I was sure Heavenly Father had failed me. Or He had at least forgotten I existed.
I sat all alone at an empty table as the lunchroom around me buzzed with laughter and conversation. I was the new girl. And the first day of seventh grade is not an easy time to make friends.
I had prayed about the move to Texas, and I felt it was the right thing. But now here I was, alone with my mashed potatoes. All the comfort and reassurance I felt before were gone.
As the bell rang I remembered I had my peer mentorship class next—my last hope for getting into the “in” crowd. The counselor had told me that a lot of kids take the class to meet people and get involved—exactly what I was looking for. I hurried down the hall with new hope for my social life. I would finally have friends here.
“Welcome to class. Today you will each be assigned to a student with a special need or concern. Your job will be to help him or her throughout the year.” With that Mrs. Watson began running down the class roll, assigning each student to be a tutor or mentor. When she came to me she asked me to see her after class.
“Kevin is a special case. He needs a lot of help. It won’t be easy. Are you okay with that?”
“Sure!” How hard could it be?
The next day I met Kevin Mathison. He had no hands, no feet, and he controlled his electric wheelchair with a lever held in his mouth. I must admit that, when I saw him, I had less than Christlike feelings. I was afraid. Here I was, desperately looking for friends and popularity in this new place, and I was the one to be picked to help Kevin. Why couldn’t they get someone else to do it?
Kevin had a rare disease that was gradually deteriorating his skin and connective tissues. Although the counselor had talked with me briefly about his condition, I was not at all prepared for what I saw when we met. His arms, legs, and neck were bandaged, his hair was gone, and his face was badly scarred. Perhaps more shocking than all the rest, however, was Kevin’s smile—so bright and so genuine that his blue eyes sparkled with it.
I wish I could say that at that moment I put aside my selfish fears and saw Kevin for the incredible spirit he was, but unfortunately it took me most of that year to even feel comfortable with him. Though very lonely and disappointed, I stuck with Kevin. I helped him get to classes, complete assignments, and eat lunch. But, oh, how I dreaded those lunch hours I spent spoon-feeding Kevin while my classmates were chatting and laughing about clothes and guys. I felt I would never belong. And having to help Kevin around everywhere was certainly not helping.
As for Kevin, he was excited simply to have someone to talk to. His warm smile greeted me every morning. Throughout the year he told me all about his family and his favorite sports teams. I eventually found myself laughing and even enjoying our time together. The last day before Christmas break, Kevin came into class and asked me to open his bag for him. When I unzipped his bag, I found a small box wrapped in green paper.
“Open it. It’s for you.” He seemed more serious than usual as he watched me struggle to untie the bow. When I opened the box, a lump came to my throat. It was a small pin—a guardian angel.
“Thanks for being a friend, Jana,” Kevin said softly.
I couldn’t believe it. All this time I had been searching and praying for friends, and here he was right in front of me. Kevin didn’t give me the instant popularity I had wanted, but he did give me a lesson in service, friendship, and unconditional love that has been with me ever since.
Kevin Mathison died one month before he would have graduated. At our high school graduation ceremony, I stood with the rest of my class as an honorary diploma was awarded to his family. Tears streamed down my face as I silently thanked Kevin for the years of friendship and love he gave me. This young man, the sight of whom made me uncomfortable and afraid five years ago, had become beautiful—not because his appearance ever changed, but because he gave me better eyes with which to see.
I know Heavenly Father put Kevin and me together for a reason. I prayed to have friends, and the Lord showed me that first I had to be one. I still have Kevin’s pin in my room. It reminds me that if I look outside myself, I truly can be a guardian angel—or at least a friend.