I've always liked the number 13. Being born on the 13th of the month has endeared me to this unluckiest of numbers—it makes me feel like I'm living a little bit on the dark side.
But recent events have forced me to think over my lack of belief in unlucky 13s. Because bad things do tend to happen around my birthday.
- Sept. 11, 2001—No explanation needed
- Sept. 12, 2009—My Grandma Jackson died
- Sept. 13, 2013—A bunch of my coworkers were laid off (this was a Friday the 13th birthday, which was an otherwise awesome day)
- Sept. 13, 2018—9 of my 14 family members were evacuated due to a fire that threatened to send my childhood up in flames
Notice any similarities here? All of these happened to people around me, rather than directly to me. Each has felt profoundly personal, sure, but I feel morally bound to warn everyone that my next birthday falls on a Friday.
|This is what the fire looked like from Eagle Mountain (about 40 miles from the fire) around the time Elk Ridge and Woodland Hills were ordered to evacuate. Hint: those are not clouds.|
If you live near a mountain in Utah, you know the fire risks. We've had fires within seeing distance of my childhood home before, but this fire (two fires actually, which have now combined—the Bald Mountain Fire and the Pole Creek Fire)—this fire is different. Aided by the worst drought in recent memory, higher-than-average temperatures, and wind, this fire was set to destroy just about everything I hold dear. My hometown. The home I grew up in, my sister's home, the homes of the many people who helped raise me. The lives of the 5,000 people who live in this beautiful sanctuary, a tucked-away gem that we prefer remain hidden.
The fire spread at an astounding rate, and to date has burned around 90,000 acres—and it's still growing. It quickly became the No. 1 fire priority in the nation, giving us access to whatever resources we need to fight this blaze.
|Welcome to Mordor.|
I spent a couple of sleepless nights imagining every worst-case scenario. Fear does crazy things to your imagination, and for a couple of days, that fear was warranted. With several other fires sprouting up throughout Utah on Saturday—not to mention BYU winning an impossible-to-win game on the road—it truly felt like the apocalypse was here.
Many times throughout that horrible weekend, when all we could do was watch helplessly from the sidelines and pray, I wondered if God's plan was to let this disaster run its own course. I kept thinking about that scripture in 1 Kings 19:11–12. Elijah is hiding in a cave, afraid for his life, hopeless for the children of Israel because they have forsaken their covenants.
And, behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the Lord; but the Lord was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the Lord was not in the earthquake;
And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire.From my limited perspective, where all I could see was that fire growing and growing, I could not see the Lord's hand in any of it. Only destruction, aided by unfavorable weather conditions.
But once the worst of the danger had passed, the stories started pouring in, and the miracles became more clear. A line of fire that was headed straight for homes in Elk Ridge simply fizzed out on its own. Firefighters said there was no way they would get through Friday and Saturday without losing some homes because of the crazy winds, but somehow the fire threatening so many homes just didn't respond to the wind the way nature required it to. The fire acted unnaturally, illogically, many times, which kept this narrative—no structures have been lost—going. No firefighters have been seriously injured either, despite the weather factors working against them.
The Lord is in that fire.
Steve Jobs said, "You can't connect the dots going forward. You can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future."
President Dieter F. Uchtdorf expounded on this in a devotional to young single adults last January:
What did he mean by that? Perhaps an illustration will help. In the late 19th century, artists such as Georges Seurat and Paul Signac began painting in a new style that would become known as neo-impressionism. Their technique consisted of dotting canvases with small specks of color. Close up, these dots appear unconnected and random. But when you take in the entire painting, you can see how the dots blend into colors and how the colors eventually form shapes that reveal a beautiful pattern. What once seemed arbitrary and even confusing begins to make sense. Sometimes our lives are like neo-impressionistic art. The dots of color that make up the moments and events of our days can appear unconnected and chaotic at times. We can’t see any order to them. We can’t imagine that they have a purpose at all.
However, when we step back and take an eternal perspective, when we look at our lives in the frame of the gospel of Jesus Christ, we can begin to see how the various dots in our lives interconnect. We may not be able to see the entire picture just yet, but we’ll see enough to trust that there is a beautiful, grand design. And as we strive to trust God and follow His Son, Jesus Christ, one day we will see the finished product, and we will know that the very hand of God was directing and guiding our steps.In the heart of this fire, it felt like a senseless, unlucky string of events. But looking back over the last few days, it's stunningly obvious that we haven't been left alone in this. Connecting the dots even further back, I am extremely grateful I bought a house months ago that was bigger than I needed. It's allowed me to open up my home to four of my family members and give them some sense of home and comfort as this mandatory evacuation stretches on.
And the community response has been incredible. The Red Cross has had to ask people to stop donating and beg evacuees to come pick up donated supplies. The firefighters are well taken care of. No one has had to spend the night in a shelter because there's a long waiting list of people who are ready to open their homes to evacuees. People stepped in to provide wedding decorations and supplies when one couple's wedding in Woodland Hills had to be replanned at the last minute because of the fire and evacuations. And let's not underestimate how well prepared many Elk Ridge and Woodland Hills residents were for something like this to happen. This is a special, tight-knit community; these stories don't surprise me one bit.
That being said, this crisis is far from over. The Bald Mountain fire is still 0% contained, and simply getting through each day during a long-term evacuation is a huge burden for evacuees. The smoke, at least in Eagle Mountain, was worse this morning than it's been all summer. I'm dreading seeing how many childhood haunts are gone when this is all over, and how this will affect the beautiful views and wildlife for years to come. As Gov. Herbert has said, "This is a marathon, not a sprint."
The rest of that verse from 1 Kings 19:12 says, "and after the fire a still small voice." Torrential rains would be a more obvious miracle—and it's the one much of Utah continues to pray for—but it's often the quiet miracles we're granted. And sometimes we literally have to live through fire before we can find peace. But the help is there. It's always there.