Mysterious Ways: Rising from the Ashes

A raging wildfire had destroyed her home and possessions, but a scrap of charred paper served to bolster her faith when she needed it most.

Posted in , Nov 25, 2021

Scorched trees following a fire

My husband, Russ, and I drove through our neighborhood, the place we’d called home for 28 years. The Sierra Nevada foothills, once thick with towering pines, were unrecognizable. The ground was covered with a heavy layer of ash. The trees that remained were charred stumps.

Two weeks earlier, we’d gotten an early-morning call telling us to evacuate immediately. The wildfire tearing through Northern California had spread and was headed our way.

We’d jumped in the car with our cats and a few belongings. For days, we’d bounced from hotel to hotel, desperate for news. What finally came wasn’t good. Our house had been right in the fire’s path.

Now we’d been given permission to return. Russ and I brought shovels, work boots, N95 masks and gloves. We’d salvage anything we could.

We drove slowly through the apocalyptic desolation, where chimneys marked where homes once stood. I wasn’t prepared for what awaited us. Our house was nothing but rubble. Mementos, photos, heirlooms, my precious collection of inspirational books—all gone.

I wiped away tears as we dug through the ash and debris. We uncovered a cast-iron coat tree that used to stand in our foyer. A decorative dish our son had given me, blackened but whole. Bits and pieces of our life.

Lord, how will we survive this? I wondered. How will we go on? It felt as if our lives had been wiped out.

We called it quits in late afternoon. Russ loaded what we’d found in the car. The breeze picked up, swirling ash in the air. “Let’s go,” he said.

I turned to get in the car. That’s when I noticed something stuck to my boot. A scrap of paper, smudged with soot. I picked it up. Its edges were singed, yet the words were surprisingly legible: “If life seems difficult, I pause and reflect on the blessing sometimes hidden within every circumstance. With renewed faith and courage, I begin again.”

Words that must have come from one of my books, a passage I couldn’t recall but now said everything I needed to hear. Words that rose from the ashes. I framed that scrap of paper. I kept it on the nightstand in every hotel and motel we stayed in over the coming months. It now sits in a place of honor in our new home, a reminder that we can begin again.

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