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Maybe the most important thing I learned during the filming of ON FIRE.

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Six weeks after completing the filming for ON FIRE, I am still digesting the experience of having a full-length feature film capture the most tragic, intimate, painful, redemptive, and joyful aspects of my life. It was a surreal experience that moved me deeply, reinforced the profound gift of life, and shined a brilliant light on the power of unconditional love.

Sometimes that love was captured in the heroic actions of young siblings while a fire rages in their house. Sometimes it was personified in an Emergency Room when a parent pulls back a curtain, sees their child in agony, loses their breath, moves through their own fear, and personifies grace. Sometimes it was experienced through the excellent care of a nurse, the outstanding effort of a janitor, or the consistent, hope-inducing voice of a radio announcer.

But as valuable as it may be learning lessons portrayed on screen, it was sometimes what quietly occurred behind the scenes that exemplified most impactactfully the power of love in action. The model of that servant leadership, though, wasn’t an actor, a producer, or our director. It was someone instead who didn’t audition for the role or get paid for the work, but embraced it fully regardless. It was my wife, Beth.

Beth O’Leary enjoys her work as an Occupational Therapist and adores her family. She doesn’t indulge in social media, doesn’t brag about herself ever, and doesn’t seek attention. And she certainly didn’t ask for a film to be made about our lives.

And yet, when presented the opportunity to share a story we know will be such an encouragement to so many others, Beth did what she always does when an opportunity presents itself to make a difference for others, she said yes.

From preparing a special dinner for our director Sean McNamara the first evening he was in St. Louis, to assisting the production team in better understanding the difference between Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy, to providing the actress portraying her with the actual dress she wore the day of our wedding, Beth was deeply engaged in the creation of the film.

When they needed our dog for a scene, Beth rearranged her entire day to bring her on the set; when they unexpectedly needed the dog again late the following day, she left a meeting, retrieved the dog and brought her back.

When plans for a dinner for the actors and production team fell through last minute, Beth hosted the entire gathering at our house.

And my favorite scene from filming wasn’t written into the script. It happened accidentally after a scene wrapped.

With the crew preparing the next shot, one of the cameras was inadvertently left recording. No sound is captured, but the video reveals the ordinariness of a bustling hallway with people hurriedly coming and going. Then a beautiful brunette walks into the frame. She greets everyone with a genuine smile and a kind word, patting several actors on their back as they walk past. She then is stunned to see an extra she recognizes and gives the woman a big hug. The two embrace, apparently drawing enough attention that several crew members stop what they are doing, turning to see the joyful commotion. After seeing Beth O’Leary hugging an extra, they smile, observe it for a moment longer, before going back to work.

On their own, these may appear relatively insignificant. When stacked day after day, blended with the sincere kindness she exhibited to the entire team in every interaction, while still bearing the additional weight of managing her other job and shepherding our household through the process, it was extraordinary.

My friends, the way we show up in life influences profoundly the people around us. The things we do, the grace we give, the forgiveness we offer, the smiles we share, the hugs we provide, and the love we radiate not only impacts the individual directly in front of us, but also every single individual around us.

In a world that can seem so cynical, negative and divisive, we are called to be different. We’re invited to be joy, to be love, and to be a force for good.

I was grateful to see this powerful impact on set during the filming of On Fire. And I’m thankful to witness it each day off set, too.

This is your day.  Live Inspired. 

11 replies on “Being Love in Action”

Thank you for this focus on comfort and joy! I love how you described Beth’s small, but powerful impact she made consistently and with fidelity. I only imagine her to be extraordinary considering the life circumstances you found yourself and the way you positively impact numerous people and counting. I love that she is an occupational therapist and helps others learn the difference from a PT. She found her calling in OT, helping people with ADL’s and the skills needed for occupying the day. It warms my heart to know she embodies this call to care in family and professional life with comfort and joy. It’s the little things that make a big difference. Your description here tells me she posses’ fortitude and perseverance, and my virtue book says (this is a goal of the year, to find virtues) these are gifts of glimmer.
She glimmers and I share your gratitude for someone like her.
One more thing! I must mention. Our family booked a reception to celebrate our son’s upcoming wedding this past weekend, on the same weekend you posted about filming at Edgewild. Andrew and I see this sign as serendipity.

The love story which you and your beloved wife, Beth, share is one of the best parts of your story. What a courageous, wonderful example you both are of a godly couple, committed in marriage, a marriage which moves beyond the circle of your embrace to take in a whole world in need. As a native St. Louisan, I feel especially proud that you live in our city, and yet have extended your reach around the globe. Everyone needs a warm embrace, especially in a world turned cold. Bravo!
Lynn Morrissey

You are one lucky man John! And your wonderful tribute emphasizes the importance of showing up every day, just like Beth and like Jack with all those baseballs. It is easy to provide one or two “grand” gestures, but those fade. The consistent love, faith and grace exhibited by God and by those that want to do their very best to live his words are what really make an impact. Bless you John!

What a wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. It’s a prime example of how minor, ordinary decisions impact much more than we tihnk.

What a beautiful testimony to Beth’s servant leadership and the joy and love she offers every day to those around her.
Sharing these testimonies reminds us to look more carefully at those around us and appreciate their impact on us and others.
Thank you, John. Congratulations on the completion of filming!

It makes my heart so happy to hear how you adore your precious wife! Thank you for always sharing inspiration with all of us so we can BE an inspiration to others!!

What a beautiful write-up on your loving wife Beth, and a way to reflect as the work week begins! Undoubtedly, Beth has embraced her role as a supporting spouse and mother. Both of you are truly blessed to have one another and it shows. I wish you and your family nothing but the best and thanks for keeping us inspired with love and kindness!

When our daughter was a pre-teen and in the hospital, one of the brightest moments for me during her 8-day stay at the hospital was when a custodian in front of me in the cafeteria line surprised me by buying the frozen popsicles that I was planning on buying for my daughter. I didn’t even notice he had paid for my treats, but when it was my turn to pay, the cashier motioned to this kind man and said he had already paid for my treats. I still remember his big smile and warm eyes as he acknowledged his kind act and my surprise. It was a small gesture, but I still remember it and it was 10 years ago!!

You are blessed many times over John! Beth is clearly a very special person. thank you for sharing today’s message. I can hardly wait to see the film! Do you know when it will be released yeet?

The power of the Holy Spirit !
I recently experienced the same thing from a different perspective. As a retiring, orthopedic surgeon, and recently as a patient I am profoundly aware of the love and giving of oneself that occurs in the medical profession on a daily basis. Everyone from the nurses, doctors all the way down to the janitor are involved. There is an unbelievable desire to give a oneself on a daily basis that really makes all the difference in the world! I feel so blessed to be a part of this.

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