From The Gridiron To The Pulpit: Finding Purpose, with Dr. Derwin Gray

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In difficult times, an uplifting story of transformation can get us thinking about how we can change our own lives for the better. The story of Dr. Derwin Gray, a former NFL player-turned author and pastor, proves that we have the ability to move forward beyond any circumstance. In the first episode of a series with Dr. Gray, he chronicles the details in his life that led to a new focus on spreading a positive message.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
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Dr Daniel Amen: Hey, everybody. We have a very special week for you. Our friend, Pastor Derwin Gray, is going to be with us to talk about how you can live a good life during a pandemic. Pastor Gray is the founding and lead pastor of Transformation Church, one of the fastest growing churches in America. It is a multi-ethnic, multi-generational mission shape community with three campuses near North Carolina where I have had the privilege to speak one of the weekends. It was awesome.
Dr Daniel Amen: Pastor Derwin and his wife Vicky been married for 22 years and have two children, a daughter [inaudible 00:01:36] son, Jeremiah. He is the author of Hero: Unleashing God's Power in a Man's Heart. Limitless Life: You Are More than Your Past When God Holds Your Future. And his new book, The Good Life: What Jesus Teaches about Finding True Happiness, which will be out on June 2nd and is available for pre-order. Derwin is also a former NFL player. He's part of my NFL study and we fell in love with when Tana made-
Tana Amen: Yes.
Dr Daniel Amen: She used me.
Tana Amen: I did. So there's not a lot of times that I've used you for this. But to me, Dr. Amen was one, Dr. [inaudible 00:02:26] was one and Pastor Derwin [inaudible 00:02:27] when I heard you speak at Saddleback and your story resonated so strongly with me, Pastor Gray, I just ... It moved me and I wanted to meet you and I thought, "Well he's going to have this huge line and he is not going to take the time to meet me but he will probably meet my husband." So I drag him along and I put him up front. Yes. Well there has to be some other benefits. One of the many.
Pr Derwin Gray: Well, I have been blessed and encouraged by you guys tremendously. My wife and I have watched many of your episodes on PBS, always text Dr. Amen a picture of you guys on PBS and stuff. And so you guys have been incredibly helpful as friends, but also personally. And so I have to make one slight correction in the bio. My wife and I have actually been married for 27 years.
Tana Amen: Wow.
Pr Derwin Gray: And it'll be 28 years on May third.
Tana Amen: Congratulations.
Pr Derwin Gray: Thank you. Yes. So we feel like adults. We actually feel like we're growing up a little bit.
Tana Amen: Not just playing house anymore.
Pr Derwin Gray: Yeah. It's like our kids are like, "Man, you guys seem like you know what you're doing now." We're like-
Tana Amen: That's so funny.
Pr Derwin Gray: We're-
Tana Amen: You were faking it long enough, you've made it. Yeah.
Pr Derwin Gray: I'm not sure we've done it. We just adopted our two nieces and I'm not sure they would say we know what we're doing.
Tana Amen: No, I don't think that they'd come to that conclusion yet.
Dr Daniel Amen: So talk about your role, a little bit of your story so people can get to know you and how you've gone really from sports and entertainment to leading a very large [crosstalk 00:04:22]
Tana Amen: Well, and also ... I mean you've had a life of trauma and you turned your pain into purpose. And that's what I fell in love with you. You've had this crazy life, you've had trauma and then you went into sports and you had that sort of being celebrated and then you turned that in and all of that into this very purposeful life.
Pr Derwin Gray: Yeah. When you describe trauma, growing up the way I grew up and growing up the way you grew up as well, trauma was normative and we normalized trauma that you didn't even ... Like I thought it was normal for domestic violence. I thought gunshots were normal. I thought addiction and substance abuse and gang violence. And I thought that was normal. And so my mom was 16 when she was pregnant with me. My dad was 17, they both struggled with brain health issues. And so my grandmother primarily raised me. She did the best she could. My granddad worked all day as hard as he could.
Pr Derwin Gray: When I was about 13, it hit me that if I want my life to be different, football's going to be my way out. And so for me, football was never like ... football was more than a game. I wouldn't have been able to say this, but football was my salvation. It gave me what I thought was love. It gave me significance because as a kid growing up, I didn't know I had abandonment issues. I love my mom. I have forgiven my mom. But as I think back as a kid, a lot of my stuttering ... I would chew on my fingers, I'd eat my nails down. I had all these ticks that I didn't even know that they were, but I was dealing with abandonment issues.
Pr Derwin Gray: And so even now, even now, there will be Sundays I'll pull up to Transformation Church and say, "When are they going to find out and they're going to leave too?" And I have to really fight those thoughts and replace those negative thoughts with, "No, I'm a beloved child of God. My value is intrinsic to who I am."
Pr Derwin Gray: And so working through that trauma, football gave me an outlet. Football gave me significance and football taught me that I could actually get a education and leave. And so one of the reasons why I went to Brigham Young to play football, why in the world would a African American kid from the hood go to BYU to play ball? It was as far away from Texas as I could go.
Pr Derwin Gray: Now that I look back, I was running from trauma, I was running from pain. But part of it also was I thought, "Well, if I could be successful, then I could help my family be successful." But the problem is this, and I'm learning this more and more and more. I'm not responsible for someone else's happiness. I'm responsible to help, but I'm not responsible for them individually, internally to be able to do that. And so I'm just now learning that, like as of yesterday.
Tana Amen: Yeah. So much of what you say just resonates so clearly.
Dr Daniel Amen: That is so much and [inaudible 00:07:38]
Tana Amen: I was bouncing up and down in my chair when you were speaking. I was like, I need to meet this guy.
Dr Daniel Amen: Tana just finished a new book for next year called The Relentless Courage of the Scared Child. And she can relate in just so many ways.
Dr Daniel Amen: So you went to BYU and excelled there and then into the NFL. And where in this process was your conversion, if you will?
Pr Derwin Gray: Yeah, so I met my to-be wife second semester, my freshman year. So we've been together 30 years, about to celebrate 28 years. So we live really have known each other since we were teenagers. And my wife, like your wife, very accomplished, very strong, very intelligent. We just jail. Like she was going somewhere, I was going some somewhere. But here's the problem though, wherever we go, we take us with us and little did we know that both of us have so much stuff in our backpacks that we had to unpack. And so by my third year in the NFL, I was looking around saying, "Okay, the money I'm sending home to Texas is not fixing the problems, it's actually making it worse."
Pr Derwin Gray: Then it began to weigh on my heart that I told my wife's father, "I'm going to love her and cherish her." And I found myself not knowing what love and cherishing was because I didn't know how to love and cherish myself. I also live with fear, not fear of football, but fear of who I would be without football. I would be the poor kid who stutters, who's ignored, who's forgotten about, and that traumatize me even more so.
Pr Derwin Gray: But then I recognized that there were things about me morally that I needed forgiveness for. No matter how much money I would donate to nonprofits or read to kids in school, I always had this guilt. And so I had a teammate, his name was Steve Grant, but his nickname was the Naked Preacher because literally after practice, he'd take a shower, wrap a towel around his waist, and he'd get his Bible and he would ask my teammates [inaudible 00:10:09] Jesus. And I had no church background and in my mind I'm like, "What's up with the half naked black man walking around [inaudible 00:10:17] Jesus?" And my teammates said, "Don't pay no attention to him. That's the Naked Preacher."
Pr Derwin Gray: And so I didn't want nothing to do with him, nothing to do with Jesus. I don't want nothing to do with his Bible. But over a five year process, I watched number one, the way the other guys respected him in the locker room. Whenever anybody needed advice, they were talking to him. I watched how faithful he was to his wife, his children, the way he carried himself, the way he served the community and so over five years as my life was falling apart, I began to listen more to what he was saying.
Pr Derwin Gray: And so on August 2nd, 1997, in a small dorm room in Anderson, Indiana, in Anderson College, fifth year in the NFL in a small dorm room, I called my wife on the phone. I said, "I want to be more committed to you and I want to be committed to Christ." And the only thing that I can say is I felt a physical change. And I literally cried for three days. I literally cried that for once in my life, someone loved me and they knew everything about me and they didn't leave me. [inaudible 00:11:31] like I want to follow Him. I want to love Him back. And I haven't been the same sense.
Pr Derwin Gray: I have fallen deeper and deeper love with him, which has given me the capacity now to love me with all my flaws. And that's given me a capacity and a heart to love other people because if God could meet me in my mess, then by His Grace I can meet other people in their mess because we're all just a mess.
Tana Amen: No doubt. And there's something about your story, they're seeing this big tough guy in your words from the hood that has just been through it, who's an NFL player, just completely humbling himself and that ... I mean for me, when I hear your story again now, it brings tears to my eyes. There's just something about someone just being so humbled that makes them stronger, if that makes sense. And it's compelling. So I just love that.
Dr Daniel Amen: And then you got on to the NFL and what happened next?
Pr Derwin Gray: 1997 was my last year with the Colts and then in 1998, I signed a contract with the Carolina Panthers here in Charlotte. And I never thought that I would live in the South. And after about two weeks here, I was like, this place is amazing. The weather's great and everything is new and the people are nice. I was like, man, this is great. So I played in three games with the Panthers and I tore my knee up. And I distinctly remember being on the field in Texas stadium where the Cowboys used to play looking up saying, "Okay, God, I'm mad. I'm not going to pray today, but I'm going to pray tomorrow."
Pr Derwin Gray: And from that injury I got put on injured reserve, which meant I got my full salary, but I didn't have to play. All I did was rehab my knee and literally read the Bible. I made more money in that one year for a contract than any of the time in my career and I only played in three games and I read the Bible. Now, that money was used to start Transformation Church. You don't know that then, but I know that now. And so what I thought was a disappointment was a divine appointment. What I thought was adversity became an opportunity. And the thing is, you don't know it then. Like Steve jobs said, "You only connect the dots when you look back."
Pr Derwin Gray: And so I remember being in a cold tub, I'm just reading the Bible going, "This is amazing." And so from that, I rehabbed my knee, got back in shape, and I looked at my wife and she looked at me and we're both like, "We're done." And I called my agent, and I said, "I'm retiring." He goes, "What?" I said, "Yeah, I'm retiring." He goes, "What are you going to do?" I said, "I don't know, but I know God doesn't want me to play anymore."
Pr Derwin Gray: And my family thought I was crazy. My friends thought I was crazy. And then I got a phone call from the South Carolina Student Baptist Association to speak at a youth event. And before I went, I had a drag out argument with God just means I was [inaudible 00:14:52] and He was smiling. And I said, "God, I'm a compulsive stutterer. Why would you want me to go and speak? You know the pain of stuttering, you know the fun I've been made of, you know this has been a disability in my life. I'll donate to it, let's get a real professional to go." And I didn't hear a voice, but I sensed God say, "If I can raise my son from the dead, I can raise your tongue to talk."
Pr Derwin Gray: And so me, my wife, and at the time Presley was probably five. I went down there to this big old stadium and I basically shared who I was before Christ, how I met Christ and what's happened after that. And when I was done, I said, "Does anybody want what happened to me to happen to them?" And all these kids started standing up and the next day the phone just started to ring. And a year goes by and someone goes, "Yeah, you're in full time ministry. You're an evangelist." And I said, "Wait, what? What are you talking about?"
Pr Derwin Gray: So that began the steps of developing an itinerary ministry. My wife organized everything. I'd go out and speak. And then about in 2005, that's when we both began to say, we want to plan a church that is centered on the love of Christ that creates a multi-ethnic community that teaches the world this is what love looks like across ethnic lines, across socioeconomic lines. We want to practice on earth what we're going to do for all eternity. And so that's what led to plan and Transformation Church and I've got a couple of degrees and I'm a Doctor, not quite lot Dr. Amen, but I've got a little Doctor on my name now.
Dr Daniel Amen: Love that.
Tana Amen: So awesome.
Dr Daniel Amen: Congratulation. When we come back, we are going to talk more about Transformation Church and how to live the good life. And Derwin, people can find your new book, they can pre-order your new book at where?
Pr Derwin Gray: And they can get a free chapter. I'm giving away chapter five for free.
Dr Daniel Amen: So awesome.
Tana Amen: Awesome.
Dr Daniel Amen: Stay with us.
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