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.

Me? Captivating?

 

For a solo parent, escaping for 4 days is a luxury.  I entered the Ransomed Heart lottery for a spot at a very popular women’s retreat in the mountains of Colorado, never expecting to receive one of the highly coveted allotted slots.  But God whispered my name in an email…You have been selected to become CAPTIVATING. 

On those rare occasions when I do sneak off for more than an afternoon, I look for the quietest place I can find, the goal being to get alone with God, to listen for His voice.  On the 2 hour drive to Buena Vista, Colorado, I prepared to still my heart by singing hymns up the alphabet even as I wept over a fresh blow to my heart…All to Jesus I Surrender, Blessed Assurance, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, Down at the Cross. 

Despite knowing that over 350 women from all over the world would also be attending, I still managed to convince myself I would keep pretty much to myself and focus on letting God heal raw emotions accompanying me on this trip.  I reasoned at the end of 4 days I would have processed…or buried…my pain and painted on a dutiful-Christian smile to disguise whatever lingered after I ran out of time to deal with the remainder.  I wasn’t in a position to give support to anyone else and in my sadness, I couldn’t bear the thought of exchanging simple pleasantries with strangers.   So, I vowed in my heart to remain subdued and anonymous.  In a crowd of this magnitude no one would notice.  I had come with baggage of more than the Samsonite variety.  I desperately wanted to empty the load and be rid of it.  Little did I realize that unpacking would take a form completely foreign to me including danger, extreme adrenaline rushes, some nasty bruises, even a cracked rib. 

I carted my belongings into a cabin with 10 bunk beds, praying silently that no one snored.  As if they read my mind, one woman mentioned she packed ear plugs in case we encountered a snorer in our midst.  A second woman boasted she brought Benadryl for the same reason.  Risking humor I chimed in dryly, “I brought my .38 snub nose.”  Nervous giggles followed.

Hurrying to follow the dinner bell, I joined in superficial, polite conversation over a meal served family style in a mess hall imitating a small turn-of-the-century frontier town.  Within an hour I found myself seated in an auditorium where I positioned myself near the front to soak in whatever the speaker had come to bless me with.

 “Your heart was created to mirror God’s.  You were created in His image,”   she began.

God created man in His own image, in the image of God, He created him; male & female He created them…” Genesis 1:27

“Great,” I thought, “we are going to zoom in on the heart in the first 30 seconds.”  I had hoped to slide into the message gently.   Stasi Eldredge posed a question stealing breath from me in the form of an audible gasp, “What is it that makes your heart come alive?”  Regaining my composure, my private response echoed through my soul, “Nothing.  My heart doesn’t feel alive nor do I want it to.  Love is too painful.  I’m keeping my heart locked up from here on out.  But thanks for asking.”  Apathy was the fig leaf disguising my anger and pain.  I forced a yawn and tried to tune out the speaker.

Moments later, a film trailer from Lion, Witch & the Wardrobe jolted me out of my dreary inattentiveness…  “Some journeys take us far from home…some adventures take us to our destiny”.

Then came another clip and quote from the movie Braveheart,  “Every man dies.  Not every man truly lives.”

Already God was rattling my armor-encased heart.  He didn’t bring me here to let me hide behind fallen autumn debris.  He wasn’t about to allow me to waste these 4 days.  In an auditorium of 350 women with 350 different stories in a dozen dialects and languages, God had plans specifically for me…to take me on an adventure which would lead me to my destiny.    {To be continued…} 

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.