Today’s guests share with us how they dealt with difficulties in their life, and with God’s help, ultimately achieved their dreams: former NFL football player and Dancing with the Stars winner Rashad Jennings and Christian artist Ryan Stevenson. Rashad Jennings is a former NFL football player and winner of Dancing With the Stars in 2017. Against all odds, Rashad overcame several obstacles in his early years (including a difficult relationship with his father) that might have crushed his dreams, but when one person believed in him, it changed the course of his life. Ryan Stevenson is a contemporary Christian artist who started his career as a paramedic. Seeing stories of people’s most tragic moments played out in front of him shook him, but a pivotal moment saving a woman’s life would eventually end up saving his and leading him to his true calling–music.
“Someone Believed In Me:” Rashad Jennings & Ryan Stevenson – Jesus Calling Episode #99
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today’s guests share with us how they dealt with difficulties in their life, and with God’s help, ultimately achieved their dreams; former NFL football player and Dancing with the Stars winner Rashad Jennings and Christian artist Ryan Stevenson.
Rashad Jennings is a former NFL football player who played with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Oakland Raiders, and the New York Giants. He also appeared on Dancing With the Stars in 2017 and was the winner of that season. Rashad’s life wasn’t always defined by success, which he talks about in his new book entitled The IF in Life. Against all odds, Rashad overcame several obstacles that might have halted his dream of becoming an NFL player. He shares about the challenges of his childhood, his sometimes-difficult relationship with his father, and how, eventually, his family stood with each other in support, and ultimately, to help Rashad reach his dreams.
Big Obstacles to Big Dreams
Rashad: My name is Rashad Jennings. I’ve been known in my time to be an NFL running back, which I was blessed to do for eight years. But surprisingly, I think a lot more people know me as Dancing With the Stars champ of season 24. I’m proud to be now, soon here, an official author of a book titled The IF in Life.
I grew up In Forest, Virginia, very small country town. I understood animals before I ever understood people—still trying to figure out people. But I’m a small-town kid. I grew up an overweight, chubby kid with glasses, a 0.6 GPA, with a desire and a dream to play in the NFL.
I struggled in a major way academically, again, going back to my point six. When I say “point-six,” just to make sure, it’s “zero-point-six,” as in “F-minus.” Just so we’re just clearing that up.
For me, I had too many questions—which was a major issue, for a kid to ask too many questions. They were legitimate questions. But I can see, looking back in hindsight, how I was the class clown that never was trying to be funny. That was just me. So when my hand went up to ask a genuine question, kids already were like, “He’s about to ask a question, watch this.” I’d ask a question, they’d die laughing—and I’m serious—the teacher thinks I’m playing. And this becomes an issue. So that was a big part of why I was frustrated with schools.
I was into, obviously, sports. I had two older brothers. They are 10 and 13 years older than me. I was the “whoops, here we go again” baby. Parents thought they couldn’t have kids anymore, and God said, “Hey, here you go. Here’s one for you.” And so watching [my older brothers] play sports, I wanted to emulate them. But I was nowhere close to being athletic like they were. And so that was a battle, trying to carry that last name and be like my brothers.
Fighting For His Next Breath
I had asthma. That was a struggle. One particular time, I was hospitalized because of an asthma attack. I was sitting in the hospital blowing through a peak flow that the doctors gave me, and it only went a centimeter. At that time in my life, I was fighting for my next breath, regardless of, Would I make it to accomplish any dream? And when I was in a hospital for a week, hooked up to tubes, the doctors came in the room. My mom was in there, my dad was in there. And the doctors let my parents know how significant and severe my asthma was, and told them that I cannot be around cigarette smoke. I have to get rid of my dog. We have to change a lot of things in the home, different air filters, and basically rehab the whole entire house [to make it] conducive for me to live.
“I was fighting for my next breath, regardless of, Would I make it to accomplish any dream?” – Rashad Jennings
When I came home from the doctor’s, I was in a house a week later—my dad used to smoke and drink everyday all day long, and that was a part of what triggered my asthma—so when I got back home, the doctor said he can’t be smoking around the house anymore. My dad started smoking outside. A week later, he started smoking inside again.
I’m downstairs I’m in my room. I could smell the smoke seeping through the vent. I started to choke up, and I put a pillow over my face. I went upstairs and knocked on my dad’s door. He didn’t answer. I opened it, he’s sitting in the corner of his room in his chair like he always does, smoking and drinking. I asked my dad—and this is the overweight chubby kid in glasses—red-rimmed glasses, asthma, the point-six, with a child’s dream to go do something in his life. I looked at my dad and said, “Dad, can you stop smoking and drinking and be there for me?”
He took a puff of a smoke, blew it in the air swig of drink. He said “Rashad, what you want to do when you get older?
Now me and my dad don’t have a great relationship, and we never talked about anything. So part of me looked at this as an opportunity, like, My dad actually asked me what I want to do, even though he said it arrogantly.
I looked at him I said “Dad, I want to play running back in the NFL.”
And he took a puff of a smoke, a swig of his drink and said “Do you think you’ll be able to make it to the NFL without drinking or smoking yourself?” What an attitude. Like, Who are you to question me?
And with tears in my eyes, I looked at him in the face and I said, “Dad, just to prove you wrong, I’m never going to do it.” And I’m 32, turning 33 here and a couple of days, I’ve never smoked or drinked a day in my life. And it was literally just to prove him wrong.
A Father Inspired By His Son
And in doing that, and him watch his little knucklehead kid never drink, never smoke, and make it to the League just to prove him wrong—I watched my dad change his life. I watched him quit drinking and smoking and get more invested in the Word. And so, in a very strange way, me and my dad feel like we saved each other’s life in that little moment. And now we have a great relationship, but it’s our unconditional love and it’s a lot of stories about how we got to the place where we are today.
“In a very strange way, me and my dad feel like we saved each other’s life in that little moment.” – Rashad Jennings
A Fifth String Player Gets the Chance to Play
So high school, my junior year. Never played once snap of high school football up to this point.
I was fifth-string running back. Now, we didn’t really didn’t have a fifth-string running back. They just kind of gave me that title. We only had four running backs. There was like, “We’ll give them fifth, he’ll feel better about himself,” and I did. I was like, “Hey, I’m officially a running back,” because I wanted to play running back—I don’t care. I could have been a 7. I got a title. I’m a running back.
So fifth-string running back. Never played. Never played, to the point where after we come out the locker room, break the white tape, go on the sideline, I literally would take my helmet off, put it on the sideline, grab my Sprite, grab some mini M&Ms, and watch the show. That’s when me and my buddy—his name was Speedy, he was he was terrible too he didn’t really play he was bad—we would always just watch.
In this particular game, we were playing a high school rival, the Brookville Bees. If they win, they go to the playoffs. It’s our last game, regardless. So this is kind of like our Super Bowl. We’re like, If we beat them, they won’t make it to the playoffs. Last game of the season, we going leave it all on the line. Make sure our rival team doesn’t go.
So, it’s packed—full house—and we got a Tennessee scout to watch our starting running back. And kickoff, we get the ball. First play, he gets hurt.
Speedy, he hits me and is like, “Hey, man, you think you gonna get in today?”
And I’m like, “Nah, they ain’t gonna play me.”
Then second string goes in and he gets hurt.
Speedy says, “Hey, man. You think you’re gonna play?
And I’m like, “Nah, they ain’t gonna play me.”
Still eating my M&Ms. Third string goes in. He gets hurt.
So they put in the fourth-string running back out there. He goes out there, he gets hurt.
Speedy is, like, going nuts over here. He’s like, “Hey, man, they gonna play you!”
And I’m nervous now because I’m the fifth-string running back, and part of me is like, Yes put me in, and part of me is like, No, I don’t want to go in.
So the coach is scanning the sidelines. He’s looking and I’m fifth, I’m next. He’s scanning the sidelines, he catches eye contact exactly with me. He looks at somebody else and he looks at a receiver, puts the receiver in at running back instead of me. So part of me was like, Dadgummit, I wanted to get in. The other part of me was like, Whew, I ain’t gotta go in.
So he goes out, gets hurt. Coach flips off, “Jennings, get in the game.”
Finally get a chance to go in and so I’m, like, in tunnel vision right now. I got Speedy over here shaking me, “You about to go in the game!”
And I’m sitting here just rocking from him shaking me. I’m about to go in. I started looking for my helmet, and I can’t find my helmet. So I pick up a random helmet, put it on. It’s way too big.
So the quarterback gives us the play, and it’s a run play. Now everybody gets in their respective alliance, and I’m in my stance back here playing running back. The quarterback is going through his cadence under center. “Blue 80.”
I’m screaming—I’m right behind him—and I’m like, “Hey, what am I supposed to do?’
I’m like, “HEY!”
He turns around, and I’m like, Here we go.
I get the ball, make somebody miss—
40 yard touchdown.
First play, first carry, 40 yard touchdown.
So you know you can’t tell me nothing. I’m the man. I throw the ball in the air somewhere crazy. I get a penalty, I don’t care. Come back to the sideline, I run and chest bump. Speedy, he falls to the ground. I pick him back up. Like, I’m in my moment.
And moving forward, they put in the third-string back at running back again. Eventually they decided to give me another shot. Four or five plays later, I score another touchdown.
The coaches don’t know what to do—I’ve never seen this many kids get hurt in one game. They decided to throw me in on defense, because I always played scout team defense.
They put me in. First play on defense: he said, “Hike,” come off the edge, throw the tackle, make a running back miss, hit the quarterback, throw him on the ground, he fumbles. I pick it up, scoop and score. Third touchdown.
And to finish the game, we’re losing, 24 to 21. They have the ball, it’s fourth quarter. It’s a minute left. They could run the clock out.
For whatever reason, they ran the ball twice, and on the third down they decided to throw it. I’m playing defensive end, and they throw screen. Somehow I sniff it out. Quarterback lobs it up and I’m like, I can’t believe he just threw that ball in the air.
I pick it. Score. Finish game walk-off. Game over.
[I] score four touchdowns, and only played 14 total plays.
This was the first game my brothers actually attended, too, because they both played college ball. They’re 10 and 13 years older than me, they wanted to come back just to watch their younger brother play—knowing that I wasn’t going to play, they just wanted to be there and like, “Hey, we love you, man. I know we all played college ball, we went to the pros, but [that] don’t matter. We here to show you we love you.”
A Chance To Make a Turnaround
And the Tennessee scout came to me after the game and he said, “Hey, Rashad, I came to watch starting running back, but I couldn’t help but notice you. How are your grades?”
I said, “Um . . . I have a point-six.”
And he said something comical at the time. “Point-six, is that even possible?” But he said, “Son, you have potential. Get your grades right. You could play at the collegiate level.”
“For the very first time in my life, ever—outside of my family, the people that are going to support me, no matter what—somebody saw potential in me. And that ignited something in me.” – Rashad Jenning
A Family Joins Together
Both of my brothers were at the game, and they saw something special in me, too. Both of my brothers decided to go to a private school, and they coached there for free to help pay half of my tuition. My parents took a mortgage against the home to pay the other half of the tuition. I transferred to a private school. I repeated my junior year. I took nine homeschool classes on top of nine summer school classes, plus the academics of a regular school course.
I stopped blaming people. I didn’t make any excuses. I took ownership of my responsibility. And from there the rest is history.
I got a fresh start. And there’s nothing like a fresh start.
I started off with a double major in psychology and sociology because I have a desire to be a marriage counselor. This is when I was at Pittsburgh University.
Now I transferred to Liberty University after my first year. Why? My father ended up having to get his leg amputated. I wanted to transfer closer to home to be there for my mom and help her around the house. Liberty University’s 10 minutes from my home. So with no hesitation, I transferred.
Now the dilemma was, I was set to graduate in three years at Pitt with my double major. So the issue I had, because Liberty is a private school, none of my credits transferred. So I had to make a decision: do I want to either stay eligible for football and change my major, or keep my major and sit out of football? That was easy choice for me: to play football and switch my major. So I ended up double majoring in sports management and business at Liberty with a minor in Biblical education.
Drafted Into the NFL
It was funny how I got drafted [into the NFL]. The seventh round draft pick comes up, and I’m watching TV just like anybody else who watches draft. I’m watching, and the Jacksonville Jaguars’ seventh round pops up. They’re talking about some players. The phone rings.
Now, my phone’s been ringing all day, and it’s my friends. “Hey, man, you get picked up?”
I’m like, “Leave me alone! Stop calling me. Please don’t call me. My phone is clear for a team.”
So I get a call from an unknown number. “Hello, hello, hello?”
And I see on the screen, before I hear anything on the phone: “Jacksonville Jaguars select Rashad Jennings.”
Everything starts to slow down, people yelling where I’m at, clapping. And I’m like, Is is really happening here?
“Hello, this is the GM of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Is this Rashad Jennings? We have selected you in the seventh round. Are you excited to be a Jaguar?”
Before I can say anything—“click”—I lost service. I’m not say who was my service provider at the time (laughs). But you can imagine all this stuff I had went through with my family and everything, and [I’m asking myself], Are they gonna think I don’t want to play with them? Or does this mean I’m not going to get drafted anymore?
So eventually I calmed down. And they called me back, and we had a conversation. But when I went to Jacksonville, it was a brand-new beginning again. And you have to go earn your right [to be there], you have to earn your respect. I was so excited, and I couldn’t believe that I was inside an NFL locker room. And I’m looking at all the players that I watched growing up and I’m playing against them, and I’m actually holding my own against them. I’m like, This doesn’t even make sense.
Recruited for Dancing With The Stars
So it was such a neat experience, my rookie year, and it became, I think—it’s just like our faith, there’s just levels into wherever we are in life. There’s going to be new type of challenges: high school challenges vs. college challenges, teenage vs. adult, single life versus married, married then versus with kids. I think it’s a different type of challenges and chapters in our lives that we have to grow in.
I was in the city one day. I was going to an autograph session in Manhattan. And as I’m walking through the city, I had my headphones on, I’m jamming. And it was at the time when Justin Bieber’s new album just came out. It was great, say what you want.
And TMZ ran up to me, camera in my face. “Hey, Rashad, where you going? Look like you jamming, man.”
And I told them going to an autograph session. And I was just, like, moving back and forth. I wasn’t dancing, but [the reporter] said, “Hey, man, looks like you got some nice moves.” You know, he hyping it up.
I was like, “You know, I can move a little bit.” You know, I’m just talking trash.
And he says, “Yeah, yeah, ever thought about doing Dancing With the Stars?”
Now I’ve never watched the show at this point, so I just go with it. I’m like, “Yes! That show’s great!”
I’d never seen it. And somehow [the show] got wind of that little clip. And so that started the initial conversation. Two years later, this thing became a reality.
Showing The World Who You Really Are
In Dancing With The Stars, the show was about removing your helmet. Don’t nobody care about your stats, don’t nobody even care about the sport. They want to know, Who are you? Period. And I got a chance to show America who I am, which was awesome just to even do that.
It wasn’t just a dance. It was, like, an expression of myself, of where I was at that particular time. And the feedback was, a couple of things. One—especially the contemporary dance I did for my dad. People at home . . . when people wrote, and people I would see in the streets—still even now people bring up that dance that watched the show and say, “Rashad, that dance that you did for your father made me love differently.”
And nothing I ever done in football make anybody love differently. The way I hit somebody is not going to make anybody love differently. Me doing my little end-zone celebration is never going to make anybody say, “You made me love differently.” So that’s huge to me.
Pushing Forward the Kingdom
My faith has kept me grounded, for real. You know, God can give and God can take. It’s nothing—again—it’s nothing I’m doing that’s more creative or ambitious than anybody else.
“I check in with God constantly about doing for others.” – Rashad Jennings
I check in with God to make sure I’m doing everything I possibly can to push forward the kingdom. I’m checking myself: Am I praying with people today? Am I that I reach out to a random person that I haven’t talked to in a while? I think about other people when I check in with God.
I actually have a group chat with some buddies of mine, and it’s a video group chat. And we bring up topics of the day all the time, anything and everything. And, you know, when we talk about a God, that is our devotion. Like, we’ll bring up something that we’re going through, we’ll bring up something that God’s taken us through, we’ll bring up something that we’re struggling with or need accountability about. Then we all look up scripture to help each other for that particular event or situation somebody finds them in. And that is, like, the accountability that you need.
I feel like if you just bring God in the conversation, He’ll do the rest. It’s not rocket science. But, yes, finding a daily devotion, I believe, is huge and pivotal because then it forces you to look at life from a different perspective.
So I will, if you don’t mind, be reading a daily devotion by Sarah Young. And this is my birthday, March 26:
“Waiting on Me means directing your attention to Me in hopeful anticipation of what I will do. It entails trusting me with every fiber of your being instead of trying to figure everything out for yourself. Waiting on Me is the way that I designed you to live: all day, every day. I created you to stay conscious of Me as you go about your daily duties.
“I have promised many blessings to those who are waiting on me: renewed strength, living above one’s circumstances, resurgence of hope, awareness of My continual Presence. Waiting on Me enables you to glorify me by living in deep dependence on Me, ready to do My will. It also helps you enjoy Me; in My Presence is fullness of Joy.”
Leviticus 3:24–26, Isaiah 40:31, and Psalms 16:11 NKJV
The first thing it says is “waiting on me.” Waiting is an action of persistence. When you waiting on something—and I think it even says that, if you’re willing to look, it talks about “directing your attention to me in hopeful anticipation.” When are you anticipating, you’re prepping for it. So you wait well.
“Waiting is an action of persistence…When are you anticipating, you’re prepping for it. So you wait well.” – Rashad Jennings
As I’m waiting for God to show up, I’m doing my part. And that kind of comes from the idea that, I get on my knees and I pray to God, as it all depends on Him. I get off my knees, and I work cause it all depends on me. That’s what waiting looks like.
That’s what waiting looks like.
Waiting is not sitting down, twiddling my thumbs, and doing nothing. And I believe that particular day that I was born reiterates that.
I never forget me, that little kid. And I feel I owe him so much. I keep a picture of myself and my family, my family portrait, and then also just a picture of myself, that little kid. And I owe that dude so much. I feel like I’m always hitting him on his chin, making him look up at me, and say, “Hey, I got you. If you keep doing what you need to do, learning how to treat people, keep God your life, and do was right, it’s going to be okay.”
And sometimes—you will never forget where you come from, but you forget how you came from it. Writing this book reminded me.
I had to go back and show people my hometown and walk them through stories. And as I’m writing, I’m crying because I’m remembering being at this elementary, I remember being in this particular seat. And I remember who was talking to me when they said what they said. And now it’s becoming, like, a recap. And it was very vulnerable. And I appreciated it so much because it’s there’s a work ethic too, and the book reminded me . . . it told me of this along the way: I’ve been working my whole entire life to build a life with and for the people I love. But in doing that, I found myself always away from the people I want a life with and love. So also writing this book reminded me: don’t ever let the work get in the way as much as spending the time with the people you’re working for.
Narrator: To find out more about Rashad’s book, The IF in Life, visit RashadJennings.com.
Ryan Stevenson: Emerging From The Eye of the Storm
Narrator: Our next is Grammy-nominated Christian music artist Ryan Stevenson.
After pursuing a career as a paramedic for seven years and doing music on the side, Pacific Northwest native Ryan Stevenson got the attention of TobyMac by co-writing the number-one and Grammy® nominated single “Speak Life.” He was signed to Gotee Records and put his first recording out in 2013, which garnered the Top 25 single “Holding Nothing Back”. His 2015 full album, Fresh Start, featured the number-one radio single “Eye of the Storm.” Ryan is a rare talent whose unique perspective guides his honest lyrics and musical sensibilities. He shares with us today about his life, his pursuit of his dreams, and how God helped him through it all.
Ryan: My name is Ryan Stevenson. I am a Christian singer/songwriter in the CCM music industry. I am 39 years old and I live here in Franklin, Tennessee.
I am originally from Southern Oregon. I was born and raised in a little farming community in southern Oregon, about ten miles from the California border. So born and raised on the West Coast my entire life.
As a kid, growing up in southern Oregon was amazing. I grew up in a really small, tight-knit community that focused on the value of hard work, and loyalty, and integrity, and honoring your commitments, letting your yes be your yes and your no be your no. I just grew up with hardworking, conservative, country people who were truly there for one another. And so that’s just became the fabric of who I grew to be.
I grew up in a poor household, in a pretty low socioeconomic spot. As a kid growing up, I was very aware at a young age that we didn’t have much and I carried that. It just kind of . . . it really tampered with me emotionally a lot as a youngster.
A lot of people don’t know this about me. But when I was in the seventh grade, I stopped growing. I was a very late bloomer, so I really didn’t hit my growth spurt until I was almost 19. So all through high school, I stayed the body physically of a seventh grader. All my friends grew and I didn’t. So it was it was really difficult, still feeling like a little boy while all my best friends are growing and muscular and athletic, and getting girlfriends, and being desired by people. And I just never was in it. It really left this big old hole in my heart that I wanted to fill.
Looking for Love and Acceptance
And so when I went away into college all of a sudden I grew—I grew eight inches in about eight months when I graduated from high school into college. So I did all my growing in college, which is kind of weird. I just kind of really went searching—I didn’t walk away from the Lord, but I really tried to just ease that pain in my life. I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that people knew me, that they desired me. I desperately wanted to . . . I wanted people to notice me and to love me, because for so many years I just felt like I was undesirable. And so all through college, I went on a pursuit of filling voids.
“I wanted to do whatever I could to make sure that people knew me, that they desired me.” – Ryan Stevenson
I originally went to college to become a doctor. I wanted to go into pre-med, but my freshman year of college, I got into some trouble, got put on academic probation and almost got kicked out my first semester. So I didn’t really study much of anything my entire freshman year. I was just doing my thing.
By the time I came to my junior year in college, it was time for me to declare my major. I declared my major as pre-med biology, but I was so far behind. I hadn’t been taking any anatomy and physiology, science, chemistry, any of that stuff. And so my academic adviser was like, “Ryan, what have you been doing the last two years? You’re not even close.” So I wanted to get in and out of college in four years and say that I had a degree. So I went through the education program and I got my bachelor’s in education.
And for my first two years out of college, I taught. I was a teacher. My first year out of college, I taught kindergarten and then my second year, I taught high school. I loved teaching kindergarten. It was so fun. I pretty much taught with a guitar in my hands all day and just loved on these kids. And it was so cool seeing them learn to read and just grow and develop, these little guys.
Searching For A Calling
For years, I had wanted to do music full-time. In fact, I played in a band in college, and we had played together for years and we were really really starting to catch a lot of steam. I thought for sure that was going to be it, that was going to be our ticket and we were going to be really successful. And our band just kind of disbanded. Our lead singer got a record deal and went and did a solo thing, and the rest of us just kind of went away.
And so for years I just felt like I had missed it. I had missed my calling, I had missed my purpose.
After I finished up my teaching career, my wife and I, we moved over to Boise Idaho because that’s where she is from. My wife was born and raised in Idaho. We moved over there to be a little closer to her family. As soon as we got there, I went back to school and went back into emergency medical services and I got my license in the state of Idaho as a paramedic.
Confirmation That God Is Steering My Life
And here I am, just working as a paramedic while I see all my friends living out their dreams. I felt like I was just stuck in this mundane season of life. But I was still leading worship at church and playing little regional coffee shops and conferences and camps and love offering gigs all around the Pacific Northwest, around Oregon, and Washington, and northern California. And I did that all through my paramedic career, like the first five six years, in hopes that maybe someday I could develop and cultivate a little music business, in the hopes that someday maybe I could do that full-time and I wouldn’t have to be a paramedic anymore.
I remember asking the Lord, one day in particular—I was just so discouraged and and I felt so hopeless. And I was exhausted because I’m going to work every day and working 24 hour shifts, having a front row seat to addiction and rape and suicide and murder and catastrophic car wrecks where bodies are all over the freeway and burns and—I mean, I could go on and on and on about what I saw and tasted and smelled and touched. And I was just getting really tired. It was starting to really take a toll on me.
And I just remember asking the Lord one day, “Lord, I would love to do to help people with my music. I would love to be a full-time musician, that’s my dream. I know that you’ve crafted that dream into me. I would love to do it. But all I want to know is that I’m your son. I want to know that I’m right with you, and I don’t want to push into any more environments that you don’t want me in. So if I need to unclench my prized possession and lay down my dream today—and if that means that it dies today, I’m fine, I’ll be a paramedic the rest of my life, if that’s what you have for me. Because I just . . . I just want to have peace with you and just know that I’m right with you and that I’m your son and that you’re leading, you’re steering my ship.”
“I just want to have peace with you, [Lord] and just know that I’m right with you and that I’m your son and that you’re leading, you’re steering my ship.” – Ryan Stevenson
Ryan Saves a Life and Resuscitates His Own Life
And it was literally probably two weeks later I responded to a 911 call. I was at work, I got dispatched to a 911 call that came out as a lightning strike. It was a young lady, she’s in her late 30s, early 40s. She was out hiking in the foothills up behind Boise with her two little boys and her mom. They were looking at some property up in the hills, and this kind of freak storm just came out of nowhere—it was a beautiful, sunny day, I remember that—this freak storm comes out of nowhere. It starts raining really hard. They are running, trying to get back to their suburban, and they hear this loud bang. And the way the mom told it, they all were kind of knocked over and kind of confused, and they realized that lightning had just struck and it had struck Laura right in the top of the head. And just . . . just killed her.
I was the paramedic that responded to that call. So by the time we got there—you know, we were several minutes away—I felt like we were pretty well past our window to even really be effective in resuscitation, or CPR. And she just she looked really bad. She was obviously not breathing, no pulse—dead upon my arrival. And I saw her kids and I just felt like, Man, I know she’s not going to make it, but I just can’t leave her here on the side of the hill in front of her family. Let’s just put her in the ambulance, and I’ll work on her in the way to the hospital.
So we put her in the back of the ambulance. Long story short, I end up reviving her in the back of the ambulance on the way to the hospital. And she made a full recovery. A total, complete miracle. She recovered completely, mentally okay, no deficits. And she was in rehab for months and months because of some neurological stuff.
But about a year later—and it was a big national story too, which was kind of crazy. She was on The TODAY Show with Matt Lauer. Matt Lauer was flying out to Idaho. She was all over local news, she was on Larry King. So it was kind of this crazy national story about this awesome survival story. She and I met up a year later at a banquet that the county put on, kind of showcasing the biggest noteworthy calls from the year before. Biggest, coolest survival stories. And I was the number-one call. And her and I met up, and we just kind of had this cool kindred connection: the more we got to know each other, the more we talked, the more she just kind of felt connected with me, and I to her. I feel like when you intervene in somebody’s life to that degree, I feel like you kind of have this this really special kindred connection with them.
I want to say this as respectfully as I can, in all respect and love to her—we don’t share the same faith or beliefs. She doesn’t believe in Jesus. She doesn’t want anything to do with the church. She just doesn’t want any of it. But she just loves me. And here this lady is, who doesn’t share my faith, doesn’t agree with my lifestyle and going to church and being a follower of Jesus.
But she just sees something in me and says, “I just see something in you, Ryan, something that’s not a paramedic. What’s your dream? What would you want to do, if you weren’t doing this paramedic thing? What’s your ultimate dream?”
I said, “Well, that’s easy. I would love to do music full-time.”
And she’s like, “Okay, well, how do you do that? What does that look like?”
I said, “I need to record my songs. I’ve been writing songs for ten years, and I have this arsenal of songs. And I feel like I have five that are really special and that I could make a demo and send to a record company. But I really need to record them in the right way. I can’t just go into my bedroom anymore and record it on a phone. I have to make a good recording.”
So she’s like, “Okay, well, what’s keeping you from doing that?”
I said, “Money. I’m working as a paramedic. I’m making hardly anything, and I don’t have thousands of dollars sitting around to go record a demo.”
And so long story short, she wrote me a four-thousand-dollar check. And I went into this studio and recorded my little five song E.P. and sent that to a record company. And that got me my first record deal.
And it was a crazy transition of literally working on the streets as a paramedic to, when this thing happened, I was in the ambulance and I would hear my songs on the radio. And then it really picked up after that. My first song that I ever heard on the radio was on Air1 Radio, and it was my first single that we released on that record deal. It was called “Yesterday, Today, Forever.”
It’s been 14 years of just plowing and grinding and staying hopeful in seasons of absolute gut-wrenching hopelessness and despair. I can definitely look back and see this beautiful tapestry, this meticulous crafting and orchestrating of my circumstances, moment by moment, that led me to literally right now.
“I can definitely look back and see this beautiful tapestry, this meticulous crafting and orchestrating of my circumstances, moment by moment, that led me to literally right now.” – Ryan Stevenson
Being Ready for God’s Assignment
Sometimes the Lord, when He has a plan for your life—which I believe He does—when He has a journey for your life, He will take His time. Setting that up, He will take his time cultivating the soil because He’s a gardener, He’s a planter. He’ll plant a seed and then He’ll water it for a long time. And He’ll just take His time really refining, and purifying, and stretching us, and getting us to this place where I feel like He can ultimately really trust us with the assignment. I feel like I’m a walking testimony of that.
“[The Lord will] just take His time really refining, and purifying, and stretching us, and getting us to this place where I feel like He can ultimately really trust us with the assignment.” – Ryan Stevenson
I got a lot of inspiration from reading Romans, where Paul talks about nothing can separate us from His love. Nor height, nor depths, nor angels, nor demons, nor things present, nor things that come, nor powers, nor any other creative thing will be able to separate us. And that’s just such a message that I feel really needs to be heard and owned in the church, especially these days. Jesus, He loves us, He bought and paid for us with the price, and I just have a hard time believing that the devil can repossess something that Jesus paid for. And that’s what I want to tell people: you’re a daughter, you’re a son, no matter what. It just awakened my heart to His grace, and I love it.
When Jesus Speaks Over Us
You know, it reminds me, there’s elements of Jesus Calling that that kind of remind me of one of my favorite books called The Shack and just how there’s so many . . . the way Jesus talks to the characters in that book, I feel like Jesus Calling talks to me as I’m one of those characters, like, just speaking peace and assurance and rest and hope over me
I first became aware of Jesus Calling a few years back. Somebody gave me a copy from my church, and I think I got one in a gift bag when I went and played at a church. And I’d never even heard of it. And then when I started reading it in the morning, it was just so different. It was so vastly different from anything that I had read.
I can definitely say it was like this whole new perspective of compassion, and grace, and sensitivity, and just heart that I felt like if Jesus was going to come into the room and sit here with me, this is what I think He would say. These are the things that I would think He would speak over me.
I would say that this is a favorite of mine: December 1st.
“I love you with an everlasting Love, which flows out from the depths of eternity. Before you were born,I knew you. Ponder the awesome mystery of a Love that encompasses you from before birth to beyond the grave.
“Modern man has lost the perspective of eternity. To distract himself from the gaping jaws of death, he engages in ceaseless activity and amusement. The practice of being still in My Presence is almost a lost art, yet it is this very stillness that enables you to experience My eternal Love.”
I love that line.
“You need the certainty of My loving Presence in order to weather the storms of life. During times of severe testing, even the best theology can fail you if it isn’t accompanied by experiential knowledge of Me. The ultimate protection against sinking during life’s storms is devoting time to develop your friendship with Me.”
I love that last line:
“The ultimate protection against sinking during life’s storms is devoting time to Me.”
My song, “Eye of the Storm,” I hope that people find hope and comfort in knowing that Jesus is here and that He’s with us.
A Perspective Shaped By Pain
Working on the streets as a paramedic for nine years, it’s easy to tap into pain and uncertainty. I got a frontrow seat, for years, to people truly in the midst of deep loss and great sadness and lives being torn apart. And it woke me up. It changed my life. It gave me an incredible sensitivity for life. It shifted my entire perspective on things that are important in life, things that I value, that I place value on. It changed me.
“‘[As a paramedic], I got a frontrow seat, for years, to people truly in the midst of deep loss and great sadness and lives being torn apart.” – Ryan Stevenson
I’m going to talk about things that matter, things that are important things, that are raw, things that actually talk about what people are actually dealing with. Human beings are out here in these neighborhoods that look affluent, that look normal, that look like everything’s all together, but inside those homes they’re in shambles, and there’s rampant addiction, and there’s domestic abuse and violence. I want to talk to that stuff because it’s real and it’s all of us.
“Human beings are out here in these neighborhoods that look affluent, that look normal, that look like everything’s all together, but inside those homes they’re in shambles, and there’s rampant addiction, and there’s domestic abuse and violence.” – Ryan Stevenson
The Eye of the Storm
“Eye of the Storm” was written, and the rest of this I’ve had very little to do with. I just wrote the song. I’ve prayed through these songs like you wouldn’t believe. Kind of what we were just talking about with Jesus Calling and beating the distractions and spending time with the Lord being absolutely devoted to Him in my song, no matter what: my whole message and theme behind it and behind the entire record, really, is beloved identity. And that’s just a theme that I felt like the Lord has whispered to me for the last two years. You are my son. You’re my son. It doesn’t matter what you do, it doesn’t matter how you feel about yourself, it doesn’t matter how you see yourself, what you think about yourself. I love you with an everlasting love.
I would love to encourage people: don’t discredit the seasons of your life, the chapters of your life, that you feel are mundane, that you feel like you’re going nowhere, that nothing makes any sense, that you don’t matter, that you’ve been forgotten about, that you’ve been overlooked. It’s really those moments of just day-to-day, day-in-day-out life where nobody’s watching and nobody’s paying attention where He is cultivating the soil of your heart and really using those moments to shift you into the mainstream of the purposes that He has for you.
“It’s really those moments of just day-to-day, day-in-day-out life where nobody’s watching and nobody’s paying attention where [the Lord] is cultivating the soil of your heart and really using those moments to shift you into the mainstream of the purposes that He has for you.” – Ryan Stevenson
So don’t be discouraged or discount the years of walking with Him. Because just like David hung out in a field for years, maybe what He’s doing right now in your life He’s never been closer. I can promise you that.
Narrator: To find out more about Ryan Stevenson’s music, and his latest record No Matter What, please visit RyanStevensonMusic.com.