Within a few weeks of sleeping on that locker room floor, God opened the first of many doors for me. I believed football would provide me the platform to share my story with people, and before long I was speaking with Jon Embree, the head coach at Colorado.
I had made the team.
“Honestly, I haven't seen you play,” he told me, “But Tom Graham is a good friend of mine. He's a character witness and he's never been wrong about anybody. He's says you're the real deal. We'll put you on the 105 (man roster) – welcome to camp.”
Think about that for a second – the tight end I admired as a kid was Daniel Graham, and now it was his dad who helped me get on the roster. Now the real work was about to begin.
I once got to to meet my favorite athlete, Tim Tebow, when I was still in high school, and he said something that I will never forget: hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work hard. That was the approach I took to Boulder, and after sitting out that first season due to NCAA transfer rules, I got to make my first start the next year. The kid who had to transfer high schools because the coaches literally couldn't recognize him off the field was now going to have his name announced at Folsom Field.
On September 7, 2013, I got to make my first start against Central Arkansas. I still remember walking into that locker room and seeing that black jersey with my last name on the back, and then looking for my parents in their seats as I ran out of the tunnel.
By this point in my career I had switched from linebacker to fullback, which meant the headlines were all going towards somebody else. I never carried the football, and I never scored a touchdown. But I got to block for one of the best teammates anybody could ever ask for in Phillip Lindsay.
Phillip knew about my story, but wanted to know more. He was so respectful when he talked with me about it, and I could tell he genuinely cared about me. The good news was he was also an amazing football player, and as we grew closer his touchdowns felt like my touchdowns too. He dominated during my senior year, and with me blocking the way for those carries, I began to pursue my dream of making the NFL. I thought my purpose was to survive the shooting, make it to the NFL, and then share the story.
God, as only He can, redirected me to what was actually His path.
When the NFL draft came and went without anybody picking me up, God showed me what He actually was using me for when he dropped Reichen Posey in my lap. Reichen was just six years old when he was a survivor of the Newtown, Connecticut shootings, and I was blessed to help him out. A friend connected us, and after we got to meet for the first time we instantly became friends.
Here is a kid who has gone through a gruesome experience at an even younger age, when your mind is still developing, and his brain has been scarred from the experience. But God put this brave young man in my path to show him Christ's love and to show him healing.
Before I could be in the position to show Reiken what healing looked like, years earlier I had conquer some demons of my own. I needed to learn how to forgive James Holmes.
It took me a long time to feel forgiveness...there was a hatred for him. I had wanted him to get the death penalty, and the forgiveness part was not setting in. There was a conviction in my heart, however, that I had to forgive him for what he's done. Christ died on the cross for us, he took every single sin in the world and took the punishment for it. If he can forgive us for that, I've got to forgive this guy for the terrible things he did.
I can't say forgiveness is going to be easy, especially for the people who lost family members in the theater, but I think forgiveness is a must. We have to forgive.
That doesn't mean I excuse what he did – I will never excuse what he did that night. Forgiveness, however, stretches beyond excusing someone's actions or rationalizing it. Forgiveness is just that. Forgiveness.
James Holmes is now in prison, and I don't know if he will ever get to see this story, but James, if you can read this, I have a message for you.
God is ready to forgive you. All you have to do is ask for it.
Even after what you did, you still can be forgiven. God wants you to be forgiven. Just ask for it.
It may be hard to forgive yourself, because of the pain families are still feeling from that night, but your story doesn't have to end like this. Our God is a God of second chances, James, and whenever you are ready to receive it, it's yours.
I'm proof that second chances exist.
I've pondered the thought all these years later of why did everything happen, and to this day I don't have a definitive answer. One thing I did learn, however, was that our God is relentless. He will put you through difficult situations, knowing you will struggle in the midst of the adversity, but He will never give up on you to find triumph through your tragedy.
I know for me, God never gave up on me, and I'm never giving up on him. He answered my prayer of giving me a second chance in life, and this article is proof that He kept me here for a reason. And just as God is relentless in pursuing me, I will now be relentless in helping others pursue Him.
God Bless you guys and thanks for reading.