In his foreword to RADICAL GRATITUDE, Charles Colson says, "Few authors have dealt with the subject [of gratitude], certainly not in the very practical way that Ellen does in this book. Properly understood, the daily practice of thankfulness to God is a transforming tool of divine proportions."
Vaughn has collaborated with Chuck Colson on eight nonfiction books, and the format of RADICAL GRATITUDE may seem familiar to Colson readers. You'll find a strong personal, anecdotal voice, starting with the first line of the first chapter: "It was the day I had dreaded all my life." The chapter relates the scene of her mother's death and introduces the topic of gratitude and renewal: "The doorway of death unleashed an absolute flood of gratitude that has rushed like a river over my life, reconfiguring my landscapes."
But this is a "teaching" book more than a memoir. The second chapter, for instance, introduces Scriptures about and classic definitions of gratitude, particularly those of Jonathan Edwards, who distinguished "natural gratitude" --- for gifts --- from "gracious gratitude" that "gives thanks for who God is."
Other chapters roll out illustrative feature-type, third-person anecdotes, usually based on interviews: Father Jenco, a hostage in Lebanon in the 1980s; Paul Galanti, a POW in North Vietnam; Bob Meyers, a widower who lost a brother at the hands of the Washington sniper in 2002; and the rape recovery of a pseudonymous congressman's wife.
Vaughn lays out a strong gospel message, followed by an extended emphasis on repentance in the context of "overcoming obstacles" that "block us from joyfully thanking God for our own rescue." Then, halfway through the book, she turns to "four things that we can do to practice the presence of gratitude," which in turn have a snowball effect, gratitude leading to gratitude.
"First, we remember" --- our enslavement, our deliverance, our Deliverer; in this context Vaughn vulnerably tells of her struggle with chronic depression and God's deliverance, even if through medication. "Second, we forget" --- our sins, our shame, our personal successes. "Third, we look up to God" --- on this point she turns largely to Scripture reflection and a third-person anecdote. "Fourth, we look around to His people" --- this chapter includes moving accounts of Vaughn's visits with Christians in Eastern Europe.
A final part of the book, "Everyday Gratitude," discusses "practical things we can do to cultivate a grateful heart.... These hold the keys to the secret of responding to the same old stimuli in new ways...so we experience different results than just life as usual." The "things" aren't actions as much as awarenesses of various physical objects --- Ebenezer or remembrance stones --- and sensory triggers that remind one of the good. "God has designed us so that senses can serve as powerful Ebenezers of His faithfulness, and thereby be triggers of gratitude."
At the end RADICAL GRATITUDE is a reminder that one's positive mindset doesn't have to correlate with positive life circumstances, but rather with our acceptance of grace and our habits of looking for its signs everyday.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on March 22, 2005