During November, a lot of people take time to reflect on gratitude. We see our friends making daily social media posts expressing specific things they are thankful for.
As followers of Christ, our gratitude is even richer:
We know the Person responsible. Every day, we experience the gifts of grace and salvation. We see His hand in the details of our lives - relationships, true meaning and deep joy. “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17).
We have far too much to be thankful for to keep it to one month of the year. I don’t have room to list every good and perfect gift God has given me. But it’s easy for me to look around UGM and be thankful for the lives He has transformed. Here are just a few.
I’m thankful for a community that has a generous heart toward their poor neighbors. It is a miracle in itself that a comprehensive ministry like UGM can exist without government assistance or a huge private endowment. Our free services to the homeless are possible because of the faithful generosity of our neighbors.
I’m thankful for the heart-driven hard work our staff and volunteers do every single day to make sure people experiencing crisis – or even decades of brokenness and self-destruction – have a safe place to go to turn their lives around.
I’m thankful for each man who chooses to come to our clean-and-sober shelter so he can rebuild his life. James, who came from prison, didn't trust anyone when he arrived at UGM. "My dad wasn't in my life, so having a counselor was challenging at first, but I love and respect Joe [his UGM counselor] now. He is patient and smart. He listens to me and I can trust what he says. And that opens up other relationships, especially with God."
James was recently baptized. “When I woke up that morning, I was so nervous. I had never seen a baptism. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. I wanted to run, but I gave myself to Jesus back in January in chapel with Ron Molina. It was time to celebrate that, so I prayed and asked God for what I needed. And then all my brothers showed up. That was just what I needed. I never had a family. The pastor (at Summit U) said, ‘When you come up out of the water, you will be a new creation.’ It was powerful.” I am thankful that one day James and I will be together in paradise. Nothing matters more than that.
I’m thankful for each woman who comes to UGM from an abusive or unsafe situation, so she and her kids can have a chance for a healthy home and a future. Gwendolyn had lost custody of her kids when she first came to the Crisis Shelter: “The only thing that was keeping me alive was my children, and they were taken from me. And I didn’t think I would ever see them again. And people [at the shelter] kept reassuring me, ‘No, you have a purpose. We’ll get through this together.’ And now I have my babies. … I came from nothing, felt like nothing, and now I have a purpose and I believe in myself because others believed in me.”
I’m thankful for Nichole, who is now in UGM LIFE Recovery and her longest time sober since she was 17. What’s the difference this time around? “I’ve learned to find my voice. I’ve always been afraid to be me and say what I’m really feeling. I just went along with what I thought everybody wanted to hear, and now, I realize it’s OK to have my own opinion and I’ve found that there’s power in having those hard conversations. My voice is unique. It doesn’t have to be like everybody else.”
I’m thankful for Dustin, who came to UGM from a past filled with trauma and fear: “God has ripped the fear right out of me. I feel the Holy Spirit in me, and I have more joy and happiness and hope and plans for the future. I can see it in me. Even my eyes are different.”
I’m thankful for Tara, who is becoming a better mom because of the relationship with God she found through LIFE Recovery: “It has given me the confidence to be a good parent. … Without Him and this program, I couldn’t do it. I have the tools to live a sober life with my family.”
I’m thankful for Crystal, who is growing more like Jesus through LIFE Recovery: “I’ve become more God-dependent. I have found my identity in Christ. I know what a healthy support system looks like. I’ve opened my heart for meaningful relationships. My anxiety was a living hell and now I have the tools to control my emotions. Praise God!”
I’m thankful for Dusty, who has turned her life around and found meaningful work at the UGM Thrift Stores. "I love this store. I feel like it’s my way to give back. If somebody sees that I could change, I could have a productive, sober, God-dependent life, then maybe that will make an impact on their life. Maybe they’ll make that first step on changing their life as well.”
That is the main thing I’m thankful for: God changes hearts, and that’s how lives are really changed. Praise God!
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