Tori Bivens is 28 years old and lives in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. She has served as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Specialist (CTRS) for Special Kids Therapy and Nursing Center for the past 7 years. She has a passion for children with special needs and seeing them overcome impossibilities. You can usually find her in Nashville at a concert, sporting event, or somewhere where she and her friends and sisters can be in the middle of the fun. She is a lover of learning and can be found listening to Bethel and TBCO podcasts anytime she’s in the car or walking her dog, Emmy. The one place where she feels she is able to really be at peace and recharge is with her family at Center Hill Lake.
“What do you want to do with your life?” is the dreaded question we are all asked as our years in high school come to an end. Most of the time, we have no idea how to answer that question, and desperately seek to find something to say to all those loved ones just trying to help us process the upcoming change. This was the question that I asked myself one night sitting on a beach while on vacation with my family during fall break of my junior year. When I came up short, I turned the question to God, asking Him what He wanted me to do.
From the time I was 10 years old, my relationship with Jesus is what makes me who I am and is the most important thing to me. So, after some time kneeling in prayer, I stood up and brushed the sand off my legs. Instantly, the words, “I want you to help kids like you,” hit me. I was shocked. I had never thought about helping children with disabilities before. Yes, I said disabilities.
I was born with a mild case of hemiplegic Cerebral Palsy affecting the right side of my body. My parents discovered my diagnosis when I began attempting to walk. The bottoms of my shoes were wearing differently, and I was favoring one side more than the other. From there, they fought for me to receive every therapy I needed to help me succeed, and never let me say “I can’t.”
I grew up in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, was the second oldest of five girls to a father that refused to have “girly” girls and to a creative, musically talented mother. We played every sport and were involved in every extracurricular activity.
My parents never let my disability be an excuse to sit on the sidelines. They took me to a place called Special Kids Therapy and Nursing Center in 1998, when I was 8 years old, and that is where I was introduced to children with more severe disabilities than my own. To me, these children were no different than I was.
Now, twenty years later, I am the Lead Recreational Therapist in the Nursing Center. I love my job because, to me, it’s a calling. That night on the beach was the beginning of a beautiful journey. I knew I had heard from the Lord and had been given a direction that I began running towards. In my search for a career, I found Recreational Therapy to be the path where I could impact and help this population that was so dear to my heart. After completing my Bachelor of Science in Therapeutic Recreation at Middle Tennessee State University, I returned as an intern to the place where, as a child with a disability, I was given hope. Soon, I was hired as a Certified Therapeutic Recreation Therapist (CTRS).
Every day I have the opportunity and honor to spend time with children that most of the world would dismiss, being too “uncomfortable” to acknowledge. The simplest way to explain what I do is to say I “play” for a living.
Play is one of the foundations by which we each learn. As children, we all explored with toys, played games, and interacted with peers through the structure of play. These things taught us social cues, how the world works, and gave us independence. Most of us will never know the difficulty of being wheelchair-bound, having little physical function, or being non-verbal while trying to navigate a play date.
Since Special Kids is a Christian, non- profit organization, I also have the unique opportunity to share my relationship and faith in Jesus Christ with the children I serve. To look into their eyes and tell them they are loved, worthy, intelligent, and important is one of the greatest joys I have experienced. I have had the opportunity to see how my own story of overcoming has impacted a child when they are struggling with dealing with being “different”. I have lived the struggle of telling my body to move a certain way and it not being able to do so, or being in a room full of healthy, “able” bodied peers and feeling like they were all staring at me because the brace on my leg made me look different. I have cried by myself wondering why I had to live with something most of the population will never have to face. I have been angry with my own body, rejected by peers, and frustrated with my circumstance, just like many of the kids I now serve.
But I also have realized the joy and uniqueness of my life. I have learned to celebrate even the smallest victories. I have deepened my faith in Jesus and myself, and been able to live a life of overcoming impossibilities given to me by doctors.I have learned to shift my perspective from disappointment to opportunity.
As I share my experience and learning with the children I serve, I am always awestruck at the flicker of hope that
flashes in their eyes.
I serve in my role as a CTRS because of the calling and passion my own life experiences have given me. Every person has a story that has made them who they are. Discovering what drives you–what burns deep within and fuels you to live a vibrant life–is the key to being impactful in a career of serving others.
ICYMI: We dropped SHEspeaks Episode 8 last week. Listen now!