In September 2011, wind and drought drove a massive wildfire through 34,000 acres of central Texas, devastating the Lost Pines area and destroying close to 1700 homes. I can not count the number of miraculous stories I have heard related to this fire, but the story you are about to read remains one of the most profound. I know you will be blessed by Debra’s faith and awed by the great God we serve. ~ Patti
Without doubt or reservation, I know two things: God is sovereign, and God is good. If He were one and not the other, we would all be in big trouble.
Fire ripped through my home in Bastrop last year, leaving heaps of charred, twisted metal and grey flaky ash. Our familiar woods once so dense with underbrush were reduced overnight to a foreign wasteland of jutting, burned sticks. As I absorbed the shocking scene for the first time, the LORD’s sovereignty overwhelmed me–not because of what was taken, but what was spared.
While the tall, imposing pines encircling our house were completely blackened, twenty-five feet from the absent back door stood the small, bent oak tree. Hanging from one of its low branches by yellow nylon rope was a child’s swing, shaped like an old-fashioned Heinz pickle. My mother-in-law still fondly recalls her little boy’s not-so-subtle reminders to buy him one for Christmas, after he saw it advertised on a television commercial. Years later she rescued it from the garage for her grandkids to enjoy. Despite the 2,000-degree heat that thoroughly incinerated our house, this humble tree and the plastic pickle remained whole.
From a worldly perspective, the whole scene would appear wretchedly ironic. For me, it was instant confirmation that the house was supposed to be gone. Since my God can obviously protect something as vulnerable as the pickle swing from the scorching flames, He could easily do the same for my house. However, He chose not to. Instead He allowed the blaze to consume that which He had so graciously given me in the first place. Such is His right. He is sovereign indeed.
My knee now firmly bowed, slowly and sweetly He revealed His goodness. The little ways He had prepared for us, like the church sign. My family had volunteered to post the new messages on our church’s marquee, which faces both sides of Highway 21. A week before, I took a walk with the LORD early in the morning. When I asked Him what He would like to see on the sign, the response was immediate but perplexing. The side most drivers would see should read, THE LORD IS OUR SHIELD AND OUR DEFENDER; the other side, HE IS PRESENT IN OUR TIME OF NEED. What our community needed most, I assumed, was rain to help fend off the unrelenting drought. A week later amid a raging inferno, a band of weary firefighters read it. Right then, they resolved that this sign and its little white church would not burn.
Then there was my dream that fateful Sunday morning. The black forest. The light, just enough for me to safely bypass the protruding roots and low-hanging branches. Dawn breaking. The friendly voices from a familiar church. How they welcomed me, dirty and haggard. Two long white tables in the fellowship hall, heavy with food. Church members serving plate after plate, freely and liberally. Faces beaming with such thankfulness and joy that I wondered how Heaven could possibly be different. By Sunday afternoon I was an evacuee. I sat homeless and exhausted at one of those long white tables, along with my husband and four children. Friends I was accustomed to serving were now serving me, praying for me, mourning with me. In the weeks that followed, the church was the very picture of what Christ intended it to be.
This marked the beginning of a seven-month journey that led us back home, to the same fire-ravaged property. In less than a day, a uniformed squadron of fifty Navy men and women had shoveled, blowtorched, and hauled away what the fire left behind. All because one of my students asked her Navy dad, “What can we do to help Mrs. Pahlow?” Where the burned remains of our single-wide mobile home once lay is now an actual house, exactly twice the size of its predecessor. All because someone recommended my name to Christian Aid Ministries, an Amish-Mennonite organization that offers volunteer labor to rebuild homes after a disaster. My well-used, second-hand sofa and chairs have been replaced with a brand-new living room set I could never have justified purchasing for myself. All because the sweet members of the First Baptist Church of China Spring, Texas, were searching for a family to bless.
This is only a small fraction of what the LORD has done for me, with me, and through me since September 4th. Although several well-meaning people have assured me, “You deserve this,” I really don’t think so. I remember all too well the pit from which He dragged me, the countless ways I have disgraced both Him and myself. I owe Him everything. He owes me nothing. In fact, if all He ever did was save me from an eternity in hell, that would be enough.
Therefore, I am convinced: He entrusted me with that burned house. He entrusted me with a sphere of influence that seems to grow with time. He entrusted me with this rare, precious opportunity to show a dying world the power of the Living God.
He entrusts us with our Ebenezer. Raise it high, sweet sisters.
Debra Pahlow is a wife, mother, and homeschool English teacher. But the number one thing she wants people to know about her? She loves her Savior. Debra writes, “His name is revered in my classroom. His Word is woven into my lessons. His example is our measuring stick. I don’t know where I will be in twenty years–whether I’ll still have my husband, my family, my friends, or my students–but I do know this: I will be actively serving Jesus Christ.”