Wednesday, November 23, 2011

So Very Thankful

The Truth about Gratitude
For the past eight years, I've felt immensely blessed to serve as a media ambassador and spokesperson for Portland Rescue Mission, a tremendously well-run organization in Portland, Oregon that serves not only the city's homeless, but men, women and children in desperate need of total life transformation.  On November 3rd, I served as emcee for PRM's Annual Celebration Banquet, beautifully titled "Voice of Truth."  Together with hundreds of supporters, staff members, graduates of their New Life Recovery program and those currently engaged in the program, I witnessed an evening brimming with messages of hope.  These messages were very difficult to process at first, as the stories of those served by the Mission were startlingly fraught with despair, addiction, abuse, neglect and broken relationships.  But as each new word flowed from members of the recovery program's point of change (soon after entering the program), positive affirmations sprouted like buds on a fruit tree: "I know I am loved." "I matter." "I can face each day with the hope of a better tomorrow."  Brave graduates also shared how those encouraging words soon blossomed into truths - those that drive thoughts and actions every minute of every day, radically changing the course of a person's life - bearing fruit to restore relationships, break addictions and illuminate hope.

As I interviewed program graduates onstage, hugged them backstage and continued to share more stories of transformation with the audience, I was struck by the importance truth plays in all our lives.  While I have not experienced homelessness firsthand, I have known pain, loss and have we all.  There is a very fine line separating haves and have-nots, often dictated by circumstances beyond our control: a truth we cannot and should not ignore.  What constitutes a life of purpose and substance is gratitude, though.  Each graduate radiated gratitude with such a wattage I've only previously observed by fireworks and my husband's attempts at Christmas light displays...magnetic in its attraction.  So much so that you can't look away, but only stare in wonderment.  

On the eve of Thanksgiving, I find myself thinking back to their gratitude and praying to be a person worthy of all the blessings God has bestowed in my life...especially to be front-and-center to such life-affirming evenings as November 3rd.  I am more grateful than I can adequately express for my family and those who have given so much to us over the years.  I am so very grateful for my husband's military service and his brothers and sisters in arms who dedicate their lives to the safety and solidarity of our country.  I am also grateful for reminders - tuggings of the heart - of that which is good and right and hopeful about the life we are each given.  To be fulfilled, we must be grateful for the One who gives us life and the ability He has given us to serve others.  This is a truth I absolutely, without a doubt, know is ripe for the picking.

Fruitful Life
In the spirit of gratitude and "ripe fruit," my family started a new tradition - albeit a very simple one.  We attempted a new and nourishing Fall treat with the acorn squash so prevalent in our area.  What was once a neglected item in our garden (feared by some and loathed by others), was plucked and primed for new life.  I am a fan of TV's toughest trainer Jillian Michaels, whose website is overflowing with wonderful tips for healthy living.  One of her featured recipes transforms acorn squash from an (and I quote) "icky orange thing" to a deliciously sweet and satisfying meal topper.  (*Side note: I can feel the eye-rolling from those of you who have been longtime fans of squash...I know, I know.  My family and I judged this delectable vegetable too harshly far too long...forgive us.  We are ever evolving, I confess.)  

Her recipe first called for the halving and scooping of each acorn squash.  The halves were then placed (scooped side down) in a thin pool of water in a shallow baking pan.  While they baked in a 350 degree oven for 50 minutes, I combined butter, pecans, brown sugar, cinnamon and ginger in a saucepan and let it simmer into a fabulously smelling mixture, filling our home with the alluring aroma of Fall.  Once the squash was fully cooked and wonderfully soft, each was filled with the warm pecan mixture and enjoyed to the last bite.

This was our way of giving thanks for the blessings we too often neglect or castoff because we don't quite know how to conceptualize them...a wonderful reminder, yet again, of how gratitude can bear hope in a life well lived and loved.

And how were my children giving thanks for their blessings while I was slaving over the stove?  The squeals of delight in simply being beautifully silly while sister pushed brother in her doll stroller were expression enough!  I am grateful they have the freedom to be children and the desire to make each other (and their parents) laugh.  Ah, to be young!

Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."

This Thanksgiving I urge us all to share our gratitude with those around us who have petitioned on our behalf for the life we are all so blessed to live...our loved ones, our military and our community leaders - those that hold our needs in high esteem - and our loving Creator, who gives us hope and provides us with truth each and every day.

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