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Spreading holiday grace through humble gratitude

“If you are fortunate enough to bake, always share it because that keeps you humble and grateful.”

Katarina Mestrovich was known to our family as “Mama.” She was my Croatian grandmother who taught me how to bake bread, apple strudel and other goodies. Mama came over from what she referred to as the 'old country' (Croatia) 11 years after Papa arrived in the United States.

Papa built a house, got work and saved to bring his betrothed to the United States for a new life devoid of dictatorship. Mama said the journey was very difficult on a boat where she sat on the lower deck with her trunk of life belongings. Seasick people on the upper deck sometimes heaved onto the lower deck. Her hope kept her in strong form — along with gratitude for an opportunity to have a better life.

At Christmastime in her childhood, Mama said, she would receive either an apple or an orange. There were no other gifts. It was monumental since it was the only time of the year to experience one of those fruits. Poor farmers were not privy to a lavish lifestyle.

Mama's philosophy included eating all the food left on family member's plates at our Sunday dinners. Not only had she known a life of forced minimalism in Croatia, but experienced the Great Depression following her arrival to the United States. I feared she would burst sometimes from cleaning plates. “No wasting” was backbone to family life.

There was a feeling of inner peace in Mama's kitchen. She taught me to bless the bread dough, touching it gently with her hands. She would say in broken English, “Treat like baby.” Her eyes softened as she silently prayed over the dough, cutting a sign of the cross with a knife into the top of the dough, honoring Catholic symbolism. A gentle wave of calming peace would travel through my body like an internal massage. Mama's act brought an energy that showed me humble gratitude was core sustenance for heartfelt goodwill. She always shared her baked goods. I keep that tradition alive.

In my childhood in the 1950's a gift exchange took place that provided a contrast to Mama's style of giving. It was a forced, obligatory gift handed to me by a girl who drew my name in the gift exchange. I didn't have the words to describe the feeling of receiving it, but I knew it was not a happily given gift. It was partially shoved, partially dropped in my lap. It wasn't even fun opening it. Once I did, even though it was a nice little statue of a saint which normally would magnetize my attention into its presence, I didn't really want it and didn't feel true gratitude. I managed to say, “Thank you,” which came from my mental realm of memorized "good manners," not true heartfelt sentiment.

At that time I didn't consciously know “What comes from the heart, goes to the heart.” (Coleridge) What I remember from the incident was a tense kind of emptiness that felt cold. I am certain it was the feeling inside the giver that was passed onto me. Neither one of us gained grace from the fullness of a heart filled with inner peace, humility and gratitude.

The soul pays attention to the light that is carried on the energy frequency of a higher truth not dependent on materialism. The intention guides the level of heart energy given and received. At the same time, materialism, when coated in humble gratitude, can inject goodwill's medicine that spawns the light of inner peace.

Mama, in her simple ways, was an ambassador of inner peace. How fortunate that we dedicate time to goodwill which is a benevolent, compassionate acknowledgment and connection to others. May these precious life gems of humility, gratitude and goodwill bring you the joy of inner peace over these precious holidays that are dedicated to the same.

Janai Mestrovich, aka Grandma Boom, lives in Ashland, is an international speaker, self-help consultant and has taught at the University of Oregon and Southern Oregon University. Her books are available at Bloomsbury, Renaissance Rose and Amazon.com. Her website is: www.grandmaboom.com. Send 600 to 700 word articles on inner peace to Sally McKirgan innerpeaceforyou@live.com.