(This is a repost from https://www.unboundgrace.life/blog/2019/11/7/grace-and-answering-the-phone. We are grateful to Unbound Grace founder, John Steakley for giving us permission to do so.)
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT…
…about how amazing it is that you were born into the time frame that you were, in the United States, into the region and family that you were, and then how a few happenstances along the way changed the entire trajectory of your life? Think, for instance, about how you met your best friend or your spouse, or maybe the unusual circumstances that led you to your profession.
My Dad had a milestone birthday a few weeks ago (70), and our family gathered for the weekend to celebrate. During one of the meals the youngest members of our family asked Dad questions about life and growing up. As he shared, I was amazed by the way God shapes our lives through small, daily decisions.
Dad has had some amazing experiences in life, including advising the Hunt brothers as they answered questions in front of Congress (Time magazine picture). But the story he shared with his grandkids was about answering a phone call.
FOR DAD, IT STARTED IN SECOND GRADE.
At the age of 8, Dad and his best friend Ralph Keel decided they wanted to play football. It was a great experience for both of them, but as they got older things changed. In early high school Ralph gave up football to focus on baseball. Dad concluded he should quit football also because he was “too small” and wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue. He missed three straight practices and was very close to giving it up.
Like the course of a river shaped over time, we can see with the clarity of hindsight how God’s hand directed my father’s path. Dad ended up sticking with football and excelled to the point of receiving scholarship offers to play in college. After his high school senior season in 1966, he decided to accept a football scholarship offer from Vanderbilt, and was going to announce his decision at Huntsville High’s year-end football banquet.
His plans were set. The day of the banquet, as he was walking out the door with the rest of the family waiting for him in the car, he heard the phone ring. He and the family were running late (a Steakley tradition) and, for him, it was out of character to ever answer the phone. On a whim, he answered it.
IT WAS BEAR BRYANT CALLING.
Dad ran to the car and told my grandfather that Coach Bryant wanted to talk to him. Granddad told my Dad to “stop playing and get in the car”. I wish I could go back in time and witness that exchange. Granddad thought Dad was joking. Recruiting season was pretty much over, and most big schools were done making contact with recruits. Dad eventually convinced Granddad to come inside and answer the phone.
Coach Bryant asked Dad to reconsider committing to Vanderbilt, and instead play for Alabama. Although Alabama was out of scholarships for the year, Coach Bryant promised Dad a scholarship after his freshman season.
Consider that Dad would likely have never started playing football without the encouragement of his friend Ralph. When Ralph focused on baseball and Dad was a 120 lb. high school sophomore, consider how easily he could have quit football. And what made him turn-around to answer the phone when he was running late to the banquet where he planned to announce his commitment to Vanderbilt. He may have never known it was Coach Bryant calling, and wanted him to play at Alabama.
DAD WENT TO ALABAMA.
He met my mom, won an SEC championship, and played for a national championship against the 1971 Nebraska squad that’s considered by many to be the best college football team of all time. Nebraska beat them 38-6.
After Dad graduated, Coach Bryant indirectly helped pay for him to go to law school.
This story is not about how important football, or The University of Alabama, is to the Steakley family. It’s not about playing “what-if’s” with the past. My point is that, as confusing (and, sometimes, frustrating) as life can be, God is sovereign and in control. He uses events to shape our lives — some big, some as small as answering a phone call.
GOD EVEN USES ADDICTION TO SHAPE LIVES.
When I consider the heartache and hurt that I put my family and friends through during my own addiction, it makes me sad. In the end, though, I wouldn’t change a thing — because God used that experience to expose both my deepest need for him and my inability to satisfy my own soul. In God’s hand, that experience changed my life for the better.
I KNOW. I’VE BEEN THERE.
When I meet with families and individuals dealing with the devastating effects of addiction on marriages, kids, parents and loved ones, I hurt for them. I understand their brokenness from personal experience, and I long for them to see God’s shaping hand in their lives, showing them their deeper need for his rescuing love, just as I did then — and do now.
EZEKIEL 34 PAINTS A BEAUTIFUL PICTURE OF THIS LOVE.
“As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered” (12). “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak” (16). “And they shall know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke, and deliver them from the hand of those who enslaved them” (27).
For the Steakleys, Dad’s nearly impossible path to playing football at Alabama was truly a work of God — but that only becomes clear after a little reflection. My brother, sister and I all went to Alabama — and Coach Bryant paid for our tuition under the Paul “Bear” Bryant scholarship. My brother followed Dad’s footsteps, and played football. I “randomly” met Heidi on her first day in Tuscaloosa, so my branch of the Steakley family has its own unique twist — all based on decisions made back in the mid-60s. Now we have a daughter, Elizabeth Ann, and a new baby on the way (due March 12).
WHAT UNBOUND GRACE STORY IS GOD WRITING IN YOUR LIFE RIGHT NOW?
We don’t get to know where each step of life will lead, but we do get glimpses of His work along the way. Even when it’s painful. In the face of pain and confusion, I pray you will hear God’s decree: “And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.” —Ezekiel 34:31
John Steakley, founder
Born deep in the heart of Texas, Dallas to be exact, John Steakley grew up loving the outdoors and cereal. His love affair with the Cowboys was replaced with the Crimson Tide when his family moved to Huntsville. John studied finance and economics at The University of Alabama before receiving his M.Div. from Samford University. In 2018, he founded Unbound Grace – a guidance and counseling group that focuses on recovery in the context of real life. John is married, has one daughter, and another on the way. If you are interested in learning more about Unbound Grace please visit, www.unboundgrace.life.