Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” 9 At once, the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
– John 5:8-9
One of my favorite things to read is stories about people who overcome difficult life circumstances. These people choose to be Victors and not Victims despite the odds. The latest story I found was about former NFL all-pro Warwick Dunn.
On January 7th, 1993, in Baton Rouge, Betty Smothers, a Baton Rouge police officer, was on a private police detail escorting a local merchant to make a late-night cash deposit. Two men approached her and the merchant. The men asked for the cash bag, and the merchant resisted, which resulted in gunfire. One of the bullets hit Betty, and she was killed.
Betty left behind six children; the oldest was the future All-Pro running back, Warrick Dunn. Warrick had just turned eighteen two days earlier and, as the oldest, was left in charge of his five siblings. Warrick was a gifted athlete, excelling as a high school football player and track star.
Warrick became head of his family and, with the help of his grandmother, raised the other five children. At the same time, Warrick attended Florida State, won a national championship, and was a three-time ACC selection. Warrick also ran track for Florida State and was an Associated Press All-American.
Warrick went on to play in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Atlanta Falcons. A career where he gained over fifteen thousand all-purpose yards – the 14th best all time.
While Warrick had a remarkable NFL career, it was in his second life that he excelled as well. After he retired, he set up a charity called Holidays For Homes to raise money to help single-parent families move into homes they could not afford – 150 families moved into new homes.
He also set up Warrick Dunn charities and was named the Walter Payton man of the year award, along with the Bart Starr Award. In other community services, Warrick worked with other professional athletes, such as Andre Agassi, Muhammad Ali, Mario Lemieux, and many others.
Because of his integrity and willingness to help others, Arthur Blank invited him to become a minority owner of the Atlanta Falcons. While Warrick and his siblings went on to prosper after their mother’s tragic death, his attitude of not being a victim set the course for his and their lives. He had chosen to become a victor.
His life reminds me of a story in the Gospel of John. In this story, Jesus approaches a man lying on the ground by the healing pool of Bethesda. The man had been coming to the pool for thirty-eight years and was never healed. One morning, Jesus sees the man at the pool and asks, “Do you want to get well?”
The man replies, “I have no one to help me in the water, and when I try, someone else gets in the way.”
Sensing a state of victimhood, Jesus tells the man, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.”
The man understands the meaning behind Jesus’ request, realizing he has been playing the victim for thirty-eight years. Listening to Jesus, he gets up, takes control of his life, and walks. Not all of Jesus’ miracles are physical; in this case, it was sage advice. The man had a simple choice: continue floundering by the pool or walk. He chose to walk.
Not every miracle in life is physical; many times, they are by making brave choices. Jesus knew the man could walk on his own but had chosen not to walk. He was essentially trapped by the comfort of going to the same place for many years, despite it not being the most productive life. All Jesus did was tell him to change and walk a different life.
After finding out about his mother’s death, Warrick could have given up, like the man at the well. I am sure the burden of losing your mother and then having to raise five children was enormous. Yet, he chose the path of moving forward and not lying down as a victim. Warrick went on to raise the children with his grandmother. He became an NFL star, and most importantly, he reached out to others the help them pick up their mat and walk.
Life isn’t always easy. Jesus knows that. He simply asks for us to have faith and walk forward. He asks us every day, Do you want to get well? Sometimes it’s little things that get us down or, for others, really big events. Sometimes it is easier to use our obstacles as crutches than the task of overcoming our obstacles. Every day, we have the choice: to become a Victim or a Victor.