I sat with my niece today at lunch and as a large plate of mac n cheese was placed in front of her, I smiled and thought about Sam. Sam was a student of mine the past two years. Over the past two years he had proven that he had ability to do pretty much any task that was set in front of him ... if he wanted to. Sam had developmental delays as well as physical disabilities including limited use of his right hand. With that in mind, simple tasks became a little more difficult for him, like making mac n cheese. The first year Staci and I had Sam in our class he came to school with a pre-made peanut butter sandwich, Fritos and milk in his lunch. As the year went on, we encouraged him to bring groceries to school and make his own lunches. Throughout the year, he learned to make his own peanut butter sandwiches and his beloved mac n cheese. It wasn't easy! Have you ever tried to spread peanut butter on soft bread with one hand? Or use a water fountain to fill your cup of mac n cheese with only one hand? It was hours of practice, encouragement and a whole lot if determination from Sam. Sure, there were a few 'almost fires' in the microwave because after he filled the Mac n cheese cup up with the right amount of water he spilled most of it while walking to the microwave, not because he couldn't hold the cup up straight, but because he wouldn't dare walk past someone he knew and not say hi... And if you knew Sam, you know that he knew everyone! And maybe there were few... well maybe several ripped pieces of bread as he continued to try day after day to spread the thick peanut butter across the unforgiving surface of the bread. I honestly can't remember hearing Sam say "I can't do it" and actually mean that he could not complete the task. He may have mumbled it once or twice to get out of an activity, but his determination of completing the task would take over and he would always figure out a way to get the job done, especially if there was some IPod time to listen to his favorite country music songs.
I've told a few "Sam stories" to anyone who would listen to them over the last couple of weeks and the more I shared the more I realized just how proud I was of him and what he had accomplished. Sam overcame odds every single day. He never said, "I can't do this because of my disability." In Sam's eyes, he didn't have a disability. He was able to learn what people took the time to teach him. The past couple of weeks I have felt guilty when I think about something I wish I would have taught him. If his quality of life could have improved if I took an extra minute here or there to help him with something.
I was on the plane flying back to Tennessee and as I was thinking about all of this I felt I needed to write down my thoughts as the new school year starts. I grabbed my phone and tried to type out the thoughts that were quickly flowing through my mind.
"We need to teach with urgency. Take time to teach as much as you can every single day. We are dealing with the quality of life of our students. The more we can teach them, the better quality of life they will have and the more they will get to experience in this world. This is not a job that you just go to earn a paycheck. We truly have the ability to impact our students each and every day. Make sure you're doing that."
This isn't a motto that only applies to my classroom and students. This applies to life. Take every opportunity to love on those around you. Teach others about love by being an example of love. Teach forgiveness by forgiving those around you. Be passionate about life and what you're doing in it. We weren't put here to float through life and then go away. Make a difference and start by living the way God called us to live. Trust me. People will see the way your living and the blessings being poured out onto you because of your faithfulness and willingness to follow, not your will, but His.
Sam was this person for so many people. He was their example. He lived life. He laughed every chance he got. He was passionate about so many things, including his family and friends. He loved everyone he possibly could, as much as he possibly could.
Find your Sam in this world. He will change your life.