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William Monahan
Bekki and Russ Webb and their four children were out of town when their home in Queen Creek, Ariz., burned down. Since then, they have had gratitude despite their losses.

When fire destroyed their Arizona home just weeks before Thanksgiving, gratitude was not Russ and Bekki Webb’s first emotion.

The date was Nov. 9, 2011.

The Webbs and their four young children were out of town, serving others. That decision saved their lives.

Leaving their border collie, Janet, the Webbs traveled from their Queen Creek home to Snowflake, Ariz., to repair grandma and grandpa’s broken water line. This was to be a family service project to help Russ’ parents, who are serving a full-time mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii.

Back home, a battery charger in the Webb’s garage had been left plugged into an all-terrain vehicle. Shortly after 11 p.m. the charger overheated, igniting the ATV’s gas tank. Flames licked the garage walls, ballooning into the house in bright orange plumes. In the backyard the Webb’s collie yelped for help. Clothes burned, laptops melted, keepsakes crumbled to ash.

Kudos to the firefighters who saved 70 percent of the family photographs and rescued the tail-wagging Janet.

Gratitude, even in loss

Russ and Bekki are members of the LDS Church. Russ serves as a ward mission leader and Bekki teaches the 9-year-olds. She also serves in Scouts as the Bear leader.

Adjusting to motel life for Thanksgiving, the Webbs eventually found a rental house two blocks from their destroyed home.

Russ told me, "I’m most grateful that my family is safe. Our ward has rallied around us. Of the physical things we lost, what I miss most are my scriptures. I’ve had them since I was 12."

His voice choked with emotion, Russ adds, "Though we lost everything, we only lost things. Scriptures, furniture and computers can be replaced, lives can’t. We make do with plastic tables, bean bags and puzzle books. We’ve learned that gratitude for trials is very real."

With their lives battered but their spirits buoyed, Russ remains in service mode: "The other day," he said, "I wanted to help a neighbor with a small service project. I went to grab my shovel and realized I no longer own a house, let alone a shovel!"

When I asked Russ how the family is coping, he said, "Sometimes in the middle of our prayers all the emotion of the fire rushes back. But we are so grateful for Heavenly Father’s protection. We have each other. Our little dog is safe. We have the Lord. We are truly blessed."

"Blessed, even in loss?" I asked.

"Yes, we’ll never look at life the same way. We know what we can live without and what matters most."

Gratitude is the foundation for other virtues

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The late President James E. Faust, a counselor in the First Presidency, has said, "A grateful heart is a beginning of greatness. It is an expression of humility. It is a foundation for the development of such virtues as prayer, faith, courage, contentment, happiness, love and well-being" (President James E. Faust, "Gratitude As A Saving Principle," Ensign, Dec. 1996).

While Russ and Bekki rebuild their home, gratitude is shaping their character. They continue to look to the Savior, who brings "...beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified" (Isaiah 61:3).

William Monahan graduated from BYU law school. An Air Force veteran and former Phoenix stake president, he teaches law and serves as a high councilor for Queen Creek Arizona Chandler Heights Stake. He begins service July 2012 as a mission president.