I have thought about writing this post for a long time, but it wasn’t until reading a recent one by Tara M. Martin that I decided it was time. During the busy holiday season, not all of the memories are happy ones if we are missing loved ones who are no longer with us. There’s pain with the joy. I lost my dad to cancer, and his journey through pain and suffering changed me, but in a positive way. At all times since being diagnosed with cancer, if you ask Dad, “How are you?” He would answer, “I’m blessed.” Dad focused on the positives, not the pain, not the deteriorating body, not his inability to read his favorite books or scriptures. My journey of change began with Dad, and then I met (through Facebook and his mom) Jonny Wade.
I went to high school with Johnny’s father, Jon, and through other family connections, I was aware from the start when Jonny’s life changed. One day he’s a happy little boy, a twin, and the next day he suffers a headache so terrible that his parents rush him to the ER. That day changed the boy, the family, thousands of people, and me. Johnny was diagnosed with brain cancer, but that didn’t define him. His spirit for living mirrored my father’s. It didn’t matter what the setbacks, they both pursued life until it was their’s no more. During Jonny’s battle with cancer, he decided that he didn’t want any other kid to have to endure what he was going through, so a movement began. He thought of others when at his lowest point in life.
Too often we focus on all that’s wrong in our lives. It can be overwhelming. Living life to its fullest with a positive outlook isn’t a personality trait. It takes true grit, resilience, and determination. It is hard work. It is a mindset. I watched these two cancer victims fight, ignore negatives, and battle to make life better for others when they could have complained, moped, felt sorry for themselves, and spent their last months, weeks, days, and hours in misery. Don’t get me wrong, the pain was miserable, but they didn’t let it defeat them. Jonny and Dad both did not use cancer as an excuse not to live, go, and do. Johnny played baseball when physical activity was extremely hard for him. Dad would change his moans into recognizable favorite hymns. They both did things despite their circumstances, not because of them. Proactive, not reactive.
Jonny and his family started a foundation, a movement, that continues to grow and impact the lives of others even though Jonny’s no longer with us. My dad’s legacy continues on as well through the educators he worked for, with, and lead. His legacy continues through his congregations where he taught, preached, sang, and enjoyed. Dad and Jonny were people persons. They embodied true servant leaders. The embodied how I want to live life while it is still mine to live. During Jonny’s battle, his family made little black Team Jonny wristbands with yellow writing. My friend Robyn, Jonny’s cousin, gave me one, and I have worn it every day since. The yellow writing has worn off, so now it is just a little black wristband. It is, and it isn’t. To me, that black wristband represents life itself. The glory of helping others, spreading joy, singing though pain, and encouraging others no matter how my own life may be going at the time. That little black wristband represents a mindset that inspires me daily.
There will be tears in life. There will be pain and suffering. Some will experience more than others in life, and that’s not fair. Life can be very unfair and cruel, but despite our circumstances, let’s choose to live as Dad and Jonnny did. Spread joy and give to others in spite of our own trials, through our own struggles. Smile at your students. Find the good in others. Take the holiday spirit and use it year round. Think of my dad and answer the routine greeting of “How are you?” with “I’m blessed.” We are blessed. We are alive and breathing, so that means we have an opportunity to make the day amazing for someone. Surround yourself with others who strive to live this mindset, for they will help you through the low points.
During this holiday season, focus on everything you are grateful for, the positives in your lives, no matter how small a gift it is. It could be a pink cake at a dinner, a smile from a student, a homemade gift, a sunrise or sunset, or a fist bump in the hallway. Life is short and not guaranteed. We choose how we react to the roadblocks and speed bumps in this journey. Nobody can take the journey for us, so let’s do this right. Change the “poor me” mindset to the “I’m blessed” one, and you’ll be surprised how it will change you and all those around you. Joy is contagious. I challenge you to see how far yours can spread.
Thanks, Jonny. Thanks, Dad. I wear the little black wristband to remind myself of how to live life and so that I don’t forget to pass it on to others. I will always look for those who seem to be on their way down so that I can be the roadblock. I can spread joy. We can spread joy. Be the roadblock. We are blessed.