Today’s guests, author and speaker Kay Warren and UFC fighter Cody Garbrandt, know firsthand what it’s like to help people they care about face circumstances that are too tough for them to face alone. Kay Warren is the co-founder of Saddleback Church with her husband, Rick. For more than ten years, Kay has been a tireless advocate for those living with mental illness. She shares how she and her husband Rick met, the beginnings of Saddleback Church, and her fight for her son’s life as he dealt with mental illness. When UFC World Champion fighter Cody Garbrandt was a young boy, he dreamed of becoming a champion. His family was filled with generations of fighters, and while growing up in a blue-collar town in central Ohio, his dream to become a champion seemed nearly impossible. After years of struggle, when Cody was 20, his brother introduced him to someone who would change Cody’s life forever.
You Don’t Have to Face This Alone: Kay Warren & Cody Garbrandt – Jesus Calling Episode #111
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Today we visit with two guests who know firsthand what it’s like to help people they care about face circumstances that are too tough for them to face alone: author and speaker Kay Warren and UFC fighter Cody Garbrandt.
First up, Kay Warren is the co-founder of Saddleback Church with her husband, Rick. She is an international speaker, bestselling author, and Bible teacher who has a passion for inspiring and motivating others to make a difference with their lives. She is best known for more than 10 years as a tireless advocate for those living with mental illness. She shares about growing up in the church, how she and her husband Rick met, and the beginnings of Saddleback Church, plus her fight for her son’s life as he dealt with mental illness, which first started when he was very young.
Kay Warren: I’m Kay Warren. And my husband Rick and I founded Saddleback Church in our living room in 1980. We’ve been serving at Saddleback for about 38 years. Currently I’m an advocate for people living with mental illness and for those affected by suicide.
I was born in San Diego, California. My dad was a pastor of small Southern Baptist churches, very conservative little churches. One thing I remember about growing up was not being able to play cards, not going to movies, not going to dances and not being able to wear a two-piece swimsuit. I mean, really super conservative childhood, but it was good. I loved what my dad did. My mom and dad were people of integrity, and they lived the same life at home that they did at church.
I was a very typical church pastor’s daughter at the time: playing the piano, singing in the choir. I knew how to sew and knew how to cook some things that were very much expected of women and girls when I was growing up.
I loved nature, loved being outside, but I was more of a passive enjoyer of nature. I wasn’t the kind of person that had to conquer the ski slopes and plumb the depths of the ocean. I was content to sit on a blanket and look up at the stars. That was my enjoyment, or watch a tree or fire. I’m much more an enjoyer of nature than a participator in nature, but beauty restores me.
“I’m an enjoyer of nature–beauty restores me.” – Kay Warren
Growing up in a ministry family was not problematic for me. I didn’t sense that that we were different at church than we were at home. We had our secrets. And those were things that came to play out of my life later on, but I didn’t recognize it as a little kid as being things that were different.
Kay Warren – Meeting a Young Rick Warren
Rick and I met at college, this little liberal arts college where we were both students. And there were only about 600 students at the time, so you knew everybody. I knew of Rick, and I knew that every weekend he was out preaching at some youth revival, and I thought he was wonderful. He was funny and outgoing and very extroverted. But I was not interested in him because he was too loud, he was too extroverted, and I was not seriously interested in him. I just liked him as a friend.
I was dating one of his friends at the time, and I asked him why Rick didn’t date. He was popular, and clearly everybody liked him, but he just he didn’t date.
I asked his friend, “Why doesn’t Rick date?”
And he said, “Well, he figures why waste the money on a girl you’re not going to marry, that when the right girl comes along, God will let him know that and that’ll be that.”
And I just thought that was the strangest thing I’d ever heard of.
A few months later, this guy that I’ve been dating who was Rick’s friend, we broke up. And within felt like a few days, all of a sudden Rick was sitting down next to me in a cafeteria. We didn’t really know each other.
He took me out on a date, and eight days later he asked me to marry him. And I remember it as being one of those moments in which there’s only been a couple of times in my life where it really felt like God spoke to me, and this was one of those moments.
“I remember it as being one of those moments in which there’s only been a couple of times in my life where it really felt like God spoke to me, and this was one of those moments.” – Kay Warren
Rick said eight days after our first date, “Would you marry me?”
And I said, “What did you say?”
He said, “I love you. Would you marry me?”
And I prayed and I said, God, what am I supposed to do? I don’t love him. I’m not in love with him. What am I supposed to say?
This is where I felt God spoke to me. I felt like He said, Say yes and I’ll bring the feelings.
So with my 19 year old understanding of God and His will and love and marriage and all those things, I said yes, even though I didn’t love him, because I felt God had told me to do that.
Soon after that, he went to Japan on a short-term mission trip. I went to Alabama as a short-term mission trip. We came back together. I ended up moving back home where my parents lived. So we were separated the entire year before we got married.
What led us to the terrible marriage problems that we encountered right off the bat was, first of all, we didn’t know each other. We just genuinely didn’t know each other. We didn’t go through the typical courtship of where you see each other day in and day out. It was we were strangers. So that created a few problems.
There was a problem because I had been sexually molested when I was a little girl, but I hadn’t told anybody. And I had never even really thought that much, it was something that kind of got buried in my own mind. So when we got married, I mentioned it to Rick. He didn’t know what to do with that. I didn’t know what to do with that. But it created a lot of problems.
Then I think looking back, we were just very immature, very immature. We didn’t have a lot of experience. It wasn’t in a day in time in which you talk a lot about problems and how to work them through, so within days of getting married, we were both instantly thinking, This is the biggest mistake I have ever made in my life.
“I felt like [God] said ‘Say yes, and I’ll bring the feelings.’” – Kay Warren
For the next few years, we just struggled constantly with conflict and how to communicate, how to work through all the things that you’re supposed to work through before you get married.
So today, after being married nearly 43 years, I can tell you that we are best friends, and we are crazy about each other and madly in love. But it took a long time to work through all the things that were wrong, all the things that we had to overcome, all the ways that were so different. But I’m so glad we did. I am so glad we did.
Starting Saddleback Church from Scratch
After we graduated from college, Rick wanted to go seminary. So we moved from California to Texas, and he went to Southwestern seminary. And while we were there, his whole vision changed. I was not happy with the fact that his whole vision changed because I married a guy who I thought who was going to be a traditional pastor. It’s just what I thought was going to happen. I knew I was going into a ministry, and that was okay. But once we got to seminary, he felt like that God was asking him to plant a church. Today that’s just not that big a deal, it feels like everybody you talk to is planning a church or they’ve done church planting. But it was not common forty three years ago.
But to just start from scratch with no money, no members, no building, none of that didn’t feel exciting to me. It was actually felt pretty scary. So I was a little resistant at first. And then as God began to work in my heart, which is a longer story, but as He began to work in my heart, slowly the dream moved from just Rick’s heart to mine as well. When we actually moved to the Saddleback Valley in 1980, I was as excited as he was. I couldn’t wait. I just I was ready. I believed in what God had called him to do it. I believed in Rick and his gifts and what God was doing and I was ready.
Easter 1980 was our first service, and it was so exciting. We didn’t know how many people would show up. We had this little band of people who’d been working with us for 10 weeks getting ready, but we had no idea.
And that first day at Laguna Hills High School ,when 205 people came walking in, person after person, it still makes me really emotional. It was like, God, you really did call us to this. This is what we’re supposed to do, and this thing is going to work. There are 205 people here.
And it just it went from there. And it blossomed and it mushroomed and it grew exponentially. And we just felt like we were on the back of a bucking bronco, just kind of holding on for dear life because this church exploded. People came to know Christ by the dozens, and then the hundreds, and then the thousands. And over these years, it has been one of the greatest joys of my life, to lead and pastor and minister to be a shepherd to the people here at Saddleback Church.
It just grew through stages, and we found that we had to keep growing. We couldn’t stay the same people that we were when we started the church. That is, we leaders had to constantly be evolving, constantly be growing in our own character and our own capacity to know God and then to communicate Him to the people that we were serving.
“We leaders had to constantly be evolving, constantly be growing in our own character and our own capacity to know God and then to communicate Him to the people that we were serving.” – Kay Warren
And as that visibility grew, Rick being an extrovert, was just naturally more comfortable with that than me, as an introvert. And I’ve had to go through a lot of different growth periods in which I would just have to keep surrendering to God.
Then as those numbers would grow, I would have to just keep coming back to God and say, I don’t know how to do this. This is beyond me. This is beyond my capability. This is far beyond what I feel like I can do.
The good part about that was that it made me trust God. It made me rely on Him. It made me believe that that I was capable for whatever He had called me to do. Philippians 4:13 in the Amplified [version] says, “I am ready for and equal to anything through him who infuses inner strength into me that is. I am self-sufficient in Christ sufficiency.”
That verse has really held me as the church has grown in visibility and grown in responsibility. That through what God what Jesus has infused in me—I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me—I really am able to do it. I’m equal to it. I’m up for it because of His strength in me. And it’s pushed me in ways that I don’t know that I would have been pushed, had we stayed at 50 or 100. The visibility has forced me to rely on God. It forced me to grow forced me to really lean into His capability to be capable.
A Mother Chooses Joy Amidst Her Greatest Loss
One of the greatest joys of my life has been being a mom. And we have three kids: Amy, Josh, and Matthew.
“One of the greatest joys of my life has been being a mom.” – Kay Warren
Josh and Amy are just amazing human beings. They’ve got little people themselves now, so I’m a grandma—it’s the best thing in the world.
But Matthew, our youngest, we knew from a really early age that he was different than his siblings.
He was 7 when we realized that all those things that had just been different, that we thought he would grow out of, were actually a problem. So at 7, Matthew was diagnosed with DU, with depression. And then from there—bless his heart—panic attacks and A.D.H.D and early-onset bipolar disorder, and suicidal ideation when he was 12, and then obsessive compulsive disorder and body dysmorphic disorder and major depressive disorder. And then in the last year and a half before he passed away, he was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.
His life was so difficult, with so many challenges around mental illness. And they just didn’t get better. They just got worse and worse.
And even though he was so ill, he was also this amazing guy. He was funny and creative and deeply compassionate for other people who suffer. He had a huge, tender heart for other people in pain. But he just kept it just kept getting worse.
Probably two or three years before he died, I realized that as his mom, it was taking such a toll on me. Mental illness, especially severe mental illness, takes such a toll on families. And our family was struggling right along with him, suffering with him. I knew that I was going down, if you will, going down spiritually, going down emotionally.
“Severe mental illness, takes such a toll on families. And our family was struggling right along with him, suffering with him.” – Kay Warren
So I did a really intense study of scripture and what the Bible says about joy, and came to realize that I had defined it wrong. I was defining it based on how I felt. If I felt up that day, if it seemed like it was a good day, then I could experience joy. But if Matthew had a hard day or something else went wrong on my life, then I didn’t have joy. And that up-and-down, up-and-down was really getting to me. Come to find out, as I look at scripture, it’s so much more than that.
That’s why I wrote a book called Choose Joy: Because Happiness Isn’t Enough.
Happiness will not carry you through those dark times. It will not be enough when the wheels fall off the bus, when the bottom falls out. Happiness will evaporate, but joy can stay. And that’s what I wanted. When I realized that joy was so much about what I knew about God, what I believed about God, the choices that I wanted to make in relation to what I knew about God, changed everything for me. And it was in that study of joy and making a decision that I could count on God’s character, that I could count on God’s goodness, that I could count on God’s control in my life, even when to me life was spiraling wildly out of control. That’s when joy began to take root in my life, and that changed me. That changed my approach.
“Happiness will not carry you through those dark times. It will not be enough when the wheels fall off the bus, when the bottom falls out. Happiness will evaporate, but joy can stay.” – Kay Warren
So when Matthew declined—and he did decline—and eventually took his life on April 5th, 2013, it was the worst day of my life. It was the day that I had dreaded and prayed would never happen. And yet it did.
We felt very helpless to change the trajectory of the way it seemed Matthew was going. And when he died, we were faced with confronting, on the deepest level ever, What do we really believe about God? What do we really believe about what He teaches? Is He truly good?
“What do we really believe about God? What do we really believe about what He teaches? Is He truly good?” – Kay Warren
I had I come to that conclusion when I was learning how to choose joy. But when we lost Matthew, there was nothing that had ever challenged my faith to that.
And we did lose—I, in particular—lost hope for a while after he died. My hope had been that God would heal him, and God didn’t heal him in the way that I expected, the way that I fervently prayed, begged, pleaded with God, counted on verses, counted on scripture. That isn’t what happened. But you can’t live without hope. And so I had to learn how to rebuild hope, how to rebuild that trust in God and His promises.
“I had to learn how to rebuild hope, how to rebuild that trust in God and His promises.” – Kay Warren
When Matthew died, we were left with shattered lives, shattered hope, shattered family. And we made the decision just really right off the bat that we were going to try to help other people.
Since then, God has been, has just brought hundreds, hundreds of other people into our lives. Sometimes it’s people who themselves are living with suicidal thoughts and are struggling, they’re not sure that they’re going to be able to make it. Sometimes it’s families who have a loved one who is also feeling suicidal. And sometimes it’s families who have lost someone to suicide, and they are, just as we were, in that shattered heap on the floor of trying to figure out, How do you rebuild your life?
And while it’s been difficult to share over, and over, and over, and over our journey in grief and our journey in rebuilding hope, it gives me the sense that Matthew’s death is not wasted.
I remember so many times, in the first weeks and months, just saying, My life is ruined. You will never be good again, it can never be good. And what I would say to anybody who has experienced grief and loss and that sense that your life is ruined and it can never be good again, I will tell you that life will never be the same again. That part is for certain. It will never be the same. But it can be good again. And God has this way of still working in those places where we feel ruined, where we feel like our lives have been shattered, and He does rebuild.
“I would say to anybody who has experienced grief and loss and that sense that your life is ruined and it can never be good again, I will tell you that life will never be the same again. That part is for certain. It will never be the same. But it can be good again.” – Kay Warren
So if you’re struggling today with mental illness, or you maybe you’re not even sure that that’s what’s wrong—you just know you’re having a harder time functioning at work or in your maintaining your friendships or you can’t sometimes, you might not be able to get out of bed. You’re feeling life just feels like it’s collapsed in on you, and you’re not sure that you can keep going. I just want to know you’re not alone, and that there is hope. And please don’t isolate yourself. It’s a natural thing that we do when we’re feeling sad or feeling alone or feeling anxious, is to isolate and to withdraw and not be as close to other people. Sometimes that’s because we don’t really want them to know. We’re afraid that they won’t love us, or that they will think we’re weird if we tell them how much we’re struggling. But that just increases that sense of anxiety and that sense of loneliness and that sense of depression. So the very first thing I would do is to tell you please connect with other people in your life who love you.
And if you are a family member, someone you love, maybe they don’t recognize that they have an illness or they are just so ill that they can’t seek the help, maybe you have loved somebody who has a substance use disorder—I mean there’s so many things that get complicated—reach out and do not stay isolated. Seek help at your church. There’s some great organizations: NAMI, the National Alliance of Mental Illness, is a great free resource that you can get tons of information. My website, kaywarren.com, has all kinds of things that I’ve assembled that I didn’t know how to find when I was had a family member [struggling with mental illness]. We’ve assembled them, and they’re easy and they’re easy to access.
So don’t be alone, don’t give up hope, and look for the resources and the help, because there’s always hope.
Narrator: Kay believes that we don’t have to always understand God in order to trust Him, and that we can trust Him because He loves us. She finds comfort in the words of Jesus Calling and encourages those who are dealing with pain and loss to remember that God’s love for us never changes—even when things get hard.
Kay Warren: I don’t even remember when I first encountered Jesus Calling.
It just feels like it’s so much a part of my life, and it’s been so much part of my life for so long now that I tried to think when I first heard about it, when somebody first gave me the copy. I don’t know, but I love it.
It has been just sometimes the exact word I needed. I think that part of what’s been so meaningful is because it’s personalized. It comes from, it’s as though Jesus Himself is talking to me and that has felt very intimate. It’s like, Yes, this is you, Jesus, talking to me from your Word. And I’ve relied on it in some difficult situations. It’s on my phone. I carry it. You know I’ve got the app, and so I if I don’t read it at home, I’m reading my app.
But there’s a passage one day’s reading in particular. I go back to over and over and over. And it says:
I am leading you, step by step, through your life. Hold My hand in trusting dependence, letting Me guide you through this day. Your future looks uncertain and feels flimsy, even precarious. This is how it should be. Secret things belong to the Lord, and future things are secret things. When you try to figure out the future, you are grasping at things that are Mine. This, like all forms of worry, is an act of rebellion, doubting My promises to care for you.
Whenever you find yourself worrying about the future, repent and return to Me. I will show you the next step forward, and the one after that, and the one after that. Relax and enjoy the journey in My Presence, trusting Me to open up the way before you as you go.
The day I read that for the very first time was a day I was worried about Matthew. I didn’t know what was going to happen. He was in a particularly bad season, and I wanted to know what the future held. And when I read [this passage] that morning, and it says “This day your future feels uncertain and flimsy,” I’m like, Yes, yes yes it does. “Even precarious.” Yes that’s exactly. And then that line “That’s how it should be. Secret things belong to the Lord, and future things are secret things.” You know, it was it was a gentle word from Jesus, but it was also a little “Hey, get out of there. That’s my business. This is not your business, this is mine.” And then when it says “When you try to figure it out, you’re grasping at things that are Mine, and that is a form of rebellion. You’re doubting that I’m going to care for you.” Whoa.
So it convicts me and comforts me all at once.
God’s Love for Me Never Changes
My life is anchored on the belief that God can be trusted. I don’t understand why Matthew had mental illness so severe from a little boy. I don’t understand that. I don’t understand why we couldn’t get all the help that we needed. I don’t understand why he wasn’t healed. I don’t know.
What I do know is that God holds those answers, and I’m content to let God hold those answers. I know He will tell me, and I know that one day I will see Matthew again.
Soon after he died, somebody came up to me, one of my dearest friends. And her greeting to me was, “The next time you see him, he’ll come running to you whole and in his right mind.”
I believe that. I absolutely believe that because of what I know about God. I know how He works. I don’t get His ways. I know His love for me never changes and that one day all that He has promised, I will receive.
We’ll be right back after this brief message about a free offer from Jesus Calling.
Download this FREE Jesus Calling Daily Prayer Calendar which works with your Jesus Calling devotional. Each day begins with a guided reflection followed by space for prayers of thanksgiving and special requests.
Narrator: Our next guest is UFC World Champion fighter Cody Garbrandt. When Cody was a young boy, he dreamed of becoming a champion. His family was filled with generations of fighters, and while growing up in a blue-collar town in central Ohio, his dream to become a champion seemed nearly impossible. After years of struggle, when Cody was 20, his brother introduced him to someone who would change Cody’s life forever.
Cody Garbrandt: My name is Cody Garbrandt. I’m a former and future UFC Bantamweight champion from Sacramento, California.
Early back in my childhood, I remember my mom always being there for us. I had an older brother that was 11 months older than me named Zach. Always remember just wrestling around with him. My father was nonexistent. He was never really in our life, he was out of prison since we were born. We actually took my mother’s maiden name which is Garbrandt.
Growing up in Uhrichsville and Dennison, Ohio, was much different from a lot of places. It’s a lot of factories are outsourced, jobs are taken away. There’s a coal mine in town, there’s a couple of factories that a lot of our family—our mothers or parents or cousins or uncles—worked at. So it is a really small town. Everybody knows everybody. We come from a poverty-stricken community. But I remember a lot of blue collar people and hard workers, and just loved growing up in a small town like that.
And when things happen, big things or bad things, the community came together. And it was kind of like a Friday Night Lights kind of town—except for, reverse role, it was wrestling. We had a good wrestling population, good wrestling team. So the community really supported our wrestling at our school.
Cody Garbrandt – Fighting Was Our Normal
My family grew up fighting. And sometimes negative environments, but sometimes controlled violence as well. My uncle was an amateur boxer. My grandfather boxed, my father boxed, my other uncle boxed. it was just, we had a fighting family and that’s where it came from.
That’s all I knew was fighting at an early age. I was around it. I went to the fights. My grandfather took us to our uncle’s fights. And he would get so drunk that he’d end up fighting in the stands. And we’d watch Grandpa fighting in the stands with some other spectator or some other person that was there. And we would watch him fight, and watch our uncle fight, and then we’d go home. So it was just normal for us.
As far back I remember I wanted to be a fighter. I’ve always had fighting around my life, whether it was negative or positive. And I took the positive from it.
A Faith Life Challenged, Changed, and Renewed
My faith basis is from my uncle. He was tried as an adult at 15 years old – life sentence. Was incarcerated, and acquitted of charges 23 months later. And he’s the one that led us to God and led us to going to church and having a relationship with the Lord.
He had an epiphany in [prison], and he told us all how he felt a pressure come off his chest and gave himself to the Lord there.
And he would encourage us go to church. He would pick us up, and we’d go to church and spend Sunday morning [there]. Before we even knew who the Lord was, I’d always talk to someone as a child, you know, you’re in your head. So I always had that belief in a higher power, and I came to the realization that it was the Lord, that it was God that I was talking to.
And we found a new church in Sugarcreek, Ohio, called New Point Church. It was a church that I went to in my early age early adult life from teenager to till present day. I still try to attend when I’m in Ohio. But there’s a lot of churches I bounce around in.
When I was in high school I kind of just started going on my own and wanting to have a relationship with the Lord. When I was going through things, [I knew] I could always fall back on Him. I always knew that when I went to the church services, no matter where I was at my life, I always felt like the Lord was speaking to me, and I took something from that service and what the message was to be shared. And I just always felt that I was changed, challenged, and renewed after a good church service. And I kept my relationship with the Lord.
Chasing the Dream to Be a World Champion
My uncle was our father figure in our life, once he got out of prison. He was a former amateur boxer and continued his career once he was released from prison.
He would take us to the gym, take us to restaurants, to dinner, to lunches, and would take us school shopping, fishing, whatever he could do with us to spend time with us.
You know, I always remember wanting to be like my uncle.
I got to be about 11 or 12 years old and I saw the UFC Ultimate Fighting Championship on TV. I wrestled at the time, and I also boxed without my mom knowing. My uncle would take us off to the gym and we’d spar and we had pads. My mom wasn’t too fond of us you know boxing and the fear of being punch drunk and other things a mother would worry about. So my uncle would take us twatchio the gym we’d spar and train secretly until it was just inevitable that we would want to do this follow his footsteps.
And there was a show on Spike TV that was called The Ultimate Fighter where about 16 contestants would live in a house, and they would fight each other for a contract to the UFC to make it to the UFC. I remember watching that show and visualizing myself being on the way to getting on the show and winningou the contract and becoming a UFC star and champion.
And I’ve always had that dream of being a world champion. I always believed in myself too. I always believed that I would make it to the UFC and I would be a world champion. I always had that faith in myself. And I dreamed so big that I knew I had the courage to chase it, that God placed that dream in my heart. No matter what I was going through, even in my darkest times as I grew up—I was in and out of trouble, a lot of fights or at parties making wrong decisions—I always had that little flash of light at the end of the tunnel was being a world champion.
“I always believed that I would make it to the UFC and I would be a world champion.”- Cody Garbrandt
And that’s what I held onto over the years, just chasing this dream and always believing in myself.
Cody Garbrandt’s Physical & Mental Training
So I have a pretty vigorous, tough training schedule. But I love it because you have to train as hard as you’re going to fight. If you train hard, then the fight will be easier.
Training is day in and day out. It’s a grind, I call it “the grind.” It’s embracing the grind, embracing the pain. Everyday you’ve got to get up and have your work ethic judged. You get every fresh day to have a new start, a new start in this life that you’re working towards.
And for me it’s a challenge. If I have upcoming fight, I have a vision board. I have goals and dreams and everything written out before the camp that I have to achieve during my camp, from the smallest tasks of getting up early and making sure everything is in order before I get to the gym. I’m there early. I’m doing the smallest things, from my stretching to my mobility.
As much as physical work you put in, you also have to do the mental side of it. I also go to float therapy. It’s a deprivation tank. I lay in there for an hour and just get lost in myself and float on top of the Epsom salt. I go into this dream state and just visualize, and I usually do my prayer. I speak to the Lord, whatever thoughts and feelings come into mind, I just let it go and get detached with myself mentally, physically, spiritually in the float tanks.
The Young Friend Who Changed Everything
Narrator: Cody trained hard to become the world champion fighter he always wanted to be. He experienced some setbacks as a young adult, making decisions he wasn’t proud of, and grew frustrated with the long road to the UFC. However, his inspiration to keep going came from an unlikely young friend.
Cody Garbrandt: When I met Maddux Maple, he was a five-year-old boy from the same hometown as I was, and he was diagnosed with leukemia.
My brother reached out to me, and I was an amateur fighter trying to make my ranks up to the pro trying to make this as a career. And I had a lot of adversity and wrong decisions and bad decisions that I made that were delaying me from the road that I should have been on. [Maddux and I] met in unfortunate circumstances, with his early diagnosis with leukemia and his battle, and what I was going through. I was trying to get back on in the gym and back to my passion back to my dream that I wanted to be a world champion for so long.
Like I said, I kept making a horrible decisions and just kind of living carelessly until I met Maddux Maple. And he kind of change my life. He redirected my faith, my focus, my purpose in life after meeting him and sitting down with his family.
“[Maddux Maple] redirected my faith, my focus, my purpose in life after meeting him and sitting down with his family.” – Cody Garbrandt
The first time meeting him, I left there and I knew that I had more to live for than how I was living life. It gave me more purpose in my fighting career. And it was a bond that we made. And I would always come see him. He would walk me out to my fights from amateur all the way up to the pro.
I had so much motivation and inspiration from him through the battle that he fought every day to get up and fight for his life. This five-year-old kid found the inner strength to be able to do that. It really helped me in my career to go and push myself into practice and go in there and fight and keep fighting and be getting this experience so I could go to the pros, so I could go to the UFC and become a world champion. And I really leaned on him a lot for motivation inspiration when I needed the most.
And about seven months left of him taking his chemotherapy, he wanted to give up, he wanted to die. He didn’t want to do it anymore. His parents called me.
They called me and said they needed my help. They needed something to get that little boy’s heart turned around, and they knew that it could be me. He looked up to me so much.
It was a phone call that really made my heart sink. You know, this was a boy that turned into my little brother. I didn’t know what endeI was going to say to him. What will I do to change his little heart?
I [called him up and] said, “Maddux, if you don’t take this medicine, you’re going to die. Who’s going to walk me out to the octagon? Who’s going to walk me out to these fights? I don’t go to battle alone. You don’t go to battle alone. And you know I need you there. I love having you there. I tell you what, I’ll make you this promise. You don’t complain about taking your medicine to your parents for your seven months left, you’ve been doing so well. You promise me that you’ll take your medicine without complaint and beat cancer, I promise you I’ll make it to the UFC and I’ll take you to every fight with me and we’ll win the World Title together.”
I took a big deep breath, and he said, “Okay, Cody, I promise you that.”
We kept in touch, obviously, and every time I come back to Ohio, I’d see him. And seven months later he still took his chemo.
On August 25th he called me. And he said, “Cody!”
I said, “What’s going on, buddy?”
And he had a smile ear to ear me, I mean, he was happy as can be. And he said, “I kept my end of the promise. Now it’s your turn to keep your end of the promise. I am done with my chemo treatments, I’m in remission now.”
And at that time my life, it really, really lit a fire under me. I was so motivated and focused. I went out to Sacramento. I was 4-0 as a pro, I was so close to getting into the UFC. I was knocking on the door. And I just needed a little boost of inspiration, motivation from him. And that’s what it was.
I finally got signed to the UFC at three months after he was in remission. It was a series of events that was huge for us in our life. We finally got there. I ended up keeping my promise to make it to the UFC.
And he was there for my first UFC fight. I ended up knocking my opponent out. I said, “There’s a little boy and I’ve got to give him a shout out.” He was so happy. And the security guards let him come down in MGM in Las Vegas and give me a big hug, and he had tears in his eyes. He was so happy for me.
That was a great moment. I said, “This is just a start. We’re in now. And we’re going to go to the top, and we’re going to do this, we’re going to set out to be world champions together.”
“We’re in now. And we’re going to go to the top, and we’re going to do this, we’re going to set out to be world champions together.” – Cody Garbrandt
It took us a little under two years to reach our goal of becoming a world champion. And on December 30th, 2016, I was able to keep and fulfill my promise with Maddux that we made to become a world champion together.
“On December 30th, 2016, I was able to keep and fulfill my promise with Maddux that we made to become a world champion together.” – Cody Garbrandt
Everyone Has the Power to Be a Role Model
I think that everyone has the power to become a role model.
I was in no position at the time to become a role model—it kind of just happened naturally. I kind of was led into a leadership role.
“Everyone has the power become a role model.” – Cody Garbrandt
I’m remember being chosen as team captain on my football team and wrestling team. I remember telling the coach that I was no captain, I wasn’t a team captain, I kind of did my own thing. And you know, coming to meet Maddux and everyone saying, “You’re a hero, you’re role model to this kidpeae,” I looked at it in a different light. He was an inspiration, and almost a role model to me, but that molded me to being a role model for him.
“He was an inspiration, and almost a role model to me, but that molded me to being a role model for him. “ – Cody Garbrandt
I think everyone has the power to be the role model, just doing the smallest things right. From the smallest things: keeping the focus, keeping the dream, keeping the faith, no matter where you’re at in your life, your highest of highs and lows of lows. Keeping that balance and just staying staying focused. And positivity. I mean staying staying positive through it all, I think, is how anyone can be a role model. If you have this positivity, you can spread that positivity to anybody and whatever they’re going through in their life.
When We Trust God, He Brings Good Things
Narrator: Cody believes that God gives us the dreams that are in our hearts, and when we trust Him, He can bring good from our lives. He reiterates this point by sharing the May 10th devotion from Jesus Calling.
Do not resist or run from the difficulties in your life. These problems are not random mistakes; they are hand-tailored blessings designed for your benefit and growth. Embrace all the circumstances that I allow in your life, trusting Me to bring good out of them. View problems as opportunities to rely more fully on Me.
When you start to feel stressed, let those feelings alert you to your need for Me. Thus, your needs become doorways to deep dependence on Me and increasing intimacy between us. Although self-sufficiency is acclaimed in the world, reliance on Me produces abundant living in My kingdom. Thank Me for the difficulties in your life since they provide protection from the idolatry of self-reliance.
Yeah I think that that’s a great message for whatever you’re going through.
I’m forever grateful for a lot of the losses or the setbacks or the delays that God gives me in my life because I learn from them, I grow from them—in all levels of my life, spiritually, physically, mentally. I just know that God’s willing to do great things in my life. I choose to keep my faith through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.
If God gives you a dream and He allows you to dream, then He gives you the courage to chase it, to do it. There’s a reason why He planted those dreams in your mind and heart.
“If God gives you a dream and He allows you to dream, then He gives you the courage to chase it.” – Cody Garbrandt
The words of encouragement I would give to someone that’s facing the fight of their life: never give up. It’s all worth it. I mean, the pain that you go through, that adversity, the hardships, the trials and tribulations, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
Narrator: You can learn more about Cody and Maddux’s friendship in Cody’s new book, The Pact, available wherever books are sold.
Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with Jack and Marsha Countryman. Jack has been in the Christian publishing industry for over 30 years, with Marsha by his side, and created the beloved “God’s Promises” series of books. Jack and Marsha share how working hard and seeking God together has helped to keep their marriage strong for over 50 years.
Jack: I find the secret of marriage is to lift your partner up at all times. Listen to her. Respect her. Have no secrets from her. Because she is your helpmate, and God has given her to you to bless your life. And she blesses me everyday.