Paula Faris: There are times I felt like—I remember after we had moved to New York, shortly after, I was like, “God, I think I’m going to lose my religion if you don’t show up soon.” It was just one thing after another. And I think knowing in hindsight that God is using those moments to really refine us and to test us, to test our trust in Him.
When God Changes Our Direction: Paula Faris & Jason Brown – Episode #259
Narrator: Welcome to the Jesus Calling Podcast. Many of us have had a moment in our lives that define us as people and as servants of God—and sometimes that moment comes at a fork in the road. Which path will you take? The one you’ve worked hard for and the world tells you you should want? Or the one God wants you to take? It’s almost guaranteed that every time you decide to take the Lord’s path, you will encounter mountains of blessings that you’d never have expected.
ABC News reporter Paula Faris was at the height of her career when she faced a devastating series of tragedies that forced her to slow down and recognize that God was calling her to go in another direction. Former NFL lineman Jason Brown had worked hard to make his way up the football ladder, eventually becoming the highest-paid center in the sport. It seemed he had everything he wanted, but the luxurious lifestyle he pursued took his focus off his family and marriage which began to suffer, causing him to reassess what he really wanted out of life.
Let’s begin with Paula’s story.
Paula: My name is Paula Faris, and I reference myself as a journalist, a podcaster, an author and speaker, but when it really comes down to it, I’m a mom, I’m a wife, I’m a Jesus lover, I’m curious. I ask a lot of questions and I like to champion and challenge people. That’s how I describe myself.
A Natural Curiosity
My nickname growing up was “Paula twenty questions.” So I’ve just had this natural, innate curiosity for life since I was born, that’s the way that I was made. I never thought that it would turn into one of my strengths, but lo and behold, it helped me to be a pretty effective broadcaster and journalist.
I honestly had no idea what I wanted to do with my life growing up. I didn’t grow up thinking, Oh, I want to be Diane Sawyer, I want to be Barbara Walters or Connie Chang. That wasn’t even in the realm of possibility. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a really small town with a cornfield in my backyard and didn’t know to dream like that, but it just never even crossed my mind. So it took somebody speaking life into me and speaking life into that particular talent and gift that I had that gave me the courage I needed and the belief in myself to go for it.
When I’m interviewing somebody, when I’m talking with somebody, even my friends, I just like to hear the vulnerability in their story. I like to hear a side to their story that other people have not heard and to connect with them on that level. And I think part of that just comes from the way that I’m wired. Some would just say nosy, but I just have this inner fire in me. I want to learn more about people. And maybe it’s the journalist in me who wants to learn more about their stories that can help encourage and equip other people because I think we have so much as humans to learn from one another. There’s something unique that we each hold in our own story. And I want to be able to help pull that out of other people’s stories, whether it’s an untold or an underrated aspect to their story.
And when you put people at ease, in many regards, they just open up and they tell you—I can’t tell you how many times after an interview my subjects would come up to me or the interviewees would come up to me and say, “I have never talked about that before.” When you put people at ease and you just look people in the eye and you say, “I want to hear more about you. I want you to feel seen. I want you to feel heard because I care,” people will open up and they’ll become vulnerable and tell you things that maybe they didn’t think that they had the courage to share.
Leading With Love
I call myself a Christian in many regards because my parents grew up Catholic, so I was born into a Catholic environment, had my first communion, and we left the Catholic church when I was in late primary years and middle school. We started going to a Lutheran church and I was confirmed in the Lutheran church. And then I went to a Baptist high school because I grew up in a very small town, and then I went to a Bible college, a very evangelical conservative Christian Bible College after high school.
But the common thread through all of that, my parents had belonged to this—I would call it a non-denominational, kind of ecumenical, Pentecostal group of believers called Morning Star Christian Community. And it was birthed out of the Catholic charismatic renewal in the sixties and early seventies. It was Sunday night worship, and Saturday we would have what we would call households or small groups. And it didn’t take away from our everyday Sunday church. This was in addition to our Sunday church and it pulled from Baptist churches. We had Baptists there, we had Catholics, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Episcopalians. So everyone had their home church, and then on Sunday night, we would go to what we would call a prayer meeting at the YMCA. So I call myself a Christian mutt because I literally feel like I’ve kind of seen it all. And at the end of the day, I think what’s most important is that we don’t get caught up in the differences, but that we can unite on some of the main tenets of the Bible, and that if you are Christians, they’ll know you’re Christians by your love for one another. We can fight over our doctrine and we can fight over, you know, certain things that honestly, at the end of the day don’t really matter. And so I think having such a diverse religious background growing up has given me a unique perspective in that the most important thing at the end of the day is that if we are Christians, they’ll know it by our love for one another. And we need to lead with love.
“And at the end of the day, I think what’s most important is that we don’t get caught up in the differences, but that we can unite on some of the main tenets of the Bible…the most important thing at the end of the day is that if we are Christians, they’ll know it by our love for one another.” – Paula Faris
Faith Is the Glue
And I’ll be honest, I describe my background as a Christian mutt, but it was a long time before the faith of my fathers became the faith for myself. And I think that’s something that we all have to press into. We have to address those big existential questions and answer those. And we need to have an answer for the hope that is within us. And I didn’t have an answer for a long time for some of those big questions. And it takes you digging in, asking yourself those hard questions, researching, studying the Bible. There’s scientific, psychological, anthropological, you name it, proof that Jesus existed and that Christianity is real and that God is real. And I think we owe it to not only ourselves, but we owe it to unbelievers to have a reason for the hope that is within us. And that took a long time for me to foster.
“I think we owe it to not only ourselves, but we owe it to unbelievers to have a reason for the hope that is within us.” – Paula Faris
But for me, the faith of my fathers did not become my own faith until I was probably in my twenties and thirties and early in my marriage. I got married when I was very young. I married my college sweetheart. We’ve been married for a few years, but we were on the brink of divorce after a couple of years of marriage. And my faith, our faith, is the glue that held us together when all we wanted to do was run. And because faith has been such a big part of my life and our life, my husband’s and my life together, I just think it naturally is something that I can’t not talk about because it’s who I am. It’s my core value. And I can’t imagine not having faith in my life.
Just a couple of years ago when I decided to pump the brakes at the height of my career when I was anchoring Good Morning America Weekends and co-hosting The View, I really sensed God saying, “I need you to slow down.” And I was like, “Yeah, I don’t think so, God, you brought me here, this is my gift. Right? Isn’t this the call on my life? Isn’t this the one thing that I was born to do? I’m not going to walk away from that.” And God allowed a series of events in my life. I knew I had a peace in my spirit that I was supposed to step back, but I was so scared about it. I was scared of what people would think if I pumped the brakes at the height of my career and I was like, “Yeah, I’m not going to, I’m not going to do that, God, I’m too scared.” I was bound by what the world said instead of being bound by what God promised me.
And I think God allows sometimes tragedy to happen in our life to get it through to slow down and focus on the opportunity. And within a matter of seven months, I had five major events happen. I had a miscarriage with an emergency surgery the day I had a huge explosive, interview booked with Sean Spicer, and I had to do that interview while I was miscarrying. And I had a concussion at work. It was a freak accident. Some kid threw an object at my head about sixty miles an hour right before I went live on Good Morning America. And I had a concussion. I had to basically rest for three weeks, which was very hard for me. And the day I got cleared to go back to work from that concussion, I got in a head-on car crash. And then I had influenza, which turned into pneumonia. And those five events were within less than seven months of my life.
And it’s like, “Okay, God.” I knew that He was asking me to slow down and I refused to do it and He had to slow me down and He slowed me down through that series of events. And it was in that moment I just had to say, “Okay, God, I know you want me to pump the brakes. I don’t know why you’re doing this, but I know that I need to get my life back. I need to get my priorities in order. I need to stop being addicted to my career and the spotlight and the accolades and the achievement.” And it was in that space where once I decided to pump the brakes and walk away from Good Morning America Weekend and walk away from The View, God really revealed to me that I didn’t know who I was outside of my job and that my eggs had been in this basket and my entire identity and purpose were consumed in this thing that could shift, my job. So often, we misplace our significance in things that shift: our bank account, our relationship. And it was in that space where God really just gave me a word and allowed me to struggle, but allowed me to discover what true purpose and quality really mean that aren’t tied to a thing. And I had to find out the parts of me that wouldn’t change and I had to find out who I was outside of what I did.
“I know that I need to get my life back. I need to get my priorities in order. I need to stop being addicted to my career and the spotlight and the accolade and the achievement.” And it was in that space where once I decided to pump the brakes and walk away from Good Morning America Weekend and walk away from The View, God really revealed to me that I didn’t know who I was outside of my job and that my eggs had been in this basket and my entire identity and purpose were consumed in this thing that could shift, my job.” – Paula Faris
I liken it to when God asked Joshua to take down the city of Jericho. He asked him to circle seven times. And I think so often we’re in this circling phase where we know there’s something on the other side of it and we just want to take down the city. But God has asked us first and foremost to circle, and He asked Joshua to circle. He didn’t say, “I need you to circle seven times.” He just said, “Circle the city and be ready.” And so it’s in this holding pattern that I think it can be the most painful and the most monotonous, but it’s what produces the most growth. And trying to keep a positive mindset when you’re in that valley, when you’re circling that city, that this is where the growth is happening and God is getting ready to start a new chapter and write a new chapter in your life. But right now, He’s testing you. He’s testing us. He’s refining us. He’s helping us to discover muscles we did not know exist. And it is painful. But the pain is going to produce a promise. The pain is going to produce the blessing. The pain is going to produce something that we could never have imagined.
“Trying to keep a positive mindset when you’re in that valley, when you’re circling that city, that this is where the growth is happening and God is getting ready to start a new chapter and write a new chapter in your life.” – Paula Faris
Finding Time to Talk to God
I don’t want to just have five or ten minutes out of the day where I’m talking to God, I try to talk to God throughout my day, and I’m the type of person where I need encouragement throughout the day. So for me, it’s a daily conversation. God is always by my side. And so sometimes if I’m in the moment, “Jesus, give me strength to help me with this particular task right now,” listening to music, worshiping throughout the day. So for me, it’s not a segment of my day. It’s my whole day. I just try to be in constant contact. I try to be in constant conversation and tuned in to God throughout my day. And that’s trying to be intentional about the types of things that I’m reading, the conversations that I’m having with people, listening for God to speak through people, through podcasts, through books, through sermons, through scriptures, making sure that the music that I’m listening to—for me, my spirit is very sensitive. Let’s treat Him like He’s in the room. Let’s treat Him like He’s right there. And so I think that’s really been my approach. And I just try to stay connected in every aspect and really guard my heart and my spirit and my mind.
“I don’t want to just have five, ten minutes out of the day where I’m talking to God, I try to talk to God throughout my day, and I’m the type of person where I need encouragement throughout the day. So for me, it’s a daily conversation. God is always by my side.” – Paula Faris
Jesus is calling us throughout the day and in every moment. And sometimes we’re too busy to see it, too busy to hear it. But it’s up to us to make sure that we’re looking for it. And once we’re looking for it and we don’t treat God like a ten-minute check-in every day, that we’re treating our relationship as an ongoing 24/7 communication relationship, it really can just change our perspective and change the intimacy and the dynamic of our relationship with God.
This is Jesus Calling for June 20th.
I speak to you continually. My nature is to communicate, though not always in words. I fling glorious sunsets across the sky, day after day after day. I speak in the faces and voices of loved ones. I caress you with a gentle breeze that refreshes and delights you. I speak softly in the depths of your spirit, where I have taken up residence.
You can find Me in each moment, when you have eyes that see and ears that hear. Ask My Spirit to sharpen your spiritual eyesight and hearing. I rejoice each time you discover My Presence. Practice looking and listening for Me during quiet intervals. Gradually you will find Me in more and more of your moments. You will seek Me and find Me, when you seek Me above all else.
That’s so good. That is so good and it is at the heart of asking the spirit to sharpen your spiritual eyesight and your hearing so that you’re looking for God, you’re looking for Jesus calling you throughout the day. Once you ask the Spirit to come into your life and to allow you to see things in a new way, you will. And it’ll transform your relationship with God. It will transform your belief in God, it’ll transform the way that you see God. And you’ll start seeing Him in the sunsets across the sky. You’ll start to hear Him in the voices of loved ones and in the faces of loved ones. And you’ll feel Him in that gentle breeze and you’ll hear Him speaking softly in the depths of your spirit. But it’s up to us to ask the spirit to sharpen our eyesight so that those scales can fall off, so that we can see things fully and hear things fully and feel God fully.
“Once you ask the spirit to come into your life and to allow you to see things in a new way, you will. And it’ll transform your relationship with God. It will transform your belief in God, it’ll transform the way that you see God. And you’ll start seeing Him in the sunsets across the sky. You’ll start to hear Him in the voices of loved ones and in the faces of loved ones. And you’ll feel Him in that gentle breeze and you’ll hear Him speaking softly in the depths of your spirit.” – Paula Faris
Listening to Voices of Faith
When I launched that faith podcast at ABC News—and I’m no longer with ABC News, I left the fall of 2020. The reason was I knew faith was so important to me and I could not separate myself from it. And I knew as a journalist, especially working in the “secular space”, that faith wasn’t something that we talked about a lot. Or if our guests did talk about it, it typically would hit the cutting room floor because it’s just too divisive and, you know, “Do people really care?” But I wanted to give people a voice for their faith to talk about how their faith guided them in their big decisions and how they see the world. And that’s why I launched Journeys of Faith at ABC. I’ve since left ABC and I’ve launched a new Faith & Calling Podcast, and it’s definitely through a faith lens. But what I want to do is just have these real open conversations with my friends, new friends and old friends, about things that we’re all going through. That’s what I want to do. I’m sitting down with friends, old and new, and asking people to join the conversation regarding these inspirational aspects to my guest’s stories that are untold or undertold, all to encourage and equip the listener and give them something to walk away with so that they can be the best version of themselves.
I’m praying that God surrounds me with the right people because I know when God calls you to do something, He also equips you. But I now know that I don’t have to be one thing for the rest of my life, and it’s given me great permission and just this release to branch out to try new things that God has put on my heart, which so often my fear had paralyzed me from stepping into these new areas. Oh, I can’t do that. Plus I’m a broadcaster or I can’t do that, people see me in another capacity. So peel back those layers of what you’re good at, what you love, and what other people notice you’re good at and you love. This season that we’re in when we move to South Carolina—we left the bright lights of New York City. We love it here. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t allowed to to miss things about your last chapter.
But I know that I am in this space and in this new season for a reason, and I have to continue to trust God even when I feel like I’m circling. It’s not a convenient faith. It’s real to me and it’s proven to me and God exists to me, not just in my heart, but in my mind. And because of that and because God has carried my husband and I through really hard times, through the ups and downs of life, I cannot separate myself from it. And I know without a doubt that Jesus and God and the Holy Spirit are real to me. And they can be real for you as well.
Narrator: To learn more about Paula Faris and her new podcast, the Faith and Calling Podcast, please visit www.paulafarisofficial.com. And be sure to check out her newest book, Called Out, wherever books are sold.
Stay tuned to Jason Brown’s story after this brief message.
New 365-Day Devotional from Jesus Calling’s Sarah Young!
Many of us want to develop a deeper prayer life. In this new 365 day devotional, Jesus Listens, Sarah Young offers daily prayers based on Scripture that will help you experience how intentional prayer can connect you to God and change your heart. Learn more about Jesus Listens and download a free sample at jesuscalling.com/jesuslistens.
Our next guest is former NFL player Jason Brown. Jason had it all—the millions in the bank he’d set out to earn, the fame, the glittering lights, everything he’d ever hoped to achieve on earth. But he wanted to be remembered as something more than just “Jason Brown, football player.” He recounts his journey trying to stay faithful while in the NFL, and how materialism got a grip on him, until one night, he had a come-to-Jesus moment in his home that led to the founding of First Fruits Farm, a nonprofit organization that annually donates millions of pounds of food to those who need it.
Jason: My name is Jason Brown, a former professional football player and now founder of First Fruits Farm here in Louisburg, North Carolina.
Henderson, that’s my hometown. That’s where I was born and raised and I grew up. That’s right up the road. I always knew that I was going to come back close to where I grew up and give back. You know, you hear those cliches where people say, “Oh when you leave and you make it big, you’re going to forget where you came from.” And I always told myself, I’m a small-town guy. I’m never going to forget where I came from.
You know, growing up in the south in the Bible Belt, it was a very humble lifestyle. My mother made sure we went to church every Sunday, whether we liked it or not, all right? I was playing church a little bit. I knew Jesus was calling, all right? But I didn’t take that calling very seriously because I had big dreams for myself. I wanted to live my life and exactly what that meant. And even as a teenager, I just remember that that definitely meant, you know, security, fortune, and fame. My goal was to be a millionaire by the time I was thirty and to retire by the time I was thirty-five.
Football started to become fairly easy for me because there are so many things that I began to sacrifice and so many things that really motivated me in such a dramatic way. And one of those was my older brother, Lunsford Bernard Brown II, he joined the United States Army in early September of 2001. And, you know, literally just a week later on September 11th, everybody knows what happened. And eventually, he paid the ultimate sacrifice on September 20th of 2003 and he was slain in Iraq. And so that caused just such a deep reflection for me in saying that, “Look, if my brother can go through and have done some of those things that are much worse and strenuous and more difficult than I could ever imagine, then honestly, you know, what is the game of football?” You know, “What are sports?” And so at that time for me, I just focused on pouring my passion into honoring his memory and honoring his legacy.
When Lunsford passed, it literally pulled the rug from underneath me as far as everything that I thought I knew or I thought it was real, because I said to myself, “If someone that you love, so close and dear to you, can be taken away from you just like that within a blink of an eye…” I was questioning what’s real and also what’s the point of any of this? And I thought about dropping out of school. I thought about quitting football at the time. And my mother forced me to go back to school. She said, “Look, I know that you lost your older brother, but you have a football team of brothers down there at UNC Chapel Hill that you need to surround yourself with so that they can love on you and they can encourage you.” And that’s what I did. I went back and they helped me out at one of the lowest points in my life. There’s a lot of sports programs, they talk about family and they talk about family being first and sports second, and most times it’s all talk. But Carolina really came through when I was at my lowest point because they really, really just surrounded me in love and built me back up.
A Career Takes Off
Praise the Lord, I finished up with a very successful career at Carolina and I propelled myself to be one of the highest-ranked interior offensive linemen for the 2005 NFL draft. For most people, just making it to the NFL, that’s more than good enough. But for me, it had to make more sense than that. What do you want people to truly remember you by at the end of your life? And honestly, even though I knew that I was pretty decent at playing football at the time and that I was going to have a pretty decent career ahead of me playing football, I really didn’t want people to remember me as a football player. There are many more sides to Jason Brown. I knew that eventually, I was going to move more towards a purpose-filled lifestyle. I just didn’t know what that was or what it looked like at the time. So towards the end of my career and when I did finally, you know, hit free agency, I was blessed to be paid with the highest contract for a center at the time, and my original goal of being a millionaire by the time I was thirty and retiring by the time I was thirty-five, God allowed me to just literally shatter both of those goals.
“What do you want people to truly remember you by at the end of your life?” – Jason Brown
When I saw that many zeros in my bank account and when Tay and I both reunited in marriage in St. Louis, I wish that I could say that, “Yes, it brought out the best in me.” But guess what? We purchased an MTV Cribs-style mansion. We were living the life of fortune and fame. And the thing is that we lost a bit of ourselves, we lost a little bit of our focus on faith and family at the time, because we were just so, so far out there in the world.
Everybody on the outside thought that we were this picture-perfect family, but on the inside, behind closed doors, we weren’t. We were still going to church every single Sunday, and we knew the talk and the lingo of how to put on the fakeness and the front of being a good Christian. Right? But when we left the church and came back home, you know, there was no true mission. There was no true obedience to Christ. And so that went on for several years.
“Everybody on the outside thought that we were this picture perfect family, but on the inside, behind closed doors, we weren’t. We were still going to church every single Sunday, and we knew the talk and the lingo of how to put on the fakeness and the front of being a good Christian. Right? But when we left church and came back home, you know, there was no true mission. There was no true obedience to Christ.” – Jason Brown
My coming to Jesus moment was late 2011, walking through that large mansion in St. Louis and it had grown pretty cold in our family room, pretty cold in our marriage at the time, yet being a strong football player, I told myself, “I can just fight through this and just push through and everything is going to be alright.” But you know what? Life doesn’t work that way at times. You know, you can’t just fight and push your way through. It takes humility and surrender. And I did not have that when it came to true love and loving Christ. And so I walk into that home one evening. It was about eleven-thirty at night. Jesus stopped me right in my tracks and He said, “Jason, today.” and I said, “No, Jesus, I’m fine, I’ll repent tomorrow. I’ll humble myself and I’ll come to you tomorrow.” And Jesus said, “No, today.” And again, I said, “Jesus, look, I’m fine. We’ve had this conversation before. I’ll repent and I’ll get my life right when I’m good and ready.” And Jesus loved me so much that He showed me a vision of my future in crystal clear high definition. And He began to show me the brokenness. He began to show me the divorce, the bankruptcy. He showed me that I wasn’t even in the same state as Tay and my children. I was down on my knees in repentance and I said, “Please forgive me.”
Because of my success and my pride in sports and football, it developed an arrogance that I thought I was strong enough and smart enough to be in control and to fight hard enough in my flesh and figure this thing out. And Jesus simply told me that there’s nothing that you can do in and of yourself that can bring about the faithfulness that He desires for me, and not success from the world, but true faithfulness in Him and love that can only come through obedience and submission to Christ.
“Because of my success and my pride in sports and football, it developed an arrogance that I thought I was strong enough and smart enough to be in control and to fight hard enough in my flesh and figure this thing out. And Jesus simply told me that there’s nothing that you can do in and of yourself that can bring about the faithfulness that He desires for me.” – Jason Brown
That’s when Jesus placed it on my heart about feeding His people and moving towards agriculture and farming. And of course, I’m thinking, Man, this is the craziest thing I’ve ever heard of in my life. Like, you know, that I know nothing about farming. I know nothing about agriculture, like, what are you doing?
And Jesus, He just said, “Look, just continue to walk in faith. I’ll supply your every need. I’ll make sure I place the proper people, the resources. Just continue to walk in faith,” and that’s where the crazy moments come, where people start to look at me and they literally think I’m crazy. Nobody walks away from the NFL, nobody walks away from that much money so you can go to a farm and get dirty every single day. For most people, it makes no sense in the world. But for me and my walk with Christ, it makes all the sense, because it is walking in obedience. And so when God placed it on our hearts to be farmers and to work the land, we said, “All right, God, whatever land you bless us with, we are going to name it First Fruits Farm. And we’re going to give your people, our neighbors who you have called us to love, the first fruits of whatever is produced and grown from the land.”
And so we’ve been blessed to have thousands, several unique visitors of thousands of volunteers at our farm every single year to help us to grow, harvest, and give in love. This is about Jason Brown humbling himself, stepping out of the way, and literally saying, “Don’t look at me. You need to look at God. All right?” Because this isn’t a Jason Brown thing. This isn’t a monetary thing. This isn’t an NFL thing. This is all a God thing.
If you’d like to hear more stories where God steered someone’s life toward a new direction, check out our interview with Zim Flores.
Narrator: Next time on the Jesus Calling Podcast, we speak with Jamie Kern Lima, who founded the billion-dollar company IT Cosmetics in her living room. Jamie shares how she went from underestimated to unstoppable, with the help of God.
Jamie Kern Lima: I think knowing when to let go of a dream is as important as when to go after one. And I just made this decision to trust this feeling that was on my heart and I didn’t know how it was going to work out. I didn’t feel qualified, but I really felt like it was so strong that it must be part of my calling, and I just decided to trust it.