My heart is truly breaking as I read the posts and headlines about Sonoma County, California and all of the ravenous fires that have been tormenting the land and burning down homes, hospitals and businesses with insatiable flames. I find myself praying this morning from an all too familiar place – one of complete compassion and understanding of the intense and extreme trials that the residences of this area are experiencing. As I pray, I pray for their strength and their fortitude to keep their eyes on Jesus, which is probably the most difficult to do in times of intense trial and tragedy… Or is it? Sometimes it is in our lowest most vulnerable moments that He is the ONLY one who can bring comfort; He is the ONLY one who can ease the pain, loss and sorrow. I’m speaking out of experience and a place of knowing all too well that at my lowest point, all I had was Jesus to call on.
I can vividly remember that low point – sitting in my aunt’s basement in a bathtub, soot soaked, tears crusted on my face and in total disbelief of how the day’s events had taken such a dramatic turn. In order to know how I got there I must take you to the beginning of that day.
This particular day was actually a pretty special occasion in our household as we were celebrating my oldest son’s 16th birthday and my dad’s 60th birthday. We were preparing for all of the festivities: my husband was taking my daughter to choir rehearsal and picking up the cake, my parents were getting dressed and ready while my sons were outside playing basketball (which I wouldn’t know until later). I was preparing food and then we were to go to my aunt’s house to have the party. All of this resembled a typical party planning day except I decided I would switch it up a bit. I was cooking tacos and so I decided this time, to cook first and then go get ready, which was out of my normal routine. Typically, I would get ready, put on an apron, cook and then be on my way. I would do that every time but for some reason I felt like I should cook first so I began the big production of tacos: chopping, dicing, frying up the shells, cooking the meat when suddenly out of my peripheral vision I saw something orange. As I stood at the stove, I glanced to my left to see what it was. As I looked up I saw the most mind-blowing thing I have ever seen. The entire backside of our house was engulfed in flames. I stood there for what seemed like hours in complete and utter shock of what I was seeing. My heart began to beat out of my chest. I didn’t know where the boys were; my youngest son was 18 months old and he had just begun walking so he was still a little slow getting around. The panic that overtook me resulted in a deafening scream of their names and calling for my parents. My parents came running out of the shower to see what I was screaming about then they threw on some clothes while I continued to scream throughout the three-story house to find my boys. I found an open door to see that my sons were playing basketball out front, completely unaware of the calamity taking place in the back yard. I grabbed the phone, my parents and my keys to get the Jeep out of the garage. We ran outside and across the street to the neighbor’s house as I called 911. I then called my husband and said, “The house is on fire!” to which he replied, “What do you mean?” and I said, “Like TLC on fire”- referring to when Lisa “Lefteye” Lopez burned down Andre Risen’s house to the ground. I told him to just come back and then I called my pastor who lived around the close by. He came running around the corner with a fire extinguisher but as he approached and saw our house engulfed in flames, he realized this was not really going to help too much.
As I stood in front of my house I was in complete shock; it was completely ablaze and we were waiting on the fire department. They finally arrived, got set up, and then realized because the neighborhood was new, the water pressure from the hydrants was inadequate to put out the fire. The water from the fire hoses looked more like a drizzle than a blast that would shut the blaze down. They called the city to get the pressure turned up and while we waited in eager anticipation, a gust of wind caught the treetops on fire and flames spread to the house next door…and then the next house. Very soon three houses were blazing with flames and burning to the ground. When the water pressure finally got turned up, the firemen began watering the two surrounding houses to contain the fire instead of putting out the fire on the three houses that had already been consumed.
I can remember standing there watching in total disbelief and crying out to God, “I don’t understand. I live for you. I lay my life down for you… How in the world could this happen?” I heard with absolute clarity, “It’s not about you and I will give you double for your trouble”. In that moment I began petitioning Him to save the intellectual property that was one of a kind material, located in the front of the house in my office: My husband’s autobiography, a film script and a children’s book we had written and illustrated. I knew that if these items were destroyed this would push my husband over the top and I didn’t know if he would recover from the loss of those things that he had spent, time, blood, sweat and tears to complete. I thanked God in advance for granting my petition.
When it was all said and done, all three houses had burned to the ground. The firemen were able to contain the fire so that it did not destroy the entire neighborhood. The only thing remained of ours was a side garage and the arch of the front of the house where my office used to be. We were asked to leave as the fire department would have to stay there throughout the night, to make sure the fire did not rekindle. Broken, devastated and shaken up, went to my aunt’s house to share the news with our daughter.
The same phrase that He said to me earlier, “It’s not about you and I will give you double for your trouble”, The Lord would repeat to me that night while sitting in the tub. At that moment, as I sat there soaking in all the day’s events and feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders, I had no choice but to trust in the Lord. I cried myself to sleep.
Early in the morning, my husband and I went back to the house where the firefighters were still sitting outside. As we approached the debris, we saw something awing; the only thing that remained of the three houses was the steeple like structure of the front of our house where the office previously stood. We asked if the firefighter would look into the window to see if any of the intellectual property survived. He placed his ladder on the window seal, and climbed inside. He disappeared for a few moments and then descended from the window with a hard drive and a Kinkos bag (which contained the children’s book original sketches) that had been scorched ever so slightly around the sides, but was not even wet. These were the creative items I asked the Lord to protect the previous day as I watched my house go up in flames. As he removed his ladder the entire infrastructure collapsed and fell into the basement. He turned to look at us and say, “Somebody sure loves you!” We sat there in utter amazement; the two things that survived were the creative works I asked The Lord to shield along with a box of family photos in the side garage.
My husband sat there in tears, covered in soot while feeling grateful, that the God of the universe thought enough of us to hear our prayers and look out for us. Through the recovery of these items, He showed me how much He is in the details and how loved I am. In spite of the devastation, He heard out cry, we all got out safe and He shielded the irreplaceable items. Over the next few weeks we learned how to humble ourselves and receive the many blessings of the Lord. We learned that things don’t last, but He does. He drew us and our kids closer together than ever. We had nothing yet we reflected on how God’s hand was actually covering us that entire day. From my daughter and husband not being there, to the boys being outside, to me not being trapped in a shower because I decided to cook first, to my parents being able to get out safely, to being able to get our vehicle out, to saving the precious creative writings and family photos, to the countless loving and kind neighbors and community that rallied around us to clothe and cover us, to a traumatic even actually drawing us closer together as a family… honestly, I could go on and on to the miracles God showed us in this scenario. My heart still runs over with gratitude for all that we learned as we realigned our values of what is really important and what really lasts. This experience was full of so many teachable moments and as I look back at this tragedy that could have broken us and devastated our family forever, it was instead used as a pinnacle turning point. When tragedy comes you can either run to or run from God… and there have been times in my life where I have chosen each of those roads. What I have learned is, if you allow Him to, He will rebuild you, teach you and strengthen you to something and someone even greater than before. I was humbled, my mind and thoughts were forever altered, my focus on what is important changed, I was grateful, I was broken, I was rebuilt, I was covered, I was valued, my prayers were honored. Eventually the very thing that could have wiped our family out, unified us to rise from the ashes and rubble, strengthened by the SON to arise anew, stronger and better than ever. He literally traded us beauty for ashes.