FOCUS – Jason’s smile

by Captain Amanda ReardonA few days ago, when I attempted to leave home for work, I discovered my keys were locked in the car. Immediate rescue was not possible, and I interpreted the situation to be a sign from God that my younger sons and I should walk to the lake to feed the ducks. The lake is right behind our neighborhood, and the children love to go. But on this day, my five-year-old initiated a mild protest. He insisted his legs hurt, and that I should pull him and his brother in the wagon.

Knowing I’d soon go to work, I was in no mood to perspire. So I knelt down, eye-level with him, and said: “You are so blessed to have two good legs that work so well. I think you should thank God that you have them, and use them every chance you get.” Oddly, he found the energy necessary to extend our trip about a quarter mile to Barnes and Noble Bookstore (his favorite hang-out).

Several hours later, I took the same son to kindergarten. It was “field day,” so I sat in the gymnasium with the other parents to cheer our children on. The first event was an obstacle course: crawl atop something, crawl under something, walk across a balance beam a few inches from the floor, etc. I noticed that Jason, a boy from the other kindergarten class, had been wheeled in by his father and the woman ­ physical therapist, I think ­ who accompanies him every day to school. I wondered what it would be like for Jason to watch his classmates tackle the obstacle course.

Then I saw something I had not expected. Jason’s father lifted him from his wheelchair and began jogging while holding him. Though his feet weren’t accomplishing anything, Jason was earnestly pumping them up and down. His father lifted him over the first obstacle, and under the next. When they reached the balance beam, the teacher carefully placed one foot in front of the other, as though Jason were actually walking across the beam. Jason was absolutely ecstatic, laughing with abandon. I do not think I have ever seen a child so joyful.

I do not mean to cast my son in a bad light for complaining about his sore legs. (He does experience growing pains.) Nor do I mean to attempt a Dickensonian tug at the reader’s heartstrings by describing the scene in the gymnasium. But the reader can surely appreciate the poignancy of the contrast played out that day.

As I sat under the spell of Jason’s wide smile, Philippians 4:11 fell in my mind like a backdrop to the scene before me: “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.” What a vivid portrayal of contentment Jason gave! Contentment is not the gratification of all wishes. Contentment is a stubborn insistence upon experiencing fulfillment, regardless of one’s situation. Had he been able to write the script for his life, would Jason have chosen to be different from the other children? Certainly not. But that little kindergartener refused to be sad at field day. I dare say he had more fun than any other child in the gymnasium.

I carried Jason’s smile with me the next couple of days, and shone it like a flashlight into my own heart. Its beam quickly disclosed my propensity to fret and complain over trivial things. Occasionally, I tell myself that I can only truly be happy if “a, b, c, and d” take place. It is easier to invent stipulations for contentment than to pursue it. If Jason decided he would only be satisfied when he could run for himself, he would have been miserable. Instead, he opted to play on the stage God set for him. And the audience was watching. Every parent’s eyes were on Jason. The children began to chant: “Jason, Jason, Jason!” As he finished the obstacle course, the cheering of the parents erupted into sustained applause. It was as if I could feel the thumping of the hearts of the parents on either side of me. We did not only applaud to congratulate that sweet little boy. We applauded because he was our hero.

The Kingdom of God is always topsy-turvy. The last shall be first. A widow’s mite is a fortune. You must love your enemies. With that kind of logic, I guess it’s really no surprise that those we feel should be pitied might just be those who possess the key to happiness. I suspect that people will admire Jason all of his life. Would that I might be more like him.

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