My car thermometer registered four degrees and the relentless, cutting wind made standing outside painful to any exposed skin. I drove into the school parking lot and stopped as close to the door as possible. Nick was bundled up in layers of turtleneck and Polar Tec, topped off with ski mask, snow pants, winter coat, and bulky gloves. As he scooted himself out of the back seat, he grabbed his backpack with one hand, slung it over his left shoulder, and picked up his lunch box with his other hand. I popped the trunk and helped him get the long, neon orange, plastic sled he was going to use for the school Olympics taking place that day. I asked him if he needed help getting into the building.
“MOM! I’m in the Olympics today! I’m STRONG!” I took that for a “No thank you.”
Nick put the sled under his arm and I hugged him before he ran to the front door of the school building.
“Good luck in the bobsled event!” I yelled. He waved goodbye with his lunchbox.
As I watched him walking toward the school building, I had one of those flashback moments to the day I picked him up and held him for the first time in the Russian orphanage where he had lived since birth. He was nineteen months old. So small at fifteen pounds, his chubby face was expressionless, his tiny body covered in parasitic scabies, both ears flaming with infection. He could not walk or talk. He could not stand unassisted. He could not even hold a sippy cup. But he was adorable. He could have been the prototype for the Precious Moments figurines—very blonde with full cheeks and downturned, big, blue eyes.
Today, Nick is eleven, almost twelve. He is still very small, weighing only 68 pounds. He is in the fifth grade but he spends half of every day in the Resource Room where he gets special service for his numerous disabilities. He is completely deaf in his left ear making it difficult to locate and tune out sounds. A speech articulation disorder makes him hard to understand. He is severely dyslexic and reads at the second grade level. Gross motor delays make playing sports with his peers difficult. His fine motor delays make it nearly impossible to write or even to keyboard. He has severe ADHD requiring daily medication. In short, Nick has a whole bunch of problems that make life difficult. But there are also areas where Nick overflows with abundance—faith, hope, and love.
Nick believes he can do anything. He doesn’t shy away from things because he’s small or weak. He grabs life with gusto each and every day and hopes for the best. He loves life, he loves people and, more than anything, he loves giving to others.
As Nick approached the school door he did something characteristic of his giving heart. Bundled and burdened with gear, he noticed some eighth graders right behind him. He opened the door with the hand holding the lunchbox and stepped aside. One by one, the eighth graders, twice his size, walked past him empty handed. No one offered to hold the door for Nick. After the last student entered, Nick managed to get himself and all his gear across the threshold without getting caught in the door.
Tears came to my eyes as I watched this scene.
Tears still come today as I replay it in my mind.
The small one.
The one with all the problems. The one whose birth mother dropped him off at an orphanage one day never to see him again. The one who keeps me so busy scheduling and running to specialists. Nick.
I’m positive Nick never expected a “thank you” for holding the door that day.
I’m positive Nick never thought, “They’re so big and unencumbered.
Why aren’t they helping me with my big burden?”
I’m positive Nick never thought, “I’m going to go in first and let them fend for themselves.”
I’m positive of these things because I’ve come to know Nick really well since picking him up in my arms for the first time that cold winter day in Russia
Loving and serving others doesn’t require a big body or a keen mind. Loving and serving others requires a big heart and a willing soul. I don’t think any lesson taught in school that day was as important as the one I learned in the school parking lot that morning. I don’t know how Nick fared in the Olympic bobsled event that day but he certainly won my heart and, in my mind, the gold medal for serving.
The last will be first, and the first will be last.