Monday, March 5, 2012

One Choice

In the mid-80's, I was a high school student with little direction or drive.  I had friends who were trouble.  I had friends who were examples.  I had friends who made me laugh out loud.  But, I didn't know where I was going and did not spend much time thinking about it.

One day after school, this teacher who had spoken to my health class stopped me by the gym.  He said, "Hey!  Whatcha doing in  3 weeks?"  I did not need to check my schedule.  I was doing nothing because nothing is what I did.  He invited me to attend this new program that the high school was offering.  He said it would be a whole weekend event and it would be fun and I should go and it would only cost me $35.00.

I have no idea why I considered it.  There were LOTS of things going on in my high school and I did not entertain the thought of attending any of them.  I knew no one who would be going.  I had no money.  The program had no reputation.  And yet.  And yet, for some unknown reason, I wanted to go.

So, I handed in a half sheet of paper to attend.  I babysat and saved my pennies and dropped a wad of rumpled cash on the check-in table three weeks later.

It was one small choice.

And it changed my life.  

The weekend was called Operation Snowball and there I learned, next to people I had gone to school with for years but never really knew, who I was really was.  I learned about my small, teen-aged life.  I learned about my family and our history and our struggles and our strengths.  I learned that even though I looked like I was failing, even though I made a bunch of bad mistakes, even though I had never really stood up for myself or anyone else, these things did not define the person I could become.

I learned to make better choices.  I learned that there are ways to foster positive peer pressure for myself and those I love.  And I learned that there are amazing people all around me... I just never took the time to look.

There were teachers from my school there and we called each other by name and laughed side-by-side as people, not roles.  And I suddenly realized that there was community in my public high school and I had never even wondered about such things.

Within 12 months of that fateful day, this uninvolved, unmotivated, waffling, wondering teenager would become the teen director of Operation Snowball, a position that served three big high schools on the south side of Chicago.  And I would work alongside some amazing people that I am privileged to call "friends" still today.

Fourteen months after that fateful day, I would find myself standing in the Rose Garden of the White House accepting an "Exemplary Youth Volunteer of the Year" award from the President of the United States for my work in Operation Snowball and in a local youth service center.  Seriously.

That one choice to attend one weekend literally transformed my life.

Yesterday, my friend Noreen, who was on staff with me nearly 30 years ago, celebrated her final Operation Snowball closing.  Mark, who not only attended Snowball as an adult, but went on to staff with me, found 6 old Snowball sweatshirts for our family to wear and we attended this closing, too.  We stood in the back and smiled at the whole of it... still going on, after all this time.  We wiped tears from our eyes and smiled and laughed and watched a whole new generation of teens discover themselves and use their gifts and get themselves ready to offer back to this world what has been offered to them.

Nearly 3 decades of memories washed over me there.  I looked at my children watching it all and realized again how much this program has contributed to the person I am today.  I watched my children listen and smile and laugh out loud at the pure joy of that place and reminded myself that who I am as their momma has a lot to do with these people, this program, all of this. 

Operation Snowball is a public, prevention program.  And yet, outside of attending church weekly, nothing has had a greater impact on my life as a Christian.  I found the strength in myself there to stand up for my faith and move forward.  And I can honestly say, that had I not attended Snowball, I likely would not have gone to college, become a teacher, worked in higher education or become a writer and speaker.  The truth is, without Operation Snowball, all of these things might have been in me, but I don't know if I would have had what it takes to find them deep inside.

So, my family and I stood in a crowded room yesterday to help say thank you to dear friend who has spent almost 30 years "keeping the snowball rolling".  She has been a gift to that program and a tremendous gift to me.  My life was changed because of her work, and the work of those who not only started this program but kept it going for so many, many years.

What strikes me today, as I sit here remembering, is how we often believe that one little choice does not matter at all.  One little choice: to go or not to go, to call or not to call, to trust or not to trust, to ask or not to ask; cannot really impact our lives.  Can it?

And then I remember that afternoon in the mid-80's.  One simple question.

"Whatcha you doing 3 weeks from now?"

My choice was to go.

And it has made all the difference in the world.

Blessings on your day.

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