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A Celebration of Susan O’Leary on her 75th Birthday.

“He has put fire and water before you; you can stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Life and death are in front of human beings; and they will be granted whichever they please.” – Sirach, 200 B.C.

Do you remember when one of the most popular shows on network television was Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Host Regis Philbin asked a question and provided a few choices to the contestant. After they provided an answer, Regis would dramatically pause to build suspense, give a serious look and ask another question: “Final answer?”

What all great teachers and dynamic leaders know is sometimes the best way to answer a question is to ask another one.

Most don’t do it to build suspense for a television audience. It’s a tool used to ensure the individual answering deepens their belief and takes total ownership. That’s important for game shows. But it’s critically important in all of our lives.

When I was just nine-years-old laying on what was expected to be my deathbed after a house fire, my mother guided me with this same approach. Her question changed the trajectory of my life.

Mom came into the emergency room that morning, pulled back the curtain, and saw me laying in a hospital bed, burned and dying. She walked without hesitating, took my hand in hers, and told me she loved me.

I remember looking into her eyes and asking a simple question, “Mom, am I going to die?”

My hope was to have her take away my fear; to comfort me and give me reassurance. I expected her to answer by telling me they’d get me out of here tonight and we’d get milkshakes on the way home!

Instead, she clasped my hand gently in hers, brushed back my bangs, looked into my eyes, paused for a moment and asked: “John, do you want to die? It’s your choice, not mine.”

She served as a wonderful reminder to me of what we must all know: whether fighting to avoid death, enduring an expected challenge, achieving a worthy goal, or vibrantly leading our lives, we must be ALL-IN.

There is no middle ground, no passive participant, no do-over. We must assume total accountability for our actions in life and no one can do this for us.

Mom challenged me to do exactly this.

I remember being stunned by my mom’s question. I looked back at her and said, “No, Mom. I don’t want to die. I want to live.”

She responded, “Then, John, you need to fight like you’ve never fought before, you need to take the hand of God, and you need to walk this journey with Him. Race forward with everything you have. Daddy and I will be with you every step of the way. But John, listen to me: you need to fight.”

That day we made a commitment to faithfully, courageously and collectively fight on. We had no idea of what tomorrow might hold. All we knew was the fight was on.

My friend, like Mom, I offer no milkshake promises. Life is packed with difficulties professionally, challenges relationally, and diagnosis personally.

But in holding yourself accountable, focusing on what is important in your life, elevating personal relationships, growing intentionally and not making excuses – you will be liberated to take back your life, ignite your possibility and change your world.

Each day, “fire and water are before you; you can stretch out your hand for whichever you choose. Life….or death.”

So, do you want to really live?

Final answer?

Me, too!

This is your day. Live Inspired.

5 replies on “Final Answer?”

And thank you for inspiring us, I read both your books and enjoyed them immensely and have bought them for my family and friends. Then I found your mothers book and also enjoyed hers a lot.

John – on the 4th of July I suffered a fall resulting in being unresponsive for 15 minutes. My wife hearing me fall, started the EMS process of getting me to the hospital 250 miles away. While waiting for the ambulance she kept saying don’t you die on me. I must have chosen life as I am still here. Having hearing you speak on several occasions and being part of Living Inspired I kept reminding myself if little John could recover through his event so can I. While my body has healed, I am still recovering from my brain injury. Believing that I still have some mission to do here on earth, my wife and I decided to join our church disaster response team. Happy birthday to your mom, and thank you for helping me Live Inspired.

WOW!!! What an amazing perspective. I’ve heard over and over we own our destiny, we write our stories but none but it so plainly as that simple question -“Do you want to live?”. That will be the question I ask myself everyday – do you want to live, really live?

Thank you for this powerful message and reminder.

Saw your Mom and Dad yesterday at The Silver Pancake House. Looking great. And Dad smiling as always. Most Happiest of Birthday days.

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Live Inspired Together is a community of friends changing the world together, starting with their own. In a world that often focuses on negativity, John O’Leary - Live Inspired shares the other side of the story through his member-supported channels (essays, Live Inspired Podcast, video, webcasts, social platforms) to connect our community and share inspiration and actions to live it. Support now.