Sunday, May 26 2024 - 12:08 AM
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Leaving Paradise

November 8, 2018, changed my life forever. It had been a smoky morning which was not unusual for Paradise, California. I was sitting in band practice like I did every morning when my principal walked in to announce there was a forest fire about 20 miles outside of town. We were to go home and evacuate immediately. I wasn’t worried. I had evacuated many times before, and nothing happened. Soon I was sitting on the curb, waiting for my father to pick me up.

As I walked into the house, my mom told me I needed to drive her to the hospital where she worked.

“Did you forget something?” I asked, hoping to make a quick trip to her office. But instead, she told me the hospital’s incident command team needed her help during the evacuation and wanted me to drop her off.

We lived down the street from the hospital, hopped in the car, and began the quick drive. My naivety vanished when we arrived on campus, and I saw firefighters spraying water on burning lawns. The world shifted to slow motion as I watched employees fearfully running between buildings and patients still wearing gowns climbing into cars. I managed to pull up to the main entrance in all the chaos. My mom reached for the door, but I kept it locked. I couldn’t let her leave. If I had known how close the fire was, I would never have agreed to drop her off. She unlocked and opened the door before turning back to me.

“I love you, baby girl,” she said.

“I love you too, Mommy,” I cried.

She bravely ran into the building, and I anxiously drove home. When I pulled into the driveway, I saw our backyard on fire. I rushed to pack, but the front yard caught fire within five minutes. I followed my dad in his car and prayed that my mom would be safe and our house wouldn’t burn down. As we pulled away, a fire truck parked in the neighbor’s yard, and firefighters began hosing down homes. I hoped God heard my prayer as I watched the firefighters in my rearview mirror.

A family friend had invited us to stay with them in a neighboring town. When we arrived, other church members were already there watching the tragedy unfold on the news. After sinking into the couch, my phone began buzzing with frantic calls and texts:

Are you safe?

Do you know where the fire is?

I drove by your house; it was on fire. I’m so sorry.

That last text made me numb. Why hadn’t God saved my house? Would He protect my mom? She was stuck in Paradise, and cell service was down, so that we couldn’t reach her.

My dad’s cell phone rang. He had taken every other call beside me, but this time he walked into the next room. The news kept playing, and my phone buzzed, but I could no longer distract myself. Why didn’t he take the call next to me? I thought. He came back after a few minutes with glossy red eyes. Immediately, my mind jumped to the worst possible conclusions. Had my dad received a call about my mom and couldn’t bring himself to tell me? Had God forgotten about my mom? I couldn’t help but think up horrific scenarios of my mother’s last moments. My chest got tight, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

A few hours later, a church member whose husband worked with my mother ran into the room. She said that her husband and my mom were on their way. Then, finally, I felt like I could breathe again. God hadn’t forgotten my mom. When they arrived, I beat everyone to the door and hugged her tight. She reeked of smoke, but I held her close and realized I had never been more grateful for anything in my entire life.

In the days following the fire, my family stuck close to one another. Isaiah 41:10 says, “Do not fear, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed for I am your God.” The life I knew was gone, but God wasn’t. He was there with my mom in Paradise and with me as I feared for her safety. God is with us through every trial of life, and we must never forget that.

If you enjoyed this, you might also enjoy A Not So Typical Night | What Does the Bible Say about Natural Disasters? 

Stacy Wisener writes from Northern California.

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About Stacy Wisener

Stacy Wisener

writes from the Pacific Northwest.

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