The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” Exodus 14:14
It was a night that will not be forgotten. For many years, my family has visited the Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, area for vacation. It has not been an every year deal but occasionally. We love the trails and the mountains and, of course, all the places to eat. In some ways it is like a county fair because fair food and rides are everywhere. Several years ago we began joining my daughter and son-in-law with the grandkids in the fall…usually in November. In a word, it is fun.
In 2016 something happened that changed that area forever. A fire started by human hands near Chimney Tops on November 28th of that year quickly spread through the dry, tinder forests. The results were catastrophic and have been cited as the worst natural disaster in Tennessee history. Before it was all said and done, 14 people lost their lives, 2,460 buildings were destroyed, and 17,900 acres were burned. We watched on the news as it happened but also saw from a distance some of the devastation years later when we visited. There was safety in that, on television and from a distance, but what happens when the tragedy gets more personal?
This year we once again returned to the Gatlinburg area. Rebecca, my daughter, always makes the reservation, and she did again this time. As we were driving to the cabin, we passed through an area that had obviously been damaged by the wildfire. Judy made the comment that according to the GPS we were not too far from our cabin. We could look up on the ridge and see many cabins far above the valley floor. What we could not see was a lot of trees. Apparently, the fire had destroyed them.
As we made our turn on the road that would lead to our cabin, it soon became apparent that we would see the power of the fire from the night up close. The higher we climbed, the more we saw. There were trees scarred by the flames and only the foundations remaining where cabins worth hundreds of thousands of dollars had once stood. Some cabins had been rebuilt, some were being rebuilt, and some, well, stood as silent witnesses of destruction. It was harsh, it was sad, it was awakening. Suddenly the memories of what I saw on the news four years ago came to life like the dry bones Ezekiel saw in the Bible.
After an almost two mile trip up the mountain, we came to our cabin. There it stood, looking strangely new in one of Gatlinburg’s esteemed older rental areas. It was indeed new because it, like almost every house in the area, had been destroyed by the fire that week. In front of the house was a twenty foot section of tree that, while not alive, still sends a message. Carved into the massive trunk were the words “Smoky Strong.” I’m sure the tree was alive and well the night the fire swept the mountain, but even today it sends a message…we are not done.
All around the area were signs of destruction…of what used to be. But wait…don’t miss this. Also all around the area were signs of new life, of renewal, of rebirth. New trees are replacing those lost, new homes are replacing the damaged, and foundations will one day bear a new building. The pain and suffering of that night is being replaced by the hope of the future. I think we all can learn a lesson from Gatlinburg. It was about eight months ago that a fire of sorts began to sweep our nation. Its name was COVID, and its flames were the flames of fear. The question is what will we do with this hot mess? That is a question we have been asking for months.
I’m sure many have come to the conclusion that life will never be the same, and that is probably true. But why do we have to assume that this also means it won’t be better? Why do we have to assume that our best days are behind us? I know this. God is still God, and the last time I checked, He has not given up control to His enemy the Devil, or fear, or COVID. Moses, speaking for God, said, “The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.” You see, He still reigns ,and as long as that is true then the best is yet to come. The.Best.Is.Yet.To.Come.
I’m sure the house that once stood here was beautiful in its own rights. I never saw it, but I sit in its successor, and it is beautiful. I stand on the deck and have a clear view of the mountains and the valley below—a view that may have been obscured by the trees of the old normalcy. Perhaps the ability to see clearer is a gift. Perhaps the ability to trust God deeper during these days is a gift from our Heavenly Father. No, as I have said before, COVID is not good, but God can and will bring good from it. For some of us, that means a deeper trust in Him. For some, it means a clearer view of what really matters in life. For some, it will be the realization that it is good to have a Dearest Daddy we can rest in—knowing He’s got this.
*Chimney Tops 2 Fire. Incident Management Team photo