01/21/2013 07:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Personal Choices: You Choose. Life Lessons From An Iron, Circa 1900


I stumbled upon a miniature iron while looking for old pictures a few days ago. The following words, written in my mom's distinctive handwriting, were taped to the bottom: Given by Billy Johnson, my father, to Effie, his baby sister, in 1900. Tears came to my eyes when I read this, not because we're near the anniversary of her death --she died on my birthday January 19th -- but because this was all the connection she had managed to hold on to, from her father, who passed away three months before she was born. Sadder still, her mother passed away less than two years after she was born in July 1915.

Throughout the course of her 84 years, she raised, nurtured, held, corrected and most importantly loved numerous brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces, and even three children spaced 12 and 15 years apart. She turned out swell, in spite of the fact that she had neither a mom or dad to lovingly show her "the way."

I'm sure she had her share of heartache and failures while being raised, along with many brothers and sisters, by an aunt and uncle with too many children already. Maybe that's why at 15 she married my father -- right smack in the middle of the first depression. Then my father finished raising her and she, in turn, raised him throughout the course of their 62 years together. And they did a great job, I might add, raising themselves, along with the many others who came before me.

The life choices my mother made were her own. She didn't have a mom or dad to praise or to blame for the twists and turns she encountered along the way. Only God knows all that she went through growing up, surviving on less and always longing for more. I asked her once why she had to ooze love to everyone and she said it was because it was the one thing she wanted more than anything growing up, that she could never have, the love of a mom and a dad. She wanted to make sure that everyone whose lives she crossed, whose hearts she touched, felt unequivocally loved.

Which brings me to my question: who do we praise or blame for our own personal choices? Is it our parents? She had none. Is it our teachers? She had those but only through the fifth grade. Is it our friends? She had more than one could ever imagine. Although we've been influenced by many, when it comes right down to it, are not the personal choices we make that ultimately say to the world just who and what we are our own?

I'm not perfect in any way, shape or form and through my share of humbling successes, I have made my fair share of mistakes. Regardless of my upbringing and her positive influences, the choices I have made, both good and bad, have been and continue to be my own. I am who I am because of my choices, no one else. Yesterday, my sister emailed a truism to me and I have not been able to find who wrote it. We'll have to say "author unknown." "Everything you do is based on the choices you make. It's not your parents, your past relationships, your job, the economy, the weather, an argument that is to blame. You and only you are responsible for every decision and every choice you make. Period."

It's unfortunate that the choices we make that lead to success, be it in school or in ones career or family, do not garner the same kind of shock and awe, which failure tends to do. If we could love more, praise more, honor more those in our lives who succeed, would it not make their lives and the world we live in, a much better place? With all the bad news coming down the pike today, I'm for heaping all the praise I can muster to those within and outside "my circle." Everyone, regardless of circumstance, deserves to feel wanted, needed and appreciated, don't they? It's hard to be depressed indefinitely and take the wrong roads repeatedly, when you are enveloped in love and praise. Period.

That being said, no matter what we encounter along life's path, we, alone, choose how we address it. We have all been given free will and can choose with each day, whether to be positive, to be happy or not. Thankfully too, there are many second chances for most of us, if we happen to choose unwisely. I just want you to know, I am the king of second chances. Thankfully, Lamentations 3:22-23 provides me spiritual solace through an infinite supply of daily grace when I find myself floundering with my own personal choices.

Join me today in reflecting on just where and who we are at this moment in our lives. Who or what has influenced you the most in your journey? The least? When it comes right down to it, have you made the most of what you've been given or have you taken the stance to blame someone else for your current state? I have in the past myself and let me tell you, it doesn't work for long. We, alone, move forward or backward, one step at a time. It's our feet, our internal motion and finally our own individual, personal choices that propel us in the right or wrong direction, wherever that happens to be. Period.