A few years ago I attended a Parent/Teacher Conference with Mitch and Natalie. I did my best to attend as many as possible because I wanted my son to know that I loved him and I would always be there for him. Mostly, I wanted Mitch to know I was his biggest fan. 

It was about 7PM on an ordinary evening. The school was filled with young students each eager to show their parents their world. Paper art projects proudly attached to the walls, the smell of glue and crayons brought back vivid memories and feelings from my own childhood. As we entered Mitchell’s class room he shyly pointed to his desk with his name badge. It wasn't spectacular, and it looked like everyone else’s, but it was his and he was proud of it. And I was proud of him.

We were then greeted by his teacher and invited to sit at a tiny elementary school table and sit in even tinier chairs. Mitch quietly giggled seeing his big dad sit on a chair that may as well have been a thimble. I love my son and I miss the sound of his giggles.

Mitch, with eager eyes and a humble disposition, sat between my wife and me as we began to learn about his progress. I’ll never forget his sweet face, still bearing remnants of a milk mustache from his after school snack along with a chapped bottom lip. The very sight of him reminded me what goodness looked like. 

As his teacher began to discuss how he was doing in class I could tell how much it meant to Mitch whenever she was complimentary of him. Sure there were things to work on, but she celebrated his success and helped Mitch feel good about himself – and because of that Mitch believed in himself.

My heart swelled with gratitude for this educator who understood her job wasn't to teach concepts, but to teach people. She knew the difference. Because of that, she knew the most important thing she could do for her students was to help them believe in themselves – that they were each uniquely capable and absolutely awesome. 

I had a pivotal moment many years ago in high school when my teacher (Mrs. Osa) recognized something in me. I wasn't prepared for her observation – but in that moment she helped me believe in me. She lit a spark in my soul and my life was forever changed. Mrs. Osa, wherever you are, thank you. The echo of your belief in me is still felt, even 25 years later. 

So, as I watched my tender son, a little boy who wasn't as strong as the other kids, a little boy who wondered if he would ever amount to much … and suddenly I saw a spark in his eye and a new light in his countenance. Mitch began to grow with confidence. My heart was overflowing with love and gratitude then, and it overflows today. 

I wonder how often I've missed opportunities to lift and build others because I said to myself, “What difference will it make?” This night with my son, and that unexpected moment 25 years ago reminded me what a difference makes. The difference I’m talking about is often so small it can be mistaken for something not worth doing: a little smile in the hall, a compliment, recognition, appreciation for someone on or a simple word of encouragement or love … it makes a difference.

A small difference can make all the difference.