This week is Spiritual Emphasis Week in the high school, and our theme this year is Bridge Builders. It is our prayer and our vision to further develop stronger connections and foster even deeper relationships in the Timothy community and beyond...unbreakable and unstoppable through the blood of Jesus. Who in their right mind would even bother to commit a week to deepening relationships while keeping our distance and wearing masks? Well, Timothy would. We have a special week planned, although formatted differently, as we continue to creatively adjust to these unusual [yet temporary] gathering guidelines.
My wife, Julie, used to work for the Walter & Connie Payton Foundation. She helped to coordinate their fundraising events and also led an army of volunteers with an annual Christmas Toy Drive for disadvantaged and at-risk youth. While Julie worked tirelessly at these events, I was usually hanging out with many of the retired Bears players from the 80’s who frequently came out to support the foundation and the family. But one of my favorite memories was at a private birthday party for Connie Payton at Joe’s Stone Crab in downtown Chicago.
Julie & I arrived early to the party and welcomed guests as they arrived. Just when we thought everyone had made it, a limousine pulled up with tinted windows. A few children got out of the limo, and then their mother, and then their father. I couldn’t believe my eyes...it was Emmitt Smith of the Dallas Cowboys! This was the year that Emmitt was chasing Walter Payton’s all-time rushing record, and it was obvious that he was going to break it. (To this day, Emmitt Smith is the NFL’s all-time leading rusher with a nearly untouchable 18,355 yards on the ground.)
Since we didn’t know that Emmitt and his family were coming to the party, we did not have enough seats at the massive table in the restaurant. Recognizing the awkwardness of the situation, a couple guys (myself included) found another table. But now we were away from the excitement...our small table lacked energy. (Full disclosure: I also remember being nervous that I might be stuck paying my own bill since I was no longer at the main table.) As I occasionally glanced at the big party table, I realized we were on the outside looking in.
As I was sitting down and reviewing the menu (switching back and forth from steaks to hamburgers as I wondered if I was paying for this myself), I suddenly felt a powerful hand on my shoulder. I turned and looked up...it was Emmitt Smith. He invited us back to the table. We shoehorned our chairs in between others, but everyone was together! Where did I sit? He brought my chair and put it right next to his. Then he spoke to everyone at the table, wishing Connie a happy birthday...and then he asked everyone to hold hands as he prayed before the meal. I was sitting next to Emmitt Smith, my hand locked with his, as we prayed as a group...like one big family. We spent the next three hours talking about life, family, football, leadership, and our faith in Christ.
Although I’m sure some might say it was just a dinner party, I viewed it as something much bigger — Emmitt Smith built a bridge that night...and he made an unforgettable impression on me. He connected people of different ages, different sized bank accounts, different skin colors, different athletic abilities, different interests, different food preferences, and definitely different NFL fans — a lot of Bears fans...and one Cowboy.
On a later date I saw Emmitt at another event, and we connected again. This time I knew he would be there, so I was able to get him to autograph a picture for me. (This was before the days of cell phone cameras, so here’s my creative version of a “selfie”.)
Here’s a quick assignment: next time you see someone around Timothy that you don’t know or who is different from you, take a moment and introduce yourself. Invite someone “to your table” this week. Seriously...try it! Let’s keep building bridges around here. It is my prayer that Team Timothy can be an example for others to follow. We have a lot to be proud of at Timothy, we really do! I can prove that with plenty of facts and data. But without love we have nothing. Our vision as a school and our faith in God will empower our love for one another to triumph in all things and at all times.
Press on, Timothy.