gratitude

Gratitude through adversity

Today’s guest contributor is one of my English Composition I students, Ryan Clack. He’s graciously given me permission to share his first essay of the fall semester with all of you. I was inspired and touched by his essay; I’m sure you will be, too.

What Makes Ryan Clack, Ryan Clack?

pexels-photo-1308713Answering the question above is neither simple nor complicated, but somewhere right in between. In order to start this “Who I Am” essay, I’ll begin with an introduction. My name is Ryan Clack. I am a 20 year-old Caucasian red-headed male from Temecula, California. I was born into this beautiful, yet harsh world on May 18, 1998, in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I have three other siblings. Two are my half siblings, and my parents’ names are Ron and Heather Clack. I am not afraid to admit that I’m a little bit of a mama’s boy and have been that way forever, so it’s safe to say I love her very dearly. My father and I share a huge bond in the game of baseball, and he has been such an important piece to my maturity and manhood throughout the years. With that being said, baseball has been my identity my entire life; it’s where I’ve met just about all of my friends, and it has given me the blessing of an opportunity to play collegiate ball on a scholarship on this very campus.

If I were to ask my friends or peers, they would likely tell me that I’m a very outgoing, funny, loving, kind, and smart guy. These are some attributes about myself I cherish and am very proud of. My mama always said, “You’re the most like me,” because she is the same exact way.

Throughout this year I’ve dealt with a great bit of adversity, and that adversity is what makes the overall question a little difficult to answer. Why? I’ve had to learn many lessons since January 17, 2018, the date of my mother’s passing. I feel as if my attributes include being outgoing, funny, loving, kind, and smart. These have not changed due to the fact that those are practically my foundation as a person, but a lot of other things have changed. My mom passed away after a year-long battle with stage 4 colon cancer. The messed up part about everything is the fact that she beat breast cancer in 2016 only to find out six months later that she would be fighting another battle for her life, being diagnosed with colon cancer.

Throughout being there for the process of chemotherapy sessions, sores, and week-long streaks of her being so tired and weak she wouldn’t leave bed, I witnessed a woman who was literally dying become the most positive, loving, fierce, and fearless warrior goddess of all time. Whilst on hospice, she would write on paper because she could no longer speak.

One thing she wrote is so beautiful and powerful that it is what I live by and identify with on this day and every other day. She said, “I live every beautiful day and I can find beautiful on even the worst day.” Since the day that I watched her write this on her deathbed, my whole life changed. I learned to embrace the good, bad, and ugly and endure everything with a smile on my face. I learned how to cope with such immense pain and how to overcome the depression that comes with it.

If you ask “What makes Ryan Clack, Ryan Clack?’ today, I’d be able to give you a great answer. Adversity.

pexels-photo-325790Adversity has turned me from a teenage boy to a man, and although going through it is never easy, I wouldn’t want it any other way. With adversity I have learned countless lessons, great and awful, and it helps me learn through real life experiences. Those real life experiences are free, stone cold, and hard life lessons that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. As of now, I couldn’t be happier with my situation, and I’m extremely blessed to be a part of such an amazing opportunity for me to continue to grow, obtain a degree, and continue to work on becoming the best person that I could possibly become.

gratitude

Dear Kai

Today’s post is written by my student, Katrina King. As a mother, I can relate to the love and pride she expresses for her daughter in this letter. I hope to write a letter like this to Maggie someday.

Dear Kai

Hey girl, so I got an assignment in my Comp class, and I think it is the best assignment yet, in my opinion of course. We were given an assignment to write a letter telling someone how thankful we are to have them in our life (on the topic of gratitude). I feel really comfortable writing this because I knew  before I finished reading the assignment that I would be writing about you.

kai-daughter-2
Katrina’s daughter, Kai

I know that I am your mother, and we will always have that special bond that so few share and so many others could relate to, but not many know what we have gone through just this fall semester. You had a full course load with 14 hours, me working two jobs, taking my first online course and attending an in-class lecture so I can finally finish school. To say it has been tough is most definitely an understatement.

I appreciate how hard you worked to try to maintain a good GPA in a very unfamiliar territory. I know you have had your struggles; I couldn’t imagine some of the fears you may have faced, especially since you are a deaf child, leaving your mark in a hearing world, a world that does not always understand you. You are doing your best to have your voice heard. You have helped me with getting your brother back and forth to school–practice, tutoring, feeding him–the whole nine, while I work some crazy hours, and you have done it all with a smile and not too many complaints.

Your grace and beauty defines the way a young lady should act and carry herself. I am so proud of you. I am thankful the Lord saw fit to pair us up to do this life together. There will never be enough words to tell you how truly grateful I am to have you as my daughter, and I thank you for being a positive role model to not only your brother but to others who cross your path as well. I pray you continue to strive for greatness; your hard work will not go unnoticed at times when you think you just can not go any further or things start to get rougher than you had hoped. Just know that you have not come this far to turn back.

I love you to the moon and stars and back.

Mom

 

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.

gratitude · photography

Thankful for everyday love

Today’s guest contributor is my childhood friend, Leslie Ferguson Thomas, who is on a fearless journey to become who she wants to be. Be sure to check out Leslie’s blog!

My husband always refers to us as two puzzle pieces, and when we met, he says, “The world could hear the click”.

I grew up dreaming about what it would be like to fall in love. I imagined it just like the movies.  I grew up watching Dirty Dancing, Lifetime movies, and Grease. In my mind I fell in love a million times. Each time was different and special, but the girl in the image never looked like me. She always had the perfect figure, perfect hair, and pretty much perfect everything. So each year I would start a new diet and live in my fantasy land. I was always waiting for me to be perfect, so I could meet the perfect guy.

Photo by Say Cheese Photography
Photo by Say Cheese Photography

I met Josh, my husband, through an online dating site called Plenty of Fish. I was 29, and he was 32.  I had gone through a breakup about a year prior that really shook me up.  I had seen myself continue to stay in a horribly one sided relationship because I thought this guy was a great guy simply because he wanted to be with me even though I was overweight. I drove way too many miles each weekend, spent money I didn’t have, left a job I liked, and gave up who I was for someone else. After that relationship ended, I promised myself I would never do that again. So when I met Josh, I was very guarded.

Josh was nothing like any of the guys I had dated before. I remember one night in particular, it was storming outside, and I didn’t have any minutes on my phone. I had planned to go visit him, but he insisted that I stay home. He didn’t want me to get out in the weather. After being with guys who didn’t even consider me, I assumed he really didn’t like me. I soon learned that was far from the truth. Day after day, conversation after conversation, we became closer and closer. I never worried about my weight around him, what I wore, or what I said. I was totally myself with him. He told me he felt the same.

In March 2010, Josh asked me to marry him. It was a day I will never forget. Seven months later we said, “I do”!

LeslieandJoshweddingIt was the most magical ceremony. Josh has never once asked me to change anything about myself, but the funny thing is that being with my husband makes me want to be a better person. I am getting healthier. I am going after my dreams. I am letting go of hurt, and loving deeply. But what I have learned is that Josh is romantic in his own sweet way. Sometimes he will hear me singing a song, and the next thing I know he has gotten me the song. Sometimes I will think he is not listening to what I am saying, and then a week later he will bring it back up.

 

gratitude

Big inspiration

 

*Thanks to my friend Debra Dickey-Liang for sharing as today’s guest contributor!*

ElephantI’ve been a long-time fan of elephants! It’s taken me a while to figure out exactly why. I only knew that they were regal, majestic animals, dignified in their bearing, who have such expressive eyes that allow you to see into their very beings, and that they are excellent mothers who are fiercely protective of their young.

So by doing just the simplest of research, some of the admiration I have always felt for the magnificent elephant was put into very meaningful context. I’ve confirmed that:

• Elephants form deep family bonds.

• Having a baby elephant is a serious commitment.

• They are quite peaceful if left alone; typically very affectionate animals.

• Elephants are extremely intelligent and have memories that span many years.

• The matriarch and other senior females carry within their memories the wealth of knowledge gained from their life experiences. This is vital to the extended family’s well-being.

• They also display signs of grief, joy, anger, and play.

• Recent discoveries have shown that elephants can communicate over long distances by producing a sub-sonic rumble that can travel over the ground faster than sound through air. Other elephants receive the messages through the sensitive skin on their feet and trunks.

• The elephant is not thick-skinned, but actually has a very sensitive outer dermis.

• The elephant’s feet are an amazing product of genetic engineering making them unsurpassed as a means of traversing saturated ground or marshland. (An amazing, but nevertheless accurate, fact is that an elephant’s height at the shoulder is twice the circumference of his foot.)

• Different herds can come together at favored water holes or grazing sites. There is never friction between the groups, and observers have reported that often these appear to be joyous reunions. (Peace holders!)

• Although they are the strongest of animals, they can truly die from a broken heart.

• Elephants have no natural predators; however that doesn’t mean they are always safe out in the wild.

Strength of character, unconditional love, quintessential sensitivity, together with rich knowledge and abundant understanding, family-oriented, peace-loving souls, also possessing essential tools which enable them to negotiate perilous ground without misstep, fault, or waver – yes! Not only are these the same traits that I seek to find in myself, but these are also the beautiful characteristics that I find demonstrated in the wonderful array of fascinating, gifted, talented, and caring people in my life. Now I absolutely understand the reason that the elephant has always held such a high degree of regard and attraction for me!

As an aside, I have also noted that the elegant elephant expresses positively no self-deprecation about being gray, wrinkled, and completely devoid of an hourglass figure . . . yet she still exhibits an abundant supply of confidence and self-esteem. Such a resplendent, stately creature. Who of us wouldn’t admire that?

gratitude

Day 21–Count it all joy

*Thank you, Alison Valderrama, for writing such an inspiring piece about an amazing woman. And for being a constant source of encouragement for me as well!*
Sometimes we get a wake up call in life that shocks us to the core and leaves us wondering how to put it in the box of faith. For me recently, it’s been watching someone I love and admire get beaten up by an ugly, painful and frustrating disease. Our beloved pastor was diagnosed with ALS in November and has had a quick and shocking decline since.  I am merely a church member witnessing this from my comfortable seat, while church brothers and sisters said kind and honest words that brought our leader and her daughters to tears, week after week. What does one even say to comfort a pastor, who counsels and loves and shows US the way to God?

Alison V blogIn December, Pastor Julie gave one of the most emotional and powerful sermons I’ve ever heard. This was no surprise, because she is a very compelling, interesting and down to earth speaker who has always given us realistic, honest insight. But this sermon was different, because it was two weeks before her retirement, which was another unfair result of ALS. Her speech had begun to slur and she spoke from a wheelchair, but between laughter and tears, gave a sermon called “Count it all as Joy.”

Joy?! Here we had seen her sickness take over a healthy person, young and alive and vibrant…and she wanted to talk about joy?! In typical Julie style, we saw that her spirit would not be crushed.

Her message focused on Philippians 4:1-13.

(You can read the sermon, and her other sermons here if you’d like: http://www.firstunitedoakpark.com/files/sermons/12-16-12_Count_It_All_Joy_Julie_R_Harley.pdf).

One of the points that stands out to me still is that Julie says she knows she is deeply loved, and feels it even more now, than when her body was healthy. It’s been uplifting to see how Julie has been able to make positive and joyful and bittersweet conversations out of what has happened on her journey. But I’m not surprised; she is an amazing person, deeply loved by God.

Like we all are.

It’s been hard for us as a church to go through this, but it’s not about us, not wholly. And where it is, we are believing that God is going to meet us in our wilderness. We are trusting that God has all the answers, and holds us in his arms. It’s been hard to remember the love of God sometimes, especially when we see those tears, and the wheelchair, and the pain on Julie’s daughters’ faces. But I know this is the challenge: finding joy in struggle and the rejoicing in the love of God.

“The feeling remains that God is on the journey too.” -Teresa of Avila

 

gratitude

Choosing to be an advocate

Thank you, Henry Petty, for sharing this inspiring story with us! For more from Henry, check out his blog.

Today, our company had a bone marrow drive to benefit those in need of a match and for Leslie Harris.  I had the pleasure of meeting Leslie, as she stopped by to say, “thank you,” to everyone participating.

Leslie Harris contracted a rare form of leukemia and has six months to a year to live unless she finds a bone marrow match.  She doesn’t look like someone who has cancer.  A former meteorologist for Fox News, she looked like what one would think a TV personality would and not a cancer patient.

But watching her tell her story of how she heard God speak to her when she was told the news of cancer made her not so much an untouchable TV celebrity, but someone truly humbled.  She said God spoke to her in that moment, “You can either be a victim, or an advocate.”  She decided to be an advocate not for herself, but for children who don’t have a voice in need of a transplant.

She started to break down as she spoke of how difficult it is to ask of others, and even harder when they say, “no.”

It’s surreal when you stand there with someone who possibly could be gone within the year.  She is stronger than I am, for sure.  She definitely spoke not of the latest fashions or frivolous material things, but of what really matters in life – her son.  She just wants to see him grow up.

I am truly grateful for her selflessness to help others knowing that God will take care of her.

For more information about Leslie Harris, you may visit http://www.loveforleslie.com/