Thursday, September 10, 2009

We Always Have A Choice, Part I

My grandfather was my hero. He was also my best friend, until he passed away in 1997.

There was nothing I couldn’t tell him. His quiet spirit and wisdom always knew the right thing to say or the right moment not to say anything at all.
My grandfather shared a special time and place from the time I was a young boy, just after my parents’ divorce. First, we went to an orchard just across the road from the family farm. Later, we went to a hill overlooking a golf course. These were our moments.

The following is an excerpt from A Positive Life, a memoir of my life until now. Over the next two weeks, I talk about choices. The section is taken from the Prologue of the book entitled, “More than the Sum of What We Can Say”. I hope you enjoy it.

(Excerpt from A Positive Life, Zondervan 2010, Prologue section: “More than Sum of What We Can Say”)

The first weekend I spent with my grandparents after the diagnosis was awkward. My disease was not discussed. No one wanted to be the first to mention the situation. After Sunday breakfast, my grandfather asked me to take a ride with him. We drove the familiar road to the hill overlooking the golf course and sat together for a few moments in silence.

It was always my grandfather’s habit when we would arrive to say an “open eye” prayer. He liked to say that no one else would want him to say a prayer with your eyes open because “prayer was supposed to be with our eyes closed and our heads bowed”. But sitting here or in the orchard, my grandfather would ask, “How can we pray to God and be thankful for all we have and see and be afraid to look up and actually take it all in?”

It always made sense to me when were sitting there, though I dared not try the open-eye prayer anywhere else. My grandfather also said that looking up meant making the prayer about God more than about ourselves, which so many prayers seemed to be. So we would pray, looking up, around, and at each other. It was always a great moment, filled with some laughter, smiles, and the occasional loving, quiet stare from a grandfather to his grandson.

On this particular day, my grandfather finished the prayer and then took my hand. He had looked over at me several times, and we knew there was more in the air than just the breeze and much more to discuss.

Finally, my grandfather broke the silence: “So, what are you going to do with this thing?” He never used the letters HIV or AIDS and he never talked about sickness or disease. But I knew exactly what he was talking about.

“I don’t know. There’s no cure,” I said, looking down messing with a blade of grass or some loose rock. “There is not much of a choice.”

“You always have a choice,” my grandfather said, his voice steady. He was straightforward in his words but not gruff or difficult in his tone. But he wanted me to hear and pay attention.

“What choice do I have?” I asked. There didn’t seem to be many choices on my end. The doctors had not given any and most, if not everyone in my life, were walking around as though resigned to something else … to no choices available. “Sometimes,” I finally added, “I just feel like running as fast as I could. I am not sure where I would go, but just to see if I could outrun this feeling of loneliness and dread in my life.” My grandfather was listening.

“And then there are times, I just want to lay down and let it be over. Some days, it is hard to find the reason to feel joyful again. That scares me more than the disease.”

My grandfather had looked back at the horizon. I could tell he was thinking.

“I know there is a lot to consider over the next weeks. The doctor is telling me a lot about what I need to think about in terms of my treatment. So I am trying to get the right info and make good decisions. But choices?” I asked. “About life … really, about life? I don’t know about that.”

My grandfather and I sat there for a few moments. I was trying to be honest with him about where my heart was in this news and in this whole fight. I had faced a lot in my life, but this was different. The face of this disease was bigger than all of us put together. And the impact was not just about my life, but about so many others in my family. Lest we forget, this was all being done in secret, since most people could not at that point in the disease’s timeline get their brains around the idea of what me being HIV positive would mean for them, our family, or our community.

My grandfather shifted his body language to turn more toward me. He leaned against the ground with his left arm so that he could look me in the eye. “If anybody has a right to get in the corner and have a pity party about this, it’s you. It’s very raw deal, and I can’t tell you that I understand it or have even begun to confront my anger over it. But as bad as this seems—and I know it’s bad—you have a choice to make. You can get in that corner, and if you want me to, I will get in there with you.” My grandfather paused. I had never heard him talk about giving up or giving in to anything. But here he was with tears in his eyes, saying that he would crawl into that pity party hole with me, if that is where I went and he needed to go.

“But I know you, maybe better than anyone, and I know what is in your heart and deep in your soul, and I think you are going to make a choice other than pity, retreat, or surrender. I think you are going to live each day to the fullest with everything you have. I think you are going to take each day, no matter how many you have, and make something of them. No one can ask any more of you.”
He stopped and looked into my eyes. “And son, I think you making that choice will mean something someday.”

My grandfather understood the power of our choices. I learned their power, too. And, it is not always the “decision” we make as much the process we use that ultimately sets the stage for God’s most profound lessons and displays of grace and wisdom. The ability for the Creation to have “free will” and the ability to make “choices” that define our present and future is the most significant gift the Creator could give us. And, we make use and worth of that gift everyday, in large and small ways alike.

Over the next couple of weeks, I pray you will think diligently about the choices you make and about the prayer, thought and consideration you take in making them. What is God wanting you to learn from your choices? What does the process tell us about how God has already worked a miracle in us before we ever make them?

Next week, I will share another conversation from another vantage point about everyday wisdom and the choices we make. A different “stage” than the hillside from when I was 16 years old and newly diagnosed, but nonetheless the important into whose I would become and for what God would do in and through me across the journey.
Until then… You ALWAYS Have A Choice.

Be Salt and Light… You Matter…

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