Little by little the Black Forest fire is being put out. Hot spots continue to smolder under the pine needles carpeting the forest floor, and teams have to check every square foot of ground before residents are allowed back into an area, so it’s a slow process.
Our little neighborhood remained upwind of the flames and never burned, although there are blackened trees only a few blocks away. Yesterday the mandatory evacuation for our address was lifted. Even though we were warned that both natural gas and electricity (which also powers the pump in our well) were turned off, Pete and I couldn’t wait to get back into our house. We just wanted to be home!
I had steeled myself for what we might find. A refrigerator and freezer full of rotting food? Dead landscaping? With the high temperatures and strong winds, surely my newly sprouted vegetable garden had dried up and blown away. Our next door neighbor had already called us to complain of smoke damage, so I expected that our house would smell like a campfire. Would the chickens still be alive? They drink a lot of water, and I had imagined them gasping as they slowly expired.
We showed an ID to the young National Guardsman and passed through the checkpoint. The area has been sealed off partly to keep residents out, but also to prevent looting in our absence.
Everything looked all right. The trees were still green, the grass in the field still needed mowing (now at the top of my priority list!), and our house looked just as it did when we left a week ago.
We pulled into the garage and opened the door to the house. In spite of a bathroom window which I accidently had left open, there was no smoke smell!
I ventured into the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. It was cold inside! The produce was a week older, but nothing oozed across the shelves or reeked of decay. Even the milk was unspoiled.
Out on the balcony, my potted herbs were just beginning to wilt. I immediately watered them. A hummingbird buzzed up to the feeder, and I noticed that there was still sugar water in it. I filled the birdbath.
Outside, I checked on the garden. It had been full of beans just getting their first leaves, newly planted lettuce and flower seedlings, baby squash plants. Was anything still alive?
Incredibly, everything was still alive… and not only alive, but thriving. The bok choy had grown and was ready to harvest. More beans had sprouted. Every single seedling was still there. I could hardly believe it.
Surely the greenhouse would be full of dead plants. After all, it’s hotter in there, and any rain that might have watered the outside plants wouldn’t help those inside. But no, that was fine too. Beans, chard, and tomatoes were all bigger than when I left; the tomatoes had even set fruit.
The chickens heard me coming and set up a squawking. There was still a bit of scratch scattered on the ground from when the rescue worker had come on Thursday. They needed water, but they weren’t dying of thirst yet. I even found a pile of eggs in the nest box!
Words cannot begin to describe how grateful I am. I didn’t lose anything! I have no idea why our house was not only protected from the flames, but completely undamaged, when so many lost so much. We prayed, but so did hundreds of others who lost everything. We seek to follow God, but so do our friends who escaped with just the clothes on their backs.
There is nothing we did to deserve this reprieve. Nothing. It’s purely God’s grace. And there is nothing our friends did that caused the destruction of their home. God is God. He doesn’t owe us an explanation.
As we begin to help our friends rebuild, I’m struck by their attitude. They’re just as thankful as I am! It seems their daughter-in-law works nights, and she had been soundly sleeping downstairs when the fire broke out. They had planned to go shopping that afternoon but changed their minds, so they were home to wake her in time to escape—with literally seconds to spare. You can see their mindset from the email they sent to family and friends: “…life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” (Luke 12:15)
Whether we had lost everything or not, one truth remains.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? … For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35,38)