Ray Lewis urges fathers to step up during Willow Creek DadFest
Having been raised by a teenage single mom, former NFL linebacker Ray Lewis never got over the hurt of having an absentee father.
To honor the stranger -- his mother's friend -- after whom he was named, Lewis promised to make that name great.
"I had a dream, but I didn't have an identity," said Lewis, speaking Sunday during Willow Creek Community Church's annual DadFest. "I never knew God was in control of it."
Lewis said he turned to prayer at an early age "falling on my face listening to my mother scream and cry" after being beaten by various men in her life. His mother introduced him to who God really is and instilled that faith, he said.
Through scripture, Lewis learned to trust in God and was guided by the words of Psalm 91, which made him feel "safe in the Lord."
"God has never said 'No,'" Lewis said of overcoming his challenging beginnings. "And God has never taken a break from us. God never disconnects. In your lowest moment of your life, either you give up or you go back to God."
Lewis, 43, played college football for the University of Miami, earning All-America honors. He was picked in the first round of the 1996 NFL Draft by the Baltimore Ravens, for whom he played his entire 17-year career. The two-time Super Bowl champion retired following the 2012 season and will be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in August.
Lewis spoke about the work he does in prisons and his 360 Football Academy, which teaches young boys, a majority of whom are fatherless, to be "better men."
He urged fathers among the crowd of roughly 25,000 attendees at the South Barrington megachurch to step up and be the "kings, leaders, servants and providers" of their families.
"Love more than we hate. Love more than we judge," he said. "Don't just be daddy. Act like daddy."
Motivational speaker Ken Davis also highlighted the church's weekend festivities, which included a free fireworks show, live musical performances, car show, food trucks and children's entertainment.
Lead Pastor Heather Larson said last weekend also marked the 30th anniversary of the church's cars ministry benefiting single mothers and families in need.
Last year, the ministry repaired 353 cars and gave away 70 new cars to families. In honor of the 30th anniversary, the church will be giving away 30 more cars this week, Larson added.