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A Father’s Faith is Tested After Son’s Injury

For Pastor Vernon Shazier, being a father is one of his proudest roles. And ever since his boys were little, Vernon had a special way he connected with them – football.

“Whenever I watched my sons play sports,” began Vernon, “I lived vicariously through them. And so, when I saw Ryan running, I was running. When Ryan made a tackle, I made a tackle.”

As for Ryan, his dad’s support and prayers helped carry him through stellar high school and college, football careers.

“Every game I’d talk to you and we’d pray before every single game,” Ryan said to his father. “And for some reason I had no signal in the locker room and I couldn’t get ahold of you. The team is literally about to run out on to the field, and I was like, ‘Hey, coach I’m not gonna run out until I talk to my dad. I gotta talk to my dad before this game.’ I’ve got God watching over me and I’ve got you watching over me.”

NFL Announcer: “The Pittsburgh Steelers select, Ryan Shazier, linebacker…”

In 2014, Ryan achieved his lifelong dream and was a first-round pick in the NFL draft. And his dad and family were right by his side.

“Seeing Ryan get drafted into the NFL, was an incredible experiencing moment,” remembered Vernon. “You want to see your child succeed and do well and accomplish their dream, and on that evening, we witnessed that.”

As a hard-nosed linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ryan helped his team make the playoffs two years in a row. In 2017, the Steelers were once again play-off bound. Then on December 4th in a Monday Night Football game against the Bengals, a bone-crushing play left Ryan motionless on the field.  

“I took the call and the first words I heard was, ‘Ryan is hurt. Ryan is hurt.’ And so that's it. I said, ‘Okay.’” Vernon continued, “The phone rang again, it was Ryan. And he said, ‘Daddy, pray for me. I can't feel my legs.’”

Ryan had suffered a spinal contusion in his lower back. Doctors said he may never walk again.

“I said, ‘Okay, God, You need to fix this,’” pleaded Vernon.

Within days Ryan had surgery, but as several weeks passed, he made little progress. Outwardly Vernon tried to be strong for his family and his son. But even the pastor of over 20 years admits he often found it difficult to trust God.

“I was at war, you know, fighting with my anger, wrestling with my faith,” confessed Vernon. “‘Why has this happened? Why haven't You (God) fixed it yet?’”

“My plan was, ‘Hey, I wanted to be the best football player in the world,’” shared Ryan. “I always thought like, ‘Lord, I don't feel like I'm doing anything wrong. Why did I have to go through this situation?’"

Watching Ryan suffer, Vernon would have done anything to help his son.

“In my mind, I was saying, ‘Switch with me. Switch with me,’” said Vernon. “I was willing to change places with my son. I was willing to take on his pain, his being paralyzed. Give him my body. Give him my legs.””

After months of wrestling with God, Vernon realized it was time to fully trust God with Ryan’s life and future.

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