Lessons from a Wildfire

La Jolla Canyon was more than just a great hike today.  It was a 4-hour parable, and I honestly didn’t see it coming.

IMG_0680I had been there once before, on a wet day last March.  The weather made others stay home, so I had the trail to myself.  Coastal breezes pushed the misty rain delightfully into my face. I walked in the clouds, tried unsuccessfully to keep the mud from caking on my boots, and even drank rainwater from a flower – a first-time experience that still makes me smile when I think about it.  La Jolla Canyon ranks as one of my all-time favorite worship walks.

What a difference a few months can make.  Five weeks after my hike, a wildfire swept through Point Mugu State Park.  Today, the canyon looks nothing like the place that IMG_0106made such an impact on me.  Ashes still cover the ground.  Leafless blackened branches reach into the sky. The lush, colorful countryside has been replaced by a monotonous gray moonscape.

As I walked along the familiar but now-unfamiliar trail, I was reminded how easy it is for our souls to dry up in response to other kinds of wildfires, and for our lives to resemble the current version of La Jolla Canyon.

Sometimes the fires are of our own making.  Unwise and thoughtless words can burn us and those around us (James 3:6).  Unchecked lust can lead us to make decisions in a moment that we regret for the rest of our lives.  A prideful heart creates a selfish mindset that drives others away, and forces God to actively oppose our agenda (1 Peter 5:5).  We set fires of which we are the victims.

Sometimes our lives are swept by fires that were set by others. She decides that she no longer wants to be married – at least not to you. A friend turns out to be unworthy of the IMG_0129title.  He spends hours with the images on his computer, staring at women with whom you could never compete. Sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, the beauty of our lives can be burned away and replaced by a moonscape that we don’t even recognize.

Other times, the fire comes without anyone setting it.  Your singleness makes no sense to anyone, including you – especially you. The long-anticipated goal of a pleasant retirement crumbles under the unexpected burden of a health crisis.  Your desire to have a child is frustrated month after month.  The gap between dream and reality can be disillusioning, and all the more when we can’t find anyone to blame.

All of these wildfires can do to our lives what the fire did to La Jolla Canyon – burn away the beauty, take away the shade, and leave dust in its place.

IMG_0125But the parable doesn’t stop there, because La Jolla Canyon didn’t stop there.  In just twelve weeks since the fire, color has begun to creep back into the picture.  Green leaves are pushing up through the ashes, flowers are blooming in the cracked earth, and the restoration of the countryside has begun.  It’s a small beginning, but it is a beginning.

The fire won’t have the last word.

IMG_0117The same can be true of us, because our God is bigger than the fires in our lives.  That’s why the people of Israel could sing this song on the way to Jerusalem: “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.  Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations ‘The Lord has done great things for them’” (Psalm 126:1-2).

God makes it possible, even when life is reduced to ashes, to once again laugh and shout for joy.  I need to remember that.  Maybe you do too.  As a regular reminder, I’m planning to hike La Jolla Canyon several times in the next few months, documenting its IMG_0673change from desolation to beauty.  I can’t wait to see it in the Fall after the rains begin, and in Spring, covered once more in wildflowers.  Maybe I’ll even be able to drink from one again.

That’s my plan to remember that I walk with a God who brings life after the fire.

What’s yours?

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About Sabbath Thoughts

My name is Mike Gaston. I am a former missionary, a Shepherding Pastor at Heights Church in Prescott, AZ, a happy husband, a spoiled father of two daughters, a proud grandfather, and a recently-convinced pursuer of the benefits of intentional, regular, contemplative, Christ-centered rest. This blog will allow me to share thoughts about Sabbath, as well as thoughts about God and the Christian life that come out of my restful Sabbath moments.
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16 Responses to Lessons from a Wildfire

  1. debra petrella says:

    perfect in every way, this is so true, there is always hope and healing. Just as the land can be rejuvenated so can our lives when Christ is center. I’m so thankful in that I have said and done many hurtful things in the past and even as a Christ follower, I can be prideful and arrogant. I seek Him for forgiveness and am restored. keep up the hiking there and share the healing and renewed plant life, it is encouraging.

  2. Diana Garber says:

    I’m joining in on this wonderful walk you have decided to do, I’m there in spirit even if not in person.

  3. Denise says:

    Thankful that He takes our ashes and brings new life out of them. Makes me also think of what in my life is hay, wood and stubble that will burn someday and what will be a precious gold in His site. Thank you for the good thoughts this morning as I took time to slow down and meditate on our Lord, as I finish up for GO. After all, it is all about Him and me, and not what “I do” in His name. Sooooo enjoy your thoughts! What a Savior!!!

    • What a Savior, indeed, Denise! I love where you went with this. Sometimes my posts are just onramps that take people to other good places – I love it when that happens. Thanks for sharing it.

  4. Linda Olson says:

    I am mindful of the verses about when we walk through the fire we will not be burned, though the fire devours all that hat is around, He is there with us, or when the river overflows, we will not be swept away. Thank you Pastor Mike for the word pictures you drew for me with you walk there in the canyon and then real pictures to complete the thoughts.

  5. Penny Burch says:

    When I think about the ashes and regrets in my life, I am so thankful that my Saviour is renewing me. I honestly can look back at the ashes and see beauty where His loving hand has replaced regrets with hope. Like the moonscape of La Jolla, I am not the same as I was, God is not leaving me desolate, He is grwing me anew. Mike, thanks for te reminder.

  6. Sargon says:

    The more I thought how to respond to this post the more I was unable to say anything. For me, as you know, that does not happen too often 🙂
    Your reflection on what happen fairy often in our area was so insightful and anointed. My soul took those words as a dried land would welcome drops of water. Thank you for sharing what God speaks to your heart with the rest of us.

    • Sargon, making you speechless makes this a significant day. 🙂 Thank you for your encouragement, brother. I love the image of dried land welcoming drops of water – and how appropriate in this context! Blessings, my friend.

  7. Pingback: Lessons from a Wildfire, Part 2 | Sabbath Thoughts

  8. Pingback: Transformed, but Not Destroyed: Lessons from a Wildfire #3 | Sabbath Thoughts

  9. Charity says:

    What a great parable! Thank you for sharing.

  10. Pingback: Restored | Sabbath Thoughts

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