One Example of How God Redeemed Suffering

I enjoy author and blogger Nancy Head’s writing. Nancy has graciously given me permission to share her post on how God used one brother’s suffering to inspire another to reach greater heights. Here’s Nancy.

Meaning and Purpose in Pain

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18 (NIV)

I wanted to entertain a bored grandson when I thought of the movie. The boy was intrigued because I said the football scenes were actual footage from Penn State’s games in the early 1970s.

Before long the story grabbed him. The movie, like all sports movies, wasn’t about a game as much as it was about something much larger. Character, sacrifice, love, family, and even suffering.

The movie was Something for Joey, the story of John Cappelletti’s quest to be the first Penn State football player to win the Heisman Trophy. But, as I said, it’s more than that.

The crux of the story is an internal conflict John and Joey’s parents felt. Joey’s mom and dad had signed him up for experimental treatment for leukemia. Of course, they wanted their son to live.

But he suffered.

At one point, their mother lost hope. She decided to pray for Joey to die “because if Joey has to die, I’m going to ask God to let him die now so he won’t suffer anymore.”

But Joey didn’t die. Joey’s journey through illness continued. It had ups and downs. But every time John had a game, Joey was up. Their mother encouraged John to devote himself to playing well because it meant so much to Joey.

In his Heisman Trophy acceptance speech, John gave his trophy to Joey since “it’s more his than it is mine because he’s always been such an inspiration to me.”

It seemed like the film had reached its highest point. But when the actor portraying Archbishop Fulton Sheen stepped forward to give the benediction, it went higher yet. Sheen did something I’ve never heard of anyone else in his position ever doing. Instead of praying, he made a brief statement that is probably more memorable than a prayer would have been.

He told the audience that perhaps for the first time in their lives they had “heard a speech from the heart rather than from the lips.

You have heard that triumph is made from sorrow. That John was made in part by Joseph. I was supposed to pronounce the blessing at this point, but you do not need a blessing tonight. God has blessed you in the person of John Cappelletti.”

I love this story partly because I remember it unfolding. I remember the hubbub when Cappelletti won the Heisman and the news coverage the day after he gave his acceptance speech. A speech that brought a roomful of celebrities and big league athletes to tears. I remember the radio relaying Sheen’s statement.

And later I remember hearing that Joey had died.

His young life and his suffering had not been meaningless. He had blessed his family. And through his suffering, he helped shape their love and their souls. And now through book and film, the story lives on to inspire us.

Through his #suffering, Joey helped shape their love and their souls. @NancyEHead, #RefreshingFaith Share on X


Nancy E. Head was a single mother with five children under the age of 14 when many in the Church came to her aid. Her story illustrates common problems in our society such as the fracturing of families and communities, reflecting a splintering Church. Alienated families and a riven Church cannot minister as effectively to their own members or others until they find accord. Nancy is the author of Restoring the Shattered: Illustrating Christ’s Love Through the Church in One Accord.

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  1. Katherine Pasour

    I remember this from an earlier post from Nancy, but I’m so glad you shared again. It’s a message of sorrow and pain, but also of love and hope. Joey’s life blessed and enriched the lives of others. What a gift!

    • Debbie Wilson

      This story was very moving. God brought beauty from ashes. Thanks, Katherine.

  2. Joanne Viola

    I had not heard this story before. It is amazing how God truly does bring something of worth and beauty from pain and suffering. Thank you for sharing Nancy’s post!

    • Debbie Wilson

      It was new to me too, Joanne. I’m so glad Nancy captured it for us.

  3. Ann Musico

    Isn’t the Lord amazing. He wastes nothing!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Such a good reminder when we suffer and it makes no sense. Thanks, Ann!

  4. Jerralea Winn Miller

    This seems to me that it is Romans 8:28 played out for us. God brought good out of Joey’s pain and reached many people. I don’t understand why Joey had to hurt; but I bet later he had joy.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Jerralea, I like that. It is a Romans 8:28. And I’m God gave Joey great joy.

  5. Tammy L Kennington

    Nancy and Debbie,

    Thank you for sharing this poignant, beautiful story. I intend to search for the movie.


    P.S. Congrats on your book’s publication!

    • Debbie Wilson

      I want to watch it too, Tammy.

  6. Donna B Reidland

    I was not familiar with the movie but now I can’t wait to watch it!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Me either, Donna. But it sounds like a good one.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Yes, Lauren. It is bittersweet. We know God doesn’t waste our suffering. It’s helpful when we get a glimpse of how He uses it.

  7. J.D. Wininger

    Redemption and restoration seems to be a theme this week among my Christian writing friends. I couldn’t help but think of the words of Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10) as I was reading this post. I remember the Cappelletti story well. I thought also of “Brian’s Song” and a few others where television/movies brought hope and a message of love. Thanks so much for sharing those great memories, and even greater lessons, with us.

    • Debbie Wilson

      I think C. S. Lewis said something about God using a megaphone to speak to us when we are in pain. Those experiences and stories certainly touch us deeply.

  8. Karen Friday

    Thanks for sharing this beautiful message, Debbie. Although I had already read it once on Nancy’s blog, it was well worth a second read. Such an inspirational story.

    • Debbie Wilson

      Karen, I appreciated this story and Archbishop Fulton Sheen’s words. “I was supposed to pronounce the blessing at this point, but you do not need a blessing tonight. God has blessed you in the person of John Cappelletti.” A picture is worth a thousand words.

  9. Annie Yorty

    I loved this post the first time around, and it’s still inspiring. Thank you!

    • Debbie Wilson

      Me too. Thanks for reading, Annie.

  10. Yvonne Morgan

    God is amazing

    • Debbie Wilson

      Yes! Thanks, Yvonne.

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