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.

Not so plain Jane

Jane, Jane, Jane,

You’ll probably kill me for this (or at least you’ll want to).

11952017_597555627432_4960712350773105577_nI can’t stop thinking about writing this letter to you, and when I can’t get something off my mind, I take action. I think you know this about me, so I’m pretty sure you’ll forgive me even though you don’t like being in the spotlight and would prefer to be the one snapping photographs instead.

In fact, this is one thing I love most about you and have come to admire about you–you are incredibly perceptive and have me pegged very well, even better than friends of mine who’ve known me for decades.

You recently interviewed a few students of mine during a mock interview session for Oral Communication class, and the feedback you provided me with about each of them was spot on. You described their personalities, assets, and liabilities almost exactly the way I’d describe them myself, and I’ve been teaching them twice weekly since August. This ability to cut through the bull and see people and situations realistically is one reason I often call on you for second opinions and came looking for “Jane’s brain” while trying to sort out my thoughts about my recent presentation proposal.

I also know I can trust you 100% with information, secrets, rambling thoughts, and feelings. Your trustworthiness is an attribute that every person aspires to possess, but let’s be honest–not all our friends are trustworthy, or this wouldn’t be worth mentioning. 11836790_595919815612_3466892458279554535_n

When our friends Chris and Tara moved to the big city of Little Rock, I felt lonely and wondered how God would fill the hole in my life. I relied on those two for companionship, entertainment, laughter, and confidential conversation time. Even though you and I were friends long ago, I think we have grown closer because of the space created by Chris and Tara moving away; God filled the empty space in my life with something new and just as meaningful. 1977343_584011455062_4121734977188759612_n

You’re a deceptive one, Jane. . . you might appear simple on the outside with that cream-colored cardigan, jeans, and bangs, but I’ve got you figured out! You’re the life of my party for two every time we hang out.

I love you more than chocolate with almonds, Seinfeld, freshly brewed coffee, and Big’s Restaurant.

Top that.

And happy Thanksgiving, my friend.

Bethany

 

Second chance love

Special thanks to my former professor and friend, Dr. Teresa Burns Murphy, for sharing this beautiful piece on gratitude, friendship, and love with us today.

At the beginning of 2014, Bethany wrote a beautiful essay identifying still as her word for the new year. When Bethany invited other people to identify their words for 2014, I had a difficult time narrowing mine down to a single choice.

Teresa and Leisa in Carmel the summer after college

Teresa and Leisa in Carmel the summer after college

Finally, I selected friendship. During the course of my life, I have been fortunate to have wonderful friends.  One of those friends is a California girl named Leisa who was my college roommate.  From the day we met, we became friends and have remained friends over the years.  Shortly after Leisa married her high school sweetheart Scott in 2006, I wrote an essay for her titled “Boomerang Hearts” about her wedding and a long-ago memory I had of her relationship with Scott.  This post is an extension of that essay.

Friendship is a gift that yields many happy returns, and I am grateful to call Leisa my friend.

 

Two Valentine Memories

By Teresa Burns Murphy

 

Bethany's Blog, See's Candy Display (2) It happens every year around Valentine’s Day.  I walk past a display of See’s candy, and a memory is sparked of a Valentine’s when I was a college freshman.  My friend Leisa and I both had boyfriends back home, and we decided to make them heart-shaped pillows.  We had lots of fun getting the material, making the pillows, and sending them off so they would reach their respective destinations by Valentine’s Day.  My boyfriend sent me a dozen red roses, but no Valentine’s Day present arrived from Leisa’s boyfriend Scott.

During the days following Valentine’s, Leisa must have checked her campus mailbox a hundred times, returning to the dorm disappointed, but certain that Scott would not have forgotten her.  About a week after Valentine’s Day, Leisa came back to the dorm with a Valentine from Scott.  It was giant heart-shaped box of See’s Candy.  Apparently, the box had gone to the wrong address and was a little beaten up during the detour though the candy inside was unharmed.

Bethany's Blog, Leisa & Scott's Wedding

Leisa and Scott’s wedding

Several years later, just after Valentine’s Day in 2006, on the beach in Carmel, California, Leisa and Scott got married.  As they stood inside the heart-shaped rope on the sand, their smiles illuminated by the sun shining through the puffy white clouds, the turquoise sea foaming in the background, I thought about that long-ago Valentine’s Day.   Like the heart-shaped box of chocolates, Leisa and Scott’s hearts got re-routed to other relationships for a while, and they experienced their own share of less-than-gentle handling. A chance meeting brought them back together, and they discovered the love inside their hearts was still there, resilient and better than ever.

Since then, when those ubiquitous heart-shaped boxes start showing up in stores, I recall those two Valentine memories, and I’m reminded of the gift of second chances.  But most of all, I think of my friend Leisa and smile.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The gift of a second chance

*Over the next few days, I’ll be posting essays by my amazing students who wrote in response to the question, “What are three gifts–proverbial or literal–that you’ve been given in 2013, and why are they significant to you?” Their responses made me laugh, cry, and most of all, thank God for the opportunity to invest in their lives. Today’s post is by a student who wishes to remain anonymous but wants to share her story. Names and locations have been changed.*

giftThis year, 2013, has been filled with  many life-changing events and blessings. Out of everything I have received this year, there are three special gifts that have made 2013 one of the happiest periods of my life.

The first gift I received this year was meeting my boyfriend John. We met this April on an online dating website, and we’ve been in love ever since. After a painful break-up with my ex-boyfriend in March, I was determined to find someone who would make me happy and treat me well. On a whim, I created a profile on a popular dating website and waited to see what would happen. It wasn’t long before I received a message from John, and I felt a connection right away.

At that time, I was living with my sister in Jonesboro, while he was living in Batesville. We spoke on the phone for hours every day, and we eventually decided to meet in person. My family and friends were concerned for my safety because meeting people off of the internet can be dangerous, but I was confident that everything would be fine. We met in Batesville for sushi and a movie at his place, and it was one of the best dates of my life.

After that,  we became inseparable. Even though our work schedules and distance apart made dating difficult, we were able to maintain a good relationship and quickly fell in love. Not long after our first date, John  offered to let me to move in with him in Batesville, and I was apprehensive at first. I had made many impulsive decisions in my dating life, and I didn’t want our relationship to end badly. After a lot of thought, I decided to go ahead and move in with him. Even though it was a struggle adjusting to a new town, John made the transition a little easier for me, and I am happier in our relationship than I could ever imagine. John has given me a love that I’ve always wanted, and I am very thankful to have him in my life.

The second gift I received this year was the ability to further my education at the University of Arkansas Community College in Batesville, or UACCB. In high school, I didn’t have any motivation or desire to perform well. Growing up, I had a lot of things going on at home that affected every aspect of my life and made school very difficult to handle. I ran away from home when I was 17 years old, and because of that, I was court ordered to stay at a hospital’s treatment center until I was 18. I graduated high school on the day of my discharge from the hospital in 2007, and I have kept my stay in the hospital secret for many years.

I felt ashamed because I had graduated from a mental health facility, and thought that I would never be able to perform well in college due to my past.  Many people in my life have encouraged me to go to college, but due to financial reasons, I felt like that wasn’t an option for me. When I moved to Batesville with John, I was finally in a position to attend college. Even though I didn’t necessarily want to apply for classes, I thought I might as well give it a try to keep everyone from bothering me about it. Now, at the end of my first semester, I can say that I am very happy that I decided to go college. I never dreamed that I would become a straight “A” student at 23 years old, and it makes me feel very proud of myself. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of my courses and have made a lot of great friends. College has given me the courage to achieve more in life and to believe in myself.

The third gift I received this year was becoming employed at a gas station. Before moving to Batesville, I worked as a Licensed Certified Nursing Assistant at a nursing home and was financially independent. Despite the good pay I received, I was miserable and loathed my job. Once I was living in Batesville, I assumed that I would have no problem finding a job. I quickly realized that wasn’t the case. I spent almost three months unemployed, and every application and job lead that I followed led to disappointment.

Finally, the week before the fall semester of college started, I received a call from the gas station about a job offer, and I gladly accepted. I have prior experience in sales, and I easily adjusted to my new job. All of the employees were very warm and welcoming, and I became fast friends with all of them. I also met my best friend Savannah, who is like a sister to me. My first months in Batesville were very depressing because I had no money and didn’t know anyone besides John. If I wouldn’t have found a job, I was seriously considering moving back home, which would have been a mistake. I have never been financially supported by a boyfriend before, and not being able to take care of myself was a big blow to my self-confidence. Now, I am happily employed and grateful to have a job that I love.

The year 2013 was filled with so many things that have changed my life for the better. I am thankful for all of the gifts I have received and the good people who are now such a big part of my life.

Day 23: Dear Stick

*Today’s post on day 23 of the Dear Gratitude project is written by Toi Thomas, a talented writer and fellow blogger.*

Dear Stick,

Hey man, we been friends a long time, and I just wanted to let you know that I’m glad. I mean, I’m glad that I’ve had a chance to be your friend. When I look back and think about how rocky things started out for us, it makes me laugh, but hey, you were there; you know what I’m talk’n bout.

For more than ten years now we’ve been hanging out and talk’n bout movies, especially the weird ones that none of our other friends or family seem to like or get. We been talk’n bout comic books and action figures, which seems to only become cool recently thanks to The Big Bang Theory, but we were already cool long before that. And now, even our days of vinyl hunting don’t seem so magical now that “Vinyl is back with a vengeances,” but it hasn’t stopped us from growing our collection anyway.

What else can I say man; it’s been really cool having you around for all these years. I hope to continue hanging out with you for many more.

Dear Eric,

Toi and husbandIt’s been so long since I’ve taken the time to let you know how blessed I am to have met you. I remember how much I used to be so annoyed by you and all your “cool” friends, but then one day… you were mine. I know how it happened, I was there, but it still seems so unbelievably amazing to me.

From the beginning, you have showered me with: food, laughter, culture, affection, attention, understanding, acceptance, and most of all, love. You see beauty in me when I don’t see it in myself, and you make others view me the way you do. I could be happy to sit alone with you in a room for days, but you won’t let me. You give me strength to go out into the world and interact with people. You make me look and feel good in so many ways. It’s the way you build me up and make others take notice of me when they normally wouldn’t; thank you for that.

Thank you for being with me through those years of maturing. I’ve shared so much with you, so much more than I ever have or will with anyone else. Mind, body, and soul, I am a strong and fulfilled woman for so many reasons, but one of the major ones is you. Everything I know about intimacy, respect in a relationship, and how to really “be” with someone, I’ve learned from loving you.

Every morning when I wake up, I’m glad to see your face, and every day when I come home, I look forward to your kiss. I hope this never ends. I hope to wake up next to you until the end of time.

Mr. Thomas,

If gratitude could be measured, or perhaps weighed, you’d find yourself only yards from Heaven and showered in gold. For everything you do for me I’d give you a gold coin, and for every sacrifice you make for me, you’d be catapulted that much closer Eternal Peace.

But let’s be practical about this, Mr. Thomas. One cannot do these things, but one can proclaim, acknowledge, and praise where praise is due. You turned your life over and accepted the mantle of husband, and a man of God, and far exceeded my expectations. You are not perfect, but:

You always take out the trash and attend to the yard when it’s needed.

You’re not a slob, and even if you were, you’d feel bad about it.

You actually look forward to spending time with me and talking with me.

You like to share life and daily experiences with me, from all those times you and I can’t be together.

You help out around the house, especially with laundry.

You take care of all the car stuff between you and me.

You actually know me well enough to pick things out for me because I don’t like to shop, and you will even go out and get things for me.

You like me just the way I am even if I’m not the prettiest girl in the room, and you’re always trying to protect me because you think some weirdo is staring at me ( Sometimes I think you’re right).

You take care of me through all my ailments, and though it’s so much more than you had imagined, you show care and nurturing effortlessly.

You know how to make me smile when I get sad for no reason, and you stick with me through all my dark spells.

You believe in my dreams, even though you don’t always know how to say so.

You work two jobs to help make our lives together more comfortable while I pursue my dreams.

You are not a demanding and needy man, unless you fall ill, but who isn’t then?

While you love and enjoy spending time with your friends, you honestly proclaim that I am your best friend.

Mr. Thomas, you have proven yourself above and beyond to be a good husband. Your methods put forth to show me love and affection have been so catered to my needs and desires, that it seems you could not have been made to love anyone else. I do not believe there is an exact or accurate way to properly express the amount a gratitude I have for you.

I am truly a blessed woman.

Eric “Stick” Thomas, I love you dearly and am eternally grateful to have you in my life.

Your adoring friend, lover, and wife,

Toinette “Toi” Thomas

 

 

Day 13: Dear Donit

*Today’s post for Day 13 of the Dear Gratitude project is by another child, my best friend’s son, Dailen. Dailen reminds me that it’s right and good to be excited about and grateful for the small blessings that often get overlooked. I think I’ll get a doughnut for myself today :).*

Dailen and his "turkey in disguise"

Dailen and his “turkey in disguise”

Der Amandu,

Thank you for the ovr-stufted morshmellow crème filld donit!  I love it!  Its my favorit!

Thanks, Dailen James Horseman

DailenThankUletter scanned

Day 12: Dear Bethany

*Today’s post is written by a frequent contributor, former co-worker, and wonderful friend, Debra Dickey. When Debra sent this to me yesterday, it surprised me, it humbled me, and it overwhelmed me with gratitude for HER. That’s the beautiful thing about gratitude–when someone expresses it to me and thanks me for being me, I naturally want to do the same in return, and to others as well.*

Dear Friend,

FriendHow are you?  Fine, I hope.  All’s well here.  Trust the same with you.  You know, the other day I was thinking about how fortunate I have been to know you, and that you should know how grateful I am for the generous opportunities that you have shared, and continue to share, with me that have been integral in the direction and flow of the path that a certain part of my life has taken.  Your unselfishness, exuberance, strength and integrity are beacons that shine clear and bright on any given day!  I enjoy conversations with you, as well as spending time with you – whenever our schedules allow for that.

This pretty much began when I first got to know you — your work ethic and positive personality impressed me right away!  And who wouldn’t notice your laughter and wonderful sense of humor!  All too soon you moved to a different position, and then, as now, I rarely saw you anymore.  Hmm, obviously there was a ‘plan’ already in place (imagine that!) — I just didn’t know it yet.    But I knew you were doing great things.   Although I was new and didn’t quite have my bearings yet, in time, you encouraged and supported me as I wrestled with the ‘loyalty vs. new setting’ decision to make the timely move to your office and begin working with you.  My friend, it was one of the best decisions I ever made!!!  I will always be grateful that you were the reason for that excellent opportunity.

BethanyI LOVED working with you!  You were fun, and made the job fun.  Not only did you teach me the practices and protocols for our essential job functions (while having fun!), but this was also the time frame when I got to know the extraordinary people who are so very important in my everyday work environment, as well as the ins and outs of this particular community to optimize those professional interactions that will always be so critical in creating efficiency and positive outcomes in my job.  Who could ask for better on-the-job training?  Awesome!

I will tell you that I initially wrestled with that decision because I was going through some dreadful mind-numbing stuff in my life and did not want that baggage to leak over and create issues in my work life … only later did I learn that you were struggling with your own heavy burdens and encumbrances that were creating a terrible heartache and sadness in your own life.   Incredibly, you still always gave 110%, and never failed to exemplify professionalism with your positive attitude, your innovative and creative ideas, and your daily acts of kindness.  I’m infinitely grateful for such a great work and mentoring experience.

Never to be the same, this association ended way too soon, as you were off to other places in pursuit of more suitable climates.  I understood, but I missed you!  However, in your graciousness, you continued to stay in touch with me, which almost made up for your absence.   I was very glad that you found time in your busy life to stay connected – so thoughtful!  It meant a lot to me.

My friend Debra with my daughter

My friend Debra with my daughter

After some ramblings combined with a wonderful new life, lo and behold, you are back, almost next door – Yay!  And continuing in your typical style of generosity, you are now allowing me the amazing opportunity to broaden my horizons yet again by accepting my attempts at creative writing to post on your blog. Thank you for this, before now, unrealized opportunity.  Another heartening endeavor for me at this point in my life.

I am grateful for all these things and more – I am grateful for you. I delight in your successes, I cherish how much you have shared with me, I am touched by your experiences, and I am your biggest cheerleader!

I appreciate your friendship through it all.  Thank you, Bethany,

Love, Debra