I ain’t gonna lie, I am sad. REAL sad. The kind of sad where you want to hole up on your couch with a six pack of Cherry Coke Zero and a truck load of Fudge Rounds. You see I am a football fan. And not just a football fan, but a University of Tennessee Football fan. This past weekend, they played and lost to one of the most annoying teams ever, The Florida Gators. It was an intense game full of all kinds of drama and emotion. But in the end Tennessee fans were left with the reality that once again, those pesky Gators had chomped us.
Let me see if I can clarify for some of you who may not live down South why this is such a big deal.
The University of Tennessee plays in the Southeastern Conference (SEC). This conference is one that has produced more National Champions then any other conference in the country. (I always thought that, but I checked to make sure that’s a true statement. AND it is 🙂 ) This conference is all about tradition, hard work, and most importantly- bragging rights. The rivalries in this group are intense, and can sometimes get personal. You don’t ever want to lose any game, but you sure don’t want to lose one to your greatest nemesis.
Our two greatest rivalries are the University of Florida and The University of Alabama. If there are two things any UT fan HATES it is seeing the Gater Chomp and hearing “Roll Tide” I mean, I totally just shuddered writing that.
I have always been a UT fan. That is probably due to the fact I grew up in a house of VOL fans and so forth and so on. I learned from an early age that Orange was to be worn consecutive weekends from Labor Day till December. (You haven’t lived until you try to incorporate that particular color of orange into your wardrobe for 12-15 weeks.) I also learned quickly who the big rivals were and the fun you could have at their expense. Where else can you go to a BBQ featuring fried or grilled Gator for Gator Hater Week? And there isn’t a VOL fan alive who at one point hasn’t strung up a stuffed Elephant the 3rd weekend in October when it was time to play the Crimson Tide.
College football is filled with lots of tradition, and I think that is a great part while I am such a fan. If you have ever been to a UT game (or any team) you know what I mean. The VOL walk, the pre-game hype, The Salute to the Hill, The Rock, and the best part, The Power “T”. The Pride of The Southland Band opens each home game playing our beloved anthem, Rocky Top, and right before it ends the band suddenly thrusts out into what is called the Power “T” so the players can run out through it. Give me chills and takes my breath away every time.
But there is one tradition of my favorite team that far outweighs them all in my eyes. The Touching of the Sign. Right before the VOLS make their way into the tunnel and onto the field through the “T”, they reach up and touch a sign that looks unimportant to the outsider, but to the player is a symbol of tradition and pride. It is a simple orange sign in the shape of the state of Tennessee, but the words written upon it are what makes the sign special. ” I will give my all for Tennessee today!”
I often think of the greats that have touched that sign, Johnny Majors, Willie Gault, Reggie White, Heath Schuler, Jason Whitten, Eric Berry, and probably the most infamous hand, Peyton Manning. Each one upon touching that sign and heading into the tunnel made a commitment that they were going to go out on that field and give their all. 110%. Their very best. Everything they have.
The sign is nothing grand. It is not magic. There are no special powers that surge through the players hand as he touches it. Simply, it is the player making the promise and commitment that he is going to go out and play his best. That at even the times when things look bad, and you know you are going to lose, you still give it all you have. No stopping. Even if you have to walk off the field without a victory you walk into the locker room with head held high knowing you left nothing and gave all.
As I pondered this weekends heartbreaking loss and read the reactions on social media, I couldn’t help but think of the sign. While the team was not on their home field, I have no doubt they slapped their travel sign as they went out into the Florida heat. Sadly, the odds were not in our favor and we suffered another close heart breaking loss. All at once the firestorm started. Fair weather fans jumping ship (MY PET PEEVE and a separate Blog altogether), cries of outrage on play calls, and all kinds of hub bub about the coach.
While saddened by the loss and disgusted that Florida got bragging rights, YET again, I couldn’t jump on the hate ban wagon. The team is young, very young, and while they got beat, I do feel they played hard and gave it their best. Yes, that is right, they lost while giving their best.
I couldn’t help but think of us in everyday life. Each and everyday we go out and we give it all we have, but sometimes we too, arrive home with our tail tucked between our legs. Defeated. While I may not slap a sign on my way out the door each morning, I do walk out with the belief and prayer that today is going to be a great day, and that I am in someway going to be inspiring to someone. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes I walk home listening to the deafening crowd telling me I am not good enough and calling me dumb, and unworthy.
Sometimes the very people that were cheering us on a few hours before at the start, are the very ones hurling taunts, and judgments at us. “What were you thinking?!” “Why in the world did you do THAT?” “So and So NEVER did that!” “WAKE UP! Get in the game!” And these are just from your cheering section. Somehow they strike way harder and cut deeper then the jaunts from the opposing team. Even those that love us the most, can’t help but add a zing when we fumble.
However, there is One who is always in my corner. Cheering. Clapping, throwing the victors confetti, and blowing all the whistles, even when we fail. Never once does He judge my performance and say, “Girl! Why did you do that? You’re washed up!” He never changes from wearing my Jersey with my name on it. No. It is tattooed on His heart and He wears it with pride. When I walk off the field humiliated, ashamed, humbled, He cries with me. And when I want to give up and just forget the whole ugly mess, He picks me up, dusts, me off, helps me review the game tape and set a new game plan. Then He sends me on my way, back out onto the field, where I will give it my all again.
Giving my all again after I have already failed, is never easy. You still hear the taunts, and the critics, and the doubts. The key however is to not listen to their hateful shouts and thunderous roars , but to listen to the Voice that is often hard to hear. It IS there. Through the chaos, mayhem, and overpowering noise, it rises up. Gentle at first, “You got this.” Then a little louder, “You are not alone!” Louder still, “I AM HERE! DO YOU HEAR ME? GO! GO! GO!“
And just like that, you are back in the game friend. God, our ultimate cheerleader, cheering you on as you commit to give your all and do your best. You start to realize that your best is never going to be good enough. That is not what He asks. NO. He asks for our ALL. EVERYTHING. The good, the bad, the nasty, the failures, the successes, the highs, the lows.
“And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.”
Never have I experienced this, than in the past two years. I went from having some of the highest highs, to being totally humiliated and benched for a few plays. It was so tempting to just quit. Give up. Move on. Jump ship. But that Voice. That Voice kept cheering me on. It started out soft, then got gradually louder till it was so loud the jaunt and jeers were almost mute. “Let’s Go Jessica! Time to slap the board. Give ME your ALL. I can use it do GREAT things you can’t begin to imagine. Just give me your ALL and I will do the rest. You CAN defeat the enemy. Don’t listen to the crowd. LISTEN TO ME!“
Amazing how something as simple as an intense Football game can teach me so much about our Father. No matter my failures, mistakes, embarrassments, He can take each one and do AMAZING things, if I just give Him all of me. All my talent. All my accomplishments. All my relationships. All my successes. All my failures. All my fears. All my worry. All my Doubt. All my energy. Everything. ALL OF ME.
All. That is what we are called to give. Not just some. All. Everything I have. NO MATTER the outcome. Not just true in football, but in our daily lives as well. God expects nothing less then my everything. I just have to give it. He will do the rest.
So my team lost, and that makes me sad. But I also know that next Saturday is another game. I will proudly pull on my orange gear, sing Rocky Top at the top of my lungs, and cheer for a team I love. Win or Lose. Ain’t it great to know that we have a big huge God who does the same.? Now LET’S GO BIG ORANGE!!!!!!!!!