I was finally tuned in to God, so every time I got to the veritable edge of the cliff and said to Him, “OK, I don’t have an answer for this. I need You to step in and do something,” He would. He would immediately provide something good to pull me back to safe footing.
That was seven years ago. It’s amazing what can happen when you turn your life over to God fully, faithfully and unconditionally – when you really listen and do what He says.
He won’t give you what you can handle, but He helps you handle what you are given. I am living proof of that.
And if I had the choice to go through all that pain again – and it was very painful losing so much – to get to where I am today, with the best relationship I’ve ever had with God, and the most faith I’ve ever experienced, but with miles and miles and miles yet to go to be the person He needs me to be and knows I can be, I would do it. I really, truly would.
That’s the fortunate part of having once been that guy, as unfortunate as it was. For it set me up – forced me — to be this guy.