"Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again..."

Location: Tampa, FL, United States

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The Dungy Tragedy

I felt like I was in good company when I saw Coach Dungy downing a bowl of cereal while occupying the driver's seat of his SUV. Seven years ago his son Jamie, then in 6th grade, was one of two kids to get picked up outside the gate of the Avila subdivision by the private school van. The other passenger was our daughter, then in the 9th grade. Every morning there would be two adults (Tony or Lauren Dungy, and my wife or me) waiting in their respective car with their kid. We'd drive over from the "poor" side of town. On one of those mornings was when I noticed Tony enjoying his cereal behind the wheel. Up until then I had only known myself to eat cereal in such a location. "Good company," I thought to myself.

My memories of Jamie are of a tall kid with skinny legs, glasses, lugging a back pack, wearing a school uniform, getting out of the family SUV to get into the school van. That's it. I never got to meet Tony or Jamie personally at these stops as Tony never got out of his car. He had the sense not to do that as I probably would have started drawing up plays on the back of my local rag and offering them to him there on the street.

Now Jamie is dead at age 18. Tony, his wife, four other children, a host of family, friends and acquaintances are left to grieve and move on with their lives.

The stories eminating from this tragedy are numerous. Teens killing themselves. The selfishness of suicide. Dealing with guilt. Living with pain. Balancing work and family. Living in a fish bowl. What ifs. Dying too young. Why us? Why me? What went wrong? Missing warning signs. How will it affect the kids? What about myspace.com? To tackle all of these would use up all of the available hard drive space in the known universe.

No doubt Tony and Lauren have mulled over what they did wrong or where they fell short as parents. They've likely dismissed these feelings of guilt knowing God didn't create them to be perfect. No mortal is. They did the best they could and made lots of sacrifices. Then the guilt thoughts come back and you dismiss them again. They cry, they reminesce, they hug, they reflect, they rally, they get overwhelmed, they pray, they go to sleep and then the sun comes up the next morning. Five of those new mornings have come since "then." They're likely counting.

Tomorrows will never be "the same" for the Dungys. And that's Gods plan. None of our tomorrows are meant to be the same. We're hear to grow and to die. Jamie's apparent suicide did not catch God off-guard. Jamie didn't die behind or ahead of schedule. God is not rewriting the rest of history to accommodate this "glitch." The Dungys know this and are likely praying their witness will testify that they're cognizant they serve a God who's incapable of making a single mistake. This faith doesn't absolve them from going through the grieving process but it does help them to live effectively in the near and distant future.

Families are meant primarily to serve as an institution for advancing the Christian faith, not to be living material for Hallmark moments. When a child predeceases a parent it generally rattles a family more but ultimately the grand purpose for life remains unchanged. Tony's focal position in his All Pro Dads ministry can continue to flourish despite the loss of Jamie. One could argue that Tony can identify with a larger cross-section of fathers now, having lived the role of the father who lost a son to apparent suicide. No one could blame him if he bowed out of the ministry either. In time Tony will probably make the right decision.

Tony has likely preached a lot to the players he's had under his wing the past few decades. This past week he didn't say much to anybody but his actions were shouting. He walked through one of life's toughest tragedies, with nary a word to the media, nary a complaint, with his faith in tact. Scores of NFL players likely thought to themselves they deserved what he got, he didn't, and look what happened. Perhaps God chose a man who could handle such adversity because He's preparing him for something he couldn't otherwise accomplish without first having undergone this trial. We don't know. Time will tell.

Much has been made of Tony's faith this week. That's truly a byline though. Tony's faith is in a big God. The only true God. The One in Whom Tony places his faith is so much more important than Tony's faith in and of itself. Any faith a Christian man has is itself a gift from God. The bigger story is God injected Himself into the forefront of the minds of many this week with the Dungys being the supporting cast. Joseph and Mary, parents of Jesus Christ, can relate to the "inconvenience" of having God interject Himself into their lives for a larger purpose. Joseph and Mary overcame God's "intrusion" and its hoped the Dungys do too. We'll all benefit, and God's Kingdom on earth will forcibly advance.

God bless the Dungys as they avail themselves to the Comforter.


Blogger Karen said...


God was not off-duty...good stuff Scott!

10:11 PM  
Anonymous Kyle Tidwell said...

As the father of a deceased child, I have prayed constantly for Tony and Lauren Dungy and their surviving children this past week. I fully understand the guilt that a parent will heap upon themselves as you try to cope with the whys, hows, and what-ifs: Why didn't I make her take the van with her friends that evening as my wife suggested? Why did I ever let myself buy that 2D Ford Explorer Sport with all the statistics about rollovers when I knew I had a 15 year old daughter fixing to get her operators license? Why did she have to be in such a hurry just to meet friends for a movie?

Believe me, I have run the gauntlet of emotions ranging from shouting at the sky to a god who could have intervened to crying on the shoulder of my God that holds all my yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows - and my daughter's.

As I rest in the hope that awaits the redeemed of Lord - the resurrection of the saints - I see my daughter in my everyday life: She is the natural beauty and listening ear of her mother, the quiet spirit yet strong presence of her brother, the everyday zest for life and love of fellowship of her sister; now I see in her baby brother that sheepish grin and contagious giggle that lights up a room; so you see she never really left us. We may never understand it but we know God will reveal His bigger plan and the part she has played in it for His glory.

I pray as the days and months go by that the Tony Dungy family will find comfort and peace - and I know they will - because that's just the kind of God we serve.

Two things I try to tell myself everyday:

(1)Its not what you take when you leave this world behind you, its what you leave behind you when you go.

(2) People will not remember what you say or do but they will never forget how you made them feel.

9:51 AM  

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