Tribute to a Friend


“We can’t fully appreciate joyful reunions later without tearful separations now. The only way to take sorrow out of death is to take love out of life.” Russell M. Nelson

I want to share my thoughts from the last couple of days. I am so very grateful for my Savior, Jesus Christ, who gives me His strength when I have run out of my own.

Amidst the chaos that is my life right now (between packing to move and also getting ready for a 3 day event selling my flannel board stories in Bear Lake) I found out yesterday that one of my very dear friends has passed away. So I’ve been moving forward with the action that life demands but with a lot of breaking into tears moments as I grieve for myself at his loss. I just want to take a minute to pay tribute to my friend, Tom Petko, and share my top 6 things he taught me over the last 19 years of friendship.

1. You don’t have to be blood to be family. This man came into our lives and treated us as if he were an extension of our family. He treated my children, my husband and I like gold. I did what I could to reciprocate the love I always felt for him. That usually came by the way of a homecooked meal or baked goods, but it never seemed to measure up to his generosity. He and his parents always spoiled us!

2. Chasing your passion is a good thing! He opened my eyes to the sport of trap shooting, something I never knew I could love so much! He would always laugh about the fact that he and Chad made plans to shoot and I tagged along. He admitted repeatedly that he initially thought, “The ball and chain can’t just let her man have some time with the guys.” Then I asked if I could try… I always loved changing the way that man thought about things! We spent hours and hours shooting together or traveling to shoots with kids in tow to shoot little orange clay disks out of the sky and it was fabulous! He once bought me a shirt that said, “Happiness is a warm shotgun.” I fully concur with that! One of my favorite memories was a turkey shoot we attended in Weber County. We won so many turkeys together that there were some men who really wanted us disqualified from winning any more. (As Tom pointed out he probably just hated being outshot by a girl!)

3. Taking time to pursue my dreams actually makes me a better wife and mother. There were a couple of times that Chad (and my sisters) watched the kids so that I could take a road trip with Tom to go shooting. I always came back refreshed and ready to put more energy and love into my roles at home. Not only was the hobby enjoyable but Tom was such a great conversationalist! I am really going to miss our discussions!

4. You can have completely different beliefs from someone else and still respect and love them. I am a bit of a religious nut and Tom was far from it. But I honestly learned so much about myself and my beliefs from the deep conversations we had together. I knew he didn’t always agree with me, but I never for one second doubted that he respected me. He even nicknamed me the “shooting saint” because I refused to shoot on Sundays. And he would help me find the nearest church and drop me off so I could worship in my way while he “went to church” in his way (shooting).

5. Absence makes the heart grow fonder. After many years of “batching it” (as Tom called his bachelor days) Tom found love and companionship again. And though I was so glad that he was not lonely anymore, his new companion seemed to find me and my family competition for some reason. Because of this and Tom being restricted to a wheelchair, our relationship has been limited to phone calls, text messages and Christmas gift exchanges (Tom was the best gift giver I’ve ever met!) We have missed him so much over the last few years. We have missed our regular dinner dates (my kids learned a lot about patience as we would sit for hours in a “BS session” as Tom called it). We have missed his irreverent sense of humor and his hilarious way of looking at the world. We have missed his vocalized support and encouragement for us as parents. I have missed shooting with him. And I have really missed his giant teddy bear hugs!

6. Life is short. Tom was a big man! This caused complications with his knees. He was not a candidate for surgery unless he lost a certain amount of weight and being in a wheelchair eliminated the ability to lose weight through exercise. Tom had big dreams. He worked very hard for 40 years to save for retirement. He planned to travel and shoot and fish. He planned to go on safari and shoot some amazing pictures (a different kind of shooting he found a love for later in life). He planned to really live and enjoy what he called the “best years.” And so, even though I grieve for me and the fact that I will never get to have the catchup dinner he promised us once surgery restored his mobility, I mostly grieve for him and that he never got to do all those things on his bucket list that he worked so hard and saved for!

Tom was a good man! He had a huge heart! He was one of the most loving and generous men I ever knew. He was so good to me and to my family. He was our family! And he will be sorely missed. I realized as I looked for pictures of my friend that I don’t have them. But I am so grateful that I have hundreds and hundreds of memory pictures in my data bank! We made some really great memories together that I will treasure forever!

I look forward to the time when I will get to stroll along this giant of a man and catch up on all we have missed out talking about. That is going to be the grandest of all BS sessions!!!

Gratitude Challenge Day 7: Partner with Christ

One day there was an older married couple driving down the road in their pickup truck.  When they came to a stoplight, the woman looked over at a truck stopped next to them.  In that truck she saw a younger couple.  The young lady was snuggled up very close to the young man with her head on his shoulder.  The older woman offhandedly asked her husband, “Why don’t we sit like that anymore?”  He in turn looked out her window to observe what she was seeing and then responded, “Well, I haven’t moved.”
The first time I heard this joke I laughed because I could relate.  As we become more comfortable in our relationships we do tend to take them for granted until we remember the way we felt when they were new and appreciated.  I believe this joke is such a compelling reminder of our relationship with Christ.  Whenever we notice that their is a gap between Him and us, a space on the seat of our journey, it is because we have moved, not because He has.  Our Savior always wants a relationship with us! He wants to share our joys, our sorrows, our hopes and our dreams. His hand is outstretched still… ALWAYS.  Yet, when our lives get busy, or hard, or even too easy at times we tend to move away from Him.
My life has been blessed with so much.  I have always had the necessities of life. I have a safe and comfortable place to live.  I have clothes to wear.  I have never had to see my children go hungry. I find that much of the time I am blessed with not only my needs but so many of my wants as well.  I have family and friends that love and support me.  I have gifts and talents that have allowed me to recognize the joy of creation and connection.  And with all of these blessings swimming around in my head, the thing that I am most grateful for is my Savior Jesus Christ.  I am grateful that I know of Him and of His love for me.  I am grateful that I know Him and feel His presence in my life. And I am so very grateful that there is a way to move back across that seat when I have sinned and moved away from Him, either in not making room for Him in my excessive busyness, not taking time to read His word and communicated with Him in prayer, or even in much much bigger ways.  I am so grateful for His grace and for our access to that grace.  I am grateful that when I recognize that I have distanced myself from my Redeemer there is a way back and He welcomes it.
If you are feeling a distance between you and our Savior, I encourage you to examine your life and determine those things that are keeping you at an arms distance from Him. If they are big things, take care of them.  Confess and forsake the things that are holding you back from a relationship with Him.  If they are little things, slow down in the busyness of your life and look for ways to daily connect with Him.  As you do this, I know you will have more peace and contentment in your life.  You will find more to be grateful for.  You will find more hope.  You will recognize the joys of being anchored in Him.
Colossians 3:
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
17 And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Song: My Heart is Filled with Thankfulness by Kieth and Kristyn Getty

Today’s Challenge:

Video Challenge by Oléa:

Gratitude Challenge Day 6: Create Connections

Human beings are social creatures by nature and yearn for human connection.  Studies have shown that creating connections with others boosts happiness levels, improves health and increases the longevity of life.  Studies have also proven that connections with others will decrease anxiety and depression. One study I read even said that having no connections with others causes more health risks than obesity, smoking or even high blood pressure.  Who would not want the benefits of connection in their life?
Razwana Wahid said, “Connection is the magic that is born out of souls feeling at home when they are with each other.”  I love that!  I personally can think back on my life and vividly recall specific memories where I did feel completely at home with different people in my life. That was truly connection.
Some of the ways we can create connections throughout our day are by acts as simple as offering a smile, a compliment, or a hug to someone we see.  We can also send a text, make a phone call, or pause long enough in our busyness to have a conversations with someone. Some of these conversations can even be online in a group or on your own Facebook page.  It is the interaction with another soul that stimulates these feelings of connection.
What if we don’t feel like we belong?  What if creating connections with others does not come naturally?  What then? How do we create these crucial connections? To start with, it will require taking the risk of putting yourself out there, but it will be so worth it! There likely will be some rejection, but the more we authentically open ourselves up the greater the possibility there will be in finding those people we do connect with. They are out there! I think we often get in our own way in this pursuit.  We allow ourselves to have preconceived notions about ourselves and our interactions with others.  We tell ourselves we aren’t good enough, or interesting enough, or that no one will like us, or even that there is a reason we are alone.  I am here to tell you that isolation is one of Satan’s greatest tools.  If we allow him to create these feeling of inadequacy in us and do nothing to push them out or prove him wrong, we are in essence telling God that what He created is of no worth.  That is simply not true!  We are each individual masterpieces of our God.  We each deserve to feel the love and companionship of other people.  When we allow ourselves to be isolated by our own thoughts, we limit the good we can do in this world and we limit our happiness.  Please trust God more than you trust the father of all lies when it comes to how you see yourself and your ability to contribute to this world! Tell the devil to get out of your head and ask for courage from our Father to make the connections you absolutely deserve to have!
Once you get out of your own way, here are some suggestions on places you can create connections. First, decide on an interest you have that you would like to pursue or something new you would like to learn.  Then sign up for a class or join a group that will you accomplish this.  In those environments you are more likely to meet up with others that have interests in common with you and you will naturally have more to talk about.  You can also volunteer for a cause you believe in. Even online groups can help you connect with people who share common interests and beliefs.
The key in any group, physical or virtual, is to participate.  Get out of your comfort zone, make comments, respond to comments, ask questions, interact with the other people who are present. Another great tip in creating connections with others is to focus more on being interested rather than being interesting.  We have all had that one friend who seems to want to one up any story we share (or maybe we are that one friend).  Even if they are only excited about having had a common experience, it comes across uncaring and self-interested.  One way to not come across like this is to ask at least a couple of questions about the experience they are sharing and sincerely listen to what they have to say. Then when we go on to share a similar experience of our own it will not seem like we were so eager to talk about ourselves that we did not really care about what they were sharing.  We will find that this has a great impact on creating genuine friendships. One of the best contributors to a healthy relationship is listening for understanding.  I know that the people I love best in my life are the ones who I know care most, the ones who truly listen and are genuinely interested in me.
Ephesians 4:
2 With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;
3 Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Song: Happiness is Helping Others

Compassion by Andy Witt

Today’s Challenge:

Video Challenge by Oléa:

Gratitude Challenge Day 5: Compliment Genuinely and Generously

A number of years ago I was listening to an audio tape on which the speaker was explaining how the brain cannot tell the difference between negative thoughts directed at someone else and those directed at selves. If this is true about negativity then it is also true about positivity. The more that we think thoughts of appreciation and love the better we will feel. And if thinking them is good, then speaking them out loud is even better. In applying this concept the wonderful thing about a compliment is that it lifts us just as much as it lifts the person receiving it.
Now, I know that this might be hard for some people, especially if they did not grow up with this kind of environment in their home. But just because it is hard does not mean it is not worth doing. We can all learn to do things we have not done before or even how to get over the awkwardness of doing things that make us feel uncomfortable. The more we do it, the more comfortable it will become. This progress can be identified as what I have learned is called the stages of competency.
The first stage in the stages of competency is unconscious incompetency, or not knowing that you cannot do something. Stage two is conscious incompetency, or knowing that you cannot do something. The third stage is conscious competency, or being able to do something if you concentrate very hard. The final stage, or stage of mastery, is called unconscious competency, meaning that you have done something long enough that you are competent without thinking about it. We went through these stages when we learned how to walk and now we walk around as unconscious of the way to do it as we are of how to breathe. Every single time we learn a new thing we go through these same stages. I like the idea of being aware of where I am in the progression with new things I am learning. It helps me remember that I cannot compare my stage 2 to someone else’s stage 4. I am a work in progress with that particular thing, just like they were once a stage 2 as well.
So my challenge for you today is to be consciously competent whether you are comfortable giving compliments or not. Take the time to notice people around you, how they look, what they say, what they do and genuinely compliment them on something positive you notice. They will feel a lift in their day and so will you.
Our Savior has told us that when we do kind things for those around us, it is like we are doing it for Him. So take a moment and be conscious of what you are doing for those around you and treat them the way you would treat Jesus if He were standing in their shoes.
1 Peter 4:
8 And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves: for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.
9 Use hospitality one to another without grudging.
Song: Let it Start with Me by No Other Name

Today’s Challenge:

Day 5 Challenge Video by Oléa:

Gratitude Challenge Day 4: Be Present

One of the things that impedes joy the most in our current society is our choice to not be present. There are many things that we allow to distract us from our life, from learning, growing and progressing. The first thing that comes to mind when I think of distractions in my own life is my cell phone. It has many good uses. It allows me to research interesting facts or facilitate my scripture study. It helps me stay connected with friends and family. It give me tools through social media to maintain relationships that would otherwise be lost with distance. It gives me a platform to share my witness of Christ and to spread light. But when I am not intentional in how I use it, it can easily become an escape from life. I can spend hours scrolling on Facebook, pinning on Pinterest, or get completely sucked into a game. I can get caught up in feeling sorry for myself as I compare my life to the pictures of what my friends are experiencing in their lives. I can even become frustrated and discouraged with myself as I begin to believe I am not doing as well as some of them are in my role as a wife or mother. In essence comparing my “behind the scenes to their highlight reels”, as Pastor Steve Furtick wisely put it. All of these things distract me from living the kind of life I know God wants me to live. He wants me to love my life and find joy and gratitude in it. He wants me to be focused on growing closer to Him and learning how to live more like His son. He wants my time to be spent serving others and spreading His light and love to the world. And to do that best, I need to be present. I need to be aware of my time and how I am spending it. How often have I allowed opportunities of truly connecting with another person through conversation or participation in an activity because I was distracted by my phone? These lost experiences haunt me at times. It is something I need to do much better!

Another way that we get distracted from being present that is worth mentioning is when we choose to live either in the future or in the past. Some people spend so much time working and building the future they wish to have that they do so at the sacrifice of the present. They lose the moments that are happening now because they are so focused on what they hope is coming. Far more of us, I’m afraid, miss out on the present because we are too focused on what we have left behind. In a class I was taking a few years ago a woman who had lost her husband suddenly and had grieved deeply mentioned that she had to learn to stop coveting her old life. I found that profound! How often, especially in hard times, do we spend our days thinking about and wishing we had back the happiness and contentment we remember from a past time in our lives. I know I have spent good chunks of time in my life living in a fantasy that no longer exists, so caught up in this memory that I am not engaged in my present life, focused on improvement and gratitude of my current blessings. This can cause us to sacrifice current opportunities, desires, and even relationships. I know this in not what our Father wants for us. Of course He wants us to plan for the future and He wants us to learn from our past, but He wants us to live in our present. He wants us to enjoy the life we have, appreciate the blessings that are currently ours, focus on serving and loving the people around us, and He wants us to work on discovering and pursuing our own special purpose on earth. This is where our time is best spent, living, truly living in the present!

Romans 12:

1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Song: Love Like Jesus by Rhett Walker Band

Today’s Challenge:

Challenge Video by Oléa:

Gratitude Challenge Day 3: Positive Affirmations

A few months ago I was listening to an audio talk on happiness by one of my favorite speakers, Hank Smith.  He mentioned that the largest percent of our happiness can be traced to our DNA.  It’s actually genetic!  However, he also taught that it is still possible to increase the level of our happiness through intentional effort.  We can train ourselves to be happier than we would naturally be. Through practice we can get better at it.  I love that idea!  Practice makes progress!

It is also a scientific fact that our brain believes whatever we tell it.  If we tell ourselves we cannot do something, our brain believes us.  If we tell ourselves life is miserable, our brain believes us.  If we tell ourselves we are worthless, our brain believes us.  And the opposite is also true. If we tell ourselves we are capable of difficult things, our brain believes us.  If we tell ourselves life is beautiful, our brain believes us.  If we tell ourselves we have value, our brain believes us.  By the thoughts we feed our brain we can make our lives happier or more miserable.  Since our brain controls so much of our potential, the most important thing we can feed our brain is positive thoughts about ourselves.

Our Heavenly Father and Savior Jesus Christ love us so very much!  To them we have infinite value and divine potential. I’m sure that it makes them very sad when we don’t value their opinion of us. Recognize yourself for the child of God that you are and be kind to yourself!

Ephesians 5:
19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;
20 Giving thanks always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Song: Love Yourself by Justin Bieber (rewritten lyrics and beautiful video)

Gratitude affirmations:

Today’s Challenge:

Day 3 Challenge Video by Oléa:

Gratitude Challenge Day 2: Vocalized Appreciation

I believe most of us notice and appreciate the things other people do for us, but sometimes we are not very good at voicing our thankfulness. Some of us did not grow up in families where this was a common practice and either it just doesn’t come to mind or it makes us very uncomfortable to do so. Today’s challenge is about being mindful of these times and pushing past this discomfort. Think of a time you did something for someone else and they did thank you. How did it make you feel? We are divinely wired to have an increase in happiness not only when we are recognized for helping, but also when we recognize sacrifices made on our behalf. It may be uncomfortable at first to do something we are not used to doing, but I promise if you focus on the feeling you have after the voiced appreciation, it will get easier each time you do it. Give it a try today!

As we work on changing the neuropathways of I mind I want to share “The Coin Theory” with you. I was taught this theory a few years ago when I was going through a particularly hard time and the negative in my life was almost crushing. The counselor I was working with at the time shared it with me and I think of it often… If I were to give you a coin and ask you to look at the heads and tails of it at the same time, could you? No. Of course not. You have to choose which side you will focus on. Just because you focus on the heads side of the coin does not make the tails side disappear. It is still there. You are just choosing to dismiss it. The same would go for the other side of a coin. We have the same choice throughout each day of our life. There is both positive and negative that will happen each day. We can choose to focus on the positive or the negative. Just because we choose to focus on the positive does not mean the negative is not there. It simply means we are dismissing it and not giving it power over us.

Colossians 3:

15 And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.

Song: Thank You for Everything by Jason Gray

Today’s Challenge:

Day 2 Challenge Video by Oléa: