Lessons From the Ashes: A Personal Perspective

Lessons From the Ashes: A Personal Perspective

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (ESV) Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

2020 has been a tough year for all us. The Corona virus pandemic turned the world upside down and we have all found ourselves adjusting to a new “normal” while sheltering in place and learning how to keep facemasks from fogging up our glasses. I’ve learned a lot of things this year. For instance, I really can go 5 months without setting foot inside Costco thanks to internet ordering and wonderful friends who don’t mind picking up an occasional item for me. I learned that I can be quite content living a quiet secluded life, finishing up projects started years ago, making soap, and tending my larger than usual garden. I learned that even though I never felt a real need for more fellowship with all I had to occupy myself, I truly cherished the time spent with the 3 other women who met weekly outside beside our pond to study Luke. God accomplished something special during that study. But there were more lessons.

On the afternoon of September 8, as I was putting together the slides for Sunday’s worship service, an emergency evacuation order notice scrolled across my computer screen. There was a fire, but it was a long way off and there was little actual threat to us other than possibly closing evacuation routes to the north. We’ve lived through a number of evacuations during our years of living in in Berry Creek, only to return safely each time after a few days of annoying inconvenience. But we complied and threw a few things in the car expecting to be back in our house within a few days. My biggest concern was that the generator would keep the food in my 3 freezers frozen until we got back. We had just had the propane tanks filled and I hated to use up our year’s supply in just a short time, but I also hated to lose a year’s worth of food. And then I learned just how important our church family really is.

Before we even had the car loaded many of you texted or called to offer us a place to stay while we were evacuated. We are so grateful to all of you. As we followed the fire reports throughout the night, we learned that the improbable can quickly become the possible, as high winds pushed the fire into our neck of the woods. Within 12 hours flames had consumed everything we had built and collected during our 48 years of marriage and 43 years of living in Berry Creek. Everything we owned, short of the little we packed in our car before evacuating, was reduced to a pile of smoldering ash, with most things beyond recognition.

You responded by showering us with love and prayers and generosity. You were so very generous. We were not accustomed to being on the receiving end of that kind of generosity. It was a lesson in humility. Little notes of encouragement are still pouring in and they are a soothing balm to our aching hearts. When Paradise burned two years ago, I was too consumed with my husband’s open heart surgery at that time to feel the full impact of others’ losses. Even though I had several friends who lost their homes in that fire, I don’t think I truly understood what it was like to literally have almost every material thing you owned taken from you. I have lived through adversity several times in my life and I am no stranger to grief or the grieving process. I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now. But I do know that the process can’t be circumvented, so I plod along, each day looking to God for the strength I do not have on my own right now. Your prayers are sustaining me.

Now, as I sift through the cooled ashes of the fire that reduced all we owned to an unrecognizable pile of rubble I am reminded once of again of Matthew 6:19-21; “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It’s a hard lesson and I have repeated that verse so often the words sound almost clichéd now. Of course we are not to let ourselves be too attached to our belongings. It’s only “stuff” and we won’t be taking any of it with us when we depart this world. But when all those earthly belongings are ripped away from you in a matter of hours they become more than mere stuff. They represent what was important to us. They represent untold hours of hard physical labor we put into building our home with our own hands. They represent years of memories from raising our children there. They represent, in some sense, who we are and in what we place our values. But we are more than the sum total of our belongings. As much as we loved living in the mountains and sharing our little slice of heaven on earth with friends and family, our stuff does not define us. We are children of the Most High God. We are brothers and sisters of the saints here at Oroville EFC. And what we value most of all are those treasures we have stored up in heaven. Still, I grieve for all we lost.

What are our plans for the future? We honestly don’t know. For the time being we are staying with our daughter and we are trusting God in a way we haven’t had to do for a long time. Our son, the one who blessed our lives after our world had been turned upside down by the death of our first son, wrote us a beautiful note that I want to share with you because this is the perspective that sustains us and gives us peace.

“Most people are stuck where they are by choice or circumstance. They cling to safety, to comfort, to the easy path. You have departed from that path. You may not be able see where you are going, but you can clearly see where you have been. In the absence of a lifetime of accumulated attachments, you are free. Free to cherish wonderful memories, free to reminisce, free to dream about what will be.

The God who has called you His own, who has redeemed you, has promised that He has a plan for you. You don't know what the future may hold or where you will end up, but He does. He won't just be waiting for you when you get there either because He will journey with you every step, through every moment, every year, every doubt, every question of why us? why now? He will grieve with you, He will supply and sustain you, He will go before and behind you. The God of all peace and comfort will give you rest. That is where He is leading you. Into His rest.”

Did God know that the four of us who met weekly for Bible study at our pond would all lose our homes and share a bond we would never have otherwise? Nothing escapes God’s knowledge and nothing surprises him. And nothing in his economy is ever wasted. I am beyond thankful for my church family, my wonderful husband and children, my faith, and my eternal security. And in this crazy, upside down world where nothing makes sense at times, I am resting in God. And isn’t that where we should all be, all the time?

With a thankful and grateful heart,

Caroleah Johnson

P.S. Just for the record, here are the things we have appreciated most during this difficult time:

1. Notes of encouragement just to let us know you are praying for us. Notes that simply uphold us and do not devalue the importance of the “stuff” we lost.

2. People who ask, and honestly mean it, if there is anything they can do. There generally isn’t anything anyone can do, but we appreciate you asking. If you simply say, “let us know if there is anything we can do,” rest assured we will not ask.

3. Gift cards that we can use to buy essentials as we wait for insurance payments. Having no home means no storage space and although we truly appreciate the thought, we don’t want your used clothing or household overstock.

4. Pictures that you have taken over the years of shared experiences that might replace some of the vast number of photos we lost.

5. Practical help in dealing with insurance companies.

6. Did I mention notes of encouragement? Or texts. Just so we know we aren’t forgotten while we are out of the area. We don’t know how long we will be gone. We don’t know what God has planned for us. We are trying to be patient, but it is hard to wait upon the Lord. That is a lesson we are still learning.

Isaiah 40:31 - but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.

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