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.

Dear Rhonda

Dear Rhonda,

2013 year in review maggieThank you for helping me find my house. I resisted liking that house since it was more my ex-husband’s preference than mine. You might even say that I resented that darn house for a long, long time, actually. Slowly but surely, the longer I lived in it (particularly the longer I lived in it by myself), the more it grew on me. The house and I made our peace. I learned to love not only the house but the yard, the view from the front porch (thank God for the pasture and horses paid for by the neighbors!), and the woods behind my property. With lots of help, significant elbow grease, and minimal financial investment, I converted the house into a home.

Rhonda, thank you for introducing me to Cheryl and Henry Wilson. They became surrogate parents to me. I miss them so much, particularly this time of year when I just long to go home to their house and bake, bake, bake spicy pfefferneuse cookies with Cheryl. 252482_516930600632_6872391_n

Rhonda, when you offered me the opportunity to work for you as a sub-contractor six months after we closed on my house, doing odd jobs under the umbrella of real estate, I felt relieved and honored. The offer came in the nick of time. As my life mentor says, “God goes ahead and plans in love.” He certainly did that time. I was recently divorced and desperate for extra income with flexible hours. Working with you was much more classy and fun than serving drinks at the Underground Pub, and I gained experience in real estate for three years, picked your brain on a regular basis, and benefited under your leadership and guidance.

229694_506890022032_1308731_nRhonda, thank you for mentoring me and teaching me everything you could in every situation we encountered while working together. I never felt bossed around by you; I felt like a team member. I watched you open your own business. I learned how to be fearless and brave. I listened to you open and close deals while upholding high ethical standards. I observed you undergo difficult business and personal situations with grace and dignity.

I cannot even begin to list the lessons I learned from you in one measly letter. Thank you for going to lunch with me and going shopping with me and convincing me to serve on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters with you (not to mention the countless other non-profit service projects we tag-teamed on together!). It was refreshing to share my passion for non-profit fundraising and development with someone who approached volunteerism and fundraising from a business perspective. You helped me grow and develop my personal interests, weed out some of my potential career paths, and hone in on my real passion: writing, reading, and teaching these two things to others. 189672_502826380602_5699_n

I know that we don’t make or find time to talk over the phone or face to face now (shame on us!), and we live two hours away from one another, but I hope you know that you made a significant impact on my life. You helped shape me into who I am today.

Did you know that I actually LIKE who I am today, thanks to people like you? Did you know that I have direction in my life now, and that I absolutely love waking up every single day with the people in my house and going to work every day, thanks to people like you who chose to invest in my life? It’s true.

If it hadn’t been for people like you, Rhonda, I might still be floundering and trying to find my way. Thankfully, you cared enough to share your experience with me. You cared enough to share yourself with me; you shared your time with me, and that is a gift I will keep giving back to those I mentor and teach for the rest of my life.

Thank you, my friend.

I love you. Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

Bethany

Day 30: Dear Erin

*It’s the last day of the Dear Gratitude project! My friend and soul sister, Amie Seaton, is today’s guest writer.*

Dear Erin,
I just got in from spending time with you today. I have so much fun with you these days. We didn’t even do much, just unloaded all your clothes into your new apartment. But, during those hours (let’s be honest, you have WAY too many clothes), I wouldn’t have chosen to be anywhere else on this earth than with you.
amieerinlapIf I say I trust God, then I must believe He had reason for not having us grow up together in the same home with the same parents. I’ll never forget finding out I had a new baby sister. By that time, I was nine years old and had spent much time playing alone in my room, wishing I had a sibling to play with me. I didn’t get to see you much as an infant, but I do remember once when your mom brought you over to our house. You were about nine months old. You looked like one of my baby dolls as your mother held your hands and you tried to balance on your wobbly little legs. Your precious little face topped with wispy white hair looked up at me and smiled a gummy grin. You then reached for me, and pulled my hair… you little toot. I am so grateful for that memory.
Many years slipped by and although I was so thankful for a stepmother who wanted to arrange for us to spend time together, and she did, as often as possible, I still felt as if we lacked that sibling bond. Maybe we dodged a bullet by not living together. Fighting over the phone and yelling for you to get out of my room, tripping over your Barbies and bickering over who gets the last cookie. But, in my imagination, everything would have been amazing. Long talks, late night giggles, hair braiding and baking cookies. Maybe Dad taking us fishing on occasion. As a teenager, I loved thinking about what we could’ve been. It was during this time that I committed my life to follow Christ and began to pray for you and your mom, as well as our daddy, to someday follow Him as well. Later on, God spoke to my spirit, telling me that He would indeed call you, and that Mom and Dad would follow. The doubting Thomas in me thought, “I guess we’ll see.”
amieerin1Still time passed. We both did some growing up. We both had some wonderful accomplishments, and we both hit a few brick walls, trying to fill voids that we were never intended to fill. In passing we’d share hugs and smiles and words of encouragement. I have always felt blessed to have you as sister to call my own. But, I still wasn’t sure what our relationship was supposed to be. It was about the time my second marriage was spinning out of control that I started to get a glimpse of what “sisters“ was supposed to look like. One afternoon, you let me cry my eyes out. You didn’t tell me what to do, but instead reassured me that you’d always be available for me at times like that. I remember feeling very humbled at the thought of my baby sister acting so mature. Not long after that, in the midst of troubles of your own, you hit the bottom of the deepest pit I’d ever seen a loved one fall into. I hurt deeply for you. I spent countless moments on my knees, crying and pleading for God to snatch you up and save you. At times, I felt physically sick with worry and wondered if you‘d make it out of the mess alive. I remember hours on the phone, trying to talk you through the turmoil, but I just didn’t have the words. You needed Jesus.
About a year ago now, you shared with me that you’d been attending church services with a new man in your life. I remember feeling a little sprig of hope spring up in my heart, and thinking, “Lord, it won’t be long now, will it…” Sure enough, one day I heard the words, “Sissy, I said YES to Jesus!” I was overjoyed to say the least, and my hope had been restored! 20 years of praying for you, and the time had finally come. HE SAVED YOU, SISSY. He pulled you up from that pit. He held you in His arms, then set you on your feet and made you something new. He washed you clean and called you His own beloved daughter! And what do you know… Mom and Dad came shortly there after. My God is SO good. He was so sweet to answer my prayers. I began to see changes in you, Sissy, and I knew your conversion was absolutely real. I will never forget watching yours and Mom’s baptisms. (Still praying for Dad to get up the nerve.) And, certainly I will always hold close to my heart the Father’s Day I stood next to Mom, you, and Daddy as we worshiped together.
amieerinbeachJust recently, I had another thought. We finally have Jesus in common. You know, physically we are as opposite as can be, with the exception of bad eyesight and flat feet. (Thanks, Dad..) We have very differing personalities as well (not discounting our mutual love of animal humor.) But, I think I finally figured out that the cornerstone of the relationship I had always wanted with you…. was Jesus. So, now I see us in a whole new light. You are becoming a kind of best friend I’ve never had before, and I pray I’m becoming that for you. God gave me the gift of you, many years ago, knowing we would end up here. And for that, I will forever be grateful.
Proud to call you sister,
Amie

Turn, turn, turn

As The Byrds so beautifully quoted in song, “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).

Autumn has always been my favorite season. It marks the end of my least favorite season, summer, and reminds me that excessively sweaty armpits, mosquitoes swarming, and too-short shorts are about to be a thing of the past (at least for a while).

It also ushers in some of my favorite things–leaves changing and falling, baking aromatic desserts, wearing sweaters and scarves and all things cozy, and spending many nights around bonfires at our tiny, old farmhouse in the Ozarks, surrounded by the cold earthy smell of fall and countless cool stars.

I’m grateful to live in a climate that rotates through each season distinctly. There’s something about the weather turning our lives on end that reminds me that God’s in control, and that no matter how much I like or dislike it, nothing lasts forever here so I better appreciate it while it lasts.

I’ve gone through seasons of my life when enduring one more day seemed emotionally and physically impossible. And I’ve passed through seasons of life when I dreaded hearing the sound of the ticking clock, knowing that the happiness I felt was fleeting at best. The best moments of my life have been those in which I’ve been able to truly accept reality, embrace change, and celebrate the beauty of the moment, no matter how hard I had to look for it.

While baking sweet potato pies today, I sat at the kitchen table with a hot cup of tea and mused over the changes that will come in our lives very soon with the birth of our daughter. I’m grateful for the time I’ve had in my life to grow and develop and change into who I am now and look forward to who I will be as time goes on. I’m grateful that I’ve waited until now to have a child and have had the privilege of helping raise my stepdaughter, learning many lessons along the way. I’m grateful for the friends and family who’ve become parents before me–I’ve learned a wealth of knowledge (about what to do as well as what not to do) by spending time with them. I’m grateful that my husband, too, has had his entire life up until now to grow and explore his interests and become the wonderful person he is today. And I’m grateful for our daughter, who will inevitably alter our schedules and rearrange our priorities, reminding us that time is precious.

“God, thank You

for all You’ve given me

for all You’ve taken away

and for all You’ve left me with.”

What I hold in my hands today, with open palms–knowing it’s really all His anyway–is greater than everything that has passed through them in the past.

 

Finding the funny

Yesterday, as I wandered about the dim kitchen, attempting to tidy things up minus electricity in the middle of a thunderstorm, I heard a solid knock at the back door. I jumped and wondered who it could be since I wasn’t expecting any company. I glanced around the corner and saw my father-in-law, who I like to call Big Jim, standing on the back porch, investigating our tomato plants.

I let him in and took a break from cleaning for a while as we sat in the semi-dark living room talking. He’d stopped by to deliver a half-gallon bucket full of freshly picked blackberries, which he’d spontaneously decided to gather while fishing on the White River. Our conversation meandered around the weather, small-mouth bass, berry picking, stories from the weekend, and church and religion. I’m not sure how we arrived, but somehow we landed at the Vietnam War.

“You know, you hear all these guys who’ve been to Iraq and Afghanistan talking about how bad it was, but I guess I just don’t think of it that way,” he said.

“What do you mean?” I asked. I was waiting for a joke of some kind to slip out since Big Jim is notorious for his pranks and wise cracks.

Big Jim hamming it up on Independence Day 2011

“Well, sure, when I was in Vietnam, I saw some bad stuff, and some bad stuff happened. But I guess I just don’t think about that stuff. I think about the funny things that happened. There’s humor in every situation. Even in a war, when guys are shooting at you, some funny stuff happens, so that’s what I like to think about instead,” he explained.

He then proceeded to tell me a somewhat off-color but hilarious story about some of his wartime buddies. The story was set in the middle of a battle, while digging foxholes on the beach in Vietnam. Amidst all that, what he remembers and likes to tell people about is the bit of funny he found while hunkered down for the night, dodging bullets.

I gained more than just blackberries for my first-ever homemade blackberry pie yesterday. I gained a greater understanding of who Big Jim really is and a deeper respect for him as well. And I was reminded that in every situation, we ultimately choose our focus. I need to find the funny more often.