Gone

I always say that I write in order to know what it is I am thinking.
I haven’t been able to write much of anything because the words and thoughts, they all seem too raw and I’m not sure I want to know what it is I am thinking right now anyway.
Of course I could write about how almost 100 people have been found dead in my hometown to date from the deadliest fire ever in California’s history.
I could write about how so many more are still listed as “missing”.
I could write about entire communities gone and thousands of people being displaced.
I could tell you the story of how I woke up that morning and saw a small plume of smoke and then, a very short time later, it was a big plume of smoke.
How a friend called to cancel our co-op because the flames were climbing the canyon behind her house and that she had to leave now.
I could tell you about calmly telling my kids to “pack your fire bags. Don’t worry, it is just a drill.” and then just minutes later after I had listened to a bit of the scanner, I told them, “this is not a drill any more. Pack quickly.”
I could tell you how my twelve year old didn’t panic, but packed the most resourceful things that he thought would be necessary for our survival, including duct tape, water and our important- papers-basket.
How this means he left behind his most treasured toys, including his Lego collection and the letter Lego sent him when he was pictured in their magazine and that he hasn’t complained once. I could tell you how my ten year old packed her violin and every stuffed animal she could fit in her bag, while also helping to find clothes for me to pack and worrying about our frog.
I could tell you how I thought there was no way our house would burn, (because if it did, that would mean the whole town was burning, and who could imagine that?) and so, I told my husband to “leave the frog”, because who wants to worry about frog water sloshing around in the car during an evacuation?
I thought the frog would be safer at home.
{home}
I could tell you how my husband, a veteran of combat, went into “soldier” mode and got our family to safety with such skill and grace that I was (and forever will be) in awe.
Or how, even though I had a five minute packing list, a fifteen minute packing list, and a if you have loads of time before evacuation packing list, I still forgot to pack the pictures and school books because I could hardly read the list- everything was happening so quickly.
Or how, our schoolroom and the home library we have been building for almost a decade was left behind.
We managed to grab about a handful of books.
One of the books I grabbed was a grammar book.
None of the books I grabbed were our special books.
Evacuations make you do funny things.
I could tell you how, once we got to relative safety, my car died and we had to jump start it every time we stopped.
How I was terrified it would die on the way to where we were going.
How I was horrified at the thought that it could have died while we were driving past the flames. I could tell you how I just skipped the whole “evacuation scene” while writing this.
And I don’t think that was by accident.
This was our evacuation experience:
We were in a line of cars that was barely moving except for the few that were going off road to pass us all by.
The normally fifteen minute drive took hours.
The sky was so dark it looked like midnight but darker, scarier, more terrible than anything I could have imagined.
Huge ashes were drifting all around us.
The wind would blow, not breezy like, but in large ominous gusts and the air was eerily warm.
I remember thinking, “How can we get these kids out of here? We could die here. At any minute the fire could be on us. What do I do?”
Lord, have mercy.
I could tell you how our kids sat quietly in the back seat as I inched forward in line, praying in a barely audible whisper to “just let the traffic move, Lord. Just get us all out of here safe. Stop the fire. Keep us safe.”
How I tried to call my husband, a few cars behind, and there was no cell connection.
How, as we drove out of town, the flames were wicking up the grass and trees on the side of the road and I couldn’t bring myself look at them for more than a second.
I just had to keep moving and to keep my eyes forward.
I could tell you how, once we got to the first home that welcomed us with such gracious and open arms, in just mere hours we were evacuating again.
I know now I was still in shock from the first evacuation.
The second evacuation was terrifying not because of the fire (it felt so much further away than the first flames), but because the fire wasn’t stopping.
I couldn’t get out fast enough or away far enough.
We needed to go NOW.
I could tell you how, on the way to evacuate again, one of the cars in our convoy of vehicles blew a tire, and the jack wasn’t working right, and the other cars were flying by us and I wondered again if we would ever make it to safety.
How the drive to Sacramento felt like it took an eternity.
I felt like we would never arrive.

I could tell you all of this but then I’d also want to tell you, I feel like my evacuation story is the least scary of all I’ve heard.

I could also tell you how the days since then have flown by and yet gone so slowly it is the most confusing sense of time I’ve ever had.
How, when we saw the picture of our house, our home, we were devastated.
A chimney.
Lots of debris.
Somehow, the hose survived.
And a t.v. tray that was sitting outside. Everything else, gone.

How within days we learned that almost everyone’s house was gone.
How all those we loved were now scattered hours apart. And some were even already planning to move very far away.
Within 24 hours we were
homeless
stuff-less
community-less

How for days after I didn’t really want to eat (none of us did) and food had lost all flavor.
How the kids would wake up in the middle of the night, or not go to sleep at all, because of the loss, the grief, the fear.
How to process this?
I could tell you that I did the healthy things; that I trusted and prayed and waited well.
But that would be a lie.
I shut down.
I couldn’t find the focus to trust, much less think clearly.
I couldn’t find words to pray.
Thankfully old habits stick well and our family fell into our habit of Adoration and that gave my heart peace, but still no words.
I listened to every Elisabeth Eliot recording I could find.
Something in her confidence about faith, about God’s goodness, and her assurance that these temporary things aren’t what our hearts really need spoke deep to the recesses of my heart.
I didn’t know what to wait for.
It felt like we had nothing left.
It is too much.
I could write about how life keeps moving at a crazy pace so I called the insurance and I read the legal jargon and I got down to business.
How each one of us in the family is working hard to move forward, even though some days it feels like we were swept so far backwards we will never get back to where we were.
Or I could tell you about the strange things, like how even now I still make sure I don’t think about the fact that every time I drive by a beautiful home, my mind plays tricks on me and I think, just for a moment, that I see it bursting into flames.
I don’t want to write about the things lost; wedding photos or the letters my husband sent me while at war, or the sweet pictures he drew me while we were dating, or the hand written recipes from family, or the baby shoes or the special doll house or the Lego creations that took months to save for and hours to build, or the amazing things my husband could make out of a few pieces of wood, or the first edition author-signed books I finally bought or…or…or
It’s just stuff.
And it is.
But it was also our home.
{home}
It is this stuff that built our atmosphere.
It is this stuff that reminds me of who I am, who our family is, what we’ve been through.
It is a record of all our days “under the sun”.

I try not to think about that, though.
I could tell you about the generosity of so many.
About the house that became a surrogate home for us; a place where we stayed for three long- short weeks, the food we’ve eaten, the encouraging words that have been shared, the discounts that have been given, the pile of Legos that showed up, the dolls gifted and the love that has been shared, the ways God has moved on hearts that just seem to be impossible; grace after grace.

But I can’t even find the words to describe those gestures, because those gestures are too big for the words I know.

How can I describe someone opening their home to our whole family-including a fat chocolate Lab and a huge Great Dane-and then making it seem like it is no big deal?

How can I describe the light that returned to my son’s eyes when he had some Legos to build with again, or the sweet sight of my daughter laughing while brushing her new doll’s hair?

How can I write about the thousands of texts and calls and emails we’ve gotten to check in on us? Even those texts and calls from people we hardly know, and yet they are deeply concerned, they genuinely want to find a way to help.

Or, what words could I use to tell of the impossible level of generosity being offered to help us find a new place to call home?

So much love between friends and family and even so many strangers.

There are no words.

I could tell you how, as I look back to things near and far, God has been preparing me for this reality.
A paycheck set up for direct deposit just months ago.
A binder of important papers all ready to go.
Kids well practiced in packing their fire bags.
A dream of unusual context just weeks before.
Daily habits that became lifelines when we needed tangible things to do.

I could tell you how, despite all the loss, despite my heart building walls to shut out the trauma, despite the grief, and the uncertainty of being bookless, homeless and town-less,

I do not live in despair.

My heart is grieved. At times I feel the despair and the weight is heavy in my chest and there is no doubt that I have an awkward rush of emotions in every aisle at Target, every time I see a book that I once owned, and mostly, every time I look at my children as they take in another change so bravely.

But hopelessness has not found a way to live in my heart.

This.is.a.miracle.

So I could try to tell you about all of these things, but I don’t think it would do justice to the reality.
See, I have a lot I can’t yet write about.
I’ve told you the outline, just not the heart of it.
But, of this I can write;

God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.
This God is the One that promises to lead my heart to Him, and if I’ve learned anything yet it is that all things can burn and fade, but God remains the same.

The same God that blessed us with that house, that amazing community of people, Who blessed us with the ability to make it all a {home}, He is the same God that is with me in my grief of the {home} that is lost today.
He has given, and He has taken away.
I don’t know why.
But, I do know Him, and that is enough.

I don’t understand the reasons for the magnitude of this loss. Quite frankly, I don’t even think this is the end of the loss. There are still people missing.
There is still more destruction to see.
We haven’t even viewed the charred remains of our house in person yet.
Our kids will be grown by the time our new house is built and feels like {home} again. This level of stress will take a toll on our family, for sure.

But if God is Who He says He is (and He is), then I have nothing to fear, and all that I’ve lost is really a gain.

This God, the One Who has given and taken away, the One Who is Mighty and Awesome, He promises that the weight of glory to come outweighs the weight of all that we’ve lost now; the weight that is now very present and heavy in my days and on my heart will not compare to the promised joy to come.
He promises that He will make all things new.
Not just some things, or the easy things, but all things.
And that all things will not only be made new, but be made beautiful. All in His perfect time.

All for those who trust in Jesus.

He promises that He gives beauty for ashes.
He doesn’t say the ashes are beautiful.
He doesn’t deny the pain or shy away from death or suffering or grief (about all kinds of things; dreams shattered, homes lost, communities scattered, people passed).
He exchanges the ashes left behind for something better.

There are so many ashes here.

I get to choose on the hard days, on the days where all I see are ashes or houses bursting into flames, I can ask that He keep me from bitterness, protect me from despair and to remind me of the beauty to come.
I can open my hands and let go of the ashes so He can fill my hands with the beauty He has promised.
There are many things I’ve written here, many things I’ve said and even more I haven’t.
But one thing I want to remember:
If I hold tight to these ashes, I don’t have room in my hands for anything else.
If I turn them over, let them go, my hands are free to wipe away tears, to hug a friend, to help to rebuild a house, a town, a community, and to receive the beauty that is to come.