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Saturday, November 25, 2017


everyday at 3:20 an alarm goes off on my phone.  the alarm is labeled gratitude bell.  if you are with me when it goes off, i tell you about it and then ask you what you are grateful for.  my kids, who are typically with me at this time of day, know the drill.  their friends know it as well.  the guy at gene's fine foods knows it.  every guest at joanne's birthday bash knows it...  it is sort of a thing.

i got the idea from my ever thinking and always intentional friend, sally.  she has a lot of good ideas.

my phone has been forcing this tradition on everyone within earshot of its ring for a little under a year.  the answers range from simple things, like "pretzels", to big things, like "cancer free".  it depends on who is responding and how they feel at the moment.  sometimes the answers are forced, like when the bell interrupts an argument with my teenager, and sometimes they are very thought out, like when sitting with a group of gal-pals on a get-away to carmel.

my middle daughter was born with a grateful heart.  recently, she came up with a song slightly mimicking a tune from the movie "annie".  the lyrics are simple so it won't translate as well on the page as it does in person, but it goes like this...

"mommy, i love you.  daddy, i love you.  mommy, i love you.  daddy, i love you..."  and it goes on for a few repetitions.  she has been erupting into this song as of late when the mr. and i are together with her doing some sort of family centered thing.

this weekend she broke into the song while playing monopoly and again while hiking, grabbing both of our hands and singing the sweet melodic tune.  poppy has caught the feeling and often jumps in and sings along.

9 years ago, on thanksgiving night, my momma was hit by a car.  it sort of changed a lot of things for her.  and for me.  and especially for my sister.

to get a smidge of perspective on what that weekend following thanksgiving looked like in 2008 click this link and then come back (it's short, i promise)

Sandy: 2008

yesterday, the fam and i arose early and headed up to santa rosa to go to safari west.  earlier in october, i had read this story.

if you don't want to read the link, (although, i really think you should.  it is that incredible!), the summary is that the safari owner, who lives in santa rosa, stayed behind and fought the tubbs fire through the night to save the animals.  he didn't lose a single one.  he saved 900 animals as his property was being encroached upon from many different angles by an angry fire.  in the process, he lost his family home.

when i read this story and then read that they were re-opening thanksgiving week, i HAD to go.  that is a business i MUST support.

as we exited the highway and took the winding roads towards safari west, my eyes were in disbelief.  we passed property after property of proudly standing fireplace chimneys amidst piles of rubble.  on some of the properties you could see burnt up car frames,  the shell of an appliance, a melted carport...  and our jaws dropped and our hearts ached.

you can read about devastation and disaster, and that can wreck you.

but little prepares you for the visual.

and as i sat in the front of my car seeing plot after plot of devastation, i was hit with the thought.  THIS didn't even HAPPEN to ME.   and my heart broke further because in each pile of rubble i could imagine a child hunched over a math book, or a momma rocking a baby, or a birthday party with extended family or a kiss between two loved ones or a child playing in the yard...  these plots, marked by proud standing, almost untouched chimneys, represented homes.  scattered all over the bay area and beyond are people who once DID LIFE in these remnants.  the fire happened to them.

i can't even begin to imagine their heartache.  it's too much.

and then we pulled off the road onto the safari west grounds.  the transition from tragedy and devastation and loss to "yay!  animal safari!" was a challenge for me.

off in the distance were mountain tops of scorched earth, while right in front of me was african majesty.

and slowly, ever so slowly, we all settled in.  our eyes and our hearts stopped fixated on what we had seen on our way into safari west and focused on what was in front of us.  the animals were beautiful in every way and our guides' love for them was infectious.  she knew their names.  she burst forth with facts and information that was fascinating.  her heart beat outside of her and her love for these animals (and a joy to be back on the job) was palpable.

somewhere, midway through the tour, she pointed to the green grass and the base of the trees, right in the midst of two animal enclosures.

"we recently planted new grass after the fire and it is starting to take hold.  you can see how close the fire got from the scorched bases of the trees."


i saw scorched tree tops in the distance but i hadn't noticed just how close, just how threatening this fire was to this animal preserve.  i had read about it.  yes.  but once i settled into the tour, i had assumed that the fire hadn't encroached so closely to the preserve.

and as our tour came to an end, we rounded the front side of the property.  about 100 yards beyond the storage sheds (slightly hid by machinery) was a chimney standing in a pile of rubble.  as soon as i saw it, i knew.  that was where the owner had lived.  i had assumed, after reading the article, that the owner lived somewhere off property in the hills of santa rosa.  i had no idea that the fire had been RIGHT HERE.  yards from the birds and the monkeys and the giraffes.

we finished our tour, had a lovely picnic and then went on with our day.  we ended the day with a lovely (tasha style) thanksgiving dinner at solbar and then family game night in our hotel room.  there was lots of laughter at the centered around a mean game of monopoly.

in spite of the sadness that we encountered, the buser family had a lovely thanksgiving in the napa valley.

through it all, i pondered gratitude.  gratitude is more than a daily bell on your iPhone.  but that bell is a start.  (go ahead!  pick a time when your peeps are typically together and set an alarm on your phone.  it's an amazing daily moment.  sometimes forced.  sometimes authentic.  but always pushing your heart to recognize that THERE IS ALWAYS SOMETHING  to be GRATEFUL for.)

gratitude is about PERSPECTIVE.

gratitude is a way of life.  sometimes it is forced.  sometimes, like with my d, it erupts out of you naturally.  both are good.

nine years ago, on this very day, my heart was filled with gratitude for a momma that had made it through the night...  when she should not have.

days later we learned that she would have died had it not been for a brain aneurysm and a surgery that removed part of her brain many years prior.

my sisters and i were thankful.  thankful for another day and thankful for a life-altering, body-paralyzing thing, an aneurism,  that she had lived through and now gave her more life.  and when the doctors told us how she had survived, why she had survived after being hit by a car with bleeding on her brain, we were thankful...  and yet gratitude was a challenge.  not because we weren't thankful for her living, because WE WERE, but because we didn't know what the next day and the next day after that would look like.

and as i put all of this together, my momma and a fire and a man who rescued his life-long work of creating an animal sanctuary (while loosing his home), i am realizing that gratitude has to be VOID of the future.  it has to be a heart for the RIGHT NOW and what is RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU.

when worry and fear and anxiety take precedence over what is real and tangible and right here, gratitude is hard to find.

a heart of gratitude can be cultivated, for sure.  the bell goes off each day.  and the person that hears responds with the thing that is right in front of them.  they claim it.  they say it aloud.  and by giving it sound and a voice, gratitude becomes a thing.  the posture of the heart changes and suddenly, where there is nothing, no notice, no awareness, there is a momentum towards appreciation for what we do have.

it is a gentle momentum...  from the unaware to the aware.  from the "no voice" to the "voice".  it happens in the easy and it can also happen in the hard.  but if we don't cultivate it, grow it, nurture it, sometimes force it, it doesn't have a chance to gain momentum.

and as suburban momma always does, she thinks about a God who is in charge of it all.  i would never wish a paralyzed arm and paralyzed leg on my momma.  i would never wish a firefighting night of feeling totally alone and helpless on peter lang, the owner of safari west.  i would never wish for cancer or the death of a child or financial ruin or divorce or... you fill in the blank on anyone, but sometimes...  sometimes... that exact thing causes a person to see jesus.

i see jesus in the fact that suburban momma survived her momma's aneurism 42 years ago when a baby should not have lived.

i saw jesus when the momma that birthed me lived again after a 3,500 lb. vehicle collided with my 135 lb. momma.

and i am pretty certain that peter lang, the owner of safari west, saw jesus when the sun rose around him the night after he fought the tubbs fire in santa rosa.

the last verse of genesis, chapter 1, after God had created the earth and put His plan into motion, He said, "and it was good."

He knew what lie ahead for you.  He knew what lie ahead for me. and He knew about EVERYONE in between.  in spite of the challenges along the way, He believed it to be good.

so as for me, i am going to celebrate the good.  i am going to look for the moments and the things that can eclipse my heart with gratitude.  i am going to claim them.  i am going to verbalize them.  i am going to share them.  i will let those things mold my heart and celebrate that in this world, amidst the hard, is a whole lot to find gratitude for.