By Kirste Richards, UGM Counselor
Gratitude plays an important role in my ministry as a counselor at the UGM Center for Women and Children in Coeur d’Alene. It is an important part of my personal life as I strive for excellence in meeting the needs of each individual woman God sends to the Center. And it is also an important part of what I have to offer to women who are seeking relief from suffering, freedom from bondage, and life transformation.
Women come here to find a new way of life. They are hoping to end the cycle of addiction, homelessness, and abuse for themselves and for their children. They are reaching out in hope of lasting change.
In seeking change, we seek to understand what got us where we didn’t want to go. The Apostle Paul describes in Romans 1:21-32 the destructive patterns that we fall into when we turn away from Him and in our confusion attempt to solve our problems in our own ways. This only leads to more chaos in our lives. The beginning of this downward spiral is that humanity “did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him.” The beginning of healing is to reverse the process by honoring God and thanking Him.
It is not only Scripture that tells us gratitude is essential to health and stability. Scientific research is confirming this truth by revealing how the brain changes and how our ability to tolerate stress increases when we express what we are grateful for, and even more when we express appreciation to the One responsible for our blessings.
Part of my role at UGM is to support the women in their first weeks and months at UGM. Settling into a new community with a new routine and expectations can be challenging and anxiety-producing. More women leave our program in the first month than at any other time. One of the greatest things I can offer to help them through this stressful time is to invite them to join me as I pursue gratitude as a way of life.
Together, the new residents and I reflect on what has gone well each week and what we are grateful for in the midst of challenges. As a group, we see more blessings in our lives than when we do this reflection alone. We take time to thank the Lord for how He is showing His faithfulness to us. And we write it down to help us remember so we will not fall into the age-old trap of forgetting to be thankful and the downward spiral that follows.
As we practice recognizing when we are getting anxious and stopping the anxiety from escalating by looking for God’s provision in the moment and thanking Him, we build up a storehouse of memories of God meeting our need.
Recently I accompanied one of our residents to court as she faced the pain of terminating her parental rights. Unfortunately, we had the wrong information and were waiting in the wrong building. As the time for her appearance approached, a woman entered the building, surprised to see us. She knew the resident and knew that we needed to be in a different place. The resident immediately thanked God for providing the information that we needed and we were off, without a minute to spare. What could have caused her to panic actually gave her a sense of peace because she chose gratitude in a stressful moment.
I am infinitely grateful to God for the way He reveals Himself to the women at the Center. I am grateful for judges who have shown mercy. I am grateful for rides provided when women didn’t know how to get to appointments. I am grateful for renewed communication with family. I am grateful for clear thinking for women whose minds have been clouded by substance abuse. I am grateful to see two months of sobriety after 23 years of addiction. I am grateful for friendships after years of isolation. I am grateful for education and career goals that used to seem out of reach. And I am grateful for new and renewed commitments of faith.
I am grateful to God for the way that He reveals Himself to me as He provides what we need in order to offer a safe and healing environment to women on their journey of life transformation. I am grateful for a beautiful, peaceful facility. I am grateful for a clinic where women can take steps toward physical health. I am grateful for healthy meals and the hands that prepare them. I am grateful for financial partners who are vessels of His provision. I am grateful for faithful co-workers who encourage me. I am grateful for volunteers who love, serve and share their own stories of gratitude.
I am grateful for the Holy Spirit who guides and provides wisdom when the best option is not easy or obvious. I am grateful for a grace-based program that helps women have the courage to try again. And I am grateful for the hope that we all have in Christ as we walk this journey of transformation together.
During this season of Thanksgiving, will you join me, and the women of the Center, as we pursue a life of gratitude, exchanging anxiety for a habit of giving thanks?
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. - Philippians 4:6 (NIV)
One thing that can help us practice gratitude is to reflect on what Jesus did for us in becoming a man and walking on this earth. Click below to download our free Advent devotional.