When Carolina Panther Cam Newton ran across the end zone after his NFL record-setting 13th rushing touchdown at Tampa Bay and handed 16-year-old Katie Brown the game ball, she was speechless and trembling with excitement.
A few minutes later, however, she was asked to give the football up. That ball, it turns out, is destined for the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Newton's third touchdown of the game gave him 13 for the season, the most ever by an NFL quarterback, breaking Steve Grogan's 35-year-old record.
Panthers assistant equipment manager Don Toner, knowing beforehand the importance of Newton's milestone, had the awkward job of asking Brown for the ball.
Toner said Brown was understanding.
"I just asked her real nice, 'Would you mind exchanging that ball -- we kind of need it,' " Toner said. "And she was real sweet about it. She didn't hesitate. She was so excited, she was trembling. She was just giddy about what had just happened."
"It was some quick thinking on Donnie's part," Panthers equipment manager Jackie Miles said.
Brown said she didn't mind trading the ball.
"I was like, 'OK, no problem,' " Brown said. "I honestly believe Cam deserves to have that ball because it was his record and his achievement. He should have it."
No eBay? No “This is mine and you can’t have it?” No outcry about being what used to be called in less politically correct days an “Indian giver?”
But she did the right thing. And had the right attitude.
And in that seemingly simple, but touching, interplay between athlete and fan, we have a picture of one of the most important spiritual lessons in the world: what is given can be taken away.
But we don’t always have the attitude of that sixteen-year-old girl.
When God takes something away, we are often quick to indict Him and question His goodness. But everything is His to give and take away. We don’t own it. We manage it while it’s been entrusted to us, but that is all.
Spiritual maturity recognizes His rights. And when something is taken away, spiritual maturity gives it back with a deep and profound sense that it is wholly appropriate.
So during this season of football and gift-giving, it might be good to let culture give us an important spiritual reminder through a purposefully mixed metaphor.
Whatever gifts come your way, it really is His ball.
James Emery White
“Fan thrilled by Cam Newton's gesture,” ESPN.com news service, December 6, 2011. Read online.
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About Dr. James Emery White
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
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