Paradise and the Camp Fire

Camp Fire

“Mom, you have to see the sky!”

I stood in my PJ’s watching the horrifying black cloud crawling through the skyline from our upstairs windows, fear and helplessness overcoming me.

I rushed downstairs and hopped onto my computer to see if I could learn of it’s cause, a fire had begun in Pulga and was rapidly heading up to Paradise. My heart sunk.

Here I sat in my living room less than 25 minutes away from so many who were in danger and there was absolutely nothing I could physically do to help them.

I started listening to the online scanner of the ongoing efforts made by the incredibly brave men and women who were present and I began to pray, fervently.

Tears poured down my face as I listened to the words pouring forth…

Children still at school.

A woman needing assistance who had gone into labor, a high risk pregnancy.

Traffic not moving as the fire raged.

Cars being abandoned.

People fleeing on foot.

Vehicles catching on fire.

Everyone working on just trying to get everyone out.

I felt ill. I thought of every single person trapped in those moments and I prayed again and again and again.

I started to check facebook and began seeing people posting of being trapped around the flames, uncertain if they would make it out. It wasn’t long before the pictures started surfacing of the charred and abandoned vehicles. I was undone and I could not wrap my mind around the reality of the horror.

November 8th, 2018. A date that most in this area will never forget, a date that will be seared into some souls like a branding mark. The day that Paradise, CA burned and tragedy struck.

So many have lost every earthly possession that they had. Too many lost their very lives.

As I write this I am watching as people are walking humbly by with food in their arms, given by a shelter a block from my home. The home we wondered if we would loose as the fire headed toward Chico, our home that still stands, and I am struck again by an overwhelming feeling of helplessness. But we are not helpless despite the feelings that may pervade us.

My heart has broken for all of these precious people; my neighbors, my friends.

God can do a lot with a broken heart though.

In fact, I am amazed as I watch so many people and businesses work hard to help, pour, serve, and love in anyway that they are able.

This is the beauty in the ashes.

The stories pouring forth make me weep anew at how beautiful it is when people lay it all on the line for each other.  And so we keep praying, we keep showing up, we keep pressing in, we keep serving, we keep connecting, we keep talking and listening and holding our dear brothers and sisters as the next weeks and months unfold. We give, and we lay ourselves out. We CAN help. While no one person can do everything, together everyone can do something and that is profound.

This is love in the unspeakably hard places.

 

The Fire

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The oxygen mask strapped to my face felt like a muzzle holding in my desperate cry. I grabbed for it to yank it off.  A stout hand firmly put it back in place and commanded me to breathe. Breathe deeply! A blurry image of a nurse sat next to the head of my bed, repeating her commands at regular intervals like the hands of a clock striking the next second, minute, hour. Breathe! I could no longer feel the pain that less than an hour before had torn through my body without mercy. My body was numb now, empty, and once again barren. I heard someone whisper–something about sats not yet stabilizing, the fever, the sepsis, it was still too early to tell.

I could die.

I could see the blurry outline of my husband sitting with his head in his hands, I knew this was all just too much to process, he was numb too. His hands wove through his dark hair endlessly, his tell of boredom or stress. He was not bored.

I could hear the tears falling.

Where was she? Where was my second baby girl?  We had just gotten to 24 weeks. She had a chance, unlike her little sister born just 2 weeks before.  It all floods back–the team working on her in the corner of the room as soon as she was born, desperately fighting to help her–my husband and my mother helping hold me down as the doctor fought to stop the bleeding–me fighting to stay alert, to get a glimpse of her, desperately wanting to draw her close to me.  Septic. 15 minutes she lived, while my life slipped away.

Why did I survive?

I remembered the specialist’s words again in that moment, spoken not long after my water broke at 17 weeks, their advice: terminate the pregnancy.  “The odds are not good. You, the mother, could die.”

Then let it be.

“I will not kill them. I cannot, regardless of what it might mean for me!” I had said it passionately and without hesitation as I carefully walked out of the small, cold office praying that even then the amniotic sack was resealing.  I knew I served a God who could do miracles, and I would hold onto that hope with every fiber of my being through the weeks to come.

But sometimes the miracle doesn’t come. Sometimes the fire just burns, and ashes are all that remain.

“Let me die!” First a whisper, then I rip off the mask and let it out in a long roar.

“LET ME DIE!”

The nurse is unflinching in her demand for me to breathe and calmly places the mask over my face again.  I have no strength to fight her.  My husband comes over to me, tenderly leans in close, and whispers how he needs me to fight, how he can’t lose me too.  My heart breaks for him and his pain.

I can’t.

Not even for him. Not for our 3 foster daughters either. Not for my mother, who I hear choking back tears as she stood to the side.  My fight was gone.

After years battling infertility we had finally gotten pregnant through IUI (intrauterine insemination), and in the span of a month everything had been lost. I had given birth to two precious baby girls, born less than 2 weeks apart, and watched them both die, powerless to save them.  I could not do this. I could not live through this. I did not want this to be my story. I was certain. And so I begged God to just take me home–over and over again.

Then a whisper played through my mind…

Be still and know that I am God.

A sweetness in the words was almost palpable, but my mind and heart still pleaded with God for a merciful end to my agony.  Again and again, it echoed through my mind, then my heart, then ministered to my spirit in ways no words could ever convey.

Be still and know that I am God.

I didn’t even understand that day what it truly meant, not really.  I just knew that it was a promise of His faithfulness, somehow. In a darkness so deep that I questioned if there would ever be light again, it lit the match.  He was there. In complete desolation, He was there. Though I did not understand, and I was shredded to the core, He was there. Though I did not feel his arms, He held me, gently, reminding me of His love.  Though I questioned, he never wavered.

I know that now…looking back.

This week, almost 12 years later, I learned the Hebrew root of the words be still.  It means to release, go slack, to let go.  I had to smile.  That is exactly what God has been teaching me how to do since that day.  To let go of my fears. To let go of what people think. To let go of my children. To let go of all the hard I face.  To let go of all the things, and sink deep into The One who is able to do immeasurably more than we can imagine.

I think I am beginning to get it, just beginning.

What I began to learn 12 years ago I continue to journey into, like peeling back layers of an onion, going deeper and deeper to the heart, His heart. I can bring all my pain, all my hard, all my tears to Him.  I can pour myself out at his feet. He is safe. And in return, He gives Himself, a precious perfect peace that defies all understanding–even as the fire rages. It was true then; it is true now.

He is capable of raising new life up out of the ashes!  I continue to learn that new, beautiful, wonderful things do come, even in the hard, even when there are scars, but the most precious of all these will always be his presence.

What do you need to let go of today?