Picture it: You walk into a room for the first time. You feel the heavy flash flood of calculating and quantifying eyes. Immediately, that nasty little voice in your head starts throwing out the albeit distorted, but believed negatives questioning who you are you’re your value in the space. You feel your mind suit up with carefully crafted armor. Questions and witty quips begin to roll through your mind like a fog coating a rolling hillside. And it is all in preparation.. for what?: to define our identity and find comfort in every environment….just a long-winded way to say we all are seeking Acceptance.

“Acceptance – PFO honors each and every person as an individual who is deserving of love and belonging. Although we may look, think, or act differently, at the core we are all the same. ” As a core piece of PFO’s spirit, I Still reflect on and think back to my first day at the Annual Retreat. I’ll give you the scenario. I’m to arrive at 9:30 AM. I’ve met Kelsey, Jen, and co-president Anna Harden. There are 83 teens, 12 advisors, and the most organized schedule of events I have seen since I graduated high school. IE- GREAT SCOTT BATMAN, WHAT AM I IN FOR?!? Armed with a Tie-Dye Advisor T-Shirt (Whew, I won’t be mistaken for a new teen…yes, it still happens THANK YOU) and a name tag, I step down from my car and boldly take my first few steps forward.

And then you step the PFO spirit space. Classic PFO Dance Party. Music Blaring, Voices Belting, and Hugs abounding. It was an amazing sight to see and experience. But, this wasn’t my first time at the retreat rodeo. I full expected the energy to dissipate, cliques to form, someone will fall asleep during a speaker. I kept expecting and then waiting and then got tired of waiting. That genuine sense of love and acceptance never found a leak or imperfection. It kept transferring with lightning speed between all of us, expanding and contracting with however the energy was directed. Every inch of my being was a part of that ever shifting network of acceptance. It was spun with love, woven with intention, and secured my experience and own acceptance of the connection.

In being in that space, I left the retreat feeling turned inside out. I was baffled by my own privilege of Acceptance. My parents and peers fostered that for most of my life. I had never known what it was like to feel like I had to misrepresent myself to find it. But, it was another experience to be embraced in acceptance. I find this to be an especially pertinent value to gain some clarity on during this time of Thanksgiving and celebration. It is a great place of humility to find yourself in the realization that you have experienced the consistent gift of Acceptance. It’s the time of year where there seems to be just a little bit more room in our hearts to embrace all those people and moments that rejected us for who we are and reject their rejection. Knowing full well that self acceptance is, in my opinion, the most important piece to this puzzle. To quote the infamous Drag Queen RuPaul, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the HELL are you going to love anybody else? Can I get an AMEN!”

Seeing and hearing so many beautiful hearts express the overwhelming sensation that PFO can bring of Acceptance was both a blessing and a moment to reflect. Why are so many of our youth still searching for tasting Acceptance of Self for the first time? Is it all too easy for us to forget just how essential Acceptance is to the human spirit? It goes beyond the acceptance of who you are; it laserfocuses to YOU.ARE. You are alive, your existence is known, and most importantly, your essence is worthy of love beyond measure. Acceptance inspires the love that we chase after with child-like obsession.