Friday, August 08, 2008

Touching article

Yesterday was the first day of school for Julien. It was already an emotional day and when I got to work, I saw this email. It was very touching and well worth sharing. I think everyone knows that Gene Stallings and his wife were blessed with a special needs child 46 years ago, who has now passed away.

Gregg Thompson, *Contributor *Published August 4, 2008

*All I ever really needed to know, I learned from Johnny Stallings.*

You can go to the finest schools and get any advanced degree they
offer. Or you can read all of the business and self-improvement books
you want. But for a Ph.D in true wisdom, take a look at the life of
Johnny Stallings.

You may have never heard of Johnny. He had Down Syndrome.
When he was born, 46 years ago in Alabama, the doctors said
he wouldn't live even a year or two because of a severe heart defect.
Other well-meaning doctors advised his parents to put him in an institution.
"In a year," they said, "you'll forget you ever had him."

But fortunately for all of us, Gene and Ruth Ann Stallings didn't take
their advice. They chose to treat Johnny as a vital part of their family.

And we are all the better for it.

As his father advanced his football coaching career — first at
Alabama, then to Texas A&M, the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona Cardinals
and finally to a national championship in 1992 at Alabama — Johnny
was an integral part of the team. To Johnny, the most important person
was the trainer.

Trainers take care of the players," he once said. "You can't win without

To the day he died, Johnny Stallings wore a massive, diamond-encrusted
National Championship ring on his frail fingers, which were tinged a
grayish blue from the lack of oxygen caused by his heart condition.

Johnny was front and center in that National Championship team photo.

In fact, he was a part of every team his father coached, including the
storied Dallas Cowboys. The players drew inspiration from him. When Johnny
turned 40 years old, for example, his birthday party was attended by a Who's
Who of former NFL stars.

Johnny had some accomplishments of his own. He was featured
with his father on a popular national United Way TV commercial,
has a playground named for him at the RISE center in Tuscaloosa,
had the athletic training facility at Alabama named for him, and won
a "Change the World" award from Abilene Christian University.

But perhaps the most important thing that Johnny Stallings accomplished
is this: he taught us that it doesn't matter what awards you win, or what
worldly accomplishments you achieve, it is how you live your life that
matters most.

So what can we learn from Johnny Stallings?

*● Every life matters.*

The life of Johnny Stallings teaches us that God can use anyone, no
matter how insignificant in society's eyes, to make an impact on others.
Johnny had none of the things that you and I take for granted, but Johnny
touched countless lives in ways none of us can even begin to imagine.
Our materialistic, success-driven culture doesn't really know what to do
with people like Johnny. Society certainly didn't know what to do with
Johnny when he was born 46 years ago.
But God did.

*● See the good in everyone. "Be my friend."*

When Johnny got to know you, you became his "friend."
And he never forgot you. Despite being mentally disabled,
Johnny never forgot a name or a face.

Johnny literally saw no evil in people. Johnny had more friends in his
short lifetime than any of us will ever enjoy.

*● Walk openly, simply and humbly with God.*

The Bible tells us, "And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with
your God." That describes the way Johnny lived.
He could barely read or write, but Johnny Stallings
prayed the sweetest prayers you ever heard.
He didn't necessarily know the fine points of theology,
but you could tell that he knew God. He walked with God,
openly, simply and humbly. And everybody knew it,
whether they acknowledged that God or not.

*● Love unconditionally.*

In Johnny's world, you didn't keep score or attach
strings to love. He loved unconditionally, all of the time.

*● Smile. Laugh. Hug.*

The last time I saw Johnny, we brought him a T-shirt from
Dreamland Barbecue in Tuscaloosa, one of his favorite
places to eat. Johnny hugged us. He patted us. He
smiled all of the time. Johnny was one of these people
who always made everyone feel better just for having
been around him. Who among us can say that about

*● Treasure every moment*.

Johnny, of course, was supposed to be put
away in an institution. Doctors told them Johnny
wouldn't make it to age 4, and when he did, they then
said he wouldn't live past 11 because of heart and lung
issues common to people with Down Syndrome.
Then we always heard that Johnny wouldn't live past 16.

And on and on. So with Johnny, you treasured every moment.

*● Little victories are the ones that matter the most.*

Everyone focuses on the championships, but with Johnny, you celebrated
all of the little victories. Then, after a while, you realized that those
are the ones that really matter the most.

*●Trust God because He really does know best.*

Despite being frail and disabled, Johnny Stallings wore a National
Championship ring. Every member of that 1992 Alabama team will tell you
of Johnny's impact on that team. Johnny Stallings literally changed the
world and made everybody he met a better person — if only for that moment.

Gene Stallings, a star football player, champion ship coach and tough
enough to be one of Bear Bryant's legendary Junction Boys,
probably used to dream of a son who would be an impact player,
who would change the world, make a difference and someday
maybe — just maybe — wear a National Championship ring.

"I prayed to God that He would change Johnny,
but He changed me," Coach Stallings once said in a speech.
He added that if God offered him the choice of going back and
having a "perfect" son without a disability or having
Johnny, "I'd take Johnny every time."

Gregg Thompson is a 1972 graduate of Paris High School, former
sports writer for The Paris News and currently director of
corporate communications for Chick-Fil-A in Atlanta, Ga.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for printing this article, My husband Steve's Dad "Sam" was Gene's 1st cousin and Johnny was so special. Even though we don't keep in touch since we moved from Texas, they are always in our prayers. You are so special!

Polly & Steve Stallings