Steven Souza Jr. – The Importance of Teammates

 

Steven Souza Jr.

Outfielder, Steven Souza Jr. Photo by Keith Allison 

 

It is not good for man to be alone.

When God first created Adam in the garden, he was all alone.  No spouse.  No friends.  No family.  Our Triune God knew that we couldn’t live out our lives in His image if we had no one to love and care for.  So God created Eve to give Adam a partner, helper, and friend.  After sin entered the world, we needed each other more than ever.  We all need other people in our lives to encourage us and to keep us from straying in our walk with God.  The story of Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder, Steven Souza, shows why.

Souza was raised in church, but refers to himself as a prodigal son.  He quickly found himself wandering from the faith he was raised in and living life his own way instead.  Instead of living for others, he lived for himself.  He explained to the Increase, “I thought everything revolved around me.  Elevating myself in every environment I was in – whether I was with my family, friends, or teammates – I developed a lot of pride.”  But Souza soon found himself in a dark place and began to feel like he was losing his identity.

God sent teammate Michael Taylor into Souza’s life.  One day, as Souza’s life in a dark place continued, Taylor asked him how his walk with Christ was going.  Souza lied.  He said that everything was going fine, though that could not have been farther from the truth.  Perhaps Taylor saw through it, because the next thing he did was encourage him to start reading God’s Word.  Souza went to God in prayer that night, asking God to do something to show him that He was real.  But nothing happened.

Though God may not have performed the miracle Souza had been seeking, He was still at work in his life.  As Souza recalls; “over the next few days, God continued to bring key people into my life who pointed me towards Christ. One of those people – a friend of mine – invited me to church that week.”  God touched his heart that day.  Not long after – on January 31, 2012, Steven Souza was baptized.  He recalls now that, after his baptism, some things in his life changed completely right away, but other changes have been more of a slow, gradual, refining process.

To this day, God is still using other people in Souza’s life.  In another article on the Increase, he explained how God has continued to use others to help in his Christian life.  He said of his time with the Tampa Bay Rays;

“We have a team Bible study that meets once a week which has really blown up. There’s a giant group of guys that come and it’s been really fun to grow in community and knowledge of the Lord together. The relationships that we’ve been able to create with each other have been awesome, though there’s only so close you can get with a large group of guys. But there are two guys who I’ve really been able to really go deeper with. Alex Cobb and Chase Whitley have become two of my best friends and men with whom I have been able to establish solid accountability. Alex, Chase, and I have found a community with each other where we can challenge, encourage, and grow closer to God together. The three of us are able to really energize and uplift one another; within this brotherhood we can really feel the presence and blessing of the Lord. Desiring to go deeper with each other in our faith and friendship, we’ve committed to meeting daily with each other, whether over breakfast or by our lockers, to check in and share what’s on our hearts.   I’ve seen incredible encouragement and growth in my own life come as a result of these men’s fellowship. I remember last year Chase and Alex approached me one day with something that they had observed in my life—something that was manifesting itself on the field. I didn’t have wrong intentions in my heart, but I was coming across in a way that demonstrated less-than-Christlike behavior. Out of genuine care and concern for me, they pointed out to me the way that my demeanor was portrayed in certain situations on the field and encouraged me to be more careful about how I act so that I can be a good light for Christ. I immediately recognized what they were saying and was surprised at how I had not been able to see this. So thankful for their desire to lead me on a good path, I began to work on paying closer attention to my responses and actions during the game… This type of daily community and faithful accountability is what Jesus calls us to find in our brothers and sisters.”

In the article, Souza points to Ecclesiastes 4:9-12; “Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor: If either of them falls down, one can help the other up. But pity anyone who falls and has no one to help them up. Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” 

This year, things will be different for Souza.  The Rays spent the offseason clearing payroll and investing in the future.  The Rays waved Whitley, who was then claimed by the Braves.  Alex Cobb remains an unsigned free agent as of this writing.  Two other fellow Christians, Peter Bourjos and Steve Cishek, both signed with the Cubs.  After watching some of his brothers in Christ move to other cities, Souza surprisingly learned that he was the next to go.  On February 20, 2018, he – along with Yankees minor league pitcher, Taylor Widener was sent to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a 3-team trade.  The Yankees received infielder Brandon Drury in the deal, with the Rays picking up a group of prospects, headlined by pitcher Anthony Banda and infielder Nick Solak.

2018 will mark a new beginning for Souza. He begins the season on a new team in a new city in a new clubhouse.  Now, it will be him who stands alongside new teammates, encouraging them with the Gospel and serving as a living example of what a man of God should be.

Sometimes, instead of sending miracles into people’s lives to show them His presence, He sends us.  God came to Souza in his time of need through his teammates.  God uses us, too, to come into people’s lives at just the right time to point them to Christ.  We should remember that in all of our relationships and in every interaction we have.  We’re there to point other people to Jesus and to be lights that shine for Him!

Matt Forte – The Workhouse Returns to His Stable

 

Matt Forte.jpg

Former Bears Running Back, Matt Forte.  Photo by John Martinez Pavliga

 

Change can be terrifying.

Running back, Matt Forte, is going through a major change in his life right now.  After 10 seasons in the NFL, Forte will be hanging up his cleats.  Forte played college football at Tulane, was drafted by the Bears in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft, and then finished his career with the Jets.  He retires with 9,796 rushing yards, 75 touchdowns, and two Pro Bowl appearances.

In addition to having had an impressive NFL career, Forte has an impressive faith.  He has been vocal about his faith throughout his career, even announcing his retirement through Sports Spectrum.  Here are a few of the gracious words he had to share (though I also recommend checking out his entire statement);

For the past 10 years, I’ve been blessed to play professionally a game that I’ve loved since I was 6 years old.  But, after much prayer and reflection, I’ve decided to retire from the NFL. Like so many others before me, this game has enhanced my life in numerous ways. My career in the League has been nothing short of a miracle granted by God and put on display for His glory. I will cherish the many memories made on the field and the lifelong friends I’ve made over the years in the locker room…  The past 25 years playing America’s game have left me with unparalleled joy. But, it’s time for the workhorse to finally rest in his stable. While my heart is a bit heavy as I close this chapter of my life, I am excited about what the future holds. God Bless and Bear Down!

In times of anxiety and change, Forte has learned to look to God for strength.  He explains to The Increase;It’s easy to become anxious, but the Bible warns against letting worry overtake our lives. In fact, anytime we allow worry to seep into our lives, it means we’re not trusting God. We may be trusting Him, but only to the point where we feel like we’re still in control. When we begin to realize we’re not in control, anxiety rears its ugly head. I know that is when I need to lean on God and trust Him the most.”

A verse that is near to Forte’s heart is James 1:2-4; Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

Forte points out that the Bible “doesn’t say if you face trials, but when. We’re promised trials, and if you aren’t prepared for the trials that will come, you’ll find yourself overcome with anxiety. But since you know hardships are going to come, you can prepare your heart and mind to trust in the Lord’s sovereignty.  It’s one thing to say you’re not going to worry, it’s another thing to apply it to your life. For me, the more I stay conscious of my anxiety, the more I’m able to surrender it to God and trust in Him. When I feel myself getting overwhelmed, I tell myself to slow down, I go to a quiet place, and I pray. During these moments I need to realize there’s a bigger picture than what’s going on in my life this week or even this month. God calls us to take it one step at a time, without worrying about the future.

As we face changes in our own lives, we, too, can rest on God’s promises.  He promises to work all things for the good of those who love Him, to listen every time we call to Him, and to help us in every time of danger.  We never need to be afraid or feel alone.  As Psalm 46:1 reminds us; God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble!