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.

Day 21: A look back

*Thanks to my friend Brandon Davidson for serving as the guest writer for Day 21  of the Dear Gratitude project. His post is guaranteed to make you laugh. It will probably cause you to pause and give thanks for all the people and circumstances that brought you where you are in your own life, too.*

Dear Bethany,

When you asked me to write a blog post, I agreed without really thinking about what in the world I would share with your readers.

I typically fly by the seat of my pants.

This is the story of my life.

One week after watching Batman Forever, I packed a trash bag full of clothes and hopped in a buddy’s truck. We were moving to Hollywood. We didn’t have the bankroll to get to Hollywood, CA, so we went for the next best thing–Hollywood, FL. (Newsflash, this is NOT the next best thing.) I spent a few months there and then tucked my tail between my legs and decided to move back to Arkansas and go to college.

I lasted one semester.

It was the classic story. Boy goes to college. Boy doesn’t go to class. Boy drinks way too much. Boy wakes up completely nude in a field, only to realize that he is just outside the outfield fence of a softball field while two high school teams battle it out.

Nothing to see here, just a dude cupping himself waddling back to campus.

Don’t worry, I’ll get thankful soon.

A few weeks later, I was asked to leave the school after mooning the Dean of the school’s wife and daughter.

The next year was a blur of playing semi-pro rugby, naked Trivial Pursuit, and trying to get back on track.

1. KathyI went back to school only to leave again when my Mom became disabled. I moved back home to be with my mom and brother. It was while in Batesville that I met Kathy and knew that she was the one. I asked her to marry me a little over a month after I met her. People thought we were crazy. We were, but we were also in love. Almost 15 years later, I can tell you without a doubt that I am who I am because of her.

I am thankful for Kathy.

After we got married, I spent the next few years in full time ministry in the Church.

I felt like I had a purpose, and it was intoxicating.

 

2. EmilyKathy and I welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world in 2003.  From the moment I met Emily Grace, she has brought light into the world and filled my heart with love.

I am thankful for Emily.

When Kathy and I were first engaged, I was diagnosed with a pretty severe liver disease. The doctor told me that my prognosis was 10 years max and that I probably shouldn’t get married or have kids. I laid all this out for Kathy and told her that I loved her and that I had no plan other than to be with her. I asked her if she wanted to keep flying by the seat of our pants.

SHE SAID YES, YOU GUYS.

Not long after Emily was born, I got very sick. As a last resort the doctors tried a new treatment option. To my surprise, almost 20 weeks later I was cured. That was 10 years ago. Kathy had a newborn baby and a weakened husband, but we made it. She was unbelievably strong.

I am thankful for my family.

3. ChurchWorking for the church was demanding and I was horrible at balancing work/home. I was rewarded for being a bad dad and a shitty husband. Something had to give.

I walked away from my career in the church, and I haven’t looked back. I can always find another church if I want, but I can’t find another family.

A couple of weeks later, with no insurance and no jobs (Kathy was fired from her job at the church after I resigned. It’s a cool story; I’ll share it sometime), Kathy found out she was pregnant.

WHAT.

We had been trying for years. That miracle cure that healed my liver also supposedly made me sterile.

NOT SO MUCH.

I had a wife and a daughter and a baby the size of a strawberry on the way. (Side note: why do we use fruit when we are giving reference to babies’ sizes?)

4. buttJosh is 3 years old now and painted the most amazing Butt watercolor last night.

Pretty great, huh?

Josh is sweet, funny and a little bit of a dumpster fire. I wouldn’t have it any other way. 5. Josh

I sure didn’t plan it this way, but somehow I ended up with an amazing life.

I am thankful.

 

Plotting Hope,

Brandon

 

Brandon Davidson is stand-up comic and social media strategist based out of Tyler, Texas. He is a husband, a dad, and a disappointment to many. He used to have to drink to have a good time; now he doesn’t need to have a good time. Follow @brandondavidson on Twitter if you love carbs.

 

Day 18: Dear Perfect Baby

*Day 18 of the Dear Gratitude project is really special; my former boss and friend, Jenny Cannon, shares her reflections on her decision to forgo having an amniocentesis procedure prior to delivering her daughter, Claire, who was diagnosed with Down syndrome at birth.*

It has been six months.  Six months since I anxiously timed contractions and took a warm bath to ease the pain.  Six months since my husband and I nervously laughed and joked about my labor starting one day before my scheduled c-section.  Six months since I delivered the most beautiful baby girl I had ever laid eyes on.  And six months since we received the diagnosis– Down syndrome.

Claire DSI have a lot to be thankful for in the last 6 months:  a healthy baby, no medical complications, an amazing husband and the love and support of my friends and family.  But one thing I’m surprisingly thankful for is that I did not have a prenatal diagnosis.  Don’t get me wrong; I did not feel this way in the beginning.  In fact, initially I was angry that I didn’t have a prenatal diagnosis.  I had 3 high-resolution ultrasounds–how did the doctors not know!?!  I said many times “if only I had known, I would have…”  But when it comes down to it, what would I have done if I had known that my precious little angel would have 47 chromosomes? I can say for certain I would not have terminated my pregnancy, but that’s where my certainty ends.

Would I have let the myths and stereotypes of Down syndrome negatively affect the remainder of my pregnancy?    Would I have let my tears and disappointment get in the way of the love growing in my heart?  Would sadness and depression have stopped me from decorating the nursery or buying every piece of baby gear available?  Would the nervous laughter and excitement I felt on the way to the hospital have been replaced by dread and fear?  Would grief have prevented me from truly celebrating my pregnancy or Claire’s birth?  Would a prenatal diagnosis have caused me to give up without giving her a fighting chance?  I don’t know.

What would have been different if I had a prenatal diagnosis . . .  I will never know, and for that, I’m thankful.

Claire pageant picA prenatal diagnosis could not have convinced me that my little baby would be perfect.  Or that her smile would light up every room she enters and that she would immediately calm all my worries and fears.  Or that the love I would feel for her and the pride I have for her accomplishments would equal the love and pride I have for my firstborn child.

Today I say thank you to the doctor who discouraged me from having an amnio; thank you to the nurse who emphasized the risks involved with having one; and thank you to the sonographers for maintaining their belief that there was nothing wrong with the little girl growing in my tummy.  They were right—there is NOTHING wrong with Claire.  She is perfect just the way God made her–all 47 chromosomes!

You can go your own way

My boyfriend in college once told me that I reminded him of the female character in a Celtic song who was forever “chasing cannonballs.”

Checking out a cannon in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas with my husband

Checking out a cannon in Mammoth Springs, Arkansas with my husband

He was right.

I have been notorious for stubbornly making my own decisions. I often refer to this tendency as my “God versus Bethany” struggle. For years, mostly due to some tragic situations in my past, I chose to trust Bethany rather than God. Against all rationale, good advice, concerned friends, promptings from my conscience AKA the Holy Spirit of God, and even learned lessons from my past, I continued to choose to make choices based on Bethany’s will, not God’s.

This led to many uncomfortable, painful, and costly consequences. Thankfully, with the help of my anonymous program of recovery and sponsor and growing dependency on God, deferring to God’s will seems to be my go-to more often than not these days.

God continues to give me opportunities to choose, though, and sometimes letting go and letting God is not easy for me.

After having my daughter nearly eight months ago, I decided to eat an elephant–all at once. Finish grad school, with all A’s, of course. Prep for comps and read countless pieces of in-depth literature. Nurse my baby 6-8 times a day. Care for her the rest of the day. Write posts for my two blogs. Volunteer to edit documents for several friends. Maintain a super tidy, clean home. Continue to work my program of recovery. And of course, lose all that disgusting baby weight that had bruised my ego to a deep, dark purple.

Jogging with strep throat and doing the Rocky dance, February 2013

Jogging with strep throat and doing the Rocky dance, February 2013

I learned the hard way–by trying to start running again (and having some success) while recovering from a blood transfusion, an injured back, and two rounds of strep throat–that losing weight at my age after having a baby is not easy. It does not happen quickly. And it should probably not be on my to-do list until I’m finished nursing.

As has been the case in the past, it took a painful “aha” moment for me to realize that I’d overfilled my own plate. No one had done this to me or for me. I was not a victim. I had done it to myself in an effort to do everything as perfectly as possible.

My husband and I are blessed with plenty of land and many hiking trails. After having wide fire lanes created with the help of the Forestry Commission, my husband offered to watch our daughter so I could hike the fire lanes and take some photos. I jumped at the opportunity for fresh air and alone time, even though I felt miserable, lacked anything resembling energy, and had multiple other to-do’s on my ever-important list.

As I hiked along, I quickly realized my body had not recovered fully from my recent bout with strep throat. Every step was torture. To make matters worse, searing pain radiated through every square inch of my back and neck. But I kept going.

I took a wrong turn along the way and wound up at the bottom of an incredibly steep ravine. The only way out was up.

What an order. I could not go through with it.

So I sat down in the dirt with my panting companion, my cat Shao Hou, and cried.

Then I mustered enough energy to hike back up the ravine and head back home. I have the worst sense of direction of anyone I know. I don’t do “east” or “north.” I do “left” and “right.” That’s it. I found myself turned around on our own land, feeling like an idiot, and physically beyond the point of exhaustion and nearly crippled with pain.

I decided to cut through the woods in the general direction of “DOWN.” I figured eventually, I’d either come to the road or to our house. I clawed my way through briars and piles of brush and finally reached one of our trails.

As I reached the trail, with Shao Hou still patiently panting alongside me, I noticed a huge rock covered in moss, shaded by a large oak tree. It looked like a cool, beautiful place to rest for a  moment to catch my breath.

But you know me.

I didn’t stop. Oh no. I was going to finish this darn hike if it killed me. So I kept going rather than allowing myself to let go of my standards for performance in lieu of realistic expectations for my sick, aching body.

I cried the whole way home.

I felt sorry for myself. I felt angry at my body. I felt out of control. I felt that I’d wasted my precious “me” time on a failed effort to enjoy nature and get some exercise.

After letting my husband hug me and taking a hot bath, the “aha” moment hit me.

I needed help.

A healthier version of myself... slow and steady this time around. 10 more pounds to go! July 2013

A healthier version of myself… slow and steady this time around. 10 more pounds to go! July 2013

I could continue to go my own way and potentially do long-term damage to my body. Or I could listen to my body and stop pushing myself beyond my limits. And visit my doctor. And find a physical therapist.

So I did. Slowly but surely, my body is recovering, but not without plenty of effort and some pain.

The difference is that the pain I feel now is due to making the right choices to take care of my body and get help to heal it versus the pain I felt due to my refusal to slow down and accept reality, which never mimics anything like perfection.

Next time I hike the fire lanes on our land, I’m going to stop at that mossy rock, pet my panting buddy Shao Hou, and drink some water while I admire the miracles of God’s creation surrounding me. And I won’t feel bad about taking a break, either.

 

 

Things never change

Gratitude rarely actually changes things.

Not in my life, anyway. Things stay the same. Circumstances come and go, as all circumstances do.

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My big fam, 2012. Photo by Phoopla Photography

My family members who irk me continue to irk me. The one who never says “I love you” may never say “I love you.” My sisters will probably never agree with my lifestyle choices. I will probably never agree with all of theirs. My mom and mother-in-law will probably always dish out unsolicited advice, despite multiple attempts to curb this behavior.

The people I know and people I love who are addicts may or may not get sober. If they do get sober, they might or might not stay sober. They may never accept that their lives are unmanageable. They may never find serenity or the courage to change the things they can.

The turds in my life will probably always be turds. When I worked for a miserable woman I affectionately referred to as Satan, my writing a daily gratitude list didn’t change her attitude one bit. She did not become more kind or human. She might still be a turd to this day.

The list of things that stay the same, get worse, or may never change is endless. It overwhelms me if I let it.

Thankfully, I don’t have to. At the advice of my mentor, I began writing a daily gratitude list about five years ago. Since then, the practice of gratitude has morphed me into a more gracious, loving, and appreciative person. It’s restored a sense of wonder and adoration in my heart. It hasn’t changed my life. It has changed ME.

This morning, for example, my baby girl woke up at 5:15 a.m. Her normal wake time is about 7 a.m., and sometimes later. She also happened to fight sleep for quite some time last night. That, coupled with some annoying health issues, resulted in this mama getting about five hours of sleep in comparison to her usual 7 or 8.

As I rolled over to look at the clock while listening to my daughter coo over the monitor, I groaned. I did not want to move. I did not want to get up and make the doughnuts. I wanted someone else to nurse my baby. I wanted breakfast in bed with extra shots of espresso, please.

But I couldn’t change the fact that my baby woke up early. I can’t change the fact that she fought sleep last night, either.

All I can change is me, and sometimes, that’s a struggle, too.

Switching my attitude from one of contempt, grumbling, negativity, self-pity, and cynicism to one of gratitude almost always changes me. It changes the way I view those things that I can do nothing about.

Yes, my daughter woke up early and went to bed late. Yes, this caused me to get way too little sleep.

The three of us, May 2013

The three of us, May 2013

But she woke up this morning.

She is alive.

She suffered no ill effects from any of the annoying symptoms I faced during pregnancy. She recovered like a champ from a somewhat traumatic delivery with no side effects. She has slept in her own crib since she was two weeks old, and has slept through the night since she was about six weeks old. She smiles. She eats well and has no digestive problems. She is, as I often pray, healthy from the top of her head to the bottom of her toes. She laughs and tries to talk to me and touches my face and lights up my world every single day.

After thanking God aloud for these gifts while nursing my daughter in a semi-conscious state, I realized that between 6:15 and 6:20 a.m. this morning, nothing changed.

But I did.

My attitude switched gears.

It works every time, if I work it.

 

I never thought I wanted children.

* Big thanks to my best friend, MeLissa Horseman, for today’s post. She may have never wanted children, but she’s become one of the best moms I know.*

I never thought I wanted children. I barely thought I wanted to get married, let alone bring kids into the mix. This was a definite sore subject between me and my future husband when we were dating. He wanted a whole football team.

One day after dating for about a year and a half, I randomly told him that I would CONSIDER having children some day. He was shocked by my announcement, and we were engaged a couple of months later (must have been just what he was waiting for). After six years of marriage, a move halfway across the United States, and the passing of my mother when I was 25, and she was just 47, after we recently had the opportunity to begin repairing our very broken relationship, I told my husband we should start this family thing.

Dailen and Lexa, 2013

Dailen and Lexa, 2013

At that point, I don’t think I was fully behind the idea but I felt something was missing or that I needed to start a new phase of my life. It took almost a year and half to get pregnant, and nine months thereafter, we had our son. I had an overall good pregnancy and delivery. Some people know after they have their first child that they are content and happy with that one and only child. I feel that is an awesome and wonderful decision they have made. Me, personally, a few weeks after having my son, I just knew I wanted more. I was overwhelmed with emotion at the miracle of life and how much love I had for this tiny human. I could hardly wait for round two.

My husband was ecstatic with my enthusiasm to have another child so quickly. When my son turned one year-old, we started trying again and got pregnant right away with our daughter. Through no fault of her own, we endured some very stressful times with her as a baby. We dealt with seven months of colic. She cried all the time, at all hours, and nothing calmed her. Not riding in the car, sitting atop the running dryer, rocking her, gas drops, pacifier, Tylenol, even putting a bit of Jack Daniels in her milk (per my grandma’s suggestion). She would not ‘cry herself to sleep’. She could cry for hours, and I felt so bad for my miserable little girl. I spent my nights in a recliner with her lying on my chest because it was the only way I would get an hour or two of sleep.

My husband began to hate her. (No worries–she is wrapped around his finger now for sure–or as she would say, her thumb.) I would not leave her alone with him because I would come home to find him playing video games downstairs while she was crying upstairs because he didn’t want anything to do with her. It caused a lot of tension in our marriage that took a lot of time to work through. I don’t say all this to elicit sympathy or make my situation out to be worse than anyone else’s, only to illustrate how difficult that time was for us and that my husband went from wanting a football team of kids to being adamant about having no more. He closed that book.

I was not as convinced. As stressful as it was, I loved my little miracle and was protective and even probably defensive of her and still wanted the opportunity to have another child. She got over her troubled early months and is now a cute firecracker, four year-old who loves to tilt her head and smile at her daddy until he laughs and wraps her in a big loving hug. After she turned three, my husband brought up the subject of having another child.

This time I was the one who was shocked. I had finally accepted that we were done. Our car was too small to physically fit a third child. Our two kids were somewhat self-sufficient; no diapers, can dress themselves, can express their needs and wants. We were in a routine, and it was working for us, and I didn’t want to give that up. And, I could not emotionally go through another situation similar to my daughter’s (although during that time I couldn’t imagine not having more kids either).

After much thought and prayer, we felt God gave us the go ahead to have another child. Our son or daughter will be born sometime this May. My son is six and my daughter is four and a half. This pregnancy has been much more difficult in many different ways, and I am certain it will be my last, so I have moments of being very sad knowing it will be the last time I feel a baby kick or have the hiccups inside me, the last time I will hold my very own newborn child, the last time I can gain weight without too much guilt :).

The Horseman family, 2013

The Horseman family, 2013

But I am so thankful for the blessing to be able to carry another child and bring a life into this world that God so lovingly created. I am blessed to have two beautiful children with very different personalities who teach me something new all the time. They remind me to keep my promises (because they remember when I have told them I would do something!). They remind me to relax and have some fun. Because of them my personal relationship with God has grown and my prayer life deepened. I can’t wait to see what this third child has to teach and show me.

I worked until my daughter was over two years old. Then I was laid off, and we took it as a blessing in disguise, or maybe it was really in plain sight. After much rearranging and rebudgetting, I have been able to stay home full-time since then. I was talking to my dad a couple of months ago. He called and asked what I was doing. I said ‘coloring pictures with your granddaughter and getting ready to make lunch’. He kind of chuckled. I asked what was so amusing. He said he never would have pictured that 10 years ago.

He’s right. I never thought I would want kids. I definitely never thought being a stay-at-home mom was for me. But it has worked out the way it was supposed to. Things are not picture perfect. I don’t feel I am the best mommy most days. There are days I go to bed feeling like all I did was yell at them all day or tell them ‘just give me another minute to do this or that’ and never got around to what they needed or wanted. There are days when one will ask me why I was so upset with them that day or one will yell that I am a mean mommy. But when my son gets up one more time from bed at night to give me a kiss on the cheek and say ‘I love you mom’; or my daughter climbs up into my lap and asks 20 random questions, and by the 21st I want to say WHAT NOW?, and she says ‘I want to be a mommy like you when I grow up’, I melt and I’m overwhelmed with awe about how much love I have for them and am so thankful I did not miss out on this experience.

Day 27–Instant love

*Thank you, LaDonna Busby, for writing today’s post and for being a daily blessing in so many lives.*

Many people have told of meeting someone and having that “love at first sight” feeling.  Not that I doubted them, but I just never thought it would happen to me – but it did. Glen and I had been married a few years and wanted to start our family, but were having no success.  We tried everything we could, including years of fertility treatments and still no baby.  It seemed to me that everyone I knew was either pregnant or had just had a baby.

I do not remember who suggested adoption, but we came to the conclusion this was the way for us to try.  Not having the money for private adoption, we decided to try through the state agency.  There was so much paperwork, references to find, home visits – it took well over a year to get everything completed, but one wonderful day came notice in the mail we had been approved and were now on the waiting list.  We had not asked for a newborn, as we knew there were few available.  Didn’t think it would take another year and 3 months before anything would happen, but it did.

I have to admit, I cried a lot and prayed a lot – especially when my sister became pregnant.  It was following this crying, praying spell that I felt a deep peace come over me, and I really heard the words, “Don’t worry, there is a child out there for you.  Just wait.”

Susan Naomi

Susan Naomi

I tried to be patient, but it was so hard.  Finally in March 1979, we got the call, and the social worker would be at our house on March 15 to see if we would like to talk about a 6 month old little girl who was available.  Was she kidding? Of course we wanted to talk – we really had no doubts, we wanted this baby, sight unseen.  My feelings were so intense, even today I cannot quite explain them.

Glen and I traveled to Jonesboro on March 20, 1979, a cold, foggy, icy day.  We were led to a room to wait.  It seemed forever before the door opened. Zap! We both fell in love – instant, deep, holy.  We all locked eyes and that was that – she was ours, and no one would even dare try to take her from us. We knew our family was complete.  We would protect her with every fiber of our being, provide for her, encourage her and give thanks to God for her.  Susan Naomi became our world instantly.

Gratitude? I am grateful to the young woman, scared and alone, who made the decision to put her baby up for adoption.  Grateful to God for loving me and Glen so much that he had this beautiful child out there waiting for us.  So, yes – there is love at first sight, and it brings happiness, hope and gratitude.