1028) “I’m Not on This Earth to Play Basketball…”


By A. Branch in World magazine, February 6, 2016 issue, page 58.  (www.wng.org )

     Andrew and Samantha Smith were always an unusual couple.  The shy but goofy Butler Bulldog basketball player was 6 feet 11 inches.  She was 5 feet 1 inch.

     But Andrew died on Jan. 12 at age 25 after a two-year battle with cancer that began soon after their marriage.  “Andrew peacefully passed away in his sleep and in my arms as I told him I loved him this morning,” wrote his 24-year-old widow.  The way the couple faced unusual circumstances with an unusual faith gained thousands of followers in the sports world and beyond.

     Andrew Smith is one of only three basketball players in Butler University history with more than 100 wins and 1,000 points.  He came into his own as a freshman off the bench in a 2010 Final Four run.  The next year, “Moose” helped lead the Bulldogs to a second straight title game.

     The cancer diagnosis came in January 2014, mere months after graduating and settling into Lithuania for European basketball.  The newly married high-school sweethearts began blogging at Kicking Cancer with the Smiths.  


     Then came the ups and downs.  Tense treatments had some success.  In July 2014, Andrew collapsed at work and his heart stopped beating for 22 minutes, yet he suffered no brain damage.  In the coming months, the couple rejoiced in healing, home-buying, and a little basketball coaching.  But the cancer returned in the spring of 2015.  A November bone marrow transplant failed with the news his lymphoma was now aggressive leukemia.  He had little time.

     “It has rattled our faith,” Samantha wrote.  “It has made us question the purpose in the past two years.  It has left us feeling completely helpless.  We have screamed and cried.  I can’t eat or sleep.”  With a blog readership now in the thousands, they admitted, “We struggle to believe that God has pulled us through the last two hellish years to only have it end here.”

     But Andrew and Samantha said they knew that God had a purpose for Andrew.  “I’m not on this earth to play basketball games.  I’m on this earth to share a story people can hear,” Andrew told CBS Sports in March.

     Before his death, Samantha wrote of continued love for the gospel in their pain:  “Truly, Andrew exudes and shines the Light of Christ.”  His former coach, Brad Stevens, took leave from the Boston Celtics to say goodbye and visibly fought back tears after Andrew’s death.  “You get a lot more out of coaching than they do from you. … He set a great example.”


From Samantha Smith’s blog:

May 16, 2014  —  (Not long after the initial diagnosis) Andrew has been praying for years to gain a testimony that can speak to the hearts of many and lead those to the Lord.  Did he EVER think it would come in the form of cancer?  I think it’s safe to say no.  And yet, the Lord has provided exactly what Andrew has spent the entirety of his blessed life praying for.

January 10, 2016 (Two days before Andrew’s death):  Andrew exudes and shines the Light of Christ.  Andrew is the perfect example of what God has called us to do here on earth; to love one another at every opportunity, to glorify Him in all that we say and do, and to preach the Gospel to the masses.  But Andrew doesn’t even need words to do that preaching.  The way Andrew lives every single day preaches the Word of God.  One quote that Andrew and I have prayed over and try to instill in our lives together is “Be careful how you live; you will be the only Bible some people ever read.”  Andrew and I strive to make our lives preach loudly instead of our lips and he has done that ever so beautifully.  I’m so proud of him and there aren’t words to describe the honor I take in being his wife.

January 15, 2016  (Third day as a widow):  Many ask “how are you doing?” and the honest answer to that is that I am awful.  I’ve lost the love of my life.  Every day gets harder because it’s a day more since the last time I’ve seen him or felt his arms around me.  But I am holding onto hope in our Lord and Savior for I know that He is good, no matter what.  I don’t believe that God orchestrated this devastation in my life, but I know that He will use it for the Kingdom.  I miss my love every single day and I cannot wait for the day that he greets me at the gates of Heaven, ready to give me one of his giant, crushing hugs.  As CS Lewis said, “I believe in the sun, even when it’s not shining.  I believe in love, even when I’m alone.  I believe in God, even when He is silent.”

From an early blog:  “The things you take for granted, someone else is praying for.”


Matthew 5:16  —  (Jesus said), “Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Philippians 1:19-20  (Samantha wrote:  “Andrew has this verse underlined in his Bible and I know this is his heart and prayer every day.”) —    Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or death.

Romans 14:8-9  —  If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord.  So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.  For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

II Timothy 4:7-8  —  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

I Thessalonians 4:13-14  —  Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.  For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.


Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
The darkness deepens; Lord with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim; its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see;
O Thou who changest not, abide with me.

–Henry Lyte, written in 1847, three weeks before he died of tuberculosis