JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (BP)–With four older children, Pam Tebow, whose father was an Army colonel, was used to setting boundaries, issuing orders and choosing her battles by the time “Timmy” was born in 1987.
No worries, though. Tim Tebow, the 21-year-old University of Florida quarterback and the first sophomore to win the Heisman Trophy, has been “obedient and teachable and kind,” according to his mom.
The proud mom and other members of the Tebow clan were in Miami’s Dolphin Stadium Thursday night to watch the Gators win their second national championship in three years. Tebow threw two touchdown passes and was named the game’s offensive MVP.
“It came as a great, pleasant surprise that when we told him to do things like go clean the garage, that he actually got up and did it,” Pam Tebow told the Florida Baptist Witness in a Jan. 2 interview.
Calling Tim, the 6-3, 240-pound left-hander, “still teachable,” Pam Tebow said she and other family members are not shy about sharing things with Tim — who is a member of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville — in spite of his celebrity status.
“He wants to hear and we appreciate that, because that’s what a disciple is, a learner, and he’s still willing to learn,” she said. “Learn about being a better football player, learn about what Scripture says about different subjects, and learn as a student at the university.”
Detailing the story about how Tim almost didn’t make it into this world, Tebow revealed the origins of what she said are his “rare qualities” and how he has become known as being “unusually kind” in spite of his competitive nature on the football field.
Living in the Philippines as missionaries, Pam and her husband, Bob, who now heads the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association, had been told the baby she was carrying needed to be aborted in order to save her life.
“They didn’t recommend; they didn’t really give me a choice,” Tebow said. “That was the only option they gave me.”
Before she conceived, Bob Tebow had been out preaching in the field. “He was so burdened about abortions taking place in America,” Tebow recalled.
“Lord, if you give us another son, then we’ll raise him to be a preacher,” Pam Tebow recalls her husband praying. And so, with four little children and their parents’ heads bowed, the Tebow family prayed for a miracle.
“We all prayed for Timmy by name,” Tebow said. “It was a very serious prayer. We prayed that God would give us a Timothy.
“It was just amazing that God spared him, but we knew God has His hand on his life” Tebow said. “We all, through all these years, have told Timmy that.”
Tebow said she and her husband have told all of their children they are special and God has a “special” plan for their lives. Tim’s situation, however, was more intense because of the less predictable outcome.
“I guess it was a little more dramatic because we saw the miracle of Timmy’s birth and we continually reminded him, God has a special plan for your life,” Tebow said.
“It was sweet, it was really a great beginning because you know when something is hard to come by, you value it so much,” Tebow said. “We value all our children, but all of our children value Timmy because they’d all had a part in praying for him.
“He is a well-loved kid,” Tebow said.
And it’s likely that security, fostered by a loving and caring family — along with a hearty dose of God-given talent — allowed the young man to flourish as a leader both on the football field and on the mission field.
“Whether it’s fighting for the national championship or fighting to see the Gospel brought to a country where people have never heard the name of Christ — I think that’s what probably has made him a good leader, that he’s passionate and that he’s not afraid to stand alone,” his mom said.
Tebow said she’s thought about Tim in the context of being the youngest child and how typically younger children follow their elders, but she thinks the fact that he was raised very securely has helped him to develop into the strong leader he is.
EDUCATION & LEADERSHIP
In the Tebow home, all five children were homeschooled by Pam Tebow, who graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Florida. The family left the Philippines and moved to Jacksonville in 1990 when Tim was three. Bob Tebow, a graduate of the University of Florida and Western Seminary in Portland, Ore., expanded his ministry to the Philippines which now includes short-term and summer mission trips, an orphanage, a boat ministry, and supervising a staff of 45 Filipino national evangelists.
Tim played football for Nease High School in Ponte Vedra, but did not actually attend classes there. Because of a law the Florida Legislature passed in the 1990s allowing homeschoolers to play, various versions of “Tim Tebow” bills have been proposed in other states to allow homeschooled students to participate in public school sports.
Remaining neutral about choices families make for their own children’s schooling, Pam Tebow said she believes homeschooling provided her children security in the sense that they were not constantly evaluated against other children academically.
“You’re not in school where people are going to put you down either because you don’t read as fast as somebody else or you made a ‘C’ on your paper, but they made an ‘A.’ That didn’t happen in our home — so that breeds security … people aren’t negative about anything you do,” she said. “You are given the opportunities to grow at the rate God has intended for you to grow at in certain areas.”
Secure people use leadership to influence other people “for cause,” Tebow said, noting Tim takes his role as leader seriously.
“He’s not peer dependent,” Tebow said of her son. “He’s not depending on his buddies and what they are doing. He’s able to stand alone.
“I think that’s another quality for a leader, that you have to stand alone, in your belief system, you have to be ready to take a stand and not be as concerned if the person next to you believes a little differently,” she continued. “That doesn’t mean you’re not kind and tolerant to them, but it means you firmly believe in what you’re doing and the cause that you’re fighting for.”
Citing Tim’s strong faith in Jesus Christ, Tebow said she and her husband have discussed their son’s leadership ability and concluded he reminds them of the late Homer Lindsay Jr., who co-pastored First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., where many of the family are still members.
“You don’t have to be always the loudest person to be a leader,” Pam Tebow said. Another she spoke of is Winston Churchill who “rallied people to a cause,” she said. And, of course, Billy Graham.
“He didn’t have any peers equal to him, probably, that were doing the same thing that he did,” Tebow said of Graham. “He stood alone — he was outside of the box, so to speak.”
Tim has played football in sold-out stadiums, he’s pulled in scores of awards for his athleticism which began at age five, but beyond that he’s softened the hearts of thousands who have stood to hear him share the simple message of salvation — or strained at a prison gate to slap him some skin while he was visiting with inmates.
In the Philippines, Tim once spoke to a group of 10,000 students in Digos, Mindanao, during a summer missions trip and his mom said he has gone on the trips annually since he turned 15 — something all of the Tebow children looked forward to while growing up.
“I think being able to articulate the Gospel clearly and his ability to speak in front of people and to people was really a by-product of those summer mission trips,” she said.
Tim received widespread media coverage for a spring break trip to the Philippines last year where he was joined by a few University of Florida pre-med students, his dad and others. They stayed at the orphanage and spoke in schools and markets and conducted medical clinics — reaching nearly 7,000 people of which 5,388 indicated making a decision to receive Jesus Christ as Savior.
One particular photo taken during the trip illustrates Tim’s willingness to jump in and help when and wherever needed — something he’s also readily exhibited on the gridiron. Wearing a surgical mask, Tim appears to be assisting. Indeed, the group was in a village where there is no medical care offered and people walked for hours and lined up to wait for attention, his mom said. After Tim finished preaching — that was his role — he offered to help in the clinic in order to accommodate the crowds.
In Florida, Tim routinely sets aside time from his busy academic and practice schedule to volunteer with the Children’s Miracle Network at Shands at the University of Florida. He visits with sick children and knows people are keeping an eye on him to see if he lives up to the high standards he appears to have set.
“He knows all those little boys wearing number 15 jerseys are watching him,” Tebow said. “We’ve talked with all of our children that God would give them each platforms to use for Him and you’re always influencing somebody. You’re either influencing them for good or not so good and so it’s your choice.”
She doesn’t hesitate to remind her son “to whom much is given, much is required.”
“I’m not saying he’s perfect,” Tebow emphasized graciously. “I never want to insinuate that, none of us are, that’s why we need Christ. But we’re grateful that he’s been able to maintain his convictions and his strength.” Quoting Bible verses comes second nature to Tebow, who also remembered Tim’s practice of etching “Phil 4:13” into the black patches under his eyes before ballgames to remind himself of the truth of the verse, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” For the BCS National Championship game, he etched “John 3:16.”
The practice of Scripture memory was a key element in the Tebow home, and though the vivacious, outgoing mother of five — and grandmother of two — describes herself as non-musical, Pam Tebow easily chanted the words to one Scripture truth in a sing-song voice — demonstrating her method for teaching life-long lessons:
“A man who walks with wise men will be wise,
“A man who walks with wise men will be wise,
“A man who walks with wise men will be wise,
“But the companion of fools will suffer harm.”
“I just have seen the fruit of God’s Word in the lives of my children and I am very, very grateful for that,” she said. “I can’t take credit for any of this — it’s God’s doing. But as mothers, I think we have to be faithful.”
Tebow said she remembers her husband telling the children: “If you hang around with fools you are going to suffer harm. You need to hang around with wise people.”
With Tim, Tebow said one verse she especially remembers is: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; A stranger, and not your own lips” [Proverbs 27:2].
“Somebody else has to praise him; he can’t praise himself,” Tebow said of her son, who by now is quite acclaimed. “And how do you learn that you don’t brag?” she asked rhetorically. “You can tell them that, or the Holy Spirit can prompt them with the powerful Word of God. That’s just so effective.”
The campaign for teaching Tim all that he would face as a talented athlete started early, Tebow admitted, when it was “pretty clear at an early age that God had gifted him in that area.”
“You start when they are five or younger — you don’t start when they are in college,” she said.
Working with her sons on character development through learning about “humility, deflecting the praise, not bragging on themselves” — Pam Tebow said Bible stories, in addition to verses, were helpful.
Reminding them that King Nebuchadnezzar took credit for what God did and so ate grass like a cow, Tebow said, “you know you tell those stories to the little boys and their eyes get big. Or the king that got leprosy because he became proud.”
Teaching a child real humility takes time and can present a challenge — and “little by little, over the course of weeks and months and years … even if they are not the star athlete, they can become proud at any moment,” she said.
In reality, mothering Tebow comes with only two great “secrets,” Tebow shared, and they are closely linked — Scripture and faith. Of Scripture, Tebow said, “everything you need for life and godliness is there, so we spent a lot of time memorizing Scripture and studying the Bible — a lot of time.”
And parents, Tebow — who is writing a book about parenting she plans to finish this summer – said, should have the faith to trust God for giving them the children they have.
“He’s adequate. You can trust Him to enable you to do what He’s called you to do,” Tebow said. For Christian mothers who think Tebow has something “they don’t have,” she said: “I have the same Bible and I have the same God. I don’t have anything they don’t have. I’ve just chosen to count on it and stake my life on it and the lives of my children on it. They can still go their own way.
“Children still have choices to make,” Tebow said, noting prayer is also a “huge” part of her discipline as a parent.
Part of any family’s concern when a child grows is choosing a college, and the concern was no less for the Tebow family. In Tim’s case, being a highly recruited football player and leaving the security of his homeschool nest for a secular college could have posed a difficulty — something his mom readily admitted. But it wasn’t a problem for Tim.
“He was not peer dependent. He didn’t look to other people for his security or his sense of self worth,” she said “We really believe that Timmy could stand alone and we had seen that take place during the high school football seasons and as he played sports at different levels. He was not really influenced by the different people around him as much as he was more concerned about influencing them.”
Further, Tebow said she believes her son was uniquely made and prepared by God to be where he is — and it didn’t hurt that he has an older brother there with close siblings and parents just a phone call away.
“I don’t know that I’d tell everybody to go to a secular school or everybody to go to a Christian school,” Pam Tebow said. “I think that’s why we have to look to the Lord for the plan that he has for each child. I think the children are all different and not only do they have different backgrounds, but I think their own personal make-up is different.”
While there has been speculation that Tim, who could enter the NFL draft this year, might make an announcement regarding his future in sports, one thing is clear, his mom says: nobody but Tim and God knows what’s really going to happen.
“Ministry is in his heart and I think he’ll always be involved in ministry,” she said honestly. “I think he’ll be involved in ministry no matter what he does. If he plays football for a year — it’s playing football with a platform for ministry.
“God’s got a plan for him and He’ll unveil it as he goes through life, but I’m sure that Timmy does have a heart for ministry,” Tebow said.
Joni B. Hannigan is managing editor of the Florida Baptist Witness, which covers Florida news from a Christian perspective and is the newspaper of the Florida Baptist State Convention. To read the Witness’ online version or to subscribe to its print edition or e-mail notification service, visit www.floridabaptistwitness.com.