My heart burdened as the destruction from Hurricane Sandy continues to unfold on the news channels and across the Internet. So many lives have been impacted through a series of commonly shared moments, and the outcome is difficult to grasp. Yet as I read accounts and interviews with those directly impacted by the path of the storm, one thread runs throughout each; gratitude. Over and over again, in spite of flooding, fire, freezing temperatures and no electricity, resounding statements of sheer gratitude for life push their way to the surface of insurmountable devastation.
“I feel like we are blessed. It could have been worse.”
“I am thankful I am alive.”
“I lost everything, but not my life.”
“At least I still have my upstairs to live in.”
“We will come back from this, and life will be good again.”
The human spirit is quite amazing! There is an old Aesop’s Fable which states, “Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.” The dictionary defines “noble” as an exalted moral or mental character or excellence. Gratitude is a choice to be noble. Through each of our daily moments, we are given the opportunity to choose whether we will be oblivious to them, drown in them, grow bitter through them or find some tidbit of gratitude to pull from them. The choice comes at an even greater price when the nature of our moments reveals no tangible future. It is during these moments, we become people of character with noble souls.
We were created for gratitude. The act of genuine gratitude connects us to the very heart of God and gives access for his healing and blessings. When we are willing to offer up gratitude in its richest and purest form, we tap into the powerful tenacity to push through the most grueling of circumstances. What we find on the other side is perspective, and in turn, new found perspective offers a peace which cannot be defined, only lived. It is in this still, quiet place of living that we discover grace and beauty hidden like a pearl inside of each moment.
I have been reminded continually of the process of gratitude throughout the past year in my own life. Losing my brother to suicide, the threat of both me and my husband losing our jobs within the next few weeks, a mortgage and growing college expenses are among the most prominent. If I am not diligent in searching out the beauty of my moments, I can get lost in the weight of such painful losses and overwhelming burdens. The result is that I will miss the very moments which hold the promise of peace, security and hope, which are the very things my soul yearns to experience once again.
These situations were on my mind as I left the retreat center where I work, traveling down the familiar, long driveway to get to the dirt road. Near the entrance once stood a tall black olive tree with leaves a mixture of red, yellow and green. In doing a little research, I learned that the olive tree, though considered rather ordinary in appearance and stature, has long been a symbol of peace, victory, and the enduring life.
There was nothing special about this tree, as it was the last in a long line of black olive trees which lined the driveway. Several years ago it was snapped like a brittle toothpick by a series of hurricanes which caused quite a bit of damage to our property. Weather has continued to tear away at the remains, and humidity has darkened the trunk with mold, making the tree rings virtually invisible. I have driven by the split trunk countless times, radio blaring and in a hurry to get home. Today, movement caught my attention, and as I glanced out my window, this prominent picture came directly into view. How could I have not taken notice of such a beautifully formed heart before? How many years has it stood, ready to greet me each morning as I raced into work with my mind drifting to the tasks of the day?
Yet today, there it stood, beckoning me to find a quieted peace in the turmoil and challenging me to expect victory when all signs point to impending doom. Although the trunk looks battered, splintered and bruised, and it no longer bears fruit, a symbol of enduring life is on display for all to see. What a perfect moment! What a peaceful perspective! What a noble opportunity for gratitude!
“This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!” Psalm 118:24