gratitude

Dissonance

I remember attending my first Twelve Step recovery meeting ever. It was an open meeting, and I attended with a friend. I listened. I learned a lot and felt that even though what people were sharing didn’t totally apply to me, there was something warm and familiar about it all the same. I couldn’t put my finger on it.

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With my friend Nicole in 2009, not long after I began working the Steps

A few months later, I understood that warm and familiar feeling to be home. I related to the feelings shared, even though the details were different, because I had been affected by similar problems and situations.

I never stopped the Twelve Step movement in my life after that. This summer, I celebrate my eleventh year in recovery. When I attended my first meeting, I was dating an alcoholic (I later married him, and subsequently divorced him). He insisted I find my own program of recovery because I was driving him crazy. Truthfully, I was probably driving him completely nuts, regardless of his behavior and his contributions to the chaos in our relationship.

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How I spend my time today

Fast forward 11 years. A lot has happened in the gap, but one thing has remained steady and constant in my life–my relationship with God and my growth in recovery. Divorce, financial ruin, relocation, grad school, pregnancy, major health concerns, marriage, legal stress, parenthood, entrepreneurship … you name it. Life happens to us, right? That doesn’t change just because we choose to align ourselves with healthier people, attend Twelve Step meetings, and pursue a better path for ourselves. Life keeps happening. Will we avoid as many potential pitfalls if we’re making better choices? Probably. But life rolls on, and we cannot prevent that.

I’ve observed something interesting over the past decade which sometimes seems strange. A dissonance, a distinct difference, even tension between the way I view (and choose) to view the world, and the way others view and choose to view it.

Why the dissonance? Why the difference? Why the vast chasm?

Yes, I follow Christ, and that certainly sets me apart from a large group of people who do not. But it’s not those people I’m referencing here. There are many of my friends and family members, most of whom follow Christ, who truly seem to be unable to relate to my perspective and worldview. What’s changed? Me or them? If it’s me, what is it about me that’s changed so much?

I’ll never get inside others’ heads to figure this out entirely–and honestly, I don’t want to–but I do find it interesting. Here’s one thing God brought to my attention a few weeks ago: When two people have experienced reality entirely differently, it is nearly impossible for them to perceive the world similarly. 

I chatted with a friend of mine who works in Christian ministry a few weeks ago, and that’s when this really hit me. He shared with me a situation that occurred years ago when many folks in ministry conflicted over changing a denominational policy. Some of the people stood by their beliefs without becoming petty or criticizing individuals (maintaining a polite, cordial attitude toward others involved). But a few people lashed out at the group, posted hateful messages online, and demonstrated the exact behavior that makes Christians cringe in embarrassment. We lamented about the situation together.

“I don’t know why, but that’s just one of those hot button topics that always gets people going,” he mused.

“Yeah, I guess so. I can’t relate to that anymore. I think there was a time when I had an opinion about that stuff… not now. I can’t even muster an ounce of concern about that if I try.”

I wasn’t being sarcastic. I was serious. My entire perception of what really matters has completely changed. I really did join in on splitting doctrinal hairs in the past, and I enjoyed those conversations and would defend my soapbox to the bitter end. And not just that–I used to pride myself on serving as vigilante of almost everyone or anything. I loved that stuff. I LOVED THAT STUFF. If you’d asked me the question, How important is that, really? I would have responded, It’s VERY important!

Then I lived in alcoholism for a decade. And I faced PTSD during that time from multiple incidents of sexual assault and other situations. I finally sought counseling and help through the Twelve Steps, but not until my life began to crumble into bits at my feet. It was not the best time of my life.

When your reality has been lived in mire, in fighting dark spiritual battles for quite some time, your perception changes. First world problems aren’t problems at all. You don’t have room on your plate for things like bickering, gossip, and scandal.

Yet even when you move from darkness to light–and thank God, that has happened for me–you may still feel permanent dissonance between the way you see the world and the way others see it. Does that mean those who don’t see it the way you see it are wrong, or that something is inherently wrong with you?

Not at all. It’s just a reminder that the world is varying shades, that not every human experiences trauma, and that God works through each of us differently. It’s a reminder that we cannot go to the bakery expecting to purchase hardware. That we can’t expect people who’ve never been in a pit to feel comfortable sitting next to us in the bottom of one while we work our way out, one Step at a time. It’s a reminder that God goes before us, plans in love, and converts what was meant for Evil into our Ultimate Good.

 

 

gratitude

A letter to my wife

Today’s post is written by one of my students, Roy Meisinger, as a token of appreciation to his wife. 

Dear wife,

I would like to take the time to tell you how thankful I am that God chose you to be my wife. I think sometimes I take you for granted, but truthfully you do and have done so much. I am thankful about how supportive you have been especially in the last five months. Being laid-off caused big changes, and you have tried so hard to be positive about it all. Not only am I thankful for being supportive of me through though times, but I also appreciate how much you do for our children.

image1-1It takes a lot to raise our kids. Practices, art classes, and modeling is a lot for one person to run around to and from constantly. Yet you do it each week and have shown me in the last five months that though it is exhausting, it is also worth it. Allowing our children to do all these different things will better them in the long run. Sometimes I wonder why you push yourself to let them do so much, but you are letting them do what they love. I know as their father I have agreed to let them do everything as well. What I did not realize at the time of these decisions is that school was going to keep me from helping with it all. You have taken on the challenge, though, and I could not be more thankful. It is hard to understand what all it takes to care for a house and kids. The time I have been home these last months have shown me how much work it actually takes. It truly makes me more grateful for you each day.

You did not stop with just me and the kids though. This semester while I had class, you took on Wednesday nights with the youth. I am so thankful that you are ready to step up while I go to school in hope of bettering our future. You have done a great job with teaching them. If I am completely honest, it is not just Wednesday nights that you have helped me. You have been such a huge help with the youth over the last year. From scheduling every event to just adding your thoughts during a lesson, you have helped me do the best for them all.

This is not just for brownie points; I am seriously most grateful for you. Supportive of me, a great mother to our children, and an awesome youth minister’s wife, I am thankful that God sent you to me. I look forward to many more years and many more reasons to be thankful.

” I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy.” Philippians 1:3-4 (ESV)

Love,

Your Husband

gratitude

To my loving husband

Today’s blog post is by my student, Ladonna Williams, as part of a brief writing assignment celebrating her marriage.

To my loving husband:

I want you to know that you have been a great inspiration in my life. Putting our friendship with love, we created our marriage. You accepted life’s responsibility and turned it into a blessing.

img_1345There are great benefits of being your wife, including unconditional love. We look upon ourselves as under no obligation. Being your wife has been amazing. Not because of the things that you do for me, and not even because of how much love you have for our family. Just because you are someone special. I am so thankful for the little things that I may have taken for granted. Washing dishes, grocery shopping, and even taking care of me on my late nights. Those days when I didn’t say thank you, count it to my mind not my heart.

I strive to have a heart as big and warm as the one that you share with me. I value the kind heart that has brought sunshine to my life. I thank you for the love and kindness you share with me on a daily basis. I thank you for being my umbrella on the rainy days. When you felt as if I weren’t happy, there was joy pulled from within your heart to share with your wife. I thank you for the encouraging words when situations got a little hard for me. Always there to keep pushing me to the next step in life.

I can’t express enough of how special I feel to get to spend my life with someone as great as you. Someone who always has the next person’s concern on their mind. Standing there ready to do your best to brighten up their day. I thank you for sharing your love with people who may need a kind word. I want you to know I am always grateful for the things  you share. I love you!

-Ladonna

 

gratitude

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.
gratitude

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.

gratitude

The gratitude word

*Today’s blog post is a guest post written by my lifelong friend and former neighbor Leslie Ferguson Thomas. I’m always thankful for Leslie’s contributions to my blog, but I’m more thankful for her ongoing friendship, her perspective on life, and her willingness to share it. Leslie’s husband is currently battling cancer; please keep them in your prayers this holiday season.*

On the day the surgeon told us he was pretty certain my husband Josh had cancer, I was anything but grateful. I was angry. For a few moments I was consumed by it. I wanted to scream, curse, and cry, so I did all three. This year has been crazy. I won’t spend time on all the details, but basically my husband has been diagnosed with two different types of cancer, had three different surgeries, and just started chemotherapy. That is not to mention all the other typical “life” things that have happened this year.

Josh and LeslieI have always considered myself a pretty positive person. People have even accused me of being the “Pollyanna type.” I try to smile often. I have never seen the point otherwise. I try to lift myself and those around me up. I do my best. I have always been one of those people who always thought my ship was about to come in, dreams were meant to be followed, and life was meant to be spent doing what you love. I believed that regardless of the cost.

I have always believed in God/a Higher Power.  I am in awe of all the things that happen in our world. All the perfect timing, the rhythm of everything. Sunsets leave me in awe. A sunset is a continual reminder to me that we are loved. Why else would so much thought and energy be put into simply coloring the sky at night? I am sure there is a scientific reason to it all, but still I am always humbled by the sunset.

This year my “positivity” has been rocked to the core. And honestly, I no longer see myself as a “positive” person. I am positive of nothing. I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. I don’t know what this next moment will bring. How will my husband feel today? What challenges will we face? Will the income situation work out? Will I be able to get clients when I start my counseling practice? Will Josh and I grow old together? Will we be able to have a family?  I don’t know any of that. I don’t consider myself negative either.  I just am!!! And today just is what it is!!!

So that shift left me feeling empty. Everybody kept saying be positive. I suddenly didn’t know how to do that anymore. I still don’t. I feel like something inside of me has changed. It has changed so deeply, and I don’t know that anything will change me back. This is where gratitude has come in and has truly helped me. To me positivity is about believing in a certain outcome. I am sure others may have a different perspective on it. I just can no longer cling to certain outcomes, but I can be in this moment. I can be grateful.

JoshWhat I have found is that even in the worst moments, I can list things to be grateful for. I can look at the sunset and be in awe. I can go to our favorite lake, and be in awe and grateful for the trees. I can sit beside my husband, and be grateful for our relationship. I can be grateful for the way life is changing me. The way I have become stronger, and am more driven than I ever been. I can be grateful for how Josh’s body has healed, how strong he is, and how our relationship continues to get better and better.

“Gratitude” is my new saving grace. I am grateful for the country I live in. I am grateful for possibilities. I am grateful for the people who have helped us, checked on us, and encouraged us. Gratitude has also taken a huge weight off me. I don’t have to believe in anything. I don’t have to be positive of anything. I just have to stop and look around. Gratitude is about being in the present.

So now even in my worst moments, I try to remind myself of all I have to be thankful for. There is so much, and gratitude helps me to immediately center myself into this moment. And this moment is really all we have.

I think the most important part of gratitude is to never make yourself feel guilty for having a hard time with it, being upset, or feeling whatever you feel. I try hard to even be grateful for the emotions I wish I had less of. Gratitude to me is about being gentle and just opening our eyes to all of the good stuff around us.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody- lots of love,

Leslie

Visit Leslie’s blog at www.anembracedlife.com

gratitude

Teaching me to mother

Lizard,

205302_503087736842_9842_nThank you for breaking me in back when I turned 22. There was nothing Taylor Swift about it. Your dad and I tied the knot three weeks after I graduated from college and three weeks after my birthday, and I frantically searched for employment while serving as your stepmom. I felt like I was playing house sometimes, the way my sisters and I played Barbies as kids. Ken and Barbie smooch and hug and ride in the Barbie convertible, and then they get married, and they have a baby, and then what?

I learned the then what from you. No matter what obstacles your dad and I faced in our marriage, I always enjoyed being your stepmom. I loved taking you grocery shopping when you were five years old and answering your bazillion questions about produce and spaghetti and magazines. I obtained a great repertoire of bumblebee, elephant, and duck songs because of you. I got a big kick out of playing Tooth Fairy and helping you learn how to do backbends and make macaroni and cheese and use the washing machine and dryer. I remember the summer after second grade when I realized you lacked some important skills, and I decided to make it my mission to teach you to become more self-sufficient. You were so open to learning new things. I remember you telling your mom and Meme and Papaw about every new accomplishment over the phone, beaming with pride from ear to ear.

262960_519156345222_5013781_nYour willingness to learn never waned. We had The Talk in bits and pieces beginning at age five. I was always candid with you, telling you enough to satisfy your curiosity but not enough to bore you to tears. That strategy seemed to work. I also promised to tell you the truth no matter what, and I never wavered on that promise, and I still haven’t, even though we both know there have been some times when it would have been easier and softer if I’d lied. Because of your willingness to learn, and my willingness to be honest, we’ve made a pretty good team.

Fast forward to 2015. You’re finishing up your sophomore year of college, and I teach students the exact same age as you, my Lizard. Of course, I also teach non-traditional students, too.

Talk about having my life flash before my eyes at work every single day.

I see you in so many of my students. Here are a few examples.

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Hannah and Joey 

There’s Hannah, a beautiful spirit who is seriously perpetual sunshine to everyone who knows her. She reminds me of how I feel around you from the first minute you pull into my driveway until the minute you drive away.

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Nathan

There’s Nathan, a jokester on the outside with a serious interior he tries to disguise from his classmates most of the time—sound like anyone you know? This guy even donned a tutu once during a demonstration speech to help a fellow student out. I have proof of this beautiful moment :). I only taught him for one semester, but he was certainly one of the most memorable students I’ve ever taught.

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With LCreighton and Charmstrong

There are Charmstrong and Lcreighton, two little cuties I came to know outside of class before they became my students. They are both just adorbs (are you proud of me for using that term, Liz?) and often send me pictures of Edna Mode of The Incredibles, who they believe I emulate, in the middle of my lectures. They have filled a little bit of the Lizard void in my heart and life by walking with me to class and laughing with me and reminding me that I’m not THAT old.

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Crystal
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Sheila

There’s Crystal, who I have known for decades and had the pleasure to teach last fall. She has faced more than her share of obstacles but has chosen to become better, not bitter.

There’s Sheila, a non-traditional student who loves her family more than anything. She is also a total survivor and fighter. She has earned her spot in my heart and has proven herself to be hard-working and diligent even when it would have been easier to drop out of school. These are qualities I see in you, too, Liz.

11149462_10153220074068826_6559028102695630203_nAnd then there’s Lauren, who lost her lifelong love this semester. She is now raising their baby alone and is persevering against all odds. She’ll graduate in two days with honors. She will not allow others’ choices and tragedies to dictate the direction of her life.

And this, my Lizard, is what I hope for you, too.

With all that you have taught me about being a teacher, Liz, and with all that my students continually teach me about being a mom, I’m not sure why I’m being paid to teach. The least I can do is pour my very best self into my teaching, and offer my very best self to Maggie every day as her mom.

Happy Mother’s Day, Liz, to you and to all my babies.