This struck me as a picture of grace. At Christmas most of us decorate trees. As Christians, we do this not randomly but in celebration of God’s merciful plan for redemption—a Son come to earth to die for sinners, the just for the unjust, making good the destruction sin has wrought. Yet, how often do I sing “Amazing Grace” without amazement, blinded by earthly comforts and my perceived self-sufficiency. This is why author Iain Murray calls trials, afflictions, and illnesses “medicinal,” for that is often what it takes to lead us to God.
For most in Sonoma and Napa counties, that fiery October week meant multiple evacuations and close calls as the blazes neared many of our homes and neighborhoods, scorching some and sparing others. At one point, our family went to the ocean, the direction that seemed safe. I watched my in-laws walk along the smoky beach as my 2-year-old sought to keep up. I thought of the psalmist’s view of trials: “Before I was afflicted, I went astray,” “In my distress, I called upon the Lord,” and “It was good for me that I was afflicted.” Even as I felt my own uncertainty and the weight of loss, a song of praise came to my lips.
For now, we and our kids will miss the stories by my in-laws’ wood stove, canning fruit in their kitchen, science and art projects at their table—also the setting for Christmas Eve and Thanksgiving dinner spreads. My daughter will miss dancing in my mother-in-law’s garage, converted into a ballet studio that served many young dancers. They do plan to rebuild.
In flood and now in fire, though, my in-laws point to God’s merciful goodness and the promise of eternal blessings. The fire consumed a temporal “earthly dwelling,” but as the Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Indeed, we have this legacy from my in-laws and as believers. It is worth much more than material possessions.
In the weeks after the fires, we drove down familiar Santa Rosa roads, now cryptic and strangely unfamiliar, with piles of debris where homes once stood. The fires consumed my son’s Catholic school, many friends’ houses, and parks, stores, businesses, and restaurants we frequented. Many of the golden hills we usually admire are now charred.