Turning points

Dear One,

When you died about one month ago, you caught me off guard. You became suddenly ill, and 24 hours later, you were eating pizza, fruit cake, and pudding cups in heaven.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI can’t say I didn’t see it coming. There was something inside of me that whispered, “Go see her more often” about one year ago. I don’t know if it was in reaction to Big Jim, my father-in-law, moving on to The Great Resting Place, or if it was because Maggie finally became a better traveler and visitor. Regardless, I’m eternally grateful for God’s voice nudging me to visit you more often.

Even though you suffered from mental illness, you were almost always pleasant, welcoming, and in good spirits. Your little smile and bright eyes let me know you were enjoying our time together, even if you preferred that I do most of the talking. When you had something to say, it was always smart, quick-witted, and on point.

I remember two turning points in my relationship with you.

One was when Mom and I visited you at the time of her high school reunion. We stayed with my uncle, but we came to see you almost all day long while we were there. As the day evolved into evening, we knew we needed to head to Mom’s reunion.

As we drove away from your apartment, Mom continually expressed that she just didn’t feel right about going and leaving you all evening.

“Mom, then we just don’t have to go to your reunion. What are you going to regret if you don’t do it in 10 years?”

That was about 10 years ago. And Mom still doesn’t regret turning the car around, picking up a pizza from your favorite diner, and surprising you by spending the evening talking and laughing, just the three of us.

The other turning point was when we visited after your mother died. We didn’t attend the funeral, but we’d been invited to look through her belongings to see if we wanted  specific items before they were sold or given away. I’ll be honest–prior to that day, I lacked compassion for your mother and only saw her in negative light. Something about sifting through an entire apartment’s worth of silent items spoke to me.

Then we visited Mom’s cousin. I wanted to do nothing–even though I was only a junior high student at the time–but sit and listen to Mom’s cousin recant your life experiences, both as a child and into adulthood. These were stories you had never told me yourself, and chapters you rarely flipped back to, probably in an effort to avoid those memories. Being sent to live somewhere else as a child–not knowing why. Undergoing exploratory, inventive procedures in a time when doctors didn’t understand that what they were doing did more harm than good. Being homeless. Feeling alone.

When we remembered you the evening after you died, these untold stories are what I reflected on in my mind–not because I wanted to focus on what felt sad and painful, but simply because these moments made you who you were. I can be grateful for you even though parts of you were broken.

I do not regret who you were nor wish to change my time with you. I know all of you, and I accept all of you. You were always enough.

 

I’d rather be wrong

Recently, one of my friends reached out to me to inform me that she’d been viciously attacked by her boyfriend (now ex). She described the bruises, and she admitted she felt scared for her life.

“You were right about him.”

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

In the pit of my gut, I winced.

There was a time when I reveled in being right… being right during factual debates, being right at work, being right regarding hot, controversial topics, and being right about you, your life, and your decisions. I thought I knew best for everyone and made sure they knew it.

Over the course of the past decade, I’ve hesitantly accepted that I don’t even know what’s best for myself. I’m rarely right. But for years, I lived in denial, made terrible choices which affected many people, and suffered. I’ve stopped playing God and have turned my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him.

A childhood friend killed herself a few years ago after battling depression and enduring domestic abuse. Two years before, I’d reached out to share my experience with similar problems and offered the solutions which had worked for me.

“It’s okay. I’ll be fine. I’m just worried about him.”

Another childhood friend died last year in a sketchy incident involving drugs. One year prior, I’d hugged him desperately in tears at a funeral. I begged him to get himself into a 12-step recovery program. I told him I thought he might not make it otherwise.

“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m doing fine. I haven’t done anything in months.” Alcohol emanated from his pores.

A woman I know and love came to me and shared about her marital struggles. I shared my experience and encouraged her to seek help and concoct a plan for starting a new life for herself. She stayed for another year. Her eyes are still dead.

Being right is the worst feeling in the world now.

If there’s any time I’d prefer to be wrong, it’s when I’m watching someone I love die. But recovery tells me the path to serenity is simple, but not easy. I wish there were an easier, softer way. But I haven’t found one.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

I want to see people I love live. I want them to feel deep-down, unshakable peace and serenity. I want them to laugh. I want them to sleep at night. I want them to focus on the solution and not the problem.

I want gratitude to overwhelm them and cause them to weep without shame every single day.

It’s not for those who need it. It’s for those who want it.

And God, I want it.

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

Dear Maggie

*During the month of November, I like to write letters–and feature guest writers who write letters–to thank people and to express gratitude. Since my entire blog centers on gratitude, this letter writing project during November is just another way to express my gratitude. The act of living in gratitude is something I practice as part of my lifestyle already, but it never hurts to kick it up a notch.*

Dear Maggie,

IMG_4819It seems appropriate that I’m writing this letter to you minutes after spending a painful hour putting you to bed tonight. I changed your diaper twice at your request, fed you grapes in your high chair, opened a miniature wheel of Babybel cheese (which you then refused to touch), put said wheel of cheese into a baggie for lunch tomorrow, and prompted you to take sips of milk. I allowed you to sit on your little potty (fully clothed) simply because I don’t want to discourage you from potty training, but I can’t help but wonder if you have learned that it’s a great way to distract me from putting you to bed. I even paused to scribble a red heart for you because I cannot resist your little voice when you hand me a crayon and beg for hearts. 

You clearly have mine.

After I finally carried you into your room and began singing quiet songs to you, songs of God’s love for you and my love for you, your little body began to relax. You requested a book. Be still, my beating heart. I turned on the white milk glass lamp and let you stand atop the dresser, searching for the perfect book to take to bed. This process always takes longer than anticipated, but who am I to question another girl’s taste in literature?

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

Photo by Say Cheese Photography

Before I put your tiny frame into the crib, you wrapped your arms around me and nestled your head into my chest tonight and let me sing a little longer than usual. You always demand “hugs” and constantly repeat “I love you” when we put you to bed, but you could never demand too much affection from me; I will always want to give back to you tenfold.

As I sat down to write this letter to you, I realized that I was already completely exhausted and that my best writing would not be done tonight. If I wanted to produce a brilliant letter, something captivating for the world to read, I’d better wait until tomorrow after sleep, coffee, and sinus medication had done their jobs.

But I decided to write this letter to you anyway—just as I am, wearing pajamas, looking wretched, and feeling similar. Thirty minutes ago, before you fell asleep, you held me and told me you loved me, just as I am.

And that has been the greatest gift you have given me, Maggie—the ability to become even more of who God made me to be, to let go of all of my plans, to be right where my hands are with you every single day, and to be just who I am.

Thank you, Maggie.

Mama loves you.

 

Christmas is family

*Special thanks to writer Toinette Thomas for sharing her Christmas memories in today’s post.*

It’s is pretty much impossible to talk about holiday memories without talking about family. Family makes the holidays for me. After getting married, my holidays became our holidays, and we had to start dividing our time between our two families. People may joke or even seriously gripe about in-laws, but where I’m from, you take the good with the bad and love anyway. I make a point most of the time not to distinguish in-laws, distant cousins, what have you… it’s all family to me.

So today I will share two funny memories spent with both of my families.

Let’s start with a tale of Christmas with the in-laws. My husband and I have been married for eight years and have spent either Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s with my new family every year, alternating with mine. In all the seven years prior to last year the holiday celebration was simple, sweet, and pretty much the same. Then someone got the idea to take me, because I was whining about missing seeing lights with my family, to see the lights at Bristol Speedway…

This is where I had an inner monologue with myself to talk myself out of throwing a colossal fit. For seven years I’ve been sitting around watching football and Hallmark movies when I could have been looking at light as Bristol Speedway!

Anyway, the lights were amazing and so was the time in the car; driving around and singing to Christmas music was reminiscent to the tradition I’ve spent with my family, but that wasn’t the end. At the end of lights show, you get to actually drive on the Speedway. For someone who’s never done this, and didn’t know it was even an option, that was really awesome!… Then there was more.

There was a little carnival set in the middle. It was snowing and freezing cold, but my husband and I took our nephews out to walk around and eat sweet treats. My father-in-law even choked a little on some spiced apple cider, but we did warn him not to chug it- he’s a little feisty sometimes.

It was a truly wonderful experience I’ll never forget.

Now for a funny moment spent with my family.

clark-griswoldA few years back, my family was all gathered for the holiday trying to figure out what to do as we awaited midnight.  This group opens presents to accommodate my sister’s in-laws (see how we all work together so nicely!). We decided watch a holiday movie. This was back been my sister’s youngest was about six and the oldest was ten, I believe. Everyone decided they wanted to watch National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, a truly funny movie in my personal opinion.

Since the movie was not scheduled to air on basic cable that night, and my family didn’t have Netflix then, my mom had rented it. Immediately, my husband and I cautioned everyone that as much as we love that movie and think the older cousins would be okay to watch it, we were concerned about the language for the little ones. We pointed out that the TBS version is a little different than the theatrical version, but no one seemed overly concerned. Needless to say that we all watched it and enjoyed it, but there were quite a few gasps, red faces, and covered ears and eyes from time to time… and when Clark Griswold made his comment about “Danny #@&$ Kaye”, the whole family fell out, the movie was paused, my mom said a prayer, and we explained to all the kids that that was not an appropriate way to talk.

What’s really great about this whole story is that the kids remember it fondly. They talk all the time about us letting them watch that movie unedited and that it was an important part of them understanding how the world is and maybe how it should or shouldn’t be. Now that the kids are older, we all still watch that movie together and love it. We even quote from it throughout the year in anticipation for when we’ll all be able to see it together again.

 

Day 9: Dear Pate

*Thanks to Mary Agrusa, a fellow blogger, for writing the entry for Day 9 of the Dear Gratitude project!*

I’m honored to contribute to Bethany’s blog this month. I dedicate this post to my sister.

Dear Pate,

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography at www.phoopla.com

Photo courtesy of Phoopla Photography at http://www.phoopla.com

As one of the two remaining members of our immediate family, I’m happy to spend these final chapters of my life with you. You’re amazing.

Opposites can attract; however, as kids we often withdrew to our respective corners to avoid the weird one. You’re probably right on this point. Today, our differences add depth and dimension to our relationship. I love you exactly the way you are.

Despite personal experiences to the contrary, you remain unswervingly devoted to your family. You’ve never been afraid to enter the arena and take the bull by the horns. I’m more apt to stay safely behind the wall to venture out only if and when the dust settles. You are one brave woman.

A true champion of the underdog, you’re willing to spend yourself and your resources to help others despite your own needs. You have the heart of a giver.

Circumstances beyond our control kept us apart for too many years. Mom’s death brought us back together. Although we can no longer traverse the Metro D.C. area as before, any time we spend together is priceless. You are a treasure.

I thank God for giving me a person of excellence, courage, determination, generosity and love for a sister. I am truly blessed.

I Love You,

Mary

 

 

Staying true to his altruistic roots

*Special thanks to Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy for writing today’s post in celebration of National Teacher Day.*

May 7th is National Teacher Day.  Since 1985, each Tuesday of the first full week of May has been a nationally recognized day to honor teachers. According to the National Education Association, the day’s origins go back to around 1944 when Mattye Whyte Woodridge, an Arkansas teacher, initiated correspondence with political and education leaders about setting aside a day to recognize teachers.  Eventually, she wrote to Eleanor Roosevelt, who ultimately convinced Congress to proclaim a National Teacher Day in 1953.  On this National Teacher Day, I would like to honor my husband, Mr. Dan Murphy, a teacher whose commitment to education also began in Arkansas.

Mr. Murphy with his daughter, Margaret, on the first day of school, 2012

Mr. Murphy with his daughter, Margaret, on the first day of school, 2012

Dan is currently a special education teacher in the Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia.  Before coming to Fairfax County, he taught special education in the Batesville Public Schools in Arkansas.  However, his work with special needs students began when he was in high school.  Inspired by his uncle, Dr. Jerry Bensberg, an early researcher in the field of mental disabilities and a long-time developmental psychology professor, Dan began working at summer camps for children with special needs.  Dan’s work at Camp Wyldewood in Arkansas and Camp Woodhaven in Missouri provided him with his initial opportunity to interact with children and young adults with developmental disabilities.

While he was a student at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, Dan continued to work with special needs individuals.  He spent one summer as a counselor at Camp Freedom in Ossipee, New Hampshire.  Camp Freedom was an innovative program that provided educational and recreational experiences for special needs children in a camp-like environment.  Dan also worked as an educational assistant in a behavioral management program for children with autism at the Arkansas Children’s Colony (now the Conway Human Development Center), a state-managed residential training facility for individuals with developmental disabilities.

As a teacher, Dan has been active in Special Olympics, and he has developed his own education programs. In 2004, he garnered a grant for a recycling program at Floris Elementary School where he currently teaches.  Recently, at Floris, Dan started a program called the Lunch Bunch.  Four days a week, he selects a small, diverse group of students and meets with them during lunch.  This thirty-minute segment of time is designed to be stress-free and allows the participants an opportunity to share a meal, talk, and play games.

Not everyone has the giftedness or the grace necessary to be a teacher, and special education is a field in which the attrition rate is particularly high.  Nevertheless, Dan has stayed true to his altruistic roots for over 30 years.  Students know they can rely on Mr. Murphy for kindness, patience, and support as well as for something that matters to all people – unconditional acceptance.