There is nothing quite like the sight of a helicopter parked in your back yard to catch your attention! Well, OK, it was in my neighbor’s field, but literally only a stone’s throw from our back fence. And smoke—that grabs your attention too! That was almost a month ago, on August 19th, when a forest fire sparked to life about a mile or so away from our house. Initially, this felt like it would just be an exciting break in my day and was not immediately alarming. I mean, the helicopter was really cool! It wasn’t until my Chicken Little husband came home and started throwing stuff into boxes that I realized this was going to have a direct impact on my life. And on our daughter’s wedding that was scheduled to take place in our back yard in less than two weeks!
Later that afternoon, a sheriff sauntered to our door with our Level 1 Evacuation Advisory that says, basically, “Hey, just letting you know there’s a fire in the area.” As if we hadn’t already figured that out by the helicopters and smoke jumpers we could see out our window. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that we got the Level 2 Evacuation Advisory, which is just a tad more urgent. It says, “HEY! There’s a fire in your area, and you need to pack your s*** and load your cars NOW in case you need to leave at a moment’s notice.” That’s when the adrenaline really kicked in! Adrenalin is a wonderful thing that allows people to accomplish an amazing amount of really hard work in a short period of time. The problem is that adrenalin wanes once the work is over and the waiting begins, leaving one exhausted and increasingly irritable. And stressed. That was one thing I learned from this ordeal, but fortunately, it’s not all I learned, nor was it even remotely the most important. So here are some of the other lessons I learned from the Eagle Fire of 2013.
We can never be grateful enough for the firefighters who put their lives on the line for us every time there is the tiniest spark or flame that puts people and their property in danger. Watching two hot shot crews use our neighbor’s field for a rallying point two days into the fire just made me feel so safe and warm and fuzzy. They are amazing people, and I want to hug them all.
I’m not as attached to my stuff as I thought I was. When you have to pack and load your vehicles with the things you hold nearest and dearest, you really learn what’s important and what’s not. So in went the pictures and computers and some treasured belongings of my deceased parents, but none of my books. We packed important papers, but I really didn’t care about the silver and china and jewelry. They all got put in the truck anyway, because we ended up with too much time to think about it, but I could have done without them. Nonetheless, our initial instincts were telling. We want to save our memories more than we want to save our stuff.
At times like these, you learn who your neighbors are. People came out of the woodwork to help us out. The phone rang off the hook with offers of a place to stay should we have to evacuate, storage space for vehicles or boxes, suggestions for alternate wedding sites if necessary. Many of these were from people in our church—wonderful, good-hearted and genuine people to whom I am extremely grateful. Other calls came from our actual neighbors wanting to come help us hose down the house and yard. Even friends from 4 hours away wondered if we needed a place to stay. All told, we could have stayed in at least 10 different homes from Leavenworth to Wenatchee to Spokane.
It turned out that we never did have to evacuate, but a friend up the road did, so we took her in along with her four-year-old son, Mychal, and two dogs to add to our own menagerie. Having Mychal around was a lot like mainlining caffeine, but he’s so smart and adorable, it was hard to be annoyed when he pushed the buttons on the phone for the umpteenth time. His mom also happens to be my hair stylist, so my pre-wedding hair color actually took place in my kitchen. This allowed me to stay relatively on-track with the wedding timeline while I tried to keep my distraught daughter calm during frequent phone calls.
So here’s the happy ending: the fire was declared 100% contained with four days to go before the wedding; the winds continued to favor us by blowing any remaining smoke in the opposite direction; and the big day dawned bright and clear. Friends pitched in big time to make it an event that we will cherish forever. The wedding was the fulfillment of a long story that includes hurt and loss, healing, patience, prayer, unexpected plot twists, love, transformation and finally joy. And it all comes down to this: no matter what life brings you, God’s grace is there, pressed down and overflowing more abundantly than we could ever imagine, a gift in the midst of every trial by fire, if only we pay attention. And are grateful. May God’s grace be present in your life this day and every day.