Choosing to be Grateful – Finding Gratitude in the Firestorm

by Jen Johnson

There are two months that have been the most powerful for me in the 4 years that I have been part of the MWC community:  November & December. These months are precious to me because it is when I am reminded of what sustains me through every challenge:  gratitude for all I experience and allowing the light within me to shine through me onto others.

It is a difficult time of year for many of us but for me personally, it brings an extra punch as my husband died the day after Christmas.

As I look back over my adult life, most major life changes have taken place in the fall & winter and this year is no exception.  I’m sure you have all seen through the media that my beloved city in which I live (Thousand Oaks, CA) and the surrounding areas have experienced great devastation this past week in both the Borderline shootings and the fires that ensued in the days following that tragedy.

I have dropped to my literal and figurative knees several times in the past few days in prayer and gratitude as we were on the cusp of losing our home a couple of times.  The fire found it’s way to the very perimeter of my condo complex and with hurricane force winds blowing embers every different direction, it is a miracle that firefighters (and a few of my neighbors who defied evacuation orders) were able to keep it from reaching our homes. While they battled the flames, I battled the thought of potentially having to rebuild an entire life a second time after spending the past 6 years rebuilding from the devastating loss of my late husband. It was crushing on my mind and soul.

They are events that have deeply impacted our region but they have also become another part in my personal grief story having brought up many grief-related emotions. Knowing that they happened in November also adds another punch to this time of the year for me.  Yet like the past 5 holiday seasons of my journey, I will choose to stay focused on what remains.  I choose to come at this season from a place of gratitude for what I currently have and what gifts lie in the deep.

I speak the words, “I am grateful” often, and I know those specific words have become so overused that it loses its significance. When I say to them, it is absolutely from a place so pure and deep within me, I hope to convey how grateful I truly feel. Today is no different.

I know that I’m resilient enough to do it, but no one should ever have to face climbing a mountain like that TWICE. Most unbearable to me was the mere idea of having to tell my boys that THEY would have a to face a second traumatic loss in their young lifetimes.

After several days of being evacuated, we were able to come back to our unscathed home.  Sure, there is a lot to cleanup and it will take our region a long time to recover but my physical existence is in tact.  It is an existence that I do not in the least bit take for granted.

As I lay in my bed now while I write this, I am overwhelmingly thankful for this life, my family, my friends, and my HOME, I feel that honestly, not even the purest form of the word “gratitude” covers it. When you’ve been brought to your knees, you view life differently forever.

Gratitude is not a fleeting emotion. It is part of your every breath because you know what you stand to lose. With so many in our area who have lost homes, have lost their lives in the Borderline tragedy, who are mourning one or both of those losses and face the rebuilding process, or are hoping and fighting for their existence because fires are still being battled around them, we are INCREDIBLY lucky to be alive and to be able to come home and sleep in our beds tonight.

Fire does not discriminate, much like widowhood.  Everything we know can go up in smoke at any given moment so all we can do is be in constant gratitude for what we currently have.  It is both a huge lesson and gift in this journey to see what we’ve been given with wide, open eyes because of what we’ve been through.

Choose to walk through this season knowing that there is so much joy and life to be grateful for within the firestorm and among the rubble left behind. Our existence will never be the same but we can choose to embrace what is left.