Written by Jennifer Murray.
As my daughter and her friend played together, I sat with a cup of coffee, excited to have a few quiet moments. After the events of the past few days, I was ready for a few moments of peace. It had all begun a few days before as we celebrated my son’s twelfth birthday. Amidst the fun of singing, blasting poppers and opening presents, we had watched an eerie plume of smoke start to rise from the mountain range that encircled the west side of our town. We watched that crazy plume of smoke…we smelled the smoke…and we continued to watch over the next couple of days as we did standard preparation for possible evacuations. We drove to lookout points along with everyone else to watch the flames licking the distant mountains. It still seemed very far away, but uneasiness overshadowed us. My husband, the calm and steady one, tried to keep our minds at ease. As we watched the updates, the attention and concern were focused heavily on the south side of the fire which was in the other direction from us. By this particular morning, some had been allowed to return home from mandatory evacuations, and hope was lingering in the air.
The phone interrupted my peaceful silence. My neighbor spoke quickly, “Turn on the news! The fire is heading our way! We are being evacuated!” My heart leaped in fear. I had rehearsed these moments several times without thinking it would ever really happen. Prayers rose silently from my lips. “Keep me calm, Lord. Help me know what to do. The children will need me to show them how to react.” Steve and I had learned a long time before that what our children feel and how they react has the most to do with what we model for them. Neighbors continued to call, Steve arrived home and we packed the car as we watched the sky starting to fill with black swirls of smoke. The sun turned a deep, deep red. We sent worried looks at each other as we started to hear the thunderous sounds growing louder on the mountains and hills just west of our subdivision. Then it happened…the flames leaped to OUR HILLSIDE!
I was frozen for a moment while filled with the horror of the sight. “No!!!!!” I screamed in a gasp! With the roaring sound of the trees crackling and the rush of the firestorm swirling around the black smoke and ash, a new terror seized my heart…this is it! Grab everything dear to you NOW. Prayers came loudly from my lips as I ran through our home grabbing precious memorabilia that represented our lives—baby boxes filled with precious blankets and memories of those sweet and cuddly baby days, high school yearbooks, journals, the letters we had written while dating, favorite recipes, video memories of ultrasounds and toddlers teetering. In my mind flashed the thought, “My children will someday say, ‘My house burned down when I was young, but Mom remembered to grab THIS.’” Then my husband and I moved to questions such as, “We will be displaced for a year or more…what will we need?” I grabbed some favorite schoolbooks and kitchen items. Steve, the orchestrator of our family fun, grabbed the favorite family games. All of this happened in a quick fifteen minutes of time now frozen forever in my memory. As I ran through each room asking myself what was irreplaceable, I realized that 95% of my home WAS replaceable. The Lord spoke to me as if I could audibly hear His voice, “LET IT GO.” Steve and I stood in the middle of our home, bowed our heads briefly asking for safety and gave our home and all we had to God.
Neighbors, sweat running down their faces, ran to each other asking if anyone needed help or a place to go, hugging as fear filled their eyes. Friends stopped as they drove down our street, crocodile tears flowing—“Will you be OK?” Police on blow horns and sirens demanded we leave immediately. Red Cross people drove on the street asking if anyone needed help leaving their home. It all seemed surreal…like something I had seen in a movie as people flee an ominous monster. The smoke was suffocating. We held our breath and drove away, looking in horror at our beautiful mountainside now engulfed in flames and black smoke. The traffic was in a deadlock with all lanes heading east. The first responders were doing their best to get everyone away from the deadly firestorm. As I looked behind me at the line of cars snaking down the road, I prayed that everyone would get out in time—a task that seemed impossible in my mind. At one point, we stood beside our car watching in disbelief as the fire moved down the mountains and leaped from hill to hill. I just couldn’t watch anymore, sure my home would soon be in ashes. I put my face in my hands and cried.
I didn’t sleep that night. Every time I closed my eyes, the events of the night replayed in my mind, but so did the still, small voice of God. Scripture and truths about God continued to speak to my heart. The bigger picture, the big opportunity, was made clear. I wrote to my friends:
This is one of the moments in your life when you stand helpless, shaken and terrified…with an opportunity to wrap your arms around your kids, look them in the eyes and show them that your faith is REAL…not just a story or a bed time song…not just a prayer at a meal…Steve and I need your prayers that they will see God glorified in our eyes, our words, our actions, our marriage. Please pray that God will drive what we KNOW to be true about Him into the decisions we make through the crisis. THANK YOU FOR YOUR PRAYERS. No updates. The fire is still burning through what we love and hold dear in this life. We know our community; our lives have been changed forever.
Signs over the next twenty-four hours gave us hope. Our answering machine still answered…yeah! We didn’t know the condition it was in or what was left around it, but our house was still standing! We purposefully counted our blessings out loud and to our friends as we posted updates:
BLESSINGS: 1. Family is safe and happy, enjoying playtime with their cousins! Processing this for them will take many different stages. 2. We have had hot showers to wash the smoke and soot off and a comfortable bed…better than many of the people who fled their homes last night! 3. Although my brain is still somewhat in shock…my husband is functioning quite well and making me laugh. I love him… 4. So much is still unknown and the fire rages on…but a recent fire map posted shows our street still stands…we hold on to hope, trusting in God. The west side of the Springs looks like a warzone…much loss…many opportunities ahead to show the love of God. We pray for grace to wait patiently.
It wasn’t until we received long-range photos from neighbors showing our home and neighborhood unscathed by the firestorm that I felt true rejoicing in my heart. As I saw the fire ring around our subdivision, I was filled with gratitude for the heroic efforts of the firemen on our behalf. The kids giggled, happy to see our home (and their network of forts on the hills!) still standing. My heart broke the next day as we read the names of the streets called to the meeting with the city and first responders, realizing how devastating it must be to see “destroyed” next to your house number on the maps they handed out. How helpless…how devastating…how final! We prayed for God’s grace, for hope, for peace and comfort…for most importantly, the beauty and blessing of the ashes to be seen as people turned to God. After six long days, my posts to friends continued to tell our story:
Sunday was a day I will never forget. Starting with the worship, singing, hugging and tears with many that loved us and have prayed us through this…it was like a soothing balm on an open wound. The Word of God sank deep into my heart in a different way than ever before. Then finally…we got the word we could go back to our home at 8 PM. My heart cringed and tears welled up as we drove home…our beautiful mountainside…now ugly and charred…but our neighborhood…our local community…still standing…and green!! It was a party!! Neighbors filled the streets…unbelief, tears, and joy as we shared our stories as we walked the fire line…all of us taking in the blessing of being the ones that survived. Much work is ahead as we clean up the smoke smells and ash…but we do it humbly and with thankful hearts.
As I have spent the past few weeks cleaning up the soot and ash, unpacking those items we frantically grabbed and adjusting to the new “normal” of our surroundings, I have had my emotional ups and downs. We have all battled tears and even depression as we walk in the pain and destruction around us, but the blessings scream out to me from every corner of my life. We relish a little more sitting on our couches and sipping hot drinks from our favorite mugs. With our view from our backyard untouched by the fire, we sit and soak it in from the swing a little longer. Even washing the dishes and vacuuming the carpet have brought little leaps of thankfulness bubbling up from my soul.
“Yes, Lord, I am blessed. I have so much to be thankful for. I forget. I get busy…I needed You to nudge me with Your gentle “grace operations” truly to show me Your abundant blessings in my life. I released it all to You, and in Your perfect will You chose to give it back. I don’t hold on to it so tightly now. It doesn’t matter so much if the house isn’t just the way I want it to be. Your grace has shown me once again that relationships are most important, and our “stuff’ is intended to be part of our daily praise to You…a way to appreciate Your beauty.” As the “penny pincher” in the family, spending money can literally make me sick to my stomach. I am now often hearing God’s voice saying as it did that awful Tuesday afternoon…“Let it go.” More than that, I am convicted of my personal confidence in my flesh and my own ability to scrimp and save. God is showing me that He is bigger than all of that…bigger than all of our “stuff.” He lives outside of our physical means to save and scrimp. Our money, our home, our time—all are avenues to bless others and enjoy the blessings of God.
Dwell in His goodness. Be satisfied in the provision of God. Selfishness, stinginess and fear of spending too much or too little should not be a part of my makeup. Be a good steward and be happy in the blessings, joyful in the gifts, peaceful in the resting and trusting while remembering the greatest gift of God’s Son and the true happiness awaiting us in our beautiful future home in heaven. I pray my children understand the words of Psalm 28:7 and see the real lessons before their eyes as we drive past the burned homes and once beautiful hillsides.
The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in him, and I am helped: therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my song will I praise Him.
This article was published in the Fall 2012 edition of The Beautiful Spirit magazine, article title “Colorado Fire”. Jennifer and her husband Steve live in Colorado Springs with their four children.
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