Big Bravery from the Smallest Slugger

Nash Norris was diagnosed with cancer when he was only 10 months old.  The doctors simply told his parents to take him home and love him, that there was nothing else they could do.  

This week, a precious little boy ran onto the field of an Atlanta Braves game and threw out the first pitch.  That little boy, full of seven years of life and still slugging the medical odds every day is Nash Norris.

Today, Nash is in the first grade and says he’s smarter than anybody in the class, sometimes even his teacher!  He loves school and even plays on a baseball team. Even on his weakest days, Nash loves to solve puzzles.  Once he masters puzzles, he will mix two puzzles together to challenge himself and now even puts the puzzles together upside down!

This little boy has endured dark times that I can’t imagine facing as a teenager or adult, let alone as a child.  He has undergone chemo and radiation treatments for most of his life, and has experienced tough days with a feeding tube and port.  Because the cancer is in his upper spine, he is only able to fully use one arm and leg.  Yet nothing is too insurmountable or too discouraging for Nash and he lives every day to the fullest, accepting every challenge.  He often says, “Just because you are sick doesn’t mean you can’t do a lot!”.  He not only defies odds, but he does it with joy, bravery and leadership that he may not even realize he possesses.
Nash has a wonderful family that supports and loves him, including sister Karleigh, who is ten years old.  Recently, he received some pretty amazing support from the Atlanta Braves pro baseball team.

Thanks to the MVP Foundation, little Nash and his dad were recently flown to Milwaukee for the Braves-Brewers game where Nash threw out the first pitch.  Nash is a huge Atlanta Braves fan, so this was a magical dream come true for him.  I recently watched a video of Nash running across the field and throwing the pitch and as I watched that little boy run, I felt all of my worries, stress and discouragement from today immediately fade away.

So many things about Nash’s story put life into a whole new perspective.  I am suddenly reminded that even in the darkest of circumstances, there is still gleaming, brilliant light to be found.  The burdens that I thought were heavy suddenly become blessings. I am thankful for the English paper I have to write and the piano scales I have to practice because I have two fully working arms to complete them with.  My early morning ballet class becomes a blessing because I have two legs that allow me to do tondues and  pirouettes.  My cold isn’t much of a bother anymore, because I know that in a week or so, I’ll be back to normal again. 

We all go through uncertain times where we may feel that we don’t have a whole lot to be thankful for.  Yet everyday, there are countless little things we have to be grateful for, if we can step back and recognize them.  If we can’t think of anything, we can start by being thankful that we have eyes to read these words, a mind to process and question what we read and a heart to feel admiration and love for precious Nash.

I am sure that all around us, there are brave little warriors hitting tough pitches every day, just like Nash.  We never know what battles people are facing.  Maybe if we start to pay attention more, we will notice the courage and indefatigable joy of the everyday heroes around us.  And we will be thankful – thankful for miracles both big and small and thankful that God is faithful, even when we don’t see it.     

I learned of this beautiful story from Nash’s generous and faith-filled grandmother, Judi Felton, owner of Fancy Fanny’s in Chattanooga, Tennessee, who is a remarkably generous national wardrobe sponsor for Distinguished Young Women.   When I asked Judi what I could do to repay her for the beautiful gowns she gave me to wear during my year as Distinguished Young Woman of America, she simply asked for prayers for her precious Nash.   

Nash, you have my prayers, admiration and love!  Thank you for being such a role model of courage, what it means to treasure life and how we should all face the curve balls in our lives.

Christina Maxwell is a freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan majoring in musical theater. Originally from Asheville, North Carolina,  Christina was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of North Carolina for 2012 and the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012.

The Graceful Exit

“There’s a trick to the ‘graceful exit’.  It begins with the vision to recognize when a job, a life stage or a relationship is over -- and let it go.  It means leaving what’s over without denying its validity or its past importance to our lives.  It involves a sense of future, a belief that every exit line is an entry, that we are moving up, rather than out.”
-Ellen Goodman, American journalist and columnist

I’ve often heard people relate life to sand. There is the idea that you can’t hold onto anything too tightly, even the most precious of things, or you will lose it.  If you squeeze too tightly on a handful of sand, the grains all slip through your fingers.  This is true in life, especially when it is time to move from one chapter of life to the next.  We must be willing to let go in confidence and trust, knowing that in relinquishing control of the past, we are allowing ourselves to step into our future.

Yet, I could feel the sands of time slipping through the fingers of my life as I sat with my face pressed up to the glass, squeezed into a tiny space in the backseat.  Over the 9 ½ hour drive from Asheville, North Carolina to Ann Arbor, Michigan in our Toyota 4-Runner loaded to the brim with everything I own, I watched through the window as my beautiful and ancient Blue Ridge Mountains faded into gently rolling white picket fenced Kentucky pastures, bustling cities in Ohio and finally into my new home.

“Bittersweet” is the perfect word to describe this new chapter as I leave home for my freshman year at the University of Michigan.  I’m leaving behind years of cherished friendships and vivid memories, turning points and breakthroughs, and the rock solid foundation of my family.  It’s a strange place to be -- straddling the melancholy beauty of the past and the gleaming, but unfamiliar, future on the horizon. 

Yet, this is a place where we often find ourselves in life.  Maybe we are facing the transition from middle to high school or from high school to college, the tough move to a new town or the end of a relationship.  It can be hard to let go of a phase in life, especially when that phase was full of so much goodness.  How do you let the curtain close on one part of your life, and step into an exciting but unknown new stage with grace?

I think that author Ellen Goodman has so much wisdom in her words about the ‘graceful exit’.  The essence of a graceful exit from any stage of life is in being able to let go of the past, without diminishing the immense value it had in shaping us, but knowing in confidence that we must be willing to let go if we want to grow into all of the glorious adventures the shrouded future is holding.  This is a profound challenge -- learning how to hold onto the value of our past, but not so tightly that it holds us back or slips through our fingers like the grains of sand.  Yet, as I bask in the peaceful breeze in beautiful and colorful Ann Arbor, dressed in blue and maize and surrounded by people who share my love for performing and passion for life, I am flooded with excitement about growing and learning in the incredible Musical Theatre program at the University of Michigan.  I have been given this dream come true, but to open my hands enough to accept this gift, I must loosen my grasp on the most recent chapter of my life.

Christina Maxwell is a freshman at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, Michigan majoring in musical theater. Originally from Asheville, North Carolina,  Christina was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of North Carolina for 2012 and the Distinguished Young Woman of America for 2012.