“You don’t understand,” I said. “I need him in this school more than he needs to be here.”
The words look selfish when I see them on the page, but I totally meant them at the time. I was talking with a prospective teacher, one I knew would be a great fit and wonderful addition to our team. She has twin boys she considered enrolling in our school.
They are great boys. Lucas is a walking ball of energy: always moving, always smiling, and, as I would later discover, always climbing. To Lucas, I am like a tree walking. If I stop for a moment, he takes that as an invitation to climb up my legs and back until he reaches my shoulders.
Her other son has some challenges. He is a brilliant boy who reads like a machine (and yes he comprehends perfectly what he reads). He can do many awesome things, but God did not create him the same as his brother or many other kids his age. He has some challenges, but his challenges do not define him.
His name is Sully, which is short for Sullivan, and Sully is my friend.
When I told his mother that I needed him in our school, I totally meant it. I knew I needed someone in my life to love who had to learn to love me back. I knew God could use his challenges to make my heart grow and, trust me, my heart needs to grow. So, when I pleaded with her that she would enroll him, I totally meant it.
But I did not know how much I meant it.
From time to time, my wife and I get really busy. And when we are really busy, we often do not want to stop working to eat. We will look at each other and ask, “Should we stop to eat, or should we keep going?” Most of the time we keep going. “After all,” we say, “I don’t feel hungry anyway.” So we work on. Eventually, however, we do stop to eat. And when we do, one of us always says something like this, “I did not know I was hungry until I stopped and started eating.”
I had a similar experience not long after Sully started our school. I knew I needed someone like him in my life, but I did not know how much until I watched him get upset and struggle to express it. I did not know how much I needed it until I had to watch as he slowly but surely fit in with his class. I did not know how much I needed it until I watched his family (father, mother, and grandparents) patiently love, accept, and care for this special child.
And I did not know how important he had become to my own family until a recent vacation. My middle son, Lucas, who Lucas and Sully call big Lucas, is a tall, strong, and athletic young man. It is not fair that he is already as tall as I am and that he can wear my shoes when he does not want to get his shoes dirty outside. Yet, even though he is an imposing physical presence, he has a heart that matches his frame—bigger than his father’s and growing all the time.
Recently, we were on vacation when Lucas—seemingly out of nowhere—said, “I sure do miss Lucas and Sully.” We had only been away from school for a few days, and yet he missed them. Suddenly, it dawned on me just how much a part of our family and our lives they have become.
Now Sully’s struggles are somehow our struggles; his joys have somehow become ours. A few days ago, Sully won an award at school. When his name was called, he stood and raised his hands in victory as his classmates cheered. I cheered too, and somewhere deep in my heart—a place I never knew existed before—there was a new joy, a joy in his joy, that made the occasion deeply moving and wonderfully satisfying.
He is a great kid. He is a smart kid. He has a wonderful future ahead, and God by his grace has allowed me to play a small part in that.
I had a crazy idea recently. What if we all need someone who is different from us to love? What if that is one of God’s ways to grow our hearts? Jesus died to break down barriers. So, what if people of different races decided to risk that awkwardness and love someone who is different? What if people with different ages stopped fighting about what generation is better and committed to spend time together until they learned to share common pains and mutual joys? What if people from different classes threw caution to the wind and tried, really tried, to relate to one another as common creatures made in the image of God?
Who knows? We may walk away thinking, “I did not know how much I needed that until I tried.” Maybe, just maybe, the world might become a little better place. Maybe, just maybe, love would slowly overcome hate.
Maybe it would, but I honestly don’t know for sure. What I do know is this: His name is Sully, and he is my friend, and because he is my friend, I am a better man.