Still in the Game: Hail Mary

Still in the Game by Devon Still

Leah’s surgery was scheduled for September 25, right in the middle of our bye week. Even that felt like God nodding at us. As if the big man upstairs took a look at the NFL schedule when considering when Leah should get her surgery and timed everything just right, so we all could be together on that beautiful day — the day when she would finally get that mass, that tumor, and that cancer out of her body.

But the day before surgery, Leah got real scared. “Are they gonna cut me with a real knife?” she asked me. At first I didn’t know how to respond. She didn’t need to know the gory details, I thought. She was too young. Too innocent. So in a typical knee-jerk parent reaction, I said, “No, no. Not a real knife.” What was I doing? I didn’t want to lie to my daughter. She deserved the truth. But I was too scared to tell her the truth. Kids don’t quiet that easy though. Especially curious kids like Leah. She kept asking questions, and honestly, I’d never seen her so scared.

I tried to distract her with a puzzle. I pulled up some funny YouTube videos, but the girl wasn’t interested. She was terrified.

I needed help — and I was learning where to get it. I turned to God.

“God,” I asked, “what do I do here?”

And God answered. It wasn’t the voice of God like some people talk about. My grandma used to say she heard God talking to her, in a God-like voice, like you’d expect from some old movie or something. I didn’t get that. Instead, I trusted God — and the words just came to me.

“Leah, you know, I’ve been through a lot of surgeries. And I’m fine,” I said. “I play football, right?”

“Yeah,” she said. “If surgery hurt me, I wouldn’t be able to play football, would I?” “No. But are they really gonna cut me? With a knife?” I pulled up my pant leg. “You see this?” I said, pointing to the six-inch scar stretching from my ankle halfway up my shin. “That’s from the surgery I got my sophomore year at Penn State. The doctors had to cut my leg open and put screws into it.”

“Did it hurt?”

“I didn’t feel a thing. They gave me medicine so I would sleep right through it. The same medicine they’re gonna give you.”

“It didn’t hurt at all?”

“I’ll be honest with you, it hurt a little bit the next day, and for a few days after that, but they gave me medicine to make most of the pain go away, and the pain was only temporary. The pain went away. I’ve been healed and fine ever since.”

“Huh,” she said.

I hiked my pant leg up even further. “And see this? This was from my freshman year in high school. I was only fourteen years old, so just ten years older than you are right now when I went in for my first surgery.”

“And did that one hurt?”

“Nope. Same thing. They put me under anesthesia. That’s the medicine that makes you sleep, so I didn’t feel the surgery at all. And yeah, it hurt for a little while afterward. I had to wear a cast from my toes all the way to my hip!”

“Really?” “Really,” I responded. “Will I have to wear a cast?” “No, no. And your scar won’t even be that big.” “I’m gonna have a scar?” “Just like your dad,” I said. “Scars are your warrior wounds. It shows that whatever tried to stop you didn’t succeed. You should be proud that you’re able to show your scars because it means you’re a survivor.”

“Huh,” she said.

I showed her the “warrior wound” on my back, too, and talked some more about how a little pain is totally worth it, because pain goes away. It doesn’t last. “And once that pain is gone, once the treatments are all over, you’ll be free of cancer and stronger than ever for getting through it.”

“So, it’s not that scary?” Leah said.

“No, baby. It’s a good thing. You’ve met all those nice doctors and nurses at CHoP. You know they all adore you and think you’re the selfie queen.”

“Yeah,” she laughed.

“So they’re gonna take care of you. And this surgery is going to get that cancer out of you.”

“Well, that’s good,” she said. She was quiet for a bit. Then she looked up at me with a big smile. “I guess I won’t be scared then. It’s okay. I want the cancer out of me.”

“I hope so!”

“God wants it too. He told me.” “He did, huh?”

“Yeah,” Leah said. “You talk to God?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“And He talks to you?”

“Mm-hmm.”

I didn’t expect the conversation to take that turn. “What does God sound like to you?”

“He sounds good!” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, laughing at the joy in her voice. “I bet He does. What has God told you?”

“He tells me He believes in me and to believe in Him, and if I do He will help me. And no matter what I go through, He just says, ‘Be strong!’”

“He said all that to you?” I asked her.

“Yeah. But God talks in all different ways.”

I was floored. Not only was I taken aback that God was talking to my daughter, and that she’d clearly been talking to Him; but Leah helped me realize in that moment He’d been talking to me too. And I’d been listening. I’d been listening to God my whole life, even when I didn’t realize it was Him.

He’d been talking to me through my gut. That I recognized a long time ago. But He’d also been talking to me through Asha. He’d been talking to me through the voices of my cheering squads, whether it was the crowd in high school when I first walked back into the gym, or the fans in some stadium, or the support of my parents in the waiting room at the hospital. He’d been talking to me through the public outpouring of support and love for my daughter and me ever since we went public. In high school He’d talked to me through the voice of the therapist who convinced me I was ready to take a leap from a set of stairs. He’d been talking to me when He told me not to stand in front of that party talking on a cell phone.

He was now talking to me through my own daughter. What I realized during that conversation with Leah is that God doesn’t always talk to us with words, either. God talks in all different ways, including through actions. God had been talking to me through my actions — or rather His actions, and His plans — which He’d laid out for me my whole life.

What instantly became clear to me when my daughter’s fear of getting surgery went away is that everything — absolutely everything I’d ever done, everything I’d been through, everything I’d overcome in my life — had prepared me for this very day.

It felt like a revelation, and that revelation changed everything. As corny as this might sound, it honestly felt like the secret to life was suddenly made clear to me, and the secret is this:

God has a plan.

We can’t always see that plan, but it’s there. Whatever you’re going through is just preparing you for something else. Something bigger. Something you probably can’t even imagine. You just have to pay attention. Learn the lessons God’s trying to teach you. Stay in the game. Don’t give up. Fight for four quarters. Overtime if you have to. Keep going. And someday, someday, if you stick it out, all that stuff that didn’t make sense is gonna make some sense. It’s gonna pay off. It’s gonna add up to something.

I knew, and I would continue to know from that moment forward, that whatever new struggles might come my way, whatever challenges or obstacles might appear in my life, they were just preparing me for a future that God has in store for me.

That revelation made me less afraid.

Knowing that everything we do in life is about learning, growing, gaining strength, preparing for a path we can’t see but that God is laying out for us — just knowing that somehow makes the task of facing life’s struggles that much easier. Faith in God doesn’t make the struggles go away. The obstacles in life don’t magically disappear because you pray. But the fear of those struggles? The terror of believing that each new obstacle is somehow gonna be the end of you? That goes away. That makes you stronger. And that is powerful.

Excerpted with permission from Still in the Game by Devon Still, copyright Devon Still.

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Your Turn

Happy Superbowl Sunday! Are you still in the game? If you’re in the middle of a crisis or struggle, have you thrown a Hail Mary pass? God is with you and He is for you. Stay in the game! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you! ~ Devotionals Daily

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