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

Gift list

Today’s post is an essay by one of my English Composition I students, Hannah Shell. Hannah is a true ray of sunshine. After spending a semester observing her in class and getting to know her through her writing, I completely understand why her parents would want to bless her by surprising her with a car on her 16th birthday. I hope my daughter has as lovely a spirit as Hannah someday. 

I have been given numerous amazing gifts that I am beyond thankful for. The first most memorable gift that I have received this year was on June 27, my 16th birthday. I had just finished a rigorous cross country practice that took place in the hilly trails behind Batesville High School. It was a scorching hot summer day, and after that long run, my legs felt as if they would collapse any second.

As I stumbled to the parking lot, searching for my dad’s white farm truck, I realized that there were no cars in the parking lot, and he was running 15 minutes late. I sighed and began to dial his number when I heard three honks that came from a car pulling right up in front of me.

photo (1)My stepmom, her short blonde hair bobbing up and down, was clasping her hands together in the passenger’s seat, and my father, who sat in the driver’s seat, was waving his hand out the window, almost as if his arm was about to fall off. The radio was blaring, making the mirrors shake, and there was a giant red bow that sat on the hood of the maroon Pontiac G6. I threw my hands over my mouth and started jumping up and down out of control. I was completely surprised and immediately ran to give my parents a huge hug. My first car was more than perfect, and I am so grateful for such a wonderful gift.

The second favorite gift that I have received this year was on Christmas morning. My whole family was gathered around the Christmas tree with so many gifts underneath. The gifts were wrapped in  all kinds of beautiful wrapping paper and brightly colored ribbons. Christmas music was playing softly, and we were all drinking hot chocolate with fluffy marshmallows scattered on top. I had a red fuzzy blanket wrapped around me and a permanent smile on my face because I just love the happy atmosphere and warm feeling of Christmas morning.

After unwrapping many wonderful gifts of clothes, makeup, and jewelry, I held my last present in my hands. It was my turn to open, and my family looked at me with just as much anticipation to see what was inside. I eagerly ripped off the wrapping paper. It was a white box with the Apple symbol on the outside, and I immediately knew what it was. I looked at my parents with an even bigger smile. I opened the white box, and an iPhone 5 was perfectly placed in the center. I picked it up out of the box, and the cold screen felt so wonderful in my warm hands. I flipped it over on its side to pet it as if it were a cat. The smooth back had absolutely no scratches. It was exactly what I had been wanting, and I am very thankful for it as well.

The third greatest gift I received this year happened one evening when I was at Colton’s Steakhouse. Although I had spent most of my money on gas for the week, I was craving Colton’s buttery rolls, and I was willing to spend what was left of my money on some delicious food.  After inhaling three oozing, hot rolls, I ate a fresh dinner salad topped with tomatoes, cheese, and my favorite salad dressing, ranch. Then I proceeded onto the main entrée of a sizzling sirloin and crispy French fries. The steak was cooked perfectly with only a little pink in the middle, and the thick, warm fries melted in my mouth. As I leaned back in the booth, feeling full and content, suddenly the friendly brunette waitress with red lipstick and extremely white teeth came to my table. She informed me that some gentleman had paid for my dinner and then briskly walked away with a smile.

My jaw dropped; I was in complete shock. My heart was so full fo happiness that someone was so generous to pay for my meal. This was not a new car or brand new iPhone 5. However, it was a random act of kindness, and sometimes, the gifts that cost little to nothing are what can make you the happiest.

Gifts

Today’s post is an essay written by one of my English Composition I students, Jessica Bacon. Jessica was a true blessing in my life this semester; she’s an ideal student, a loving mom, and a caring person. She is certainly a true elevator person to all those she encounters, lifting others up and not tearing them down. Not only that, but she also worked her tail off this semester and improved her writing skills by leaps and bounds. Merry Christmas, Jessica!

“The excellence of a gift lies in its appropriateness rather than in its value.” (Charles Dudley Warner)  Gifts come in many shapes and forms.  Some may only consider presents that can be unwrapped or objects that can be associated with a monetary value as gifts.  Others can see the gift in things they cannot physically hold.  I like presents just as much as anybody else, but the best gifts are those I cannot put a dollar sign on.  Reflecting on this year, I know I have so much to be thankful for, but the gifts that stand out are the ones with sentimental value that will leave a lifetime of memories.

Jessica Bacon fam picConsidering that there are 2,129 miles between my home in Evening Shade, Arkansas, and my mom’s house in Vancouver, Washington, we do not see each other often.  In June, my mom flew out to visit.  As she walked through the airport terminal, I could see her smiling from ear to ear with tears streaming down her cheeks.  I could feel the love radiating through her when she hugged me.  During the week she was here, we watched my girls’ softball games, shopped, swam, cooked, and laughed until our bellies hurt.  Our housed smelled like a Bath and Body Works store from the array of candles and body products she bought for us.  My mom made us her Puerto Rican rice, chicken, and beans.  The garlic, green olives, and tomato sauce in the rice made an interesting combination of flavors.  Because Mom was recovering from shoulder surgery, she had to do her physical therapy exercises while she was here.  I loved watching my youngest daughter Carly running around her yelling, “Can’t shit (how she said catch) me, Gamma!!” while Mom did her exercises.  We will forever cherish the memories we made with her.  The real gift was Mom’s presence rather than the presents that she bought us.

Having four kids and multiple crazy schedules to work around, date nights and alone time are far and few between for my husband and I.  In August, our friend Robyn offered to watch our four girls so we could go out for our eleventh anniversary.  I knew that my babies were in good hands, so I was able to relax and enjoy my childless evening.  We went to Patio Lino Latin Restaurant for dinner.  When we walked into the crowded building the aroma of the food tantalized my nostrils, and the buffet in the corner caught my eye.  The flavor of the shrimp was so amazing that I could not stop eating it despite the intense heat.  My mouth and lips were on fire, and it made my nose run.  After dinner we went to Wal-Mart and bought season six of Sons of Anarchy to watch at home.  I fell asleep on the couch snuggled up to my husband with the feeling of his heart beating against my back while listening to the story of Jax Teller and the Sons of Anarchy Motorcycle Club.

I attended my first semester of college this fall.  On my first day, I was so nervous and worried that I would be the oldest one in my classes.  When I entered my first class I saw students of all ages and several who appeared old enough to be my parents.  At first Intermediate Algebra was a struggle.  I spent many hours in the Student Success Center where there was a constant bustle of students, the strong scent of coffee, and varying tutoring sessions could be overheard.

Knowledge is a gift, and my first semester was successful.

Three gifts in 2014

*My English Composition I students wrote their final exam essays about three gifts they received in 2014. Some of their essays were exceptionally touching, meaningful, or humorous. I believe you’ll enjoy reading a few of these–whose authors have granted permission for me to share on the blog–over the next few weeks. This essay is by one of my most hilarious (bless her heart–the drop grade just never happened and never will–and caring students, Shanna Huffine. I will definitely miss having her in class this spring!*

Mrs. Wallace hard at work eating Oreos during a classroom party, fall 2014.

Mrs. Wallace hard at work eating Oreos during a classroom party, fall 2014.

There have been many gifts given to me over the years, but 2014 has been one of the most significant in a while. Of all the gifts I have received this year, there are three in particular that I am most excited to have received. Bethany Wallace, my 2008 Kia Sorento Ex, and a free chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A have been the most valuable gifts I have been honored with in 2014.

My English Composition 1 instructor, Bethany Wallace, is a gift from the gods. She has taught me the true meaning of the English language, and she has pushed me through training in the ways of composition with her bronze-red, short hair that flows in the wind while she expertly struts through the hallow halls of the campus. Her eyes light up as she admonishes her terrified students for using to, too, and two in the wrong contexts. Mrs. Wallace’s velvety voice caresses my ears as the words, “You can choose to use your drop grade on your final, if you so wish.” She has guided me to become a better writer and person through her god-given English teaching abilities, and for this, I am truly grateful.

After trying to take my car swimming in July, my grandfather in Illinois decided to buy me another new-to-me vehicle. My 2008 Kia Sorento’s dark grey paint that sparkles and shines in the sunlight, and when I shimmy into the driver’s seat, the dark grey cotton seat material cushions my buttocks. The leathery steering wheel is smooth against my skin as the scent of cleaning products and Febreze fills my nostrils. I miss my old car, but I’ve come to love my Sorento. We are one.

chickfilaOn my way to Illinois the week before last, I stopped at Chick-Fil-A. I accepted the receipt from the drive-thru jockey, which had a website URL to access a survey. It asked a lot of questions about what kind of experience I had at my most recent visit to the restaurant. At the end I got a code to write on my receipt and redeem a free chicken sandwich from any participating Chick-Fil-A. Pulling up to the eatery in Jonesboro once again, I sauntered inside and waited in line forever.

The dull roar of people chatting and young kids talking 274829% too loud invaded my ear drums as they threatened to bust. The smell of chicken, fried potatoes, and burning oil constantly hit my smelling glands like a brick. The atmosphere was stuffy as people surrounded me on all sides as I nervously glanced around and prayed that no one accidentally brushed up against me. I finally handed my ticket to the cashier, thanked her for the sandwich, and elbowed my way through the crowd back to my car.

I instantly opened the paper bag. I reached in and clutched my small hand around the foiled sandwich. I awed at the savory goodness as I unwrapped it like a kid at Christmas and brought it to my mouth. The boneless, seasoned to perfection, juicy chicken breast instantly patted my taste buds softly. The crisp lettuce and sharp mayonnaise complimented the buttered bun and dill pickle chips perfectly. It was my first chicken sandwich from Chick-Fil-A, and it was pretty amazing.

I’ve had very few gifts this year. Wallace, my new car, and free food are the best gifts that I’ve gotten. They are also the ones that I am most grateful for in 2014. Hopefully I’ll have them in my life for years to come.

Dear Daniel

*Today’s letter is written by fellow blogger and writer Mary Agrusa. Thank you, Mary, for your willingness to share your gifts with the world!*

Dear Daniel,

blog mary agrusa nov 14From the first time Mikael demurely admitted she was seeing someone, her tone of voice told me you were special. For the longest time she tantalized me with this well kept mystery – like a decorated gift under the Christmas tree. The suspense exhilarated me.

Every now and then she’d let something slip, “Daniel’s soooo.” My gift appeared to be exquisitely wrapped…but what was inside? Hmm. She’d drop clues, share tidbits. I’d pick up the box, feel its weight and shake it for any revealing noises. Still the contents eluded me. Who was this person who’d captivated my little girl’s heart?

Finally the trip to Boston came. In addition to time spent with Mikael the opportunity to begin to unwrap my gift arrived. What would I find? I rooted for fireworks and shooting stars, and I wasn’t disappointed. When you casually mentioned that the two of you had discussed marriage, my heart soared. “He’s a keeper!” it proclaimed.

That afternoon in March I was only privy to half of the phone conversation between you and Joe. I could read between the remarks on our end that a wedding was in the works. I spent the next six weeks with my head in the clouds. Mikael had found her Prince Charming and I couldn’t be happier.

On that Friday in May at the Marriage Bureau in New York City, the gift was totally revealed – a son, and what a son he is! It was an honor to stand as a witness to your commitment to Mikael, complete with a non-return clause LOL. Blessed with a kind, compassionate heart, a great sense of humor, a profound love of God, coffee, all things Irish and Boston sports teams, you are Mikael’s perfect counter-balance. I marvel daily at God’s gracious addition to our family. He thought of everything.

Daniel, thank you for being “the one.” You took Mikael into your heart and made her (and Joe and I by default) an integral part of your life. In you I’ve received a gift of immeasurable worth and one I’ll cherish for the rest of my life.

Love,

Mary

Being the dish

Giving back, paying it forward, passing it on. . .  these are concepts I live by—partly because other people have done these kind of good deeds for me and to me.

With two of my favorite do-gooders at my baby shower, 2012

With two of my favorite do-gooders at my baby shower, 2012

A friend and mentor of mine once gave me her family’s tax refund to help pay for a mission trip overseas. Their donation funded more than half of the expensive adventure. Countless times, good friends and coworkers have bought me lunch when I couldn’t have otherwise afforded to join them. When I was in third grade, my Sunday School teacher funded gymnastics lessons, a gift that led to the development of my favorite pastime and some of my greatest childhood memories and lessons learned. My gym coach lowered his rates for my parents, allowing me to compete in the sport. When I was going through a divorce and needed temporary housing, two of my friends allowed me a peaceful, quiet break from the chaos, along with plenty of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Texas soup.

IMG_8380

With my mentor, October 2013

I’ve been given other gifts that have nothing to do with finances, too. Many of my mom friends have prayed for Maggie and for me, encouraged me, and mailed us packages of beautiful tiny clothing, toys, books. My boss generously mentored me through the entire fall semester, answering emails, fielding questions, and sharing handouts with not even a hint of annoyance. My mentor in recovery has listened to me, mentored me, and guided me as I took her advice (or didn’t) over the past six and a half years. In college, one of my professors offered to host a few eager students at his house weekly for a Bible study on the topic of love; it changed my perceptions permanently. Many of my friends have trekked into the woods to visit me since having Maggie, making it possible for us to continue to connect in spite of my temperamental little traveler.

This fall, a friend of mine handed me four Wal-Mart gift cards worth $50 each. She explained that a friend of hers, who preferred to remain anonymous, had given her the cards to give to someone else who could pass them on to people in need. Instantly, I thought of two friends—one was caring for three foster children with no financial reimbursement, and the other was in the midst of multiple surgeries, mounting medical bills, broken appliances, and a car on its last leg.

I was so grateful for the chance to pass on the good will of someone I had never met. I was especially grateful for the timing. I’d felt compelled to help these two people, but since it was a lean time of the year for us financially, I didn’t have the means. This anonymous do-gooder did for me what I could not do for myself.

039This is the nature of God. He is always doing for me what I cannot do for myself. Giving to me when I don’t even know what I need and allowing me to extend the same blessing to others, even when my hands and wallet are empty.

Empty hands aren’t such a bad thing. I open them up, and God fills them. I give the blessings away, and I open them up again.

My God has an endless supply of goodness—I’m thankful that He lets me be the dish He uses to dose it out to His other children.

Day 25: Dear Need

Day 25 in the Dear Gratitude project is submitted by yours truly :).

Dear Need,

I first remember meeting you, Need, when my father fell from his heroic platform in my mind. Grappling with drug addiction, he stood in our living room in Augusta, Kansas, in 1984, and admitted that he had fallen for Caroline. I remember my mom crying, scorching, angry tears spilling over, commanding him to explain himself to his four daughters. He tried to. And then he left.

And I didn’t shed a tear, although I was surrounded by four emotionally distraught females.

My dad, circa 1984, who I've grown to love again

My dad, circa 1984, who I’ve grown to love again

I didn’t know then how much I needed a daddy and how much the lack of having one would alter my path in life. I didn’t know that, as Naomi Shihab Nye claims in her poem The Traveling Onion, “It is right that tears fall for something small and forgotten.” I didn’t know these things, but I would learn them later. Because of you, Need, I spent years trying to replace my dad with insufficient substitutes. I can’t say that I’m proud of that, but I know that you, Need, are often something I can’t even detect in myself—but God can. Thanks to you, Need, I eventually found a Father. Thank you, Need, for leading me to create a path of destruction uglier and more harmful than the mess left behind in Wichita after a tornado. Seeing myself realistically finally led me to accept and love my dad again.

Need, you became a part of our daily family life. We needed food, clothing, and shelter, our little family of five, a single mom with four daughters under the age of seven. You, Need, introduced us to welfare. You acquainted us with embarrassment and shame. You moved us into a trailer park. You are the reason I cried for an entire afternoon because I did not have a denim skirt to wear to my friend’s birthday party, and you are the reason my mom could not purchase one, even though she wanted to.

But you, Need, are also the reason that my mom went back to college and pursued a career in dental hygiene, something she is still passionate about. You are part of the reason that I studied so hard to try to obtain a scholarship myself. You are the one to thank for the circumstances that led to my mom becoming best friends with Kay Egan, a woman with a gigantic golden heart. You’re to thank for the chance to grow up with near-cousins and to be loved by near-grandparents, for the chance to climb trees, explore barns, and ride tractors. You, Need, are who taught me that I’m no better than anyone else. That people in poverty aren’t always stuck in the mud as a result of poor choices. Thank you for making it impossible for my mom to take care of us on her own. If she’d been able to, I wouldn’t have received countless gifts of kindness and selflessness, like my Sunday School teacher in first grade who offered to pay for me to learn gymnastics, which is still my favorite sport.

Kay and John Egan, 2000

Kay and John Egan, 2000

Need, I could choose to hate you. But I don’t. I’m thankful for your place in my life, even today. I’m thankful for the irritability and negativity that rises up in me when I don’t focus on the Solution. That need prompts me to change. I’m thankful for the times when I have to spend less and save more. This keeps me humble and dependent on the Giver. I’m thankful for the times when I can’t make my daughter feel better and for the times when I can’t figure out how to get her to eat more, nurse less, or go to sleep. It keeps me from attaining parental perfection, and that leads me to accept help and input from my Wise Dad who knows my child better than I do. I’m thankful for my own powerlessness and lack of ability to manage every situation solely.  This keeps my egotistical, self-righteous self from bragging and annoying everyone I meet, and it keeps me coming back for help from the Ultimate Guru.

I need you, Need, to get me to gratitude.

I need Need to get me to God.