I choose to be…it’s up to me! Rev. Anne R. Atwell May 17, 2015 Throughout most of my life, I had a very dear friend, Teresa. She was one of those friends that it seemed like you’ve known forever. And even when you hadn’t talked for a while, you could still pick up right where […]
I choose to be…it’s up to me!
Rev. Anne R. Atwell
May 17, 2015
Throughout most of my life, I had a very dear friend, Teresa. She was one of those friends that it seemed like you’ve known forever. And even when you hadn’t talked for a while, you could still pick up right where you left off. Teresa and I met when I was 5 years old. My family had just moved into this little neighborhood with a bunch of single family homes and lots of kids running around, riding bikes and playing games. One morning, I was walking through the neighborhood when this girl stopped me, introduced herself, and asked me if I wanted to come to her house to play. She had lots of toys and games, which sounded pretty good to me! Teresa was a couple of years older than me and what I noticed after some time was that she didn’t ride bikes or play outdoor games like the rest of us kids. I asked my mom about it one day and she told me that Teresa had something called Cystic Fibrosis which prevented her from being very active like my new friends and me. But I really liked Teresa – she was funny and a lot of fun!
Teresa and I remained very close friends for many years, even after I moved to Florida. But just about six years ago, she called me to tell me that she hadn’t been feeling well and she was going to Pittsburgh to have some tests done. Well, the news wasn’t good – my dear friend, this sweet, kind woman I had known for about 40 years had Pancreatic Cancer. Oh………my heart just broke. A few weeks after her diagnosis, I flew up to Pennsylvania to spend some time with Teresa…and really just to see her. But what was interesting was that she didn’t seem to be too terribly afraid. Sure, she felt uncertain of what was going to happen – anybody in that same situation would. But she told me while I was visiting with her, “You know, Anne, I’ve made the choice to keep on living. Sometimes I’m in really awful pain. And sometimes I have no energy at all. But the days I do feel ok are the days that I go and live my life. I can live now – or I can die now. It’s up to me.”
And she did live her life in the little time that she had left. She baked cookies for the staff and patients at the local cancer treatment center. Her church was doing a fundraiser because they needed a new roof and Teresa helped to staff the bi-weekly yard sales to raise money. She didn’t let her illness stop her from living her life. Unfortunately the cancer spread quite quickly and she left this earth just six months after her initial diagnosis. But watching her in action when she knew very well that she only had a little time left gave me and so many others courage. Her life served as a reminder of how to live very fully. We all have a choice.
In our readings this morning, we are reminded that the choices we make really do impact our lives. And we have not just a single choice but many choices! Louise Hay tells us, “You have unlimited choices about what to think. You can choose balance, harmony, peace…” Think of all the many ways we can live our lives! And in the wonderful world of social media, of unlimited cable television channels, of blogs, and newspapers and so many other forms of communication, there is always, always someone telling us what they think – and how they believe we should think! Even coming here or any church on a Sunday morning, you will certainly hear a sermon, prayers and music all conveying messages. What we have to do is to determine what messages we will accept and what we will set aside. We have that choice – believe and live out the negative messages or believe and live out positive messages. I think it is so wonderful that with all the negativity that seems to surround us, there are places like Sunshine Cathedral which will offer only affirmative and uplifting messages.
The reading that Deacon Michael shared with us a few minutes ago came from the Psalter – the book of Psalms. If you’ve never read Psalms, I encourage you to take some time and do so. It is wonderful, reflective writing that understands the complexity of human life – the human condition. People in ancient times were like many of us in that, at times, they were happy and glad to be alive and at other times, they were filled with despair and they cried out in their sorrow and their fear. The Psalms are hymns or poems which present to the reader different types of communication between people and God. It is a compilation of themes and issues found in the rest of the Old Testament. It presents people’s understandings of God, of creation, of life, of love, of happiness, and of tragedy.
When I was doing my Clinical Internship with VITAS Hospice, many of the patients and families were very angry with what was happening. Either they or someone they loved was sick, was dying. They would ask, “How could this be happening?” “What have I done to deserve this?” “Is God angry with me?” And by asking these questions, there was often some associated guilt. People would think that if they asked questions, maybe their faith wasn’t strong enough. Maybe God really would be angry with them if they cried out in their fear. What I reminded them of, and what seemed to bring them some comfort during those most difficult times is that the Book of Psalms is filled with crying out – with questions – with lament. Psalm 22 begins with a verse that many of us will recognize because, according to the New Testament stories, Jesus spoke this on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Even Jesus, according to Gospel writers, had questions and fears. And it is ok to have that. I would think that it doesn’t mean that your faith is weak. It means that you are human and that, sometimes, you just need to be gentle with yourself. We all do. As we heard in our reading from Pema Chodron, “Sitting here being gentle with ourselves, we’re rediscovering something.” And maybe that something we’re discovering is that we are human – and that there is a spark of divinity in each of us that will guide us in to peace – into positive choices – if we are willing – if we are open. We have the choice.
In Psalm 103, which was also part of our readings this morning, we hear, “…never forget that life is very good!” Oh what a wonderful verse that is! “Never forget that life is very good!” It’s something I tell myself frequently. What this Psalm also tells us is that the Divine is not distant – out there somewhere waiting to help us only if we beg and beseech. The Psalmist tells us that God will restore us when we stumble. God will heal your sickness. And God will provide each of us love and compassion. You may be thinking to yourself, “Well, God hasn’t healed my sickness. I still have this illness, this dis-ease and I still have this pain.” But there are so many ways to be healed. There are so many ways to be lifted up when we stumble. Maybe some ways we’ve never even considered. “Never forget that life is very good!”
Now, I know that the idea of choice, this idea of being healed by our choices, may seem simplistic. But we may scoff and say that it all seems too goody-goody, just way too easy. Well then maybe, just maybe, making positive choices and living a way that affirms us and affirms other people really is quite simple. It doesn’t have to be difficult. I think often we make our own difficulties. We put up our own barriers. But living with a positive outlook is about making an intentional decision; to live in a way that uplifts rather than hurts.
But let’s think for a moment. From where do we get most of our energy? What really determines how good or how not so good we feel? Not in every instances, but often we get our energy and we pick up on the emotions of the people with whom we surround ourselves. Our friends. Our family. Our coworkers.
And how many of you have people in your life who are difficult to be around? I think most of us do. There always seems to be that person – that one – who is always just so negative! They never feel good and they dislike everything and everyone. They’re kind of difficult to be around. And it is very easy to pick up on their emotions, isn’t it? I know when I’m around someone who is constantly criticizing, constantly unhappy, I find myself picking up on little things that don’t really matter. And I will wonder to myself, why am I getting so upset over something so minute?? Then I remember, “Oh, that’s right. I was just with so-and-so.” And I know I’m not alone in this. We have something or someone that pushes our buttons. But if we have made the conscious decision to choose only positive ways of thinking, often we can step away from that person who is intent on making everyone as miserable as they are and we can follow our own path into a more productive, more enlightened space.
The Dutch born Roman Catholic priest and writer, Henri Nouwen tells us this, “Choices. Choices make the difference. Two people are in the same accident and severely wounded. They did not choose to be in the accident. It happened to them. But one of them chose to live the experience in bitterness, the other in gratitude. These choices radically influenced their lives and the lives of their families and friends. We have very little control over what happens in our lives, but we have a lot of control over how we integrate and remember what happens. It is precisely these spiritual choices that determine whether we live our lives with dignity and with peace.”
Television and movie actor Michael J. Fox shares, “I have no choice about whether or not I have Parkinson’s. I have nothing but choices about how I react to it. In those choices, there’s freedom to do a lot of things in areas that I wouldn’t have otherwise found myself in.”
My friends, we have a choice. To live in joy or live in hurt. To find happiness or to find anything and everything that is wrong. To go to peace or to go to pieces. We have a choice. Let’s face it, though, we’ve all made some poor choices in our lives. That’s how we are sometimes. We can’t undo the past, but we can always learn from it. Choices are the building blocks of our lives and despite all the mistakes one makes, we know, and we are reminded every Sunday that the past is past and the future does indeed have infinite possibilities. And today we remember, we hopefully never forget that life is very good.
And this is the good news – Amen!
I choose happiness.
I choose wholeness.
I choose peace.
My life is very good!