Freedom of Choice: It’s what my son advised me to write about today.
My son, the leukemia survivor who watches my writing from the sidelines, knowing it’s about him and keeping out of it in ways only a sixteen-year-old can do. He’s given me permission to write about him, and, as he doesn’t remember much about the roughest parts of his journey through chemo, he sometimes reads my writing and often doesn’t. He grants permission, but stays detached.
There are distinctive memories Andrew carries with him, and those are often regarding the ways in which he lost control. He remembers that medicine doses were non-negotiable. We were blessed to be based out of Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, and they were absolutely wonderful with Andrew. They gave him every chance to choose, when he could have a choice. Songs to hear, videos to watch, color of the food tray, where (but never when) to poke the needle (this arm, or that arm), what he wanted to order for supper, if he wanted to snack – all of these things were left up to Andrew. Downing his medicine, in whatever manner the doctor prescribed, was not optional.
I remember the only time a nurse entered Andrew’s room with a cheery, “Are we ready to take the medicine?” and I watched the nurse’s face as she finished her question and realized the error of her ways.
I don’t know if Andrew realized the phrasing or not, but his immediate response was, “No!”
The nurse backed up, as I smiled and she said, still in a happy voice, “Okay, I’ll be back in a few moments then.” She backed out the door, and winked at me, mouthing, “I’ll be right back, without the question.”
The nurse literally stood out in the hall for a moment and then re-entered the room, “Hey Andrew!” she proclaimed, “It’s now time to take your medicine. Would you like it in the blue cup, or the red cup?”
Freedom of choice – but only when it’s possible.
I teach my students’ that God gives us freedom of choice as well – but our choices have consequences. We can choose obedience, or we can choose our own way, but with that responsibility of choice comes the ownership of the results of our choices. It’s easy to explain, not so easy to live.
I thought things were exceedingly difficult on the cancer ward floor – no choice for medication. No choice for bone marrow drills, no choice for blood draws and definitely no choice for when and where to throw up. Even though every chance the doctors and nurses could, they allowed Andrew to make his own choices. Take the medicine with pudding or ice-cream. Swallow the pill or grind it up. Breakfast burritos or pancakes. There were choices, when they could offer them. No matter how often choices were given, the thing that still remains stuck in my son’s mind is that there was no choice. The medication was administered. The consequences remain in vivid memory.
Life throws us curve-balls and it seems obvious that our choices are limited. It’s not a matter of whether or not we take the medicine, but rather if we like it in the blue cup or the red one. That doesn’t feel much like a choice. Sickness, death, loss of a job, dissolving of a marriage or a child going their own way (not the one you prayed for so long) are all hard medicines to swallow and not the kind of medication that is known to make your life easier. We pray God will make good come out of it some way, but it’s bitter, and it’s awful and it feels as though there are no choices to be made.
But I truly believe there are always choices to be made.
God DID give us freedom of choice.
We can choose to be happy in hard times. There is a choice to find beauty in the midst of ugliness. We can choose to be kind while being treated rudely. Choose to make every moment count, when death stares us in the face.
It’s not easy, and sometimes it tastes bitter or feels nasty. But we still get to choose.
Yesterday, I went on a hike with my husband and my son. Andrew grumbled about steep hills and ticks and why he couldn’t stay home. He complained with a touch of teasing, but also a touch of seriousness. I began trying to take pictures, like I always do, and he rumbled a bit about that as well. So I ramped up my cheerfulness to match his grumpiness. “Andrew!” I bellowed across the ravine, “Look at the beautiful snow-capped mountain, it’s the perfect backdrop. Can I take a picture?”
“No!” he responded.
“Andrew!” I hollered over the roar of the river, “This bridge is awesome! We should come here for your senior photos.”
“Oh goody.” he mumbled.
“Andrew!” I yelped, purposefully louder than was even remotely necessary, “look at the sun on the water! It’s a perfect spot for a picture!”
Eventually our conversation degenerated into, “Can I take a picture now?”
I kept it up until we came to a fabulous waterfall. Even then I was still met with a “no.” So I just kept singing my question until my husband was laughing and shaking his head at the craziness. But it was all worth it.
Andrew said yes!
Silly – I know. Andrew and I learned, years ago during chemotherapy, that we have the right to say no. He can tell me “no” and I will do my best to honor it. But sometimes, I’ll keep asking.
I’m pretty sure this is exactly why Andrew told me to write about freedom of choice. He may have wanted to make a point. But I have a different one.