Where was God in Waldo Canyon Fire?

“Where was God in the Waldo Canyon Fire?”

Someone posed this question in comments on my last blog.  Not a surprising question, this seems to come up often in disaster or tragedy.  Where was God during 9-11?  Where was God during Oklahoma City bombing?  Or on a personal level: Where was God when my loved one got cancer?  Where was God when war ravaged my spouse?  Where was God when…

Possible versions of this question are as numerous as persons who utter it.

Evacuating our home in Foothills of Colorado Springs during “the worst fire in Colorado’s history”, I glanced back to find our entire neighborhood engulfed in smoke.  Flames and black clouds spanned the Front Range.  Many people later commented how it appeared all of Colorado Springs was on fire.  This catastrophic scene gripped my heart as adrenaline coursed through my veins and stole my breath.  Ravaging effects of fire exploding onto our ridge in 65 mph winds wholly obstructed my usual sublime view of mountain vistas, not the least of which our beloved Pikes Peak.

This rock solid, glorious mountain inspired Katharine Lee Bates in 1823 to pen lyrics to America the Beautiful.  She later referred to it as “Gate-of-Heaven Summit”.   America’s Mountain, 10 miles west of Colorado Springs, 14110 feet above sea level {or 14,117 depending on which account you believe}, 38 acres of grandeur, Majestic Pikes Peak,  vanished from view in a chilling haze of smoke and flames.

In chaos of incineration and devastation of the Waldo Canyon Fire, did Pikes Peak move?  Was this magnificent mound any less regal or glorious than days before?  Could unspeakable disaster minimize its majesty, stymie its strength or lessen its loveliness?

My agonizing inability to see Pikes Peak did not alter the mountain’s presence nor could it.  Despite cataclysmic crisis, “Gate of Heaven Summit” stood resolute.  Likewise, the God of Heaven and Earth, unsurprised by human events, remained steadfast, majestic throughout this travesty and countless others before.

 The Lord reigns, he is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed in majesty and armed with strength; indeed, the world is established, firm and secure. Your throne was established long ago; you are from all eternity. Psalm 93:1-2 NIV

I understand and empathize with the question, “Where was God when…” In my life I’ve experienced numerous times when I couldn’t feel God.  Well-meaning friends advised me to stop relying on feelings because they aren’t real.  Mature Christians, I’m told, put no stock in their feelings.  I must respectfully disagree.  Jesus experienced a deep range of emotions…Joy for little children who came to Him, sorrow over deaths of His best friend Lazarus & cousin John the Baptist, compassion for those who sought healing of Him, betrayal at the kiss of a disciple, and agony & abandonment in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Feelings represent an integral part of the human condition.  They let us know we are fully alive.  They signal that something is wrong…or right…depending on the situation.  The key is not to let our feelings overtake Truth articulated in God’s Word.  Facing fire, evacuation and beyond a most compelling Truth comforts me,

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.”  Psalm 46:1

In times of great human suffering, we may struggle to “see God”.  Yet His Presence never abandons us to our circumstances.  God takes no holy holidays or celestial coffee breaks.  God did not evacuate the premises during the Waldo Canyon Fire.  No vacancy sign hung from heaven.  No missing celestial person’s report needed filing.

Eyes of our soul play tricks on us and we cannot always see clearly what lies beyond the veil of dark clouds in our path.  Yet, inability to see grandeur cannot diminish its reality.  Our God remains our constant companion just as sure as Pikes Peak emerged from beyond a smoky haze, glorious and majestic.

True to His Word, “I Am with you always even to the ends of the earth…” {Matthew 28:20 American KJV}  God is here in Colorado Springs just as He has always been.

Even beyond this assurance of His Presence, God doesn’t expect us to merely believe He caused something tragic to happen in Colorado, and we just have to accept it.  That would stir an even greater ache than a fire’s devastation.  Instead, our Creator walks this painful journey through a broken world with us.  He is acquainted with our grief and bears our sorrows.

Immanuel, God with us, shares in this gut-wrenching tragedy.   His heart breaks with ours.  He weeps with those who mourn.  In anxiety and calamity we discover our deepest need for God and in these times, if we look for Him, He reveals himself most precious to us.

      God give us eyes to see.





{photo by Megan Gendron Howe}



Through the Fire: A Personal Perspective on the Impact of Waldo Canyon Fire

 Like thousands of others who call the west side foothills of Colorado Springs, CO, “home”, I wait today to learn the condition of that home.  Displaced since our Waldo Canyon Fire evacuation in a frenzy of thick, black billowing smoke and threatening flames pouring down a nearby ridge like lava from a volcano, I remain transfixed with neighbors and friends in a shroud of uncertainty.   Thousands of evacuees wait in Red Cross shelters, some in hotel rooms, countless others in homes of kind friends or family.  Exhausted and overwhelmed, we hold our breath, we fight back tears and we wait even as fire continues to savagely lap up the world around us.

Sleepless giants posing as television crews, radio announcers, internet media and the ever-present rumor mill gush information…and mis-information…with the force of water from fire hoses.  Images of burning homes, hovering clouds of smoke, fleeing wildlife, charred forests and weeping families sear our minds.  Headlines scream of despair, inflaming our worst fears and incinerating our hopes. 

In times like this many sense a call to pray.  Perhaps months have passed since they looked heavenward not because of any ill-will toward God but simply because life keeps us busy.    We lost track of spiritual hunger as we pursue other appetites.   We lost perspective.   We lost our sense of gratitude.  Yet, in a moment of clarity we stop to look around us at precious loved ones and we thank God we are alive and safe.

If we are blessed with even greater clarity we realize more than anything, what we lost is our sense of eternity.   If I asked anyone on the streets of Colorado Springs today, “Do you believe in eternity?” most would reply in the affirmative.  Of course, we believe in eternity.  But somewhere between the Alpha & Omega we stopped living like we believe.  We traverse day by day as if life was an all-you-can-consume buffet.  We belly up to life’s goodie bar hoping for things of this world to fill us.  And when our feast goes up in flames we easily feel cheated, maybe even question the Goodness of the One who provided the banquet in the first place, blaming Him when our meal is charred.

How senseless to live like I’m in control then blame God when tragedy strikes.  I’m NOT in control.  The harder I chase after earthly pleasures and possessions, the less they satisfy.  The faster I pursue my dreams the quicker they vanish before my eyes.  The more I strive for perfect relationships, the lonelier I become.  The more I demand control, the less I realize it. 

In a hasty evacuation, as I raced through my home gathering last-minute possessions to throw in my car, The phrase echoed through my mind, “You can’t take it with you.”  Take it with me whereInto eternity.

Today as I wait on news of my home, my community, even my future I rest  convinced that God wants me to hold tightly to an eternal perspective.  Those things easily consumed by fire were never intended to give me life.  Loss I may face before sundown, pain I may experience cannot rob me of peace.  In God’s grace he uses loss and pain to shape me into someone He would delight to spend eternity with.  Not yet ready for eternity, in His mercy He continues to transform me even through the fire.   Therein lies my hope today and every day.

“We do not lose heart! Our troubles are slight and short-lived and their outcome is an eternal glory which outweighs them by far.  Meanwhile our eyes are fixed not on the things that are seen but on things unseen, for that which is seen passes away.  What is unseen is eternal. 

For we know that if this earthly frame that houses us today should be demolished, we possess a building which God has provided—a house not made by human hands, eternal and in heaven…Therefore, we never cease to be confident.”  II Corinthians 4:17-18, 5:1 & 6

My hope is not based in things of this world.  I possess Joy—not an emotional high, but real peace prevailing even in the midst of uncertainty, devastation and ruin–because I am intimately familiar with the One unseen.  With eternity in mind I realize that world news headlines, even those involving me personally are not the main story.  The Greater Story is my Sovereign God, the One I will Live with eternally.

Guided Gliding

Against the majestic backdrop of Colorado’s lush Front Range Foothills, USAFA single engine Piper Cubs hummed over my head.  An early morning errand found me on the Air Force Academy at the north end of Colorado Springs.  After several chilly overcast June days causing me to debate whether or not to turn the heat back on, sun-kissed blue skies were a welcomed relief.

The familiar sight of small aircraft each towing a glider greets me often on the Academy.  Yet today I was particularly captivated by the exercise. 

I recalled a recent conversation with a dear friend who earnestly longs to be in the center of God’s will but who, like many Christ followers…myself included…often wonders if he is on the right path.   Questions were posed, “How do we ever know for sure which way God is leading?  What if we mess it up?” 

In this moment of pondering these questions anew, God directed my eyes to the aerial display.  I watched in fascination as the planes pulled gliders attached by a very strong but lightweight cable, almost invisible from below, across the Colorado sky.

USAFA gliders are structurally identical to Piper Cubs  with one distinct exception—gliders have no engine.  Only the Piper Cub has power. To become airborne, a glider is totally dependent upon the airplane.  Whether a glider rises or falls is within the careful control of the plane’s pilot.  Fortunately, because of extensive training completed by the Piper pilot, he is skilled to know precisely what he is doing.  A glider pilot may have complete confidence in his instructor’s watchful eye. 

The two travel in sync together, aided by constant radio contact back & forth.  The plane leads, rises, then levels off while the glider pilot is tasked simply with following and learning.   The ultimate goal is to teach new pilots the most basic fundamentals of flight in the most pure and simple method possible.  Zoomies, as these cadets will be referred to upon graduation, are learning to maximize the ability to fly without a power source of their own.

The glider pilot may position his hands on his steering yoke or stick, but he accepts that while he is in tow the controls are not significantly at his command.  He can steer left or right to some degree but primarily he is there to follow at a designated distance on a predetermined path, trusting in the power and wisdom of the one who leads.  He is where he is, high above a mundane concrete runway, soaring to new heights only because he accepts his position of attachment and followership.  In submission and following, he is secure. 

As soon as a glider detaches from the airplane, it will begin to fall to the earth.  Powerless to regain altitude all the pilot can do is glide, trying to keep his vessel steady as he descends.  As it moves closer and closer to earth, prevalent winds determine where the glider lands.  Typically at USAFA it is to the South.

As followers of Christ we must accept that our power to live a life honoring to Him comes from a source other than self.  At the moment of conversion to Jesus, we are gifted with the power of the Holy Spirit. 

You shall receive power after the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” Acts 1:8

 The Spirit alone, dwelling in us lifts us to new heights and causes us to follow on the right path.

 “Know you not you are the temple of God and the Spirit of God dwells in you?”  I Co 6:19

 “I will put my Spirit in you and cause you to walk in my statutes and you shall keep my commandments and live by them.” Ezekiel 36:27

The connection, much like the cable between aircraft, is intensely strong to hold us but not heavy to weigh us down.  It never becomes a burden.  In our attachment to the Spirit we are given freedom to make adjustments in our positions.  Some decisions to dip to the left or curve right are within our purview but they will not significantly alter the course we travel.

More importantly, in a posture of submission under His watchful eye we cannot mess up the journey. 

 “I will teach you and guide you in the way in which you should go.  I will keep you under my eye.”  Psalm 32:8 NEB

Only when we detach from the power source do we begin to lose altitude and struggle to keep our lives steady on our own.  This is when we risk veering off course and possibly landing South of God’s path for us or worse, we could crash and burn.

When our connection is tight and communication channels are open to hear from our Instructor, we may relax and be at peace.  We don’t fret over which way to turn but instead we trust fully in the wisdom of the One who leads.  The more we look straight ahead keeping our hands off the controls, the more we are pulled in the right direction. 

“You gave your Spirit to instruct them…” Ne. 9:20

We are not abandoned, at the mercy of every wind blowing our way.  Rather, we are securely tied by the bonds of transformation as the Spirit moves in our lives to make us more like the One we follow.  Whether we rise or whether we fall depends entirely upon our willingness to remain firmly attached to our power source.  He leads.  He guides.  We share in the thrill of the adventure, hanging on for the ride.   In so doing, we ascend to heights we could never have accomplished on our own.