Tuesday June 11. I get a reverse 911 call on my cell phone ordering us to evacuate our home immediately. Rushing home by the back roads to avoid road blocks I can see the huge black plum of smoke and the orange glow of flames a couple of hundred feet high. The wind was blowing 30 to 40 miles per hour pushing the fire right towards our house. Being close to the point of the fires origin I knew I had just minutes to collect some valuables and flee. Sue was driving home from Kansas. I was on my own.
After taking less than ten minutes to toss photo albums, pictures, journals, computers and some business files in the back of my truck, I took one last look around the house and thought about all we were going to lose. I said to myself that “it is just stuff.” But is it really? No it is not.
My unhealthy tendency to just think of it as stuff is described well by Thomas Merton, “God is more glorified by a man who uses the good things of this life in simplicity and with gratitude than by the nervous asceticism of someone who is agitated about every detail of his self-denial. The former uses good things and thinks of God. The later is afraid of good things and consequently cannot use them properly. He is terrified by the pleasure God has put in things…He imagines God has placed all the good thing of the world before him like bait in a trap.” It is not a very long journey for me from thinking of the good things He has given as bait (which I do often) to thinking of it as “just stuff.” And I think I have made progress – but I have not.
The “stuff” is God’s special blessings on us over the years. To enjoy. To delight in. To thank him for. The “stuff” represents God’s faithfulness to us. And when we lose these special gifts it’s right to mourn, to grieve, to cry. God has not called us to die to the good he does for us. He has not called us to die to the healthy desires and pleasures of life. The good that he gives us are gifts from him. So often we feel guilty even unwrapping them much less enjoying them. They are not “just stuff.”
So what is the rest of the story? Our across the street neighbors lost their house. Neighbors on our side of the street lost theirs. Beyond that, every house for a mile and a half is now a pile of ash – 511 homes destroyed. 12,000 acres burned. The forest is black. Our five acres was 80% burned, but mostly just ground fire. The fire burned right up to our foundation…yet our house is standing! Oh the mysteries of God.