Faith: Stay the Course

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Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. – 1 Corinthians 16:13

In less than a week, I was exhausted from the chemotherapy. Sometimes I was able to get up and take a sponge bath; other times it took all I had to go to the bathroom or brush my teeth. Some of the simple things I had taken for granted became a chore. The oral chemo known as ATRA gave me migraines. Then the docs ordered pain meds, and I’m doped up and can’t go to the restroom so they start giving me something else to help me go to the bathroom. There were aches and joint pain. And the night sweats, the fevers. I’d wake up in the middle of the night absolutely soaked. Then I’d get up, have the chills, put on dry clothes, and have to do it all over again a couple hours later.

Tina started a routine for us each morning. Every day we’d have devotional time together, reading or listening to books like Jesus Calling and Our Daily Bread. We prayed a few short sentences or just sat quietly and prayed without saying any words.

While the alias on my ID bracelet may have read, “The Rock,” we both believed that Christ is the solid Rock who would see us through this.

After our devotional and prayer time together, I usually had a visit from Dr. Cripe or one of his medical team. I couldn’t have asked for a better doctor — not only one who was an expert oncologist but one who took the time to get to know me and understand a little bit about my life. Right from the beginning, Dr. Cripe told us what the game plan was and what we had to do. “Our goal is to cure you,” he stressed, “not just treat you.”

The same day I received my first chemotherapy treatment, Mr. Irsay summoned Bruce Arians to his office, and when the meeting came to an end, our new offensive coordinator became the Indianapolis Colts’ interim head coach. At age sixty, Bruce was at a point in his career where he had stopped worrying about becoming a head coach in the NFL.

Following the meeting, a blast of emails, texts, and follow-up phone calls went out to everyone in the Colts’ organization. Mr. Irsay called a mandatory team meeting for the following Monday morning, unusual because we were on our bye week, which meant players had extra time off to spend with their families. Everyone knew something was up.

Here’s how Cory Redding described the special team meeting that took place on that Monday morning:

After all the players and staff had gathered, Mr. Irsay nodded to let everyone know he was going to speak, and there was a hush in the room so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Mr. Irsay said, Coach has been feeling some fatigue over the last few weeks, and he’s noticed some bruising on his body. At first he thought the bruises could have been from contact on the field, or coaching, or playing with his grandkids. After he showed them to Tina, she made him promise to get them checked out. Coach saw one of our team doctors, who ran some tests and referred Coach to be evaluated by a specialist. We now know that Coach has leukemia.

“The room grew completely still, as Mr. Irsay continued. ‘Obviously, this is a difficult blow for him and his family. It’s unlikely he will be able to coach again this season. With any battle against cancer, there are peaks and valleys. And once he gets better, there’s more chemotherapy to go through. We all know the demands of this league. It’s one of the most demanding jobs anyone can have. While Coach Pagano receives treatment and recovers, Bruce Arians is going to be our interim head coach. He is Chuck’s selection and certainly has my blessing, along with Ryan’s.’

“Mr. Irsay paused briefly, his emotions beginning to overcome him, and added, ‘I feel in every fiber of my body, and I know Chuck feels the same way, that he can beat this thing.’

“I was stunned. Coach was healthy last week, and now he’s fighting for his life. It was hard for me to accept. Chuck and Tina had become like family to Priscilla and me. Sitting there in the awful silence of Mr. Irsay’s announcement, I said a prayer for Chuck, for Tina, for their entire family. This was all so unreal. Then I had a thought that gave me comfort. Back in my early football days, I’d learned that when you face adversity, you really only have two choices: you either fight or you fold. There was not a doubt in my mind about which one Chuck Pagano would do. He’s a fighter through and through.”

Coach Arians concluded by challenging the players: “We can’t control whether Chuck can make it back before the December 30 regular season finale, but there’s another option we can control. We can extend the season until he’s with us again on the field!” He was talking about making the playoffs, a lofty goal for a team that had gone 2 – 14 the previous year and was currently 1 – 2. But we had been conditioning our players to think big for eight months.

Over and over again, we’d been telling them, “Stick to the process. It’s sixty minutes, all you got. One play at a time. Don’t judge. No matter what happens, good or bad, move on, next play. If you’re up or you’re down, whatever — just play one play at a time.” As simple as it may sound, I firmly believe this is what commitment to excellence and dedication to our team are all about. This is what we do, week after week. We stick to the process. Win or lose, this is our routine.

Stay the course.

Football is not who we are; it’s what we do. As players and coaches, it doesn’t define us. Family does. Faith does.

Excerpted with permission from Sidelined: Overcoming Odds Through Unity, Passion, And Perseverance by Chuck Pagano

Watch the Video Interview with Chuck Pagano

Your Turn

Are you in the fight of your life? Have you been sidelined by illness, unemployment, divorce, or other painful struggle? Are you staying the course, standing firm in faith trusting that God is sovereign? Come join the conversation on our blog! We would love to hear from you about choosing faith in the middle of life’s most difficult circumstances! ~ Devotionals Daily

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