The fires I wrote about last week are now 80 percent contained and, though still burning, no longer pose immediate threat to my city. However, 32, 000 people were evacuated from their homes, 346 homes and a number of businesses burned to the ground, hundreds of people remain displaced, and our city grieves.
I personally was not involved in the fire, but that does not mean I was not affected. Just about everybody I have talked to knows someone who lost their home. It will take the better part of a year before many of them are able to find or build a new place to call “home,” and it will take many years, probably decades, before the natural beauty of the west side of Colorado Springs returns. And I doubt any of us will ever forget the horror of seeing fire jump over the ridge and burn down into the residential parts of town. (To see an incredible five-day, time-lapse video of the fire, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZBA7eHY022k)
Everywhere I go, people talk about the fire. Everybody has a story. But here is the most amazing thing—terrifying and horrible as last week was, for the most part, people are grateful. In the grocery store, the chiropractor’s office, even the editorial page of our local newspaper, people are talking about God’s mercy. This fire was terrible—no way about it—but, as one friend put it, “God was all over it.”
If you read my blog last week, you know that my overriding prayer was, “Lord, have mercy.” And He has answered that prayer. Here are just a few examples:
- Overwhelming hospitality. People opened their homes to evacuated friends, family, and sometimes to strangers.
- Neighborly kindness. Some people had only 30 minutes or less to evacuate. Can you imagine? But people rushed to help. My musician friend who is out of the country didn’t have to worry about her harp because when her friends learned her house was in danger, they went and removed her instrument for her. My artist friend had another friend show up with his van to take his paintings to safety. My animal-loving friends found refuge in other friends’ homes, along with their cats, dogs, birds, fish, and rabbits.
- Churches, businesses, and other organizations opened their doors to evacuees, offering food, water, hygiene supplies, and other necessities.
- Firefighters showed (and continue to show as they still battle the blazes) incredible courage, selflessness, quick-thinking, and untiring dedication to save 80 percent of the homes and thousands of acres of woodland in the path of the fire.
- Some people were astounded to find their houses intact while homes on either side of theirs burned to the ground.
- On the other hand, people who did lose their homes—like the newlyweds in my church—overflowed with gratitude for the ways God had protected them, provided for them, and given them peace in the midst of the loss.
- Some people are experiencing God’s mercy in the tremendous outpouring of caring people who are helping in myriad ways. As one friend said, “Going through this is restoring my ability to see goodness in people.”
- Others are experiencing God’s mercy as they see their faith remain intact or even grow in spite of fear and loss. The day after the firestorm, when many people feared that their homes had been lost, I was astounded by the incredible faith people were showing. On Facebook, Scriptures and prayers and worship videos were being shared like crazy. I saw no fist-shaking there, but rather, incredible trust in God, no matter what.
- I’ve attended three worship services since the worst day of the fire, and all of them were amazing. It seems that pain and loss either draw us closer to God or distance us from Him. What I noticed was that this trial is drawing people closer to God. It has been amazing to worship with so many hurting people who, like Job, seem to be saying, The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21). And to hear them sing, sincerely, “God is good. All the time.”
- Even the opinion page editor of my local newspaper—not a believer as far as I know—was seeing God in the crisis, urging people to pray for God to use this catastrophe to bring our community together.
- People from all over the nation prayed for Colorado Springs and have expressed incredible concern and support for us; we feel loved.
Our city isn’t through this trial by any means. The fires aren’t even out yet, and many people can’t go back to their homes, or have no homes to go back to. So I’ll still be praying “Lord, have mercy” for many days to come. But I wanted to let those of you who have prayed for us that God is indeed answering our prayers. His mercies are new every morning; great is His faithfulness (Lam. 3:23).