I lift my eyes up to the hills.
The fire above our beloved city.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD
Who made heaven and earth.
~Psalm 121.1, 2
We’ve had so many people offer prayers and condolences. Many of them said they just couldn’t imagine what we’re going through. Honestly, I don’t know if I could truly describe it in words, but I thought I’d try.
This experience has gone through many stages – for me, most of them emotional. For you counselors out there who’ve been reading, you’ve probably recognized the stages of grief. On Saturday when we first evacuated, I was in denial. We packed everything and got out, but my attitude was optimistic. I thought there would be no way our house would burn, we’d be just fine. In a day or two we’d move back home and everything would go back to normal. Just a minor blip of disturbance on the otherwise stable pattern of life.
And we did move back home Monday night, which increased my confidence that we would be just fine. Tuesday, though, when the fire began acting up, I began to experience fear, distress, severe anxiety. I had the first (two) anxiety attacks of my life.
I also began to experience extreme anger and frustration. I paced around our house as I was packing things up fuming and ranting and blaming everyone and everything for the way I was feeling. “I’m upset because so-and-so hasn’t called and checked on me yet,” or “I want to scream because national news is a joke and isn’t covering this,” and “These stupid winds are so unfair.”
I went back and forth between these two emotions like a roller coaster for several hours. One moment I would be screaming and crying in anger and frustration at something. The next I was paralyzed with panic – especially when I first saw the flames pop over the ridge toward our neighborhood.
Finally last night I was overcome with sadness. The anger and fear have dulled away and I’m mourning the loss of the beauty of our landscape, the loss of our neighborhood, possibly the loss of our house, definitely the loss of our comfort and stability and routine.
The town homes in the front half of the picture are where we live. The flames and smoke look like CG, but I promise they are very real.
And then there is the wrestling with imagination and questions. I had to fight to stop thinking through every room in our house last night – picturing the things we left behind, imagining what they would look like as they burn. The flames are too big. The fire too imminent. The questions too big. I’ve avoided asking the question “Why?” It’s just too big of a question.
The questions I do allow myself to ask are questions of moving forward. We are assuming, for the sake of coping, that our house is in fact gone – though we have no way to confirm that right now. Many structures have burned. Many have been saved. We have no way to know which ones are which. I look forward to the “upward turn” stage of grief: the rebuilding, the hope, and the vision for life beyond the loss. We’re starting to work through questions like, “Where will we live?” “Will Austin’s store still be standing and what will work look like for him?” “What will we focus on replacing first?” “How helpful will our insurance be?” It’s hard not even being able to picture our furniture in a new place.
Yet. God is so faithful. I’ve had three passages running through my mind over and over during these hardest hours in my life. I put one at the top. I do keep lifting my eyes to the blazing hills. It’s so easy to despair when your home looks like a special effects scene in an apocalypse movie. (As my husband pointed out, though, props to all the special effects teams out there – we never realized just how realistic those unbelievable scenes are.) Yet I know God is the maker of all heaven and earth. He knows every inch of this fire. He knows every fuel source. He knows the complete path of destruction, the total loss, every particle of smoke, and the name of every one of the 1000+ firefighters, the name of every one of the 32,000+ evacuees and their pets and belongings – even the number of hairs on each of their heads. He is good. He helps his people. He will be glorified.
Our sermon on Sunday was on the Lord’s prayer – often a mantra that we repeat without thinking through. It has become so real and personal. Our Father – you know us, love us, care for us, mourn with us, empathize with us, comfort us. Who art in heaven – you know all, see all, control all, understand all, work all to your purposes and good. Give us our daily bread – we cry out for even physical provision, we depend on you for our most basic of needs, we cannot survive a moment without your help, your provision. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven – there is a reason, a plan, a purpose, this is not wasted or random or meaningless.
Finally, the entire book of Job – which I have never been able to really connect with – has become intimately, uncomfortably personal. He lost everything, suddenly, without an explanation. And I’m learning to say with him, “The LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1.21)
Finally, we are overwhelmed with how God works through his people. We are so loved, so cared for, so provided for, so comforted, encouraged, and prayed for. Despite losing so much, we want for nothing. Even people as far away as Seattle, the South, and Canada have offered whatever help they can give. All of you, you are truly the hands and feet of God working in our lives right now. God bless you for your hearts and may he hear your prayers on our behalf.