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.

#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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A new vision

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

My spiritual mentor has told me this on numerous occasions. The saying proved true in my journey to finding my spiritual mentor, and it proved true when finding my career mentor, too.

467039_10151664152983185_896591402_oIn 2005, I attended the Arkansas Association of Colleges and Employers conference. In addition to meeting other fabulous speakers—people who would be key to my success and landmarks in my career journey—I met Samantha Hartley, Founder and President of Enlightened Marketing. Her story and vision inspired me. A few months later, after relocating to central Arkansas, I decided to go beyond the typical follow-up after a conference (a LinkedIn invitation and message stating how much I enjoyed her presentation) and contact her to invite her to lunch. She said yes.

I held back the first time we met even though I probably wanted to beg for assistance. I didn’t want to scare the poor woman off! I’m sure I still sounded like a wayward child (I was). I truly had no idea what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go in life. In addition, my personal life was in shambles. I could find no peace and stability in my career until I found personal and spiritual peace and stability; Samantha recognized this and even pointed this out at the time. Samantha offered some ideas and suggestions, but our initial meeting was more about getting to know one another, as it should have been.

Over the next few years, we kept in touch and met a few times face to face. Samantha’s guidance was crucial. My career goals ran the gamut. I was good at everything, highly adaptable, a quick study, and stuck at a certain salary range. I kept leaving jobs in hopes of greener grass, and finding similar stubble. I couldn’t figure out my missteps until one morning over pancakes when Samantha encouraged me to create what I call my vision card. I lacked vision—and I kept accepting positions that weren’t aligned with my passion, my values, or my goals. As soon as I fixed the problems that presented themselves, I became bored, and I moved on.

vision cardSamantha asked me to create a vision board. However, I’m not really into pictures as much as I am into words, and she said that was okay. So my board because a card, and when I pictured a big display of images, the images were just words. So I wrote down all the words I envisioned.

Something beautiful is happening in my life right now. On this journey of life, I’m finding that each time I look back at my vision card, my current position aligns even more closely with the words written on it.

I don’t believe in coincidences.

I believe this is a direct result of planned and thoughtful decision-making, of saying no to interviews, of listening to my gut, of stepping away from situations that feel wrong or incomplete and stepping closer to situations and people that feel right and that align more closely with my values and goals.

If Samantha were not in my life, and were not willing to thoughtfully consider each question I ask her before responding and provide such excellent mentorship—without asking anything in return, except that I give to others—I might still feel like an aimless soul rather than a purpose-driven woman.

Just a moment to say thank you

Today’s post was written by one of my English Composition II students, Crystal Riley, on the topic of the motivation of gratitude. I have known Crystal since junior high school. When God allowed our paths to cross again and for me to serve as her instructor, I felt truly privileged and have enjoyed watching her grow as a person and as a writer. I have learned at least as much from her as she has from me–isn’t this the beauty of teaching?

We all have had someone to wait on us and say thank you for your patronage. Have you ever really said thank you back to the person who waited on you in a way that was meaningful?  In my life I have had several jobs that required me to wait on people.  It is not a gratifying experience.  Sometimes I wanted to say, “Here is your crap, please don’t come back!”  I never did; I always took the time to force a smile and say thank you. I got so good at the routine that I caught myself sending off my unwanted family guests in the same way I thanked the unwanted customers who left the store.

There was an old man who came to the gas station every morning at 4:30. I made his coffee and waited on him every day.  I thought he sat in that booth sleeping until his friends came in shortly after.  All the old men would drink coffee and share stories.  My shift ended at 7:00.  Every morning just before I closed my drawer, he paid for his breakfast and told me I was a good ole’ girl or told me how good the gravy was.  He always said something nice; he even commented on how well I had shined the floors!  I never thought much of it.  I always just thought he appreciated that I personally filled their cups instead of making them get up to get their own coffee.  It was a small thing.

Later I worked at a video counter in the local grocery store and missed the old men from the gas station.  One night my old man came in, and I waited on him and his granddaughter.  He had been left to babysit.  I helped them select a video, and as he was paying for it, he thanked me.  He had a genuine smile and kind eyes.  He patted my hand and told me he knew I was a nice girl.  It is a crazy thing that the way he said thank you to me just made my day even if the praise didn’t come from my boss.  I told him I just loved waiting on him and how nice he was.  He responded that it costs nothing to let someone know that they are doing a good job, but it could mean the world to the person doing the job.

I thought about him often and what he said.  I’ve had some of the worst jobs you could imagine, and I think about my co-workers at times, and how awful things are for them. I make it a point to say thank you when someone helps me, to take that extra moment to let them know I appreciate them.

It only takes a moment, and it may be the only kind word that person hears all day.  If we all just take a moment to offer a word of encouragement or take a moment to simply be kind, we could all make a world of difference in how someone’s day goes. I never knew that old man’s name, and he never called me by my name, but I think about him because he was so nice, and his extra words of encouragement made my day nearly every day.

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

Dear Sabrina

*Today’s letter is written by one of my former spunky students. Thank you for adding spark to my life, Jessica!*

Dear Sabrina,

I have had five therapists in my lifetime from 2nd grade on. None of these people could get through to me until the 5th one. The 5th one was you. Something about you stuck out to me. Maybe it was because of your willingness to listen or your genuine want to help me and reach out. Honestly, I don’t know what it was, but what I do know is that I have not needed a therapist since December 2013, and I owe that all to you. Actually, no, I owe my whole life to you.

When I met you, I was in a bad place in my life. The therapist I went to a couple of months before basically blew me off and made me feel like I didn’t matter. She shooed me out of my second (and last) appointment that SHE scheduled and was LATE to because she had a meeting. Part of the reason I was going to a therapist in the first place was because I felt that nobody cared about me or what I was going through. I was lost and looking for some kind of direction in my life. That little incident pretty much proved me right. Not even my therapist cared about my life or whether I’d pull through or not. She only cared about herself.

After that, I kind of decided that maybe therapy wasn’t for me; after all, I’d had four different ones in my past, and none made me feel any better about myself or my future. Finally, I got to a point in my life where I REALLY needed someone to talk to. I felt I couldn’t talk to my family members because they wouldn’t understand. I talked to my best friend a lot, but she was getting tired of being the one to be unloaded on. Plus, in the relationship I was in, I was told to drop my best friend if I wanted to be with him. So, basically, I had no one. No friends, family, anyone.

You quickly became my friend as time progressed, though you could not be my “friend” because of your contract, but I knew otherwise. I always felt like you took a little more care with me than you did with your other clients. You can’t deny it. We spent three years together. You watched me grow as a person and saw me at my worst and still cared about me and my well being. I truly believe it was God that led me to you. He saw me struggling and knew just who could help me.

Ornament01You are an amazing therapist, and I would recommend you to anyone. You were the reason that I decided to become a therapist myself. I realized that I wanted to help people become all that they can be. Nobody should have to go through depression alone. All of that being said, I just wanted to let you know that I am so unbelievably grateful and thankful for you and your help. Without your selfless guidance, I would have never been able to pull myself out of the dirt and get back to the person I used to be, well, close to who I used to be. I love you more than you know, and I will never forget you.

Your Friend,

Jessica Nicol

P.S. When you look at Eeyore on your bookshelf, know that I’m thinking about you, too.

For her curls

As I gear up to go back to work full-time this fall, transitioning from an adjunct instructor to a full-time English instructor, I find myself fluctuating between excitement and eager anticipation and anxiety and grief as I let go of this period of my life–the stay-at-home mom phase. No longer will Maggie’s cute babbling on the baby monitor serve as my alarm clock. One month from now, I’ll entrust my child to babysitters three days a week and rely on them to fill me in on the brightest moments of the day, to keep me posted on her milestones and her tantrums and her patterns of behavior. Soon Maggie and I will both have to adjust to a new schedule, a new routine, and a new balance of people in our lives.

With my fellow faculty members on the day I got the news that I'd been selected for the full-time position

With my fellow faculty members on the day I got the news that I’d been selected for the full-time position

Don’t get me wrong–I’m beyond thankful for my new job. If you missed my post about my new job, reading that will certainly clarify any confusion about my feelings about that. For years, I didn’t even think I’d ever have the opportunity to go to graduate school; a few years ago, my husband (boyfriend at the time) encouraged me to pursue my passion for English language and literature, regardless of the practicality of it all… talk about winning me over! I enrolled in a Master’s program a few weeks later, and I’ve never regretted that decision. I feel that I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing with my life right now;  it’s a wonderful feeling, and a great way to serve God and other people.

Still, I’m a mom, and I’m a mom who wears her heart on her sleeve sometimes. I’ll be the first to admit that it took me an entire year’s worth of prayer and meditation before I felt absolute peace about the decision to go back to work full-time at this point in my daughter’s life. But it does feel like the right time. If there’s anything God has repeatedly taught me, through practical experience, it’s that He is always right on time (if I yield to His will and don’t push and shove and insist on my own). There’s something easy and beautiful about letting God make things happen.

I would not trade the past 20 months of time I’ve spent at home with my daughter for anything; no amount of money and no thrill or prestige would entice me to reconsider how I’ve spent this period of time.

IMG_3763This morning Maggie and I took a walk down our quiet country road, admiring the bright morning sun reflecting off the surface of nearly every dew-covered leaf in the woods. We played with bubbles in the backyard. Every time Maggie popped a bubble, she excitedly exclaimed, “I gots!” Maggie played in her sandbox, silently scooping and shoveling sand into her little bucket over and over again, occasionally turning to glance at me sitting nearby, maybe to ensure that I was still watching her. The light reflected off her wild auburn curls. I found myself watching nothing but her hair, mesmerized by the light in her curls, the sun spinning around and twisting every time she turned and picked up her scoop and set it down again.

What is that worth, I wondered. What is this moment worth to me?

Everything. There’s nothing anyone could pay me to trade me for this moment, and nothing I’d exchange for the life I have lived with my daughter for the past 20 months.

I know that I haven’t wasted my time because I have chosen to be where my hands are; when I make that choice, I’m never wasting my time.