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He’d like to be a Pepper too! (2017 Version)

October 9, 2017

I sometimes wonder about my two big life aspirations to be a mom and a teacher.  Oh don’t get me wrong, both are incredible and noble callings, but if you ever really stop to think about it, to do both successfully means one is always striving to work one’s self out of a job.  After spending so many years investing in making sure my children thrived following our family’s darkest day, there are moments now that they are launched or almost launched into the world where I miss the daily repartee of life, especially when watching your children make life choices.

After facing all kinds of hardships in the last ten years, our college aged son never once let any of those setbacks and obstacles define who he truly is or much less, who he can become.  As a college professor, I know firsthand that many students come to post-secondary studies without any real direction or plans. But not, our guy, he left for college with a list and a whole bunch of dreams.  He were shocked when in one of our phone calls, he remarked that he was on track with the goals he had set for himself for the first year of college.

The funny thing is that while we were incredibly impressed by this revelation, he downplayed its significance because Mom, everyone has a plan for their lives.  He wasn’t trying to diminish the praise, but in everything he has ever done, he errs on the side of understatement about his accomplishments.

Well, not his momma! I will gladly wear the hyperbole banner . . . because I can. I’m the mom!

As he has doggedly pursued his goals and dreams, there has been some meandering.  We don’t always get to see all the insights of these pursuits as he is truly making a life for himself.  But in all seriousness, his drive to follow his dreams met some twists and one wrong turn for which I couldn’t be more thankful.

In his goal-setting, campus leader in his first year was one of his top pursuits.  After becoming one of the youngest presidents ever elected for his fraternity, much of his time and energy was focused on the philanthropy and community building aspects of that position, especially anything that involved helping kids.  While he never fumbled in his studies, leadership comes with a cost.  For him, the cost was a questioning of his commitment to his selected college major, medical biology. (Well that, and having to sacrifice some of your vacations and holidays serving others and not being home with family, specifically the momma.)

Even though I struggled at the time, I realize now how important missing some of Christmas break was when in one rare moment, the responsibilities of being a campus leader intersected with a pivotal life moment that could only be described as divine intervention.

Totally out of character for our infrequent phone calling son, I received an urgent text stating he needed to talk.  In his conversation, he shared that as part of his leadership conference, he chose to visit St. Jude’s Medical Hospital for Children in Memphis.

Apparently in that one afternoon, it was game over.  Our tearful call changed my heart and his.  I learned to let go, as my role of mom is shifting from caretaker to advisor, while God was teaching him to lean in, using his story to carve a path for his dreams.  After spending the afternoon at St. Jude’s and interacting with some of God’s best miracles, he walked out knowing that the calling on his life was to serve others, most likely children, through medicine, and giving back to others just as many had invested in his future.

My son, my version of the Boy Wonder, is once again vying for a full tuition prize through a contest with the Dr. Pepper/7Up Corporation. He was one of the top vote receivers last year, but in some respects we are glad he didn’t win the big prize because now he has new found purpose. In the competition, he has to describe how he would change the world.

His words took my breath away.


 I believe that true happiness lies in a life devoted to helping others. I am currently a junior at USD working towards becoming a Neurosurgeon. As a child I was severely wounded in a motor collision and saw first-hand how my surgeons gave me back the ability to walk and to live life again. My personal goal is to do the same for many others. ~ Sawyer S


I am sure my son was limited on space, but one can never discount his proclivity to understating the story.  So let me fill in the details.

In 2008, three of our four children were riding home on the school bus when the bus was hit.  In the aftermath of the crash, four children died (including our oldest son) and fourteen others were injured.  One of the seriously wounded was our Sawyer.  The crash left him with a shattered, broken, and dislocated bones, bruised lungs, a lacerated spleen, and severe nerve damage.  That year alone he spent twelve weeks in and out of the hospital before he was well enough to attend the last five days of the school year . . . using a wheelchair because he was unable to walk for several years afterwards. He never complained but more importantly he never gave up hope. First to walk, then to play football, and later to live life to the fullest.   He has endured more than most adults and is still a beacon of positivity.

When he says that he cannot imagine a life not devoted to serving others. This isn’t just lip service.  He means every word.  He hasn’t forgotten a single kindness extended to us or to him specifically since that awful day 9 years ago.  He has used every opportunity to give back and to serve as much as possible (even after having had over 30 surgical procedures since that awful day).  I know I’m his mom, but I would be following in his understating footsteps, if I didn’t use the word inspirational in the same breath as I use to speak his name.

Through his hardships, he has been given an eye to see the hurting, the overlooked, and the friendless.  When he was only a sophomore in high school, he didn’t hesitate when his “Uncle” Sheldon asked if he would consider coaching a group of young men in Special Olympics football.  He had waited three years to play the game again, and suddenly when he was asked to coach, he was ready to serve because no one else had stepped in. The most precious part of his coaching is that one of his “players” attended the same high school that he did.  When our son realized that a varsity letter could be awarded to the young man for his involvement in the game of football that they both loved, he petitioned the school to award the young man, his player and friend, his first athletic letter. Even though, my son earned his last football letter that same evening, surprising his own player at the banquet with a well-deserved letter was more rewarding.  Loving and serving others isn’t just an item to be checked off a goals list for him, but simply a part of his DNA.

I can guarantee that as a future physician, any child in his practice will receive every ounce of his love and energy to give them back a life that was changed or altered for them just like it once was for him.

I’m his mom.  I can boast.  I know he’s not perfect, but loving others is the best he can offer of himself and that is just one of the millions of reasons I am proud of him.

Then there is the aptness of the corporation sponsoring this contest.  About a week after the funeral services for our other son, we were trapped in a fog of grief, medical treatments, and generally being overwhelmed.  Add to this the nerve damage that Sawyer endured, we had a young man who writhed in excruciating pain 24 hours a day. Exhausted was the understatement of the century.  Thankfully, we live among amazing friends and neighbors who kept a vigilant watch over how to best help us.  One such evening, a neighbor popped over to check in.  She asked numerous times if there was anything she could do – right then – to help us.  What I lack in the trivialization department, I more than make up for in “I can do it myself” pride.  Several times, I assured her that we were fine.  As she got to the door, stepping into her winter boots and parka, she implored one last time, and just as I was about to stop her, my – at the time – little guy spoke up.

I could sure use a Dr. Pepper. 

As Paul Harvey would say, now you know the rest of the story.

Of all the things, he could have asked for to bring comfort, it was a Dr. Pepper (and he did for days to come).


I am including this picture – just in case, he has forgotten what I look like.  I am in the one in sunglasses. But in all seriousness, even on his moving back to college day, he proudly wore the shirt from the night he danced all night to raise funds for two little brothers who require extensive medical care. And, he hates dancing.

This sweet guy of mine needs your help.  Please go to the link below and vote for him and ask your friends and neighbors and Boy Wonders to vote too. Help him to shine his light and use his potential to live a life dedicated to giving life back to others through medicine. And like the commercial from my youth used to say, I am pretty sure my son would love to “be a Pepper too!”



One Comment
  1. Kari Meyer permalink

    Congratulations to Sawyer and his proud Momma (and family)! It was a pleasure meeting Sawyer through math team! Very deserving young man! He will do great things!

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