By Lara Helfer

Gratitude, at least for me, is about finding joy in what is. Pre-STAR, I lived in a world of “if only” or “what if” – of a world of past or future – never firmly rooted in the beautiful present. Yet it is only in noticing what is going on for us right now that we truly experience joy, and gratitude for whatever brings us that joy.

The thing about gratitude is that it is self-perpetuating. In the midst of a ridiculously busy day, it is easy for me to think, “Wow, I have a lot I have to do tonight before I sleep.” Yet, when I remember—and the more I practice gratitude, the more I remember how deeply grateful I am—it  is so easy to see, instead that I am so lucky to have a good job, to be going home to a spouse I deeply love, to have this opportunity to study for seminary while completing work in my prior field, and the list goes on. In short, if can remember to notice the world right around me, I have so, so much to be thankful for. And as I open my mouth, or my heart, to express gratitude for a simple thing—a beautiful piece of summer fruit—I become aware of the multitude of other things that make my heart sing. As I notice each moment in gratefulness, the circle of gratitude becomes ever more layered, and yet more beauty emerges.

And this is not unique to me. We all, in both the most peaceful and most challenging times in our lives, have much to be thankful for. When my prior spouse was dying of cancer, that was not exactly my frame of mind, admittedly, but as she became increasingly ill, as her body shut down, her heart opened ever wider. This beautiful woman, who had such unresolved childhood trauma, found a way to deeply, with her entire being, connect with the world before she left it. This was a gift of which she was deeply aware and immensely grateful. She died in peace, a peace that had evaded her during most of her 50 years on earth.

On the more challenging days in my life, I often turn my gratitude to STAR and to all of you. You wonderful beings—human and canine alike—who help make the STAR experience such a transformational one. It is so easy to be grateful for the strong men, women, and service animals that help create the safety, love, and commitment that keep STAR able to hold this space of healing. I am grateful that we all have this time and opportunity to continue to heal, to share that with others, and, as Barbara says, to rediscover our true essence.

My gratitude to all of you, and most especially Barbara. And those wonderful cooks at the Ranch…

Much love,