Growing up in Canada, thanksgiving was the second Monday in October. It was a special day often spent with extended family and being intentional to thank God for His provision and faithfulness. Then, as November rolled in, we settled into the cold and often snow that was going to be around for the next few months and looked ahead to the Christmas season. But what a special day it was when on the last Thursday in November, I could come home from school and turn on NFL football. It was not a holiday in Canada, but it was like a celebration because there was football on in the middle of the week.
Only years later, when I would move to the US would I celebrate Thanksgiving in November, too (my wife and our family celebrate Canadian thanksgiving too). I still enjoy the football games, but the holiday and the family time are among the most special in the year.
So as I tribute to Thanksgiving this year, and in recognition of my Throwback Thursday series, I would like to shine my blog spotlight on 2 of the running backs I watched in my youth in Canada on U.S. Thanksgiving days.
Here is an article about the Thanksgiving Day resumes of these 2 great backs.
In 1997, I attended my first NFL game. Lions versus Bears in Chicago. Not knowing any better, I wore a Barry Sanders jersey to Soldier Field. I heard all about it, but Sanders did not let me down. He rushed for 161 yards and the Lions won 32-7. Later that season, Sanders would have his best Thanksgiving day game of his career, agains versus the Bears. He rushed for 167 yards and 3 touchdowns en route to a 55-20 Lions victory. Here is a collection of Barry Sanders highlights. His 3 TDs against the bears start at about the 8:30 mark but the whole video is worth a look.
But as fun as it was to watch Sanders on the field, it brings me a greater sense of happiness to share about his faith in God. As you can read in this interview from Forerunner, Sanders strives to live for God and has surrounded himself with people to help keep him on track. It was in college where Sanders became a Christian. He says “Then I met some people who challenged me to a greater commitment – people who really loved God and were walking with God with no compromise. They weren’t afraid to get in my face and challenge me. That’s the point when I was saved”.
As for Emmitt Smith, who scored 13 touchdowns in his career on Thanksgiving Day games, it was a detour on his way to a concert that changed his life. As you can hear in the video below, Smith was encountering some turbulence in his career. Check out the video.
He says “Turbulence itself will make you hold on to something”. So in the midst of the turbulence, the verse that his grandmother shared with him when he was a boy came back to him. Proverbs 3.5-6
Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
Smith was invited to attend a conference at the Potter’s House with T.D. Jakes. It was there that Emmitt Smith turned his life over to Jesus. He continued to become the all-time leading rusher in NFL history and an NFL Hall of Famer. He even went on to win Dancing with the Stars season 3. He and his wife have started the Pat and Emmitt Smith Charities to help people dream big and find a purpose for their life. Emmitt and Pat know that Jesus is what brings purpose to life, so their desire for others to know Him motivates their charity work and every aspect of their life.
Here are my takeaways from their stories:
1 – Humility is important – One of the attributes that marked Barry Sanders career was the lack of showboating and grandstanding. He was known as a humble man on the field and it showed in how he played the game. In his letter to the Galatians (chapter 6) Paul writes “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (verse 14). Our accomplishments and all that we can attain in this life are meaningless and worthless. Only Jesus and what He has done matters in life. In the grand scheme of things, our life only has purpose if we are following Him!
2- Hold On! – Emmitt Smith talks about turbulence. It made me think of a day cruise my wife and I took to the Bahamas to close down our ministry base in 2005. It was a rough day on the ocean and the boat was full of people who were not handling it well. They were mostly sitting down, struggling for balance and struggling to keep their lunch from making another appearance. Many were unsuccessful in one or both of these struggles. Everyone was kind of holding on for dear life. I like the analogy that Smith uses here. When life is starting to rough us up a little, we hold on to what we know to be true. That is why I think it is so vital to teach kids about God. Even if they have a season in their life when they are not walking with Him, if they have a little something in there to grab on to when times are tough, He will bring it to the surface again. That is like what we saw with Emmitt Smith. He remembered the verse that his grandmother told him when he was younger. And sure enough, God did direct his path to a place where he could meet and know his creator.
3- Lean Not on Your Own Understanding – It is an oft quoted passage from the Bible, but deservedly so. What a rich truth to understand. Trust God with all your heart – don’t rely on yourself. In everything put Him first and He will guide your path. May this be the desire and prayer for each of us as we strive to live for Him and follow the adventure He has laid out for us.