The mind’s freedom of movement

Today’s post is written by my lifelong friend Mark Egan. I’m sure you’ll appreciate this thoughtful reflection on the deeper meaning of life and love as much as I do.

Nothing in life progresses on some linear path. Everything–happiness, health, love, achievement, motivation, self-worth–ebbs and flows throughout life. The valleys are labeled their respective peaks’ opposites.

11008850_936616623055175_297026962_nAchievement’s path is not confined by some imaginary X-axis with moments below the axis. Failures are viewed as separate and distinct points when our memory calls on them. That’s how we often view progress.

Love is viewed no differently in time. Should love fail us and recede below the X-axis like an unstoppable morning tide, we pick up the pen, tracing love’s progress, and we forever view the experience as a distinct point. That we instinctively view and recall in this manner can lead to tragedy.

Above this imaginary line, we ebb and flow. Below it, a single point or points hover. Our mind, just like a pen, is free to move above the axis. Below, our minds are stuck. We lift the pen to fill in a little black circle to indicate our “points of intersection.” There is no flow or movement. We are stuck, forced to abide by the laws of our own memories and how experiences are viewed. Movement simply makes the point bigger and darker on the page until we stop, lift the pen, and begin a new path above the axis, or until tragically, the intensity of our own efforts wears the paper-thin and the pen rips through the exhausted and unrecognizable fibers.

The answer, of course, is to allow the pen to move freely through experiences regardless of the emotions and label we assign them, without the pressure of an imaginary, self-determined X-axis. The key to success, love, and joy is not the absence of failure, hate, and misery. The key is the mind’s freedom of movement.

Maybe our X-axis exists because of the way our minds remember and recall events. We arbitrarily set our own X-axis based on experience. The diversity in outcomes for all of us has more to do with location, not intensity or duration of the struggle or memory. Rather than aiming to temporarily get someone unstuck and hope for fewer negative events to impact someone’s life, the goal should be to slowly lower the axis line so that fewer of the same number of negative events are viewed as singular events at all.

Or maybe, for some of us, the lines on our graphs transcend the page. Perhaps we reach a point in life when the points and specific dots and moments matter much less, and we begin living life in real time—again, free to remember the points on the X-axis when they benefit us but free to transcend them as well.

And perhaps when that happens, we have the freedom to live life off the page, removed from this restrictive two-dimensional Cartesian plane, on a spiritual plane, in which case explaining the past or the points on the X-axis becomes less crucial. Because after all, life—and certainly love—are gifts. And when given a beautiful gift, the best option is to accept it—hold out your hands, bow your head, and cherish it.

–Mark D. Egan

Move

This is my take on what it means to love, and how God often uses me to love others.

Just wheat

The good old college days The good ole college days

One dark, starry, windy night—not unlike tonight, with temperatures drastically dropping, warning of winter storms approaching—I crouched alongside dozens of my campus ministry friends during the week of final exams as a college student, creating Christmas cards for shut-ins and hospital patients, humming along to familiar Christmas carols. Suddenly That Still Small Voice rang out clear as a bell.

“Go see her in her dorm room right now.”

I kept humming and coloring and designing my card. I also began arguing with That Still Small Voice. It made no sense to stop what I was doing—because what I was doing made perfect sense—to go make an unannounced visit to a fellow student whom I had barely befriended. This particular student knew my name, and we joined the same student organization simultaneously, but in truth, we barely knew one another. To show up at her apartment…

View original post 486 more words

Love…

Today’s post is by my friend and regular contributor Debra Dickey. 

Love.   An oddly challenging concept for me to write about — definitions and dimensions; cursive and variegated; richly prismatic, yet often elusive.  I understand love, I know what love is all about, and I am quite unselfish when sharing love. Fluid in sentiment and arbitrary in measurement, still, love can certainly be experienced in a variety of shapes, forms, sizes, depths, and degrees.

My growing-up years were more about ‘food, clothing, and shelter’ kinds of love — making sure we were safe, that we were doing what we were supposed to, and that we, in return, exhibited the appropriate respect and appreciation for others.  I never felt “unloved”, but neither were there open displays of affection in our home, hugs and personal interactions, those sorts of things, but there was always care.  And I knew that to be true.  Shading.

When I had children of my own, I quickly learned a different universe of love that I chose to expand and build on and never let go of.  So, I created the unconditional relationship of pure love with my children that I wanted them to know, and that I so desired as the parent of two wonderful people.  They got it, and by knowing their kind and thoughtful reciprocations, there is joy.   Resounding love.

I’ve also experienced something that was supposed to be love, but was not, from one who should have been my biggest supporter, but had not the emotional capability to honor that role, toward hollowness.  Arduous love.

And every day, I am mindful of the people around me who love me, and I do know who they are.  It is ever amazing to be a part of who they are, and celebrate with revelry in what they are to me — real and genuine and without ulterior motive.  I love them back! Gregarious love.

Despite not always knowing how it will turn out, I have loved, and will, love fluently with all my whole heart and every ounce of my being, many, many times, and I would not trade one of those moments for anything the world has to offer.  If we are fortunate, the very best that we can hope for is to be the admirable recipient of undiluted, unadulterated, beautiful love at its noblest – by whichever description it is that we choose to identify its meaningfulness.

In bunches, on its own, soaring, or in a whisper…. Love is what it is.  Exotic or common, crusty or smooth around the edges.  Not always where you look, but occasionally found in unexpected places.  Sometimes it’s grand, sometimes it’s dumb, sometimes it’s ugly, sometimes it’s easy, and more often than not, it is rare.

goldgiftWe were created in love, to love, and to be loved.  Of all the things that love is, no matter what else, Love is truly a Gift.

Liz, Mom, and the Witch

Today’s post is written by Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, one of my writing mentors and former professors. Every time Dr. Murphy contributes to this blog and sends me a post, I cannot wait to read it. I know I’ll enjoy the story–and I know the story will speak to me. 

Bethany asked us to share stories about love during the month of February.  While this isn’t a typical February love story, I believe there is a kind of love in it.  This love is present when someone in an older generation takes the time to teach those in a younger generation a thing or two about how to live. There is, however, a link to the month of February.  One of the major players in this story is my grandmother, Ona Burns, who was born on Valentine’s Day in 1905.  Not only was she a sweetheart, she was also pretty clever when it came to keeping my sister and me in line. I am grateful for the life she lived and for the opportunity I had to spend time with her during her lifetime.

Liz, Mom, and the Witch

By Teresa Burns Murphy

The chickens strutted and clucked, pecking for bugs in the dusty barn lot just beyond my grandparents’ fenced-in backyard where my big sister, Liz, and I lingered.  Mom, our grandmother, had told us to come inside the house, but Liz decided we didn’t have to do what Mom said.  As I placed my chubby little hand on the back door handle, I cut my eyes over at Liz.  She pulled her shoulders back, tucked her chin to one side, and shot me a menacing look.  I froze, not sure whose wrath I preferred to incur – Liz’s or Mom’s.

I had known them both for six years, in other words, my entire life.  At eight, Liz was slim, agile, and fearless.  I admired the way she could stroll out into our grandparents’ pasture and coax the horses (huge horses!) into coming to her.  When one ambled over, she’d take hold of the horse’s halter and hoist herself onto its bare back, her long, brown curls bouncing to the beat of the horse’s gait as she rode across the field.  Mom sometimes gave us sugar cubes to feed the horses when they came up to the backyard fence.  When I saw those giant horse teeth coming toward my outstretched hand, I always dropped my sugar cubes on the ground, causing the horses to have to lick them up out of the dirt.  Maybe this is why they always bucked me off when Liz caught one of them and boosted me onto its back.  Liz, on the other hand, held the sugar cubes in her unwavering palm and waited for the horses to slurp them up.  I cringed watching those horses’ tongues whisk the sugar cubes from her hand, but Liz never flinched.

Mom and LizIn contrast to Liz, Mom was short and plump. For the most part, she stayed indoors – doing needlework, reading the newspaper, or putting together jigsaw puzzles once her household chores were completed.  I’d heard stories about how Mom’s father had been required to take her to an elementary school that employed a male teacher after she’d proven to be too feisty for the female teacher at her old school to manage.  I’d also heard about how she’d staked out her territory at the new school with a few choice words delivered to the other girls who believed they could bully her. Though I was aware that Mom had been pretty fearless herself, I figured most of her pluck had been used up now that she was in her late fifties, which, at the time, I thought of as old.  So, I cast my lot with Liz and released the door handle.

Clearly, I had forgotten the course these battles of will between Liz and Mom generally took.  I’d heard about one of their first clashes enough times to believe I remembered it even though I was a baby when it happened.  On the day that skirmish occurred, Liz and I were spending the day with Mom, and Mom had placed me in a playpen while she prepared our lunch.  A pocket door that could be made to disappear into the wall with a gentle push separated Mom’s kitchen from her den where I’d been situated.  As long as that door remained open, I could see Mom and I was content.  Liz, always one to shake things up, decided she’d close the door.  When she flung it shut, I set up a howl.

“Liz,” Mom said.  “Keep the door open so the baby can see me.”

“No!” Liz said, folding her arms across her chest and glaring at Mom in a way that only a defiant three-year-old can.

“Liz Ann, now you open that door so the baby won’t cry.”

Liz shook her head.

I don’t know how long Mom’s cajoling campaign continued before she issued Liz an ultimatum – either open the door or get a spanking.

“You better not spank me,” Liz said.  “If you do, I’ll tell my mother, and she’s really a fighter.”

I guess Liz figured threatening Mom with our mother was more effective than threatening her with our father since he was Mom’s son.  Somehow, without cracking up laughing or swatting Liz’s little behind, Mom lifted her eyebrows, opened her dark eyes wide and said, “Well, I’m really a fighter too.”

Seeing that Mom wasn’t going to back down and possibly realizing she had met her match, Liz opened the door.

I have a more vivid memory of the next incident of Liz’s pitting her will against Mom’s.  Mom’s house was a treasure trove of fascinating things for Liz and me – mahogany gargoyles whose mouths were open just wide enough for a couple of little girls to pretend to get bitten by their pointy teeth when they jabbed their fingers into the gargoyles’ mouths; boxes of fancy, old-fashioned Valentine cards Mom’s mother had sent to her during the first half of the twentieth century; and always – wonderful food.  Usually, Mom’s food was something she’d prepared herself – a pot of hamburger soup chock-full of vegetables, a pan of thick cornbread, a pedestaled plate of three-layer coconut cake.   One day, when we arrived at Mom’s house, Liz and I spied something Mom generally didn’t have – store-bought candy.  On that day, a candy bar was lying on her kitchen countertop, and Liz and I both wanted it – all of it!

“I just have one,” Mom said, unwrapping the candy bar, placing it on a plate, and pulling a knife from a drawer.  “You can each have half.”

“I’ll cut it!” Liz said, reaching for the plate and grabbing the knife.

I watched as Liz slid the knife through the skin of that chocolate bar.  It didn’t escape my notice that one piece was more-than-slightly larger than the other.  Apparently, it didn’t escape Mom’s notice either.

When Liz finished cutting the candy bar in “half,” Mom took the plate from her and said, “Okay, Liz, you got to divide it.  Now, Teresa, you pick the piece you want.”

A picture (sweeter than any candy) of Liz’s face is permanently etched in my memory.  Her brown eyes widened and her mouth popped open as Mom held the plate out to me.  Having raised four children, Mom had been down this “sharing” path before.  The only word I have to describe the feeling I had as I snagged the larger piece of candy and bit into it is joy.

Considering this history with Mom and Liz, I’m not sure why I chose to side with Liz when Mom told us to come back inside the house, but I vividly remember what happened next.  In the little Arkansas town where Mom lived, there was an old woman who wore long black dresses and old-timey black boots.  Not many people scared Liz, but she was scared of this woman whose pinched face and beak-like nose gave her a witchy appearance.  We didn’t know the woman’s name, so we simply referred to her as “the witch.”  Having listened to far too many fairy tales and having overactive imaginations, we had no trouble at all envisioning the witch flying through the air on her broomstick, scouring the town for little girls she could swoop down on and possibly eat.

Standing outside Mom’s house that day, we had forgotten all about the witch until the air was saturated with the sound of a spooky voice that shrieked, “I’m gonna get me two little girls.”

Liz almost knocked me down as she made a beeline for the back door.  In a flash, we scurried across the concrete floor of the screened-in porch and into the den where Mom sat in her rocking chair, calmly crocheting.

For days afterward, Liz and I puzzled over how Mom could have thrown her voice in such a way to make it sound as if it were coming from outside her house.  We thought maybe she had gone to an open window at the back of her house and screeched out that threat, but we dismissed this notion because we didn’t think a woman of her advanced age could have possibly made it back to her rocking chair so fast.  That left us with only one logical explanation – Mom must have gotten the witch to do it, which meant she actually knew the witch.

Liz and I never asked Mom how she managed to send us that witchy threat.  I suspect as we got older, we realized that Mom was much faster and shrewder than we’d given her credit for being.  But on that long-ago day, the belief that our grandmother had enough power to convince a witch to do her bidding was enough to keep the two of us in line.

The greatest love

Today’s post is written by my friend Betty Gail Jones. Thank you, Betty Gail, for the beautiful reminder of the greatest love of all.

There once was a man who lived in perfect paradise where he was surrounded by riches and beauty.  Every hour was filled with wonderful music, and he continually experienced peaceful serenity in his home.  He had servants who adored him and met his every need.

His heart, however, was overwhelmed with a longing to be with his love.  He had watched her and seen her struggles.  Her life was filled with grief and disappointment.  She was a victim of the chaos which surrounded her.  War and pestilence had torn her.  He was to be her “knight in shining armor,” her rescuer, and nothing could hold him back.  He would go to her – move into her neighborhood – and care for her like no other had done.  He knew the danger and the pain that he would be inviting into his life, but he loved her and nothing else would do.

So he left his protected palace and went to her.  He fought for her, and he created her anew.  He would stay with her forever.  His plan was to make her his bride.  He would lavish all of his own riches upon her and never let her go.  He changed her and made her whole by his love.

But then the unthinkable happened.  There were those who had wished to bring harm to his love and keep her for themselves as a slave.  They were very angry and began to plot against this man who had come to save his love.  And so they killed him.  He, who had given all – his very life – for the one he loved, was laid to rest and covered by the cold grave, which had been prepared for his body.

There is a fairy tale ending to this story of sorts, however.  The good guy wins.  And the best part is – it is not a fairy tale at all.  The story is true.  You see, the man of whom I speak was more than a man – He was God.  And the love that he came to rescue was his Bride, the church.  This is the greatest love of which I know.

Office pic 2God always had a plan for his church.  Though she has battle scars, has failed Him, and throughout history has been embattled and bruised, He loves her – enough to die for her.  He has made a plan for the day when His Bride will meet Him at the great wedding feast.  She will be adorned with the purest white attire, and He will await her at the alter.  At that time, all the scars and disfigurement caused by the hardships of this present world will be gone, and she will stand before her Greatest Love, in perfection.  He will make all of this possible, because of His great love for her – His most prized creation.

Now – THAT is a love story!

Learning to love myself

During the month of February–dubbed “the love month,” of course–I’ll be sharing posts from friends and loved ones on the topic of love. Some of the posts will cover the meaning of love, and some of the posts will be letters written to loved ones. I hope you’ll enjoy the posts as much as I will. I’m thankful for all of my friends who’ve volunteered their time and talents to contribute to the blog this month. 

After all, what do we have to be thankful for if not love?

The first post this month is actually a post on another blog–and I’m providing the link for you in hopes you will share the readership love with my wonderful friend and former student, Crystal Sharp.

20141227_202413Crystal has had over 200 hits on her blog since its creation. She started her blog in an effort to share her testimony of God’s love with others. God has done some interesting things in her life; He has a way of doing that with all of us, I guess.

Enjoy the post, and check back (hopefully each day this month) for new posts.