Today is the first morning all week that the air hasn’t been full of little, white, fluttering bits of ash. It’s been a little surreal each morning, seeing lots of white bits pirouetting through the air, almost like the first few tiny snowflakes in a winter storm. It would have been beautiful to me, except for what it represented: a huge wildfire, burning out of control not too far from my community. The ashes represented loss, fear, and sweat (on the part of the firefighters). These tiny snowflakes of destruction were present all week until yesterday morning, when rain – beautiful rain – fell for a few hours. As someone who values sunny days over just about anything, I’ve never been quite so happy to see it rain as I was yesterday.
We all know the terrible aspects of wildfires…the destruction of trees, both young and old; the loss of wildlife and their habitats; the risks to life and limb for our brave firefighters…the list goes on. Once the fire has stopped, it seems as if the life of the forest has come to an end. It appears as though the almighty Fire has won, and life as it was before is no more. The fire is followed by weeks of smoldering, smoking devastation and what appears to be death.
But wait – is it death, or just dormancy? There are amazing things happening under the surface after that fire. Things the naked eye can’t see – at least not at first. There is a rebuilding of cells, a sprouting of seeds, and before long – a miracle happens. A tiny green shoot! A bird song! Signs of new life where only devastation had appeared not so long ago.
As I think about those ashes and that fire, I see a correlation to my own life. Have you ever walked through a time of devastation, grief, and loss, and felt that you were destroyed? I have. I’ve had times where I felt that the old me had been completely obliterated by grief and there was nothing of me left but ashes. Miscarriage, betrayal, disappointment, health crises, a child with a big diagnosis…all things that have touched my life (maybe yours too) and felt like all they were going to leave me with was ashes.
But they didn’t. Oh, there have been plenty of ashes days. But they’ve been followed by new green growth days. Even some bird song days. And there’s been a dawning realization that as I’ve clung to my Rescuer, each forest fire in my life has actually cut away the parts of me that needed it. The old growth, the stagnant ways, the lack of compassion for others…all diminish and eventually disappear in the path of the wildfires of my life. I, myself, do not completely disappear. I am not completely destroyed. What I am, is changed…forever…for the better. Granted, it doesn’t feel like it at the time, but when I look back I can see that just as a vintner must prune the grapevine regularly, and in a certain way, in order to produce the best grapes, so the wildfires in my life have been doing a sort of pruning in me. Removing my self-sufficiency and increasing my dependence on Him. Growing my compassion and understanding for others. Increasing my faith through every experience of Jesus catching me when I fall, and lifting my burdens when I bring them to him.
If you are in a season of wildfire in your life right now, don’t despair. Our God is in the business of bringing beauty from ashes! Cling to him, give him time, and have hope…your bird song days are right around the corner.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.
– Isaiah 61:1-3