Last week, I called my friend in Chico, California, after hearing news of the most recent wildfires raging out West. He and his wife had evacuated their home and were staying with friends. After several days anxiously wondering what had happened to their home, they were notified that, while there was some minor damage, their home was still standing. His brother’s family, who lived in nearby Paradise, wasn’t so lucky. Their home had been burned to the ground. They hadn’t been able to get to the house to retrieve any possessions before the fire came. Everything was gone.
I looked out the window as we spoke. Only minutes earlier, I had been complaining about this year’s early onset of winter. Now, I was grateful to be in Minnesota, far away from the catastrophe that had fallen on thousands of families in California.
There are many things in my life I am thankful for – family, friends, time at the cabin, music, my new job as President of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. But too often we itemize our list of things that “make us happy” – comparing it to the things we are unhappy about, or perhaps to our neighbor’s seemingly longer list. Watching what my friend’s family is going through, I realize how foolish it is to depend upon things to make us happy. Things are fleeting. Lists don’t measure happiness. Objects don’t make us grateful.
Gratitude is defined as “the quality of being thankful.” There is a permanence to gratitude that exists beyond any item one can accumulate. At Habitat, that permanence isn’t the home that we help a family build and buy. It is the feeling a parent has knowing they are providing the rock upon which their children's success will be built. I have witnessed this type of gratitude many times since joining Habitat – particularly at home dedications. It fills me with joy to watch little children running (or jumping, photo below) around their new home.
We are reminded nearly every day of the struggles and hardships too many in our community face. The homeless encampment in South Minneapolis is one that is particularly vivid. The sight of school buses stopping at the encampment is heartbreaking. Many community members have stepped up to provide food, clothing, blankets, and other necessities. And I am sure folks in the encampment are thankful for those items. But a true state of gratitude seems an unlikely find amid the tents and campfires of the makeshift village.
As we celebrate Thanksgiving, and look toward the Christmas holidays beyond, let’s pause and be truly grateful for our lives and for those things that are a permanent part of who we are. Let us remember those near and far that are struggling. And let us lift up the mission of Habitat and others to ease the hardships too many are facing in this world. Let us spread gratitude wherever we go.