“The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.” – Mt. 7:25

The signs for Aaron Brothers and Toys R Us have been covered over with notices directing people to the FEMA/State Disaster Recovery Center. Just last year these stores were filled with Black Friday shoppers searching for the latest deals. Today, FEMA is facilitating recovery and relief for the hundreds of people who lost their homes in Disaster 4407, the Hill and Woolsey fires. 1,500 structures were lost – from mobile homes to celebrity mansions. The guests staying at the Four Seasons Hotel and the homeless sleeping in a Church hall were all evacuated. From a Jewish day school, wineries and restaurants, retreat centers, and outdoor school camps, historic landmarks, the devastation was indiscriminate.

These fires came not even 24 hours after a mass casualty shooting in a country line-dancing bar. 12 people were killed, hundreds of others injured and traumatized. As I reflect on today’s Scriptures, the metaphors are not an abstraction, but rather, they are images of real grief and vivid destruction. Our schools were closed for weeks, even failing the first round of health inspections after the disaster cleanup. For days we lived in a constant state of panic, not knowing what disaster would next awaken us, what neighborhood would next be evacuated, or what institutions in the community would next be lost. Even weeks later, there are countless reminders that things are not normal, that people are struggling to put the pieces of their lives back together.

If you drive along the 101 freeway through Ventura County right now, you will see charred buildings, singed trees, and the smashed-out windows of a devastated crime scene – the shells of places that once held so much life. However, you will also see unparalleled generosity, earnest longing from each to do our small part and beacons of hope. The morning after the shooting, hundreds of people lined up outside my high school and waited hours to donate blood to the victims. When the entire school district shut down due to the fires, local groups stepped up to offer free childcare, showers, phone charging stations, and meals. One small spark of fire has the capacity to trigger 100,000 acres of destruction, yet we still struggle to imagine how our simple acts of kindness could have the same ripple effect. When I look around, I see the remnants of destruction, but I also see the remains of hope.

Mary, you have shown us that infinite trust makes way for infinite grace. How might I be called to nurture love and cultivate hope in the world today?

Jen Coito