Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Can’t Stop Travis Payne

Recently my friend, Travis, told me he had two and a half months to live – or so his doctor said. I sat amazed as he still smiled and cracked jokes. Travis thinks he will live longer than that. “It’s a state of mind and your will,” he said matter-of-factly. “Your will is stronger than the doctor’s diagnosis. That’s why I try to keep a positive attitude.”

I remarked to Travis that he was a hero. He asked why and I replied, “You inspire me. I’ve never met someone with so much enthusiasm for life in spite of personal challenges.” It’s a trait Travis has exhibited his whole life.

Travis Payne was born one of two twins in Gadston, Alabama. His other twin passed away a couple hours after birth. “I guess I was just stubborn then,” he said. “I was born with challenges. I have had challenges my whole life. That’s what has made me strong.”

Born with Cerebral Palsy, Travis was unable to walk for the first eight years of his life. A corrective surgery fused his knees together allowing him to use crutches. Travis had new mobility. “I’ve never been able to take the word no or can’t.”

“I lived my life as a healthy, normal kid,” said Travis. His father insisted that Travis attend a public school and not a school for special needs. After moving to Texas, he attended high school in Dallas and was on the disabled track team. “I ran with crutches. I had to keep buying new shoes and extra tips because they wore out all the time.” I asked when Travis gave up racing. “I think I still race,” he replied with a smile.

While attending Kilgore Junior College, Travis received word that two of his brothers had been in a boating accident. By the time he reached the hospital, they were both deceased.

Travis moved to Salt Lake City in 1994 and was diagnosed with MS shortly after. He continued his college education but was forced to give up the crutches for a wheel chair. “I have to thank God I’m able to take care of myself.” He refuses to be a prisoner in his own house. When hospice started to assist him, Travis refused to let them stay for more than three hours. “I don’t have very long to live and I’m going to live it the way I want to.” Travis still gets out and about and travels long distances in his wheelchair.

About a year ago Travis was diagnosed with Cancer. It appeared to go into remission for several months but was active again by December of 2007. At that point he was told he had six months to a year to live. When asked if that made him nervous, Travis replied, “Yes, a little. I don’t want to die yet.”

Travis recently saw the movie, “Bucket List,” where two men preparing to die make a list of things they want to do first. Afterwards, Travis decided to make a bucket list with a mutual friend named Brian. “Never in my life have I gone fishing, flown a kite, learned to drive, or learned to swim.” Together he and Brian have started working on the list. Unsure of whether he will get to do it or not, Travis put skydiving on his list. “I’m not going to have it said that I wasted my life.” One of the most important items on his list is to spend one full day with a good friend.

Travis still had a smile on his face (he is not in want of a sense of humor). When asked how he had found strength for each of his challenges, he told me a story.

“I find strength from my friends. I draw strength from anywhere I can get it. I find strength when I don’t think I have any left. It has to be the Lord,” he said. “It has to be the Holy Spirit.”

Travis said he was fifteen when he went to see a good friend in Kansas. Candy Jones was the step-daughter of his father’s best friend whom he and his father would occasionally visit. On that particular visit Candy seemed happier than he remembered seeing her before. Travis asked her what made the difference. “You need to read this book,” Candy replied, and then she handed him a copy of
The Book of Mormon.

Travis decided to begin reading the book that night. He read about prophets in ancient America. He read the testimony of Joseph Smith, Jr. who translated the book. After reading for some time, Travis said he felt a calm peaceful feeling come over him. The next morning he told Candy about what he had read and the feeling he had had. “That is the Spirit,” Candy said.

Feeling the influence of the Holy Ghost was something that Travis was not familiar with. Candy explained that the feelings he had felt were how God let’s us know when things are true. Travis made arrangements to learn more when he got home. Believing the message to be true, Travis was baptized a member of
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints soon after on his sixteenth birthday.

“The gospel has given me understanding and peace in life. If I didn’t have the Lord in my life, and the belief in my life, I don’t think I would be smiling now.”

As I reflected on Travis’ story, I thought about my own experiences with the Holy Spirit. I also thought about the witness I had received concerning The Book of Mormon. I too know it is true. The word of the Lord is sweet to me as is the Holy Spirit. Like Travis, it gives me strength to keep going. The Savior, himself, told his disciples the key, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” (St. John 14:27)

Thank you, Travis.

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