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Thursday, September 29, 2016

When Tragedy Strikes

 December 1, 2012 began like any ordinary day for the players and coaches of the Kansas City Chiefs. Team workouts were taking place in preparation for their home game against the Carolina Panthers the next day. Things hadn't gone particularly well for the Chiefs that year - the team was 1-10 and had had both of their quarterbacks injured at one time or another. Now, here they were toward the end of the season, simply hoping for a better performance in their upcoming game. 
 But, across town, something was going terribly wrong in the world of Chief's linebacker, Jovan Belcher. An undrafted player who had been with the team for four seasons, Belcher had always been known as a great teammate and a really nice guy. But all wasn't as it appeared. That morning, Belcher had an argument with his girlfriend (the mother of his three-month-old baby girl), and shot the girlfriend dead on the spot...with his own mother looking on. He immediately headed over to Arrowhead Stadium, where the team was practicing, and happened to see the head coach, Romeo Crennell, and the General Manager, Scott Pioli, in the parking lot. As they exchanged a word or two, he thanked each of them for all they had done for him. As they walked toward the building doors, he turned around and shot himself. Jovan Belcher had committed suicide. Upon hearing the shot, the coach and GM looked to see what had happened and saw the unthinkable. Players immediately stopped practicing, wondering what could've gone on. Within minutes, the team was scurried out of the stadium for safety reasons - bewildered and in shock. 
 The big decision loomed as the tragedy hit the news airwaves: would the Chiefs decide to go ahead and play the game after all that had just transpired? Everyone waited to hear the decision. Later that day, word came from the organization that the game would go on as planned. 
 The next afternoon, as the fans prepared to cheer their team on, they wondered how the players and coaches would do - after all, how could anyone expect them to be at their best under such adverse circumstances? The team had been a disaster all year. What made them think they could pull it together so quickly and elevate their level of play? And yet, what the world was unprepared to see was a display of faith and perseverance rarely seen. 
  On the first drive of the game, the Chiefs' quarterback, Brady Quinn, completed two long passes that led the team down the field with a commanding presence. Quinn, who had struggled since joining the NFL and was now with his third team in six years, had lost another fellow teammate to suicide two years prior while a member of the Denver Broncos. Having traveled this road before, he understood what it would take for him to lead his team and bring them together. Coming into this game, Brady had been a backup quarterback and had only started a couple of other games that season. He had not thrown a touchdown pass in almost three years. But, on this day, December 2, 2012, he was a different player and so were his teammates. Relying on his strong Christian faith, Quinn's production was staggering: completing over 80% of his passes, he threw two touchdowns, inspiring his team to play with a spirit they had lacked all year. The Chiefs pulled off the seemingly impossible and beat the Panthers 28-21. 
 A team that had had numerous turnovers and had done little to give fans much to cheer about in 2012 had just won its second game of the year...and in incredible fashion. With tears in their eyes, the players celebrated their accomplishment with their fans. Just a mere few hours before, Arrowhead Stadium had signified death and despair. Now, it symbolized hope and courage in the face of deep pain and grief. Onlookers said it was the most amazing thing they'd ever seen, and it left them asking why the team would do what they did? What made them play so well in spite of all they had endured? 
 For those who knew Brady Quinn, they understood that, at least for him, God had given him special grace to meet such daunting challenges. Many prayers had been offered on behalf of him and his team, and those prayers had been answered in a special way by a God who is near to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:17) and who promises to aid those who trust in Him (Isaiah 40:29). This victory had a touch of the Divine, a touch of God. 
 As the press conference later, Quinn addressed the media and gave what some called, one of the finest post-game speeches they'd ever heard. The video later went viral on the internet: 

 He understood that people who live on the other side of the door can often end up the way Jovan Belcher did. The darkness becomes intolerable, and the easiest way to get out of it seems to be to end their own life. The compassion Quinn demonstrated reflected his relationship with God, and many lives were touched by his comments. The response of him and his team to such tragic circumstances blew them away. But what showed the most was that, while winning the game didn't erase the pain those players and coaches felt - and it wouldn't diminish the sadness each will always have to bear and live with - it proved that, even in the midst of unspeakable tragedy, God can give people the grace to embrace unbearable loss if only they will depend on Him and look to Him for their strength (Isaiah 40:31). As Quinn later said:

"In moments, tragedies like this, they can define you or redefine
you, and I think this team took an event and allowed it to re-define
us as a team...My thoughts and concerns were just trying to focus 
and doing the best I could during the game when I was playing.
Then after that, just trying to do some soul-searching and praying
about forgiveness for the families and that people could find peace
with the situation."

 Examples like this show us more than just personal courage or a willingness to endure hardship. No, there is more to it than that. Human resolve eventually runs out after awhile. The walls begin to crumble. The pain becomes too much. When tragedy strikes, we are driven to look beyond ourselves for strength and for answers. Many people turn to a faith they may have rejected years ago when placed under the crushing blow of pain. As Brady Quinn points out, soul-searching and prayer are often by-products of such tragedies. Perhaps this is why God allows such things to happen: so that we would come to know His love in an intensely personal way, so that we would be allowed to watch Him make something beautiful out of the fractured remains of our trauma-stricken lives.