An ex-football player learns that God is in control of all things—whether good or bad.
Alicia A. Neumann
“I was so naïve and arrogant to complain about only getting to play in the NFL for a couple of seasons—many people never get that opportunity,” says Doug Skene, reminiscing about his years playing professional football. But little did he know that the end of his football career would eventually lead him to a newfound relationship with God.
The early years
Looking back on his childhood, Skene describes his relationship with God’s Word “loose at best.” He was raised in the Methodist church, but his family moved to Texas when he was 10 and never found a new church home. “In my adolescent years, there was no relationship with God,” he says. “We weren’t going to church on a regular basis.”
In middle school, Skene started playing football. “I had the God-given size to be good at it,” he recalls. “I was much taller and bigger than the other kids, so football came easy to me. It became a large portion of my identity—and looking back at it, an unhealthy proportion of my identity.”
He finished high school as one of the higher rated players at that time and went on to play football at the University of Michigan. “I had a challenging experience, but it was great that I had a chance to do that,” he says. During this time, he says his faith life hadn’t changed. He didn’t have much of a relationship with God, and he only attended church on Easter and Christmas. “When a family member or friend was in an accident or there was an illness, then there was a prayer or two at those times,” he says. “But there was no regular relationship, talking or praying to God. I was a college guy getting a chance to play football, and I was enjoying it. I didn’t think I had a need for God.”
A dream come true
After college, Skene got a chance to play in the NFL. First he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles, then he was picked up by the New England Patriots, where he became a starter. “I was a starting player in the NFL; I had made it!” he says. “I wasn’t a
highly paid player—I was making the league minimum—but I was playing with the expectation that I’d sign a contract and start making good money. All I had to do was make it to the end of the season.”
But that never happened. He ended up injuring his leg and was unable to play for the rest of the season. He was eventually cut from the team and missed out on signing his big contract. His plans and expectations took a dramatic turn. “I couldn’t understand why this was happening to me,” he says.
Shortly after Skene’s injury, his sister—who was married with three small children—was diagnosed with cancer. “It was a pretty difficult year,” he says. “My relationship with God became contentious at best.” Why was God sending all this trouble?
Two years later, his sister passed away. “Those were the dark days,” he says. “It was a crushing blow for me to lose a sibling. For a family that wasn’t religious, there were a few of us who had a harbored anger and hostility toward God. I was one of them.”
During this time, Doug got married. Although his wife, Tracy, had been raised in an active Catholic family, she and Doug hadn’t been attending church. But when Tracy got pregnant, they both knew their child would need a relationship with God, and that pushed them to start looking for a church home.
“A lot of that energy came from her,” says Skene. “I told Tracy, ‘You’re right. We should have a spiritual home, a church home.’ I had issues with God, but there was this underlying feeling—I think it was the Holy Spirit working in me, nudging me. I knew it was time.”
Finding a church home
The Skenes were living in a small town in Michigan. They weren’t sure where to start their search for a church, since neither of them wanted to join the denomination the other was raised in. Then Skene’s cousin, who lived in the same town, called Skene up one day and invited the family to visit his church.
“I was hesitant to go, but the pastor’s sermon that day hit me like a ton of bricks. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” says Skene. “It was like God finally had enough of my complaining and said, ‘Who do you think you are? Stop feeling sorry for yourself and understand that I am your God.’ I sat up in that pew and listened like I hadn’t ever listened before.”
Skene says he felt like the answers he was looking for were right there. “This stereotypical light had gone off,” he says. “I knew this is where I belonged.” He and his wife joined, and Skene says it was enlightening for both of them. “Tracy learned about her religious upbringing, and it helped me finally deal with the frustration of what I thought was so bad.”
Because of his new relationship with God, Skene says now it’s easier to deal with challenges that come his way—whether it’s related to work, relationships, or dealing with illness. And that’s the message he shared when he was asked to present at a WELS men’s rally last fall in Bay City, Mich. “I was able to use my football experiences to communicate how things won’t always work out the way you think they are going to and you’re not always going to win. And that’s okay.” God is in control and loves us more than we deserve. He works to bring us to our senses so we can grasp the depth of his love for us and the treasures we have because of Jesus.
Skene says that knowledge and understanding would have been helpful for him as a young man. “There are regrets along the way, but we can’t go back and change,” he says. “For whatever reason, my path led me to have this religious reawakening in Tawas City. And now I have this home, and friends, and family—I have a great deal of gratitude for all of it, including the hard parts.”
Alicia Neumann is a member at Resurrection, Rochester, Minnesota.
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Author: Alicia A. Neumann
Volume 103, Number 7
Issue: July 2016
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