“Fire & Faith” – what a natural disaster taught Samantha about faith

Lake Fire in California burns over 11,000 acres. Photo: REUTERS/Gene Blevins.
Lake Fire in California burns over 11,000 acres. Photo: REUTERS/Gene Blevins.

Whipped up by 116 F winds, the Lake Fire had devoured over 20,000 acres by the time I returned home after having been away for the week. I expected the acrid smell of woodsmoke, the blotted out stars. Then, turning onto the road that wound up the grade to my mountain community, I saw what I did not expect: the fire itself. A crimson-orange thread draped across a ridge line; a necklace of light bathing a quarter mile of the night in absurd, brilliant hues that reflected off rising plumes of smoke. A swath of glowing embers lay behind the leading edge. Their many lights sparkled like that of a broken chain of golden diamonds, scattered and thrown asunder. The sight of it took my breath away.

From my front porch, I watched it’s flickering glow reflecting off the billowing smoke overhead, billowing up from a canyon within an easy hike from our home. The reality of the situation sank in. I was standing in my favorite movie where the heroine pulls the fire alarm to see what her fiancé valued enough to save. Except, I had more than thirty-seconds. What would I save?

My clothing was already packed from my trip; I left the car as it was. Finding a cardboard box, I began filling it with keepsakes. First in was the beautiful jewelry box my grandfather hand-carved for me. Next, photographs. Then an old bottle. It was the last relic of my family’s 1920’s soda bottling enterprise before the war effort put a premium on sugar. Old cards. Letters. Finally, a handmade quilt, appliquéd for me by my great-grandmother. Everything I saved had a person or story behind it that made it…irreplaceable.

By the time my husband came home from work late that evening, my tidy pile was ready to be loaded in the car. A true westerner, he’s not afraid of mountain lions, earthquakes, or forest fires. Nevertheless, he was somewhat surprised by my initiative. We drove to the edge of town where we watched flames in the fire’s leading edge leap from tree to tree. However far from us the fire was, it was much too close to ignore. Once home, he took his family’s pictures down off the wall and was packed in minutes. I asked him, was that all he wanted to save? What meant most to him, he answered, was not anything that needed a box or rescuing — it was his faith. And his faith was always with him.

I spent a restless night waiting for an evacuation order that never came. The winds shifted in the night, filling our house with smoke, so we voluntarily left the next day to stay with family. Thankfully, the driving winds soon ceased and the firefighters were able to put out the fire. God, in His providence, spared our house and spared our town.

When disaster threatens your home, how do you respond? Do you worry? In Matthew 6:19, Jesus tells us, “do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about what you will wear.” The reason He gives us for not worrying is that, “your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Mt. 6:32). And then He gives us direction for overcoming worry: “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33). Putting God first in everything, long before disaster threatens, is far better than an insurance plan to recoup what disaster takes.

On that note, what is the opposite of worrying? Wouldn’t it be a mind at peace? Paul commends us to “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts” (Col. 3:15). If we’re called first and foremost to be at peace with God, through Christ, then isn’t everything else in this life secondary? But if you’re struggling with faith, struggling with whatever fire is before you, sometimes it can be difficult to take our eyes off the smoke and put them back on Christ. Notice the word “let” in Paul’s message. A short word with big meaning. Allowing the peace of Christ to rule in our hearts…means it’s our decision. It means putting your faith into action by trusting Christ for His best.

Friend, if you’ve been struggling in your faith, if trials like a forest fire drapes across the path before you, and the acrid smell of woodsmoke taints your every conversation, maybe you’d like to come alongside me and pray: “Dear Heavenly Father, my faith is not what it should be. I come before you now and humbly ask for your help in seeking you. Help me to allow the peace of Christ to rule in my life, and to know that your divine hand of providence will see me and my loved ones through this ordeal. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

~ By Guest Writer, Samantha M. Hawley