(Edit for clarification: The All Saints Running with the saints 5k is a school fundraiser, with an additional option to support Michael. )
Heroes come in many different shapes and sizes. My wife Melanie is my biggest hero, as I mentioned before. Other heroes are all around us, doing big things or small things, even ones that we look up to as the best of their craft or sport, etc. And while I admire many of these people, today I want to shine a light on another hidden, huge hero of mine.
When you look at heroes, you usually “look up” to them. But I get to “look down” at this hero of mine! You see, he’s 9.
Michael and I first met when I was coaching U6 soccer. He and his little brother were on my team along with my daughter. Michael was fairly quiet but always attentive and man, was he enthusiastic on the soccer pitch. I always knew that he’d be back first on defense, and pushing forward on offense! I was only able to coach the one season, however, and I didn’t see Michael much after. We went to school with some of his amazing family growing up, so we kept in touch and the families often would talk, but who wants to hang out with a coach when you aren’t playing soccer?
Then we got the news in early 2017 that Michael has cancer – T-cell leukemia. At the minimum, an intensive treatment. For most and for Michael, and intensive 3 year treatment consisting of meds, spinal punctures, port access and maintenance, chemotherapy drugs, and then all the side effects that come with them; infections, sensitivity to germs, pain, loss of appetite, and isolation from friends as your daily companions become nurses and doctors and not family and friends. Cancer is TERRIBLE, not just on the patient but on the family! And the treatments are worse!!
At the same time as Michael was going through some of the worse (more bad) treatments early on was when I was getting my ALS diagnosis (this is April/May 2017) and soon after we received word that Michael was praying for us, and offering his sufferings up for me! Holy cow!!! Here’s a kid, at the time 8 years old, being more selfless and loving than any 8 year old I’d ever met!
But that is Michael. Every time I see him, he is joyful. He brings his joy to the clinic. He brings his joy to home, to school, to hospital, and shares it with those around him. He brings advent calendars to nurses and doctors at the hospital. He unifies an entire community of school and church, filled with #Michaelstrong t-shirts and magnets. He reminds us every day to pray, to hope, to not worry, to have faith in God’s good plan for all of us. Even when he has a terrible infection that has hospitalized him for a week or more, the pain doesn’t overcome this young man’s soul. God be praised.
Michael also goes above and beyond in other unexpected ways. Just yesterday we got a note from his mom that he had made something for me and wanted me to come over and see him. It is the sweetest note and most generous gift, earned by his 9 year old labors, that I think I’ve ever been given. It came out of nowhere, as well. That’s the kind of man Michael is. (Let’s put this into bigger context- how many 9 year olds hang with 35 year olds? Exactly. He’s amazing.) I know, selfishly, that Michael’s prayers are helping me every day with slowing the progression, keeping me positive and motivated to beat ALS, helping me rely on God more, and even the day-to-day things I know his prayers are helping. The prayers of a child are more powerful than we know.
And there is the crux of it all – Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me”. Michael may be young in age, but he is old in wisdom and love. He is my hero in more ways that I can count – his pain is immeasurably worse than mine, yet he smiles more. His day to day difficulty is overwhelming, yet he thinks of others. Michael is not just a child close to God, he brings others closer as well. I could share more and more stories of how he interacts with our parish priests, our schools, our fundraisers, our bishop, our friends, his own family… but I think you need to meet him and hear from these people yourselves.
In my own journey I bring Michael with me, to remind me to pray for him, and to spread the word of this brave young man to whomever I can.
Michael will be supported by the All Saints Running with the Saints 5K this year. The whole school, and families, and outsiders, are invited to come and support this fundraiser and support Michael! Registration. And if you come, you will see a small young man smiling with his friends, and the rest of us being uplifted by his prayers and presence.
We are truly blessed to have this hero among us, and we need to remember him too! It’s hard for heroes to hero all the time!
I leave you with a parting thought. I am good at capturing thoughts on topics but very bad at capturing my own emotions into words. But in good times, in bad times, I have felt the presence of the child I used to coach and now I feel often coaches me. I have learned more from him than I could have ever taught. And I will continue to share #Michaelstrong wherever I can!