My neighbor and I sat in her yard eating Popsicles and watching the kids hop in and out of the wading pool. About five blocks away, at the national forest boundary, a plume of dark smoke appeared above the horizon of pine trees. Within 15 minutes, the roiling smoke was a large cloud, and sirens wailed along the gravel streets.
This was not my first experience with a wildfire.
Two years before, when we lived in a different state, our town had been evacuated for five days. As I reached out in prayer on this occasion, I remembered the previous experience. God's presence had comforted and empowered me. I knew this fire happening now was another opportunity to put my growing trust in my divine Protector into practice.
Silently I knew that we could never be beyond God's control. The 91st Psalm says, "He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways." When stressful situations arise, I like to recall Bible verses with simple messages of God's love. They are easy to hang on to, like a friend who extends her hand to pull you up when you have slipped and fallen.
My neighbor, who had two children and a third on the way, was getting anxious. Wildfires are scary, especially if you are close, and we were.
Helicopters and airplanes were starting to circle the area. They hovered so low that we could see the letters and numbers written underneath them. I gave thanks to God that the firefighting effort was off to such a decisive start.
My friend wanted to pack up to leave, so I offered to take her preschooler home to play with my daughter. That would make it easier for her to focus on getting her household organized.
At home I worked briskly, and I prayed, listening to God for inspiration. Mary Baker Eddy said about finding God's love in difficult situations, "Therefore despair not nor murmur, for that which seeketh to save, to heal, and to deliver, will guide thee, if thou seekest this guidance" ("The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany," p. 150). I knew that as long as I was earnestly endeavoring to listen to God, I could move forward calmly and without fear.
The neighborhood went into evacuation mode, and my neighbor and her husband came for their daughter. Meanwhile, my family began to pack up, too, getting the car filled in case it seemed prudent for us also to move.
At one point I watched a couple inching down our street in their truck. With no means to move their horse other than to walk it out, the passenger leaned out the window, holding the horse's reins so that it could plod patiently next to their vehicle. Tears came to my eyes as I pictured them out on the highway in the traffic.
Then I remembered that when we are with God – and we always are – we can find the best way to safety.
I knew these people would find the refuge they needed.
I have found that a central point in praying about wildfires and other dramatic events is not to get caught up in the hype. Instead, we can look for the steady, reliable spiritual facts that are present, such as God's all-powerful goodness.
If we've felt God's hand in our lives before, then we can remember that and be grateful. If we're new to praying, then what better time to ask for help? And if we're watching from the outside, we can know that no one is ever left without divine aid.
As Mary Baker Eddy wrote of God in a letter, "Yes, my student, my Father is your Father; and He helps us most when help is most needed, for He is the ever-present help" ("Miscellaneous Writings 1883-1896," p. 157).
In the case of this particular wildfire, it was put out within only a few days. Although it burned along the edge of the forest, right in people's backyards, no homes or lives were lost. Once again I learned more about how anyone can take a prayerful stand in the midst of adversity.