One Week Later
It is difficult to put into words what we have been experiencing here over the last ten days here in Santa Rosa. I know that for me and my family I can confidently say it has been the longest week that we have ever experienced. I have been one who has sat on the couch and watched tragedy unfold in other parts of the country, but I have always been able to change the channel when it became too much for me to handle. Over the last week however, I along with the rest of Sonoma county, Napa county and Mendocino County have been caught up in a seemingly never-ending nightmare. The losses, both personal and to our communities as a whole, are staggering.
The whole area is hurting, but we are hurting in different ways. There are those who had to run from their homes last Sunday night, some escaping with only the clothes on their backs. Their homes burned right away and they have had to deal with tremendous loss from the very beginning. There are many who thought their homes had burned that first night who only later found out that somehow their home had survived. A great many were evacuated from their homes at the beginning of the week as a precaution, and they are only now able to go back and make sure that everything is still intact. There are others who watched from afar. They housed friends and family who lost homes and had nowhere to go. I have heard mention of survivors’ guilt more than once.
There are families like mind who found themselves in a very strange situation. Our house is right on the edge of a mandatory evac zone. The Nuns fire, which burnt through a great deal of Annadel State park, was burning just over the ridge from where we live. We had about fifteen people (and four dogs) at our house on Sunday night as friends fled from their homes. As fires raged, we watched carefully to see how close they would come to our house. We slept in our home Monday night, and on Tuesday I sent my wife Neisha and my sons to the east bay to stay with our good friends Bruce and Sandy. By that afternoon, our neighborhood was being evacuated. I called Neisha and told her that it was really going to happen and stood in front of a friend’s house to watch the fire move down the hill toward my neighborhood. The fire was further than we thought and we made it through that day, but I didn’t sleep in the house for the next few nights. I evacuated again at 4:30 Saturday morning, and again last night as it looked like the fire was finally going to come over the hill.
I am so thankful that the fire did not progress into our neighborhood. But, it was so draining to have to say goodbye to our home four times; exhausting both mentally and emotionally as the week dragged on. Each day, everyone was constantly checking their phones, looking to the sky for the tell-tale plume of smoke or the red glow of fire. You may not know what Nixle is, but every Sonoma county resident considers it their best friend. Nixle has been telling us what has been going on, buzzing our phone when there was new evacuation, and now when a neighborhood is reopening. We have been living in a state of constant caution, constant fear, constant recognition that at any moment, something could change and your house could be next. If you would have asked anyone whose house hadn’t burned if their home was ok over the last week, they would have said, “My house is good…for now.” I have never experienced tension or fear like this before.
What is my point? Everyone was affected. No one has escaped.
I had this moment on Saturday morning that I want to tell you about. Some members of our church were forced to evacuate their homes at four a.m., and I came to the church to meet them, make some coffee and be present with them. Around the same time, the police were on the alert in our neighborhood and for good reason. The Nuns fire was raging just over the hills that have separated my home from the body of the fire. At various times that morning we stood on the second-floor landing and looked out over the fire that seemed to be making its way steadily toward us. There was a huge plume of dark smoke coming up on the north of the ridge and it was carrying south. We could see a red glow there at the north end and I was waiting for the fire to peak over the top and head south down the ridge to my home. As the time crept closer to 6:30, something interesting happened: the sun started to come up. All at once the entire ridge line was lit up orange- not such a reassuring sight- as the sun came up behind the hills. Then you could see the sun, a red ball, trying to shine its way through the dark smoke. Finally, the sun rose above it all, and there we stood, a new day, new worries new possibilities.
I have often thought about that moment, and here is what I think I want to share with you. In times like this when the sky is dark and we are watching the danger come toward us, we wonder where God is. We want him to be there, and on one level we know that he is. But we cannot see him. As God begins to show himself, it can be really unclear what is happening. The whole ridge is lit up and we cannot tell what is fire and what is the sun. It is at this point that fear can really take hold and make us turn away. I know for me it was almost too much for my brain to process. I wanted to believe it was the sun, but my brain kept telling me that it wasn't. It was the fire spreading and taking my fear with it. But then the sun tries to fight through. It is such a relief to know that the whole ridge is not on fire, and to see that something is happening; even if God has not fully shown himself as we navigate our fear and pain. Finally, God rises above it all. The sun still shines, a new day begins.
We who know Jesus live as those who have hope. We may not be able to see it yet, the ridge may be glowing red. But we know that the sun will rise, God will overcome, and we will be overcomers through his power.
Thank you for praying for us. We will keep you updated on how you might be able to serve our city in the name of Jesus.