Watching the news each day usually evokes emotions like shock, anger, or anxiety. Crime never ends but only gets a little closer to our doorstep. Sickness seems to be lurking around every corner and among our family and friends. Natural disasters are more common than ever. It seems like most of us are mired in the valleys of life instead of celebrating from the mountains. But, alas there is hope!

I am captivated by the story of John O’Leary in his book “On Fire”. His resilience in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds is astonishing. He recounts the day he almost died from a gasoline explosion in his father’s tool shed on through the grueling recovery process that literally took years. O’Leary tells story after story of how the accident led to innumerable blessings in his life. He speaks of crossroads where he had to make a decision to quit or to persevere. Today, he travels the world sharing his message of hope.

Over the years, I have had the privilege of hearing evangelist David Ring on TV and in person talk about his journey through life with a debilitating disease. He would always ask the question to his audience “I have cerebral palsy; what’s your excuse?” His message of determination is a steadfast encouragement.

In his book “David and Goliath”, Malcolm Gladwell speaks of the many successful millionaires who had to overcome dyslexia. There are many stories of children who overcame this challenge every day. I was privileged to have taught a wonderful young man who was his class president. He gave the most impressive graduation speech I have heard and did it without any notes. He had long since learned how to overcome dyslexia by memorizing his school work. Today, Joe Whitt Jr. is a successful coach in the National Football League. His work ethic is an inspiration to me.

The Apostle Paul encouraged us to press on through challenges despite how difficult they become. My pains in life pale in comparison to the punishments he endured and death he suffered for his belief that Jesus was the Christ. His life and testimony of endurance and faith have lifted my family and many others through challenging times.

Overcoming failures and obstacles in life is a very important part of the learning and maturation process. Failure should never be used as an excuse, but as a motivation. As an educator and parent, I want to be an example of resilience and hope. Adults must be teaching children how to overcome tough times no matter the causes. We must first, however, learn how to do this for ourselves and demonstrate it to our youngest generations.

John, David, Joe, and Paul all had people in their lives that encouraged, challenged, and walked alongside them through their difficult journeys. Our children who walk the halls of our schools and the sidewalks of our communities carry some very heavy burdens that we may know nothing about. There is no greater act of love than to be a difference maker in their lives. In a sense, we are all teachers and the invitation to impact a child is open to everyone. There is no better time than now to make it happen.

In this season of thanksgiving and hope, may we all commit ourselves to lifting up our brothers and sisters who are downtrodden. May we find the light that shines at the end of every dark tunnel. May we embrace failures as opportunities to reach higher than we thought was possible. And finally, let us be thankful in all things!

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Dr. Todd Freeman is Superintendent of Sylacauga City Schools. Almost 2,400 students are enrolled in Sylacauga’s school system — Sylacauga High School, Indian Valley Elementary School, Nichols-Lawson Middle School, and Pinecrest Elementary School. Follow Dr. Freeman on Twitter at mtfreeman or visit www.sylacauga.k12.al.us.

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