On April 15, 2018, in the small town of Provo, Utah, Rick Winder driving a utility truck, veered lanes and crashed into three cars causing an accident that took the life of three-year-old Chelsea Parkinson. The accident also left several injured. Mr. Winder was charged with negligent homicide. Reed and Katie Parkinson, the parents of Chelsea, showed up to Winder’s sentencing on December 6th and gave a testimony that left the courtroom stunned. The Parkinson family, although saddened by the loss of their daughter, asked the judge to have mercy on Rick Winder–asking that he not receive “any jail-time if possible, and get the lowest amount of sentencing as possible.” In the words of Chelsea’s father, “We miss our daughter, of course, so much, but we realize that Rick is a real person. He’s a human being. It took a little while to realize that, but once we did, we were able to forgive him.” 

As a parent of a three-year-old myself, I can only imagine the pain and heartache that this family feels over the loss of their daughter. Their story, while horribly sad, is also a great illustration of choices. Rick Winder had a choice and he made a mistake which cost the life of a child. But the parents had a choice as well. Their choice to forgive Rick is a choice that will serve as a great example of compassion and forgiveness. Winder’s attorney called it the best example of mercy and forgiveness that he’s ever seen. 

Every day we are faced with choices. Some are small and hold very little significance on our future. But some choices are very important and can be a pivotal point for the rest of our lives. Our choices can even determine our destiny. There are those who believe that destiny is something that just happens to you. But our choices, most assuredly, determine our destiny. We have control and the choices we make can be the difference between joy, happiness, and abundance or living a life filled with sorrow and pain. Just like the Parkinson family, we all have choices. They chose to see Winder as a human being who makes mistakes and therefore it made it easier to forgive him. 

Good Choices, Good Life is an organization dedicated to focusing “on the importance of effective choice making” by providing an education that will help individuals gain a better understanding of personal responsibility. In an article on their site titled “Life Doesn’t Just Happen,” Michael Nelson shares the same idea that the choices we make can influence our lives. He states, “You can choose to be polite or be indifferent. You can choose to study or go play with your friends. You can choose to work hard or just get by. You can choose what you want to do with your life or just accept whatever comes your way. These, and hundreds of other choices, define you as an individual and determine the life experience you will have.” Sometimes even what seem like small choices can influence our lives. Our choices have an effect on our lives and we have a responsibility to make responsible choices. 

We all understand that there are things that are out of our control. We are not the only people who have choices and make choices, and other’s choices can affect our lives–sometimes in disastrous and painful ways. As we saw in the heartbreaking story of the Parkinson family, Winder had a choice too and he made some choices which inflicted emotional pain on Reed, Katie, and countless others. However, we can always choose how we react or act after such incidents. As Dolly Parton stated so eloquently, “We cannot direct the wind, but we can adjust the sails.” Even though there are things that we cannot control and people will act in a way that could bring unimaginable pain to our lives, we always have a choice on how we act, what we do, and even how we feel. 

As an illustration, I like to compare it to physical health and a journey to getting into shape. When we go to the gym we make many choices, what equipment we use, how long we workout, and when we’re done. Most people find going to the gym hard, but the truth is that no one at the gym can make you exercise. The effectiveness of the gym is not dependent on the people who exercise there. You make those choices. We get out of our exercise what we put into it. In fact, you are the one who decides if you go to the gym at all. Such is life. The effectiveness of life and joy, happiness or the success we have in life is not dependent on other people around us. We get out of life what we put into it.  I have found this personally in my own rollercoaster weight journey–if I want to change my body and be healthier, I have to put in the work. I have to make the choice. 

I’m sure many of us know the consequence of the opposite choice. We all know what it’s like to decide not to workout. In an article titled “Your Choices Define You” Ankit Nagar exclaims what that choice does. He states, “Now imagine that you’re working out at the gym. You envision yourself with that beautifully toned body. With those perfectly shredded muscles or that amazing waist. And you’re doing your reps, and there’s another set remaining. You start telling yourself, it’s okay buddy, you can do it tomorrow. But the thing is, you can’t. Time gone is quite simply put, gone. It’s never coming back. And that leads to procrastination, which eventually shatters every dream you’ve had of having the perfect body.” Do you want to do something? Do you want to have the perfect body or even just a better body? It’s up to you. You have the choice, you make the difference. 

We like to put blame on many things, whether that’s health or friends, family or work, we don’t like to take the blame when we don’t make the right choice. We don’t like to admit when we make mistakes. But we always have the choice. In our health, as in life, we have the choice to make the difference. Working out is hard and every day we have to make the choice as to whether what we want in the future is more important than what we want now. I believe that we are all blessed in this life with free will. We all have the ability to act and not be acted upon. People can influence our choices especially by threatening life or limb, but we always have a choice. 

In the holiday classic, A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens shares one of the most powerful stories about choices. In this popular novella published in 1843, Ebenezer Scrooge, an old miser is visited by three ghosts on Christmas night. That experience changes Scrooge into a kinder man who is willing to help those in need. But before he is visited by these ghosts, he is visited by the ghost of his old business partner Jacob Marley. Marley speaks to Scrooge about his past choices and how those choices influenced his life and his life in the hereafter. The powerful quote is now one that will be forever linked to what our choices really mean to our future. Marley, holding the chains and money boxes that he made in life by selfishness, shares with Scrooge his sorrow at those choices, “‘You are fettered,’ said Scrooge, trembling. ‘Tell me why?’
‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it.’” The choices he made in life, those selfish choices are what created the heavy chains that hold him bound in the afterlife. Marley explains that Scrooge has one chance to avoid those chains. He will be visited by three ghosts, (the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future) and he must heed their words or face the fate of heavier chains of his own. 

After he is visited and awakes the next morning, Christmas morning, Scrooge is a changed man. He uses his money to donate to those in need and helps his clerk Bob Cratchit by giving him a raise, a turkey dinner, and becomes a father figure to Cratchit’s son Tiny Tim. He becomes a nicer man–giving love, generosity, and compassion wherever he goes. Scrooge had made many choices in life that led him down a path of pain, heartache, and loneliness. He aches for the loss of friends, family, and the love of his life Belle. But he is given a chance to change his ways and make up for those choices. When given that opportunity, Scrooge changes his ways and makes better choices. Dickens does a wonderful job of illustrating just how our choices can influence our lives. Although the story is old and has been done and redone a million times by different people, the story and moral are still relevant today. We have the free will to make our choices and our choices will either set us free and help those around us or we too will forge the chains that can hold us bound. 

When we are faced with a decision, there are several questions we can ask ourselves to help us determine what we should do. I’ve made it into a list form, just for easier reading, but there are many more as well. 

  • What kind of person do I want to be? 
  • What choices do I need to make to get there?
  • Will my choices have a negative or positive consequence? 
  • Will my choices affect someone I love in a negative way? 
  • Will my choices affect myself or my future in a negative way? 
  • Does what I’m doing now lead to what I want in the future?
  • If not, what are the choices that I can make to lead to what I want in the future? 

We can all ask ourselves these questions about our choices and we can all change the choices we make. One thing that stands out to me about the story of Scrooge is that it’s never too late to change who we are. Scrooge was an old man who had lived his whole life before as a grouchy, selfish man who didn’t seem to have a care for anyone else but himself. However, when he was finally given the opportunity to see where his choices were leading him, he made the choice to change who he was. He didn’t say, but I’m so old now, will it make a difference? He chose to become better from that moment on. 

We all have this choice. I know it’s not going to be easy. Nothing worth having in this life is going to be easy. As in the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt, “Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.” There is nothing in this life that is worth having that is easy. Just ask any mother who has given birth, or gymnast who has gone for the gold, or doctor who has gone through medical school. We all have choices and those choices are never easy. But when we make the right choice and we choose to live our lives in a way that, although difficult, is the higher path, we are blessed. Whether by God or the universe–our lives will be blessed for making the right choices. Regardless, without any discrimination and without fail, our choices determine our destiny. 

Bad choices can change a life forever. This is something very apparent if you have ever done any family history work or read pretty much any story in history. It’s also something that is apparent in families who have a history of abuse. The cyclical effect of abuse is one that has been studied many times. According to childwelfare.gov children who see or experience abuse are more likely to become abusers themselves. It states, “Research suggests that child abuse is known to repeat itself from generation to generation. This cycle of abuse can occur when children who were victims of abuse and/or neglect or witnessed violence between their parents or caregivers.” When children are exposed to the abuse they usually end up perpetuating that abuse. 

This cycle of abuse is very real. In an article in The Washington Post, columnist Sarah Szczypinski talks about this difficult subject. The article titled, Abusive Parenting Styles Can Be Inherited. Here Are Five Ways to Break the Cycle, illustrates several things we can do or chose to do which will break this cycle. Szczypinski shares a study from the University of Washington’s Social Development Research Group, she states, “According to a study by the University of Washington’s Social Development Research Group, adults who endured physical and emotional abuse as children are more likely to repeat those patterns with their own offspring. The authors noted that poor parenting, including physical and emotional abuse, frequently was observed across three generations, suggesting that those choices can affect families for decades.” The cycle of abuse is very real and a lot of families fall prey to it. 

However, there are those who are willing to make the choice to end that cycle of abuse. Some might even call those people “superheroes.” In a blog post on ScaryMommy.com titled, A Love Letter to Those Who Break the Cycle of Abuse, Annie Reneau gives her own personal experience with the cycle of abuse and her father, whom she calls a “superhero” who ended the cycle of abuse from her family. She states, “Growing up, I heard stories and parts of stories. A grandfather beating his wife before chasing his sons down an alley with his police pistol. A mother plagued by alcoholism and anger. Six siblings with six different fathers. A precious violin smashed to pieces in a drunken rage. Bit by bit, the picture of my father’s upbringing was painted in blacks and blues. He didn’t tell us everything–just enough to give us a sense of where he came from. “Superheros” must keep some secrets, after all. 

Now that I have three kids of my own and a keen understanding of how difficult parenting can be under the best of circumstances, I recognize my dad for the cycle-breaking hero that he was. I’m well aware that the hell he lived through as a kid, simply by being born into a wounded family, could easily have been my own fate. The cycles of addiction and abuse, the inheritance of personal and parental tools in need of serious repair, the passing down of bitterness and rage like family heirlooms–I’ve witnessed these phenomena in other families over the years. It’s the easiest thing for mortals to be human. But at some point, my dad stepped into a phone booth and vowed to be more than the sum of his upbringing. He took on the monsters that followed him and declared war on the dysfunctional demons he carried. He chose to give his children the childhood he didn’t have. This story from Reneau is not new and many people are blessed enough to benefit from those superheroes. I too have the cycle of abuse within a line of my family tree and I am unbelievably grateful to the person, the superhero, who chose to end that cycle with them. Their choice to end the abuse, without a doubt, made their life and my life better. 

We all have choices. Most choices will be hard and require all of our strength and courage to make. However, we all have the choice, even in circumstances that seem out of our control–just as with the cycle of abuse. As a parent, I am keenly aware of how my choices shape my children’s reality. The way I chose to act or react can have an impact on how my children think about me and the world, and how they will be, and act when they are older. Continually, my choices can have an impact on many other people around me–my husband, my friends, neighbors, and most assuredly myself. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “One’s philosophy is not best expressed in words; it is expressed in the choices one makes… and the choices we make are ultimately our responsibility.” Our choices are our responsibility and we have the choice to choose responsibly. That’s not just a good motto for drinking, it’s a good motto for life–choose responsibly. 

This is not to scare or intimidate anyone. I have no intention towards that end. However, I only mean to emphasize the importance of our own choices. Because we have a responsibility to ourselves as well as to others in the choices that we make and I believe that we all have free will and we all have the capability to choose better. 

Our choices play an integral part in our future and our destiny. We have within our power the ability to change our own lives. Every day we are faced with choices, and every day we make those choices for better or worse. As Mr. Feeny states, (for those who don’t know, Mr. Feeny is the principle in a 90’s TV show called Boy Meets World), “Personally I believe that a man, no matter where he comes from, chooses his own path.” Whether we face what seems like impossible odds, like the cycle of abuse or addiction, or whether we have made bad choices in the past like Scrooge, or whether we are just trying to live a healthier life with exercise–we choose our own path. As Viktor E. Frankl put it so beautifully, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” And so I add to Frankl’s eloquent words (though they need no addition) when we are given the choice, let’s choose better. 

Author:  Briana Pugh

Links to Sources: 

Parkinson Story: https://fox13now.com/2018/12/06/couple-has-compassion-for-orem-man-who-caused-car-accident-that-killed-their-daughter/ 

https://www.heraldextra.com/news/local/crime-and-courts/man-arrested-in-april-vehicle-death-of-chelsea-parkinson/article_17848e03-d9a4-5bc2-a0db-585a6d1df2d8.html

Good Choices, Good Life: http://www.goodchoicesgoodlife.org/choices-for-real-life-real-living/-life-doesnt-just-happen/  

Ankit Nagar: https://medium.com/the-minutes-publication/your-choices-define-you-1315b088ca06 

ChildWelfare.gov: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/can/impact/long-term-consequences-of-child-abuse-and-neglect/abuse/ 

The Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2018/05/04/abusive-parenting-styles-can-be-inherited-heres-are-5-ways-to-break-the-cycle/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.5bab5693cbca 
ScaryMommy.com: https://www.scarymommy.com/those-who-break-cycle-of-abuse/

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