One evening, in late 2003, I was watching a high school football awards show in Arkansas, called “The Landers Award.” The award is intended to be a “Heisman Trophy” for High School football in the state of Arkansas. That evening, a young man from Conway, AR; who had become a regular highlight on the Friday night sports shows took home the trophy that said he was the best football player in the state of Arkansas. After four stellar years at the University of Arkansas, five seasons in the National Football league, (practically all of which my son and I followed), one of which saw him named as the “Madden NFL Cover Athlete of the Year”, the Lord has seen fit to bring Peyton Hillis and his family into our lives.
Through a chain of events and circumstances, the Lord has caused our paths to cross at this particular time in our lives for reasons ultimately known to Him, but for which we are eternally thankful. There are some things that I have learned about this young man, and some things that I believe need to be said.
First of all, Peyton has been an A #1 industrial strength dose of encouragement to my son, Isaac. What started out as a “Coach -/player” relationship through his football camp, has become a “friend/brother” relationship. Peyton has gone above and beyond all means necessary to help a young football player become all that God enables him to be, both on and off the field. They have been working out this summer, and I know that for as long as my son lives, he will never forget it. From pulling trucks together, to sitting in church together, to eating Mexican food, to running routes, to smack talking, Peyton has freely shared his life with Isaac, and two other young men, Zach and Braydon. Whatever the Lord has planned for the future, this summer will serve as a permanent blessing for these three young men that I know.
Second of all, Peyton is a young man genuinely searching the will of the Lord. I’ve never met them, but I can say that Peyton’s parents did a good job instilling a desire in their son to seek the Lord. Whether it has been Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night, or Friday morning helping with our church’s food ministry, Peyton and his wife Amanda have been faithful in their participation with our church. From providing food for our VBS, to sharing the Lord with a young man in need of Him, his ultimate responsibility to the Lord has not been lost through all of his success. I’ve had the privilege to pastor many good young men who’s greatest desire is to follow the Lord and learn His Word. Rarely have I encountered a young man as introspective, and as thoughtful as Peyton who is so precise with his questions and his ponderings. He is a big man, it’s no wonder the well of his thoughts runs so deep.
Thirdly, the last couple of years in the public eye have been unjust to Peyton. The shark tank of public notoriety cares little for the soul of men, and the free-for-all nature of the press and internet, often bring out the worst in a society whose greatest joy is to open wounds and then pour salt in them. They love to make a bad day worse. I can have a bad day at work, and only me and the Lord and my family know about it. I can go through difficult seasons of life, and not very many people smell blood and go for the kill. Not so in the lives of people under the microscope. Bad days end up on cable tv, difficult seasons of life wind up being nightly fodder for people who get paid to talk about other people publicly. There is not a lot of mercy from them, and rarely is the whole truth given just consideration. I’ve never seen a pancake that only had one side. Like a man should be, he is well aware of his own sins and shortcomings and will be the first to admit it. All of that being said there is far more to this young man than just a football player and a face on the television.
Fourthly, Peyton is a young man worth knowing and a player worth cheering for. As fun as he is to be around off the field I doubt very seriously linebackers enjoy watching him come up the middle on the field. His on field highlights and accomplishments are too numerous to delineate here, except to say, he has the ability make grown men look like little boys. I’ve never been disappointed watching him when a team is committed to using him. He is certainly an asset on any team that he plays for both on and off the field. I don’t know what the Lord’s ultimate plan for him is, but I am very glad that it intersected with His plan for us at this point in our lives. The people of Pinecrest Baptist Church just know him as “Peyton.” (that’s good, cause that’s his name) Many of them know very little about football and could care less about it. He is just a man with his family seeking the Lord’s will and worshipping in the Lord’s house, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. The Bible teaches us that the Lord is “no respecter of persons”, and from what I’ve seen Peyton Hillis isn’t either. He is a sinner who has been saved by grace, gifted by God, growing in the Lord, and learning to lean on Jesus. (In football talk that is the “Cross”ing route.)
Too many people look down on those who have succeeded in life and far too many assume too much about those who have endured the microscope of a godless and graceless world. The Bible tells us that “The rich and the poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all.” Proverbs 22:2 The God of the unknown man, is the God of the known man! The God of athlete is the God of the intellectual. Grace is not just for the small, nor is it forbidden from the large, it is for all those “just right” enough to admit their guilt and confess their wrongs. Wanting it any other way is not a change worth making.