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"C'mon honey. Hurry up," he said, starting the car.
Sherry climbed in, and laid her head back on the seat. She was tired -- and big. Six months pregnant and painting homes wasn't easy. But she was happier than she'd been for a long time.
Sherry was young -- only sixteen. Probably too young to be pregnant and starting a family. But it was all she wanted. She had met him in a drug ward. She had gone AWOL; he had stayed to complete treatment. One foster home after another had left her with only one dream -- to have a family of her own, some people in her life that would stay, that she could love.
They had lived with his family for a while. Now they had a little hole-in-the-wall apartment. But it was theirs. They worked together during the day -- painting and cleaning apartments, making enough money for food and bills.
She dozed off.
When she woke up, she was in an ambulance. He had hit a series of parked cars when he exited the off-ramp.
"Years later, I would realize that he didn't get sober. That I had gotten into a car with someone who was high. I didn't know it then," Sherry said. "At least not consciously."
The doctors at the hospital checked her, said she and the baby were fine, then released her. Two months later, her baby was born -- a month early.
"At first the doctors just thought my daughter was slow. And had seizures," Sherry said. "That's what I told the social worker who came around when Candy was five. She's just a little slow, I said."
"The truth was, she couldn't feed herself. Sit up. Crawl. Say mama. She couldn't then, and she would never be able to. The only thing she's ever learned to do is hold up her head," Sherry said.
"The accident separated her from the placenta, causing seizures -- and retardation. They said she wouldn't live very long. She's twenty-seven years old and has lived in an institution since she was five.
"Getting into that car -- and what that did to my daughter and me -- is something I've had to live with every day of my life."
I was standing in my daughter's kitchen, cutting tomatoes for a salad. I was watching her try to teach her son Julian that the stove was hot, and not to touch it. I watched her devoting her life to protecting her child.
"What are you thinking about, Mom?" she asked.
"I'm just standing here feeling guilty because I didn't protect my son enough. I feel responsible for letting him go skiing. That decision ended his life."
My answer surprised me, because it was like quiet background music playing constantly in my mind. I wasn't consciously aware it was there until I opened my mouth.
"Don't be silly. It was an accident," she said.
"Yeah, I know," I said. "But that doesn't change how I feel."
Many of us have made decisions we regret. That one decision alters the course of our lives. We don't get to go back; our challenge is living with life as it has evolved.
Sometimes these decisions are part of a larger problem, like alcoholism.
Other times, it's the hand of fate. Somebody else or a circumstance chose how it was going to be for another person -- or for us.
Maybe we should teach our children more than "Don't touch that stove, it's hot." Maybe we should add, "Karma, baby. Remember the Great Law of Cause and Effect."
The easy part is getting forgiveness from God.
All we have to do is sincerely ask.
The hard part is forgiving others and
Excerpted from Choices: Making Right Decisions in a Complex World by Lewis B. Smedes
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.