The other day, I sat on my couch reading through a Make-A-Wish pamphlet. Then, like any normal person would, I started looking up videos of children whose wishes have come true due to the kindness of good people who give of their time, talents and money to make these children happy and give them a reason to keep fighting their terminal illness. Of course I broke down in tears while I watched video after video.
Once upon a time I taught a small preschool age class. Spanish was so funny to them. Our class had fun learning new words and using them to say silly things to the lifeguard who couldn't understand because he wasn't cool enough to know Spanish. There was a little boy that I grew to care about a lot. For this post's purposes, we'll call him John. He loves soccer, painting, swimming, pulling my hair, making lego castles and watching star wars. One time he glued legos to my flip-flops after swimming time and when I tried to take them off, the cheap foam sandals fell apart, leaving me to walk barefoot for the rest of the day. The next time we had class, John had bought me a nice pair of sturdy flip flops. He is kind. I'm not sure if he just had a crush on the 2 girls in the class, but he would be sure to always share his snacks, give up the "star" chair (you got to sit in it if you had done something extra special in class), and bring little drawings for them and me all the time! It was so cute! I guess it's just something that comes with being 4 years old, this whole being cute thing. Although I really loved all my kids, I especially LOVED working with John. He was special. John has down syndrome.
Most people nowadays treat kids with disabilities just like they would any other child. But some are a little ignorant. I remember once when I took the kids to the playground and John just stood by the swings looking at a little girl because he liked "her shiny yellow shoes. They looked like glitter bananas". I just laughed and asked him to come by me to the slide so that she wouldn't run into him when she started swinging, but John didn't want to. He was determined to talk to the girl and ask her to let him touch her shoes. The little girl's mom came over, gave him a nasty look, turned to me and said "this little boy could scare kids away the way he just stands there". I'm not sure how to describe what I felt right then. A mix between hurt and anger. I swear it took all of me not to slap the woman. John just looked at me, I smiled and took him by the hand and we joined the rest of the class by the slide. John is different in some ways, but not much in most. He loves, cries, hurts, laughs and most importantly, John understands. He wouldn't stop asking why some mommies didn't like him. What do you say to that? My usual response? Some adults just have bad days and they just get grumpy. John is very forgiving. It's been almost 5 years since I've worked with him and I can't tell you how much I miss him! He gives the best hugs! I got a letter from him last year and though his handwriting is not legible AT ALL, he drew pictures so I would "get it" :). Like I said, that kid is special in SO many ways. He changed me for the better.
Today, I have been thinking about him a lot. I miss teaching so much! I miss my kids and I miss John! A couple weeks ago, I got a phone call from John's mom and she passed the phone to him. Hearing his little voice say "Miss Mayra, I can read chapter books now!" was probably the best thing I've heard in a long time. Reading was so hard for him! It took him a lot longer than the rest of the kids to learn to write his name. His motor skills weren't the best. Grabbing a pencil was difficult, but he worked and worked until he got it right. After we caught up on life and he told me all about how he lives in Georgia now and how he flushed his living gold fish down the toilet, he gave the phone back to his mom. I heard her tell him to go play and then said "So the real reason we are calling is because we wanted to tell you something". I had kinda kept in touch with the family because John had meant so much to me, but I couldn't think of anything I didn't already know about his condition. But, to my surprise, what she said next shocked me and broke my heart. John had been diagnosed with Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia. How do you respond to that? I sure didn't know. I just sat in my room, listening to John's mom cry on the phone. She told me how all of a sudden John had become easily fatigued whereas before you couldn't get him to sit down, he had had many infections, he had been bruising extremely easily, he had lost a lot of weight and unfortunately the severe pain in his arms and legs were not growing pains at all. I tried to comfort her, shared a few scriptures. We've been emailing back and forth often since then. John started treatment today. Their family is incredibly blessed to have the means to pay for all his treatments and travel and such. But it just made me think of all the families who can't. I can't imagine seeing a little child suffering and their family not being able to help. That simply should NOT happen. After a little research, I found the Children's Cancer Fund of America, or CCFA. They provide financial aid, emotional support, education on the diseases, and pretty much anything else a family and their child would need. I'm pretty sure any and all help makes a difference. If any one is interested in donating, you can go to this website: http://www.ccfoa.org/ . You can also go to the Make-A-Wish Foundation page: http://www.wish.org/?s_kwcid=TC|7334|make%20a%20wish%20donation||S|b|9337554667 . You can donate, volunteer locally, or refer children with terminal illnesses to grant them a wish.
I think knowing about John and his family and learning more about children's illnesses has helped me see the Atonement of Christ in a very different light. What does a completely innocent 9 year old child need the Atonement for? Everything. From comfort, to love, to strength and just knowing he is not alone. His family needs it too. For all the same reasons. The Atonement is for big things, but it's also for seemingly small things. I assure you our happiness is not insignificant to the Lord. It just isn't. He loves us, He wants what is best for us, He wants to help us learn and grow and overcome...sometimes that means going through hard things. But in the end, we can all feel his everlasting mercy and love reaching out, embracing us and telling us He is with us every step of the way. I love knowing that. I've been so blessed to get to know amazing people like John and his family and their great example of faith and endurance. I only pray I can be that strong when life's storms come my way. And knowing my Heavenly Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, are with me gives me hope.