This is what we saw as we drove out of our little town last week.
And tonight, for the first time in a week, we pulled into our driveway.
The house didn’t smell nearly as bad as we expected–especially after the thick smoke all the way through Ventura. Our chests felt heavy with the thickness and our eyes burned, but the house itself did well except for a thin layer of ash covering the yard like pretend snow.
There’s so much. So much to process.
I thought about our time in Pismo. Every morning, I forced everyone to go down to the beach and walk. One of the days, I looked down and realized that when I had taken off my *fitness watch*, I had forgotten to put it back on before we evacuated the house.
“Darn, these steps aren’t even counting!” I thought. And then I realized….no, these steps count for even more than just my fitness goals.
I knew that at least half of the crew was not interested in making those (almost) one hundred steps down to the beach. But they mattered. Because each one of those steps, each deep breath of fresh air, each thoughtful look at the ebb and flow of the ocean waves was about remembering God’s provision for us. Yes, we had to leave our home. No, we didn’t know what would become of it or our possessions. But this beautiful place was God taking care of us in the middle of it all. We were alive. We were together. It was our chance to prioritize life over stuff.
It was sort of like when the Israelites finally crossed into the promised land, and God told them to collect 12 stones to remember all that He had done on their behalf.
Those steps on the beach were our stones of remembrance. We could go back and eat some more at the free breakfast. We could go and lay down or make plans for the day. We could worry about every post and update which would tell us what this monster they named Thomas was doing next.
Or we could take these steps of remembrance….each step recalling ways that God had been faithful to our family, calling forth the faith to believe that He would continue to be faithful.
There were other steps too.
Like when Pismo Beach ran out of hotel rooms and we knew our time there was finished. But we didn’t have our next step. We drove, down the coast, really not knowing where we were headed, and having no answer to the almost constant question, “Where are we going??”
But I have walked that road before. Twice, we had driven across the country, not entirely sure of where we were going specifically or where we would stay.
So, these steps were easier to take because we had trusted God on a similar road before. And while Ben and I remember those steps well, it didn’t stop the road from being very difficult and emotional for all of our kids.
But our landing was soft. After driving the longest route possible, I believe, to Bakersfield, we were welcomed so warmly and cared for so completely, that you could almost forget all this fire and evacuation stuff.
My brother-in-law and sister-in-law ran circles around us in cooking and cleaning and clean towels and showers and meaningful conversation and bacon from the oven and coffee.
We felt so loved and cared for–it was truly a gift to spend the time with them and their children.
So tonight, on the drive home, we read this in our beloved advent story:
“Cry Bartholomew,” he said. “No man could face what you’ve been through and not cry.”
And so Bartholomew did, with all the tears and anger that had built up for so many days. He cried for his town, and for the life he’d known there, and for himself, alone and hunted. But most of all he cried for his parents and his family.
It’s been a long couple of years for our family. Tonight, my heart is heavy and weeps for my town.
My heart cries for what has been lost here, and what has been ravaged by the flame.
My heart cries for my brother, and others who have lost so much.
My heart hurts even for my own children, who don’t go to bed with quite the same sense of security they had before.
But my heart also cries for the grace that has been mine. For my husband who cared so much for me as I felt cramped and overwhelmed at a hotel. Who understood when I needed conversations with my family when we got the news about my brother’s house. For my family being safe–especially the seven “little” ones that I can hold safely in my arms–which is more than many of our dear friends who have faced childhood cancer can say. For my brother’s life….I know that he will be forever pained by the loss of his house, but I am so grateful he was spared. For our family in Bakersfield, who make the very short list of people who can easily host NINE people on a moment’s notice with joyful, servant’s hearts. For seeing the kids and their cousins get more time together than normal.
And on and on I could go…..
There is so much emotion and so much to continue processing. But tonight, what weighs the most on my heart is that I have hope. Hope for the future of my family, for my brother, and for our community. I want to be the light of Jesus Christ everywhere I go–whether it is a hotel room in Pismo Beach or a hospital room in Los Angeles or a flight to New York. I want to love fully, and serve joyfully, and remember God’s faithfulness. I want to weep with those who are hurting and rejoice with those who are glad.
And even though the steps ahead may be heavy, some exhausting, some tedious or frustrating…..I want my steps to be full of faith and full of hope, and I want to make them count.
Whether I’m wearing my watch or not.