Plenty to be grateful for

To call Kristi Gray my friend feels like a misnomer. We share more than one secret connection, and I know God has bound us together for the rest of our lives. I couldn’t be more thankful for her. Kristi, you matter to me.

When I first saw my friend Bethany’s request for people to submit posts on gratitude for her blog during the month of November, I quickly skipped over it thinking, I have nothing to be grateful for this year.  It’s been nothing but hard.  But then as the days grew closer to November, I began to be hit with a flood of emotions, including, yes, lots of gratitude.

Fifteen years ago this week, I was on a spiral downwards.  I had just moved to Washington, D.C., three months prior, and I was in a dark, dark place.  My drinking led to blackouts, which led to waking up in strange places with strange people.  I was putting myself in more and more dangerous situations.  I had managed to lose all the friends I had in a short period of time.  My parents were no longer speaking to me.  I was alone, miserable, hated myself, wanted to die and couldn’t imagine life without alcohol because then I would have to feel all these feelings I was desperately trying to push down and hide.  On November 4, 2001, in the middle of a drink, I was struck with the thought that if I continue drinking, I am going to die, and all of a sudden I didn’t want to die anymore.

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Photo courtesy of Pixabay

That night I walked into a meeting of people who had managed not to take a drink for weeks, months, and even years, and I desperately wanted what they had.  They offered me a solution and walked with me through the fear and the pain and the tears and all those feelings that I didn’t want to feel.  I began to slowly experience peace and contentment and God’s presence in my life.   And I haven’t had to be alone again ever since that day.  How can I say I have nothing to be grateful for?

Fourteen years from the day I put down that drink, I began walking through perhaps the most difficult year of my life.  At the beginning of this year, I was enveloped in a darkness I didn’t think I could ever crawl out of, and worst of all, I had lost all hope.  I have been through lots of painful, dark times in my life, but I had never experienced this level of pain.  I didn’t know what to do, so I just did what I’ve been taught to do by my many mentors in life and that is to keep walking through it, hang on, and don’t give up.  My wallpaper on my phone says “Never Give Up” as a constant reminder to myself to keep going no matter what.   And I know God didn’t give up on me because He has been continuously sending me angels to guide me through this dark, difficult year.  The most amazing, beautiful people have showed up on this journey to help guide the way and help me face those parts of me I had been unwilling to face.

Just a few weeks ago, with the help of a wonderful mentor God recently placed in my life, I was able to start removing some of those things that had been blocking me from God and from others, and finally, finally the light started to come in and the darkness began to lift.  I woke up today with a smile on my face, excited to start my day, and I felt happy for the first time in a very long time.  I think I called everyone I knew to tell them I was happy! I didn’t know if I would ever feel peace and contentment and God’s presence again, and now, 15 years after I felt it for the first time, I am feeling all of those things on a deeper level than I’ve ever experienced.  On November 5, 2016, I will wake up 15 years sober, and I will wake up in the sunlight and will know that God is with me and is taking care of me and that all will be okay.

How can I say I have nothing to be grateful for?  I’ve been given my life back, not once, but twice.  For that, I will be forever grateful.

Abundance of gratitude

Today’s guest blog post is written by my friend Jeri Wright, a beautiful, free-spirited soul. Thank you, Jeri, for sharing your heart.

As I drove down the street today the sun-kissed my skin through an open window. The perfectly warm breeze gently caressed my cheek and tousled my hair. Every breath was a rush of energy and renewal. On a day like this, you just can’t help but to put your hand out the window and let it surf the wind like you did when you were twelve. Up and down and side to side, there is no resistance. I wonder, could this moment be any more perfect or this day any more beautiful?

A smile grows across my face and tears even think about welling up in my eyes for a minute. The awe and wonder I feel from a simple ten-minute drive on a nice day is almost overwhelming. I feel completely connected. This feeling, this emotion, has happened in my life before.

It happened when I was very young, at an age of total oblivion–that small window of life where all the world is a stage to entertain you. There are no scary things in life, other than monsters under your bed or in your closet. The age when you share pinkie swears with your best friend, and your best friend is either your mom or your cousin. When the biggest challenge you face is choking down your veggies at the dinner table.

12963511_609965423102_1062520607317924890_nMy swing set was a magical place in those early years. At around four, I would settle myself in the swing seat with no one else around. Mother would be inside cleaning or folding something. I had no siblings, and the cousins were too scared to play with me. After being sick for years, I had become the family glass doll. I would spend hours on that swing, amazed at how powerful my little legs felt while they shot me off into the never-ending Oklahoma sky above me. I imagined sailing among the clouds, the breeze in my hair and the sun kissing my skin.

This is my happy place. This is where my gratitude lives. Every moment when I recognize a gift in my life, I feel my happy place. Thankfully, as I acknowledge those gifts, I seem to recognize even more of them. My gratitude used to be reserved for “big” things like I’m glad my son’s cancer hasn’t returned, or I’m grateful that the police officer didn’t give me a speeding ticket. But now I feel gratitude nearly everywhere. I feel it in letting others go before me in traffic. I feel it in an uncomfortable situation because it gives me an opportunity to stretch and grow. And I feel it in the simple pleasure of watching my children play.

That abundance of gratitude has made it possible for me to relive my swing set magic every day.

Tori’s Top 10

Today’s guest blog post is written by my lifelong friend, Tori Walker Kirk. Watching her journey has been inspiring and filled me with gratitude.

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Tori, Rockie, and Edward atop Pinnacle Mountain

When I read that Bethany needed people to write gratitude posts for her blog, something inside me screamed, “Do it”!  I’m not a writer, but I do have my fair share of things to be grateful for, so I told her I would write one. 

Since telling her this, I’ve written several drafts about what I’m grateful for, each sounding amazing in my head and so uninspiring on paper.  To the trash each and every one went.  I started second guessing myself.  Why did I volunteer to do this?!  That voice inside me kept saying, Do It! 
There are so many things I’m grateful for and for many years was blind to. Finding gratitude wasn’t an issue, but narrowing it down was, so I decided on a list.  Some are understandable, some thought-provoking, but all me.  So here is my diverse gratitude list in no particular order.
1.        My husband.  I was alone for 7 years after my divorce.  I chose that path.  My theory was you can’t get hurt if you’re alone, when in reality I was miserable.  God saw this, and He saw fit to put this man in my path, and not let me walk alone.  He has helped redirect my journey to a better one, and I can never thank Him enough.
2.       My kids.  The relationship with my kids has not been an easy journey over the past few years.  Those who know the story understand.  My love for them has never changed.  They are and always will be mine.
3.       My friends.  From that crazy group of church/school friends to the friendships I’ve made over the years, they always appear right when I need them. 
4.       My brief pregnancy this year.  Sadly, it ended in miscarriage, but it showed me my body is still capable of creating life.
5.       Rockie.  She came as a package deal with my husband, and I can’t imagine life without her.  She’s funny, smart, and full of love.
6.       Yoga.  It centers me, balances me, grounds me, makes my mornings smoother, and my nights restful.
7.       My job.  I’ve been a pharmacy tech for almost 14 years, but I now work in an environment which challenges me daily and allows me to grow in my profession.
8.       Mornings.  They often start with a walk with my husband and dog. Yoga comes next, then coffee and Jesus time to help prepare me for the day ahead. 
9.       My baking skills.  I’m a fairly decent baker.  That gene is inherited from my grandmother and great aunts, and I’m proud to carry on their traditions. 
10.   My renewed sense of self.  I know where I belong.  I know I am loved.  I know I will persevere in all things.
My list could go on, and most days it does.  Thank you Bethany, for allowing me the chance to post the good in my life and for giving me the opportunity right when I needed it.

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 question

How to find gratitude in the midst of trauma.

Just wheat: Only what matters

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I entered The Pinto, a trendy vintage coffee shop/eatery in downtown Batesville, and ordered my favorite caffeinated beverage—café breve—while waiting to meet with my FOFO (formerly online friend only) for lunch, coffee, and conversation face-to-face for the first time.

Half an hour later, deep into a great chat about grace and relationships, a mutual friend greeted us and stopped to talk. While discussing potential dates for this mutual friend, the topic of abstinence surfaced. The mutual friend asked us, “Did you have sex before you were married?”

This time, I only felt a slight sting before responding to this version of the age-old question, “Tell me about your first time.”

21 years ago, a family friend raped me when I was 16 years-old. It was the first time I’d had sex.

Immediately following this traumatic experience, I did what many PTSD-infected, confused, depressed teenagers do who’ve been…

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Real miracles

Some thoughts on miracles and gratitude.

Just wheat: Only what matters

I am sick.

I am plagued by a disease which alters the way I view the world—the disease of perception.

God has provided me countless opportunities to feel better, to become whole, to heal. And yet the disease still rears its ugly head from time to time.

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One of the symptoms of my disease is self-pity. I’m not talking about going through five minutes of feeling sorry for yourself because the restaurant screws up your order, or even the healthy sort of grieving you do when feeling sorry for yourself after a legitimate loss of a dream, a person, an animal, or an opportunity.

Since I have the disease of perception, when I get into self-pity, I get INTO self-pity. I have vivid memories of wallowing on my ex-boyfriend’s deck in a quilt and bawling my eyes out because he admitted that he didn’t have the…

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Sweet 16

Happy anniversary to my best friend, MeLissa Horseman, and the love of her life, Shawn. I’m grateful I was able to be there with them 16 years ago to celebrate their wedding. 

My husband and I celebrate our Sweet 16 this July.  Marriage is probably the hardest thing I have ever done, aside from public speaking.  Honestly, there are times I never thought we would make it this far.  As I reflect on the past 16 years of life and marriage (over 18 years together), I ponder the highs and lows.

11008554_672905729488252_8464733163433890297_nThe years have been full of laughter and tears, fun and worry, love and dislike.  Just this past Saturday, we laughed more together than we have in a long while, and then the very next day got into a heated ‘discussion’ about house repairs, home improvements, and finances.  While the lows at times seem never-ending and the highs fleeting, I can’t help but be amazed and thankful we have made it to this milestone.  There have been moments I have wanted out (I’m sure he wanted to quit, too), but we have persevered.

20160701_204901We have three awesome children, ages 9, 7, and 3.  We have a nice home to raise them in and food to feed them.  We have friends, family, and our church to love on them.  We have life experiences to share with them.  And we have each other.  Our marriage is nowhere near perfect, and I’m still waiting on the magic year when it gets easier, but each day is another day God spoils me with the opportunity to be a wife and mom.  While some days I don’t make the most of it or feel I have the energy to do either, God lays on my heart that there is someone doing the parenting and spouse thing alongside me. So, happy anniversary dear hubby, and may we resolve to rely on God to continue to strengthen each other for each other.

Outcomes

Just wheat: Only what matters

My three year-old daughter has been waking up around 2 a.m. for weeks now, tossing and turning in tears, crying out for us. A few weeks ago when my husband went into her room to console her, she cried out, “I want to go home!”

Over coffee, after she embarked on a playground adventure with our wonderful babysitter, we discussed Maggie’s recent bout with nightmares. What is the root cause? What does “I want to go home” mean? She rarely leaves the house without us, and when she does, it’s only for a few hours at a time. We were baffled. Had she been watching a cartoon that was troubling her? While we try to avoid helicopter parenting syndrome, I’ll admit to hovering over the remote. We don’t even let her watch the portion of My Little Ponies featuring the witches from 1985. Toddler nightmares are tough on toddlers…

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Treat yo’self

Happy Mother’s Day to all of you!

Just wheat: Only what matters

Bethany,

I gotta hand it to you this year. I’m really proud of you for following through on the decision you made last year at this time to “treat yo’self,” as Donna and Tom proclaim on one of my all-time favorite shows, Parks and Rec.

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You deserve to be treated well. After all, Mother’s Day and your birthday always fall within a few days on the calendar each year (if not on the same day). You’re a mom. And you inevitably grow one year older each year, unless you’re not reading this since you’ve already died (*crossing my fingers that’s not the case*).

Your husband is a great man who loves you, protects you, ensures your safety and well-being, and would literally take a bullet for you. Holidays, however, aren’t really his thing. You should have accepted this the very first Mother’s Day you celebrated together when you were pregnant…

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#bestprobs

Let me give you guys a quick snapshot of my life right now.

11358743_1402053633454392_799305827_nI’m wrapping up my position as a full-time faculty member at a community college, grading finals like a demon while saying plenty of sad goodbyes to colleagues and students. I receive daily emails which I print  out to add to my “kudos” folder, all the while contributing to my guilty conscience (teacher guilt is a lot like mommy guilt, in case you hadn’t heard). In addition, I’m completing the most atrocious pile of exit paperwork I’ve ever seen in my life. Quitting this job is complicated!

Through a strange sequence of events, which I believe were divinely ordained, I obtained an amazing new job as content manager for an online job board. I have been working part-time this semester, which has been quite an impressive and comical juggling act, and I begin full-time in January. One of the best perks of the gig is working from home. However, I learned that I can’t actually work from my home; we can’t access broadband internet service here since we live in The Sticks. Thus began the speedy, desperate search for a small, affordable office space. My search ended soon after it began, and thanks to a local business owner, my husband and I have been working to order equipment and furniture and help prepare a space.

In the midst of this work-related hubbub this semester, I’ve been grieving some losses–losses by death of people I loved who’ve passed on, and losses of people who moved to other cities this year and who moved out of my life, too. It has simply been a heavy year in terms of loss. Carrying this weight while trying to “keep on the sunny side of life” has been a tough balancing act, to say the least.

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And then there’s Maggie, who turned three last month. She’s a beautiful child and full of life, but she’s also full of pee, and I find myself needing to Google things like, “how to remove urine smell from couch cushions.” So it’s come to this, eh?

Apparently so.

But here’s the deal.

While everything I have written thus far, which is approximately 367 words, is true, it is also only one side of the truth.

Here’s the other side I haven’t told you about yet. I hoped you decided to wait for it.

I do have problems.

But I have the best problems.

I wrote this portion of an email to a friend of mine over the weekend.

Tonight I felt really stressed and was praying, and God somehow revealed to me a change of perception, and I said to God, “Thank you so much that I have the BEST problems.” My problems are so good. Genuinely, they are. I have all this office equipment I could afford sitting around my house ready to be put together taking up space, and I need help with it. That’s my “problem.” I have stuff to grade by students who love me and are sending me the nicest emails that I am printing out and saving. I have too many people who want to spend time with me and not enough time to fit them all in before I quit working at the college. I got to move my retirement into an IRA and had to find time to go to the bank and felt grumbly about it today! But I got to keep my money instead of losing my retirement funds! I mean, I could keep going, but really…. I needed this reality check and change of perception tonight, and after God snapped me back into reality, I felt about 400% better.

I talked to my boss on the phone a few days ago, and she genuinely sounded excited about my upcoming training visit. Of course I’m excited, but it floored me to hear so much excitement in her voice. Quite honestly, it brought tears to my eyes. How lucky am I to be working for people who can’t wait to see me?

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My three year-old daughter asked me to rock her tonight and sing songs to her. That rarely happens. Yes, I have a urinary tract infection, and the weight of her 35 pound body on my bladder didn’t really help with the urgency/frequency vibe I’ve got going on, but somehow I was able to be where my hands were rather than where my bladder was at that moment and look into her big, sleepy, hazel eyes for as long as she’d let me.

I have the best problems.

The only real problem I ever have is when I lose my ability to see things the way they really are.

There’s a lot of clarity in gratitude.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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