Living in Colorado this summer and fall was an experience unlike any I had ever had. In fact, it was a summer and fall unlike any that had happened in Colorado history. In five months, from June to October, Colorado experienced its three biggest forest fires in state history. The fires burned hundreds of thousands of acres. In Northern Colorado, the effects of the fire were suffocating (almost literally). Ash fell like snow, gathering as a thick coating of dust over all outside surfaces, the sky turned orange as smoke transitioned the sun's light into an eerie smog that made the Fort Collins landscape look more like a scene from The Martian. The fires were so big and so close that flames could be seen dancing on top of the foothills just outside of town.
I grew up in Colorado, and we had small wildfires all the time. I was constantly reminded of the benefits of fire, how it acted as a natural “reset” for the forests. I was taught about serotinous cones. These are pine cones that hold on to their seeds for years until a fire comes through and melts the resin, allowing the seeds to be scattered about. This new life was something to look forward to, my dad would tell me. He would explain how there would be newer, healthier forests for me to enjoy when I am older. As a boy, I remember watching for fires on the news and having a sense of excitement knowing what was to come!
This feeling of wonder escaped me this past wildfire season. I didn’t want a reminder about serotinous cones. I didn’t care about the natural cleansing of the forest. What I had been told was going to bring life had gotten too big, and it had taken over my whole world. I watched as these fires burned down the forests I had enjoyed adventuring in my whole life. I was content with those forests. I didn’t want these new ones, not if it meant losing the one that I had grown to love.
The fires have since quieted under a blanket of snow, but that feeling of uncontrollable, “world falling down on you” anxiety reminded me far too much of how it feels having a sick loved one.
Four years ago, my mom passed away from Metastatic Breast Cancer. I remember the months leading up to that feeling exactly like the feelings detailed in the last paragraphs. As a Christian, I have always been told to “take joy in my sufferings.” I have been pointed to Matthew 5:3 where Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In fact, I remember being pointed to many individual verses throughout the Bible that make it seem like trials should be what I strive for. It took me until the Christmas following my mom’s passing for me to really feel the need to figure out what the Bible and all of these well-intentioned people were telling me.
I went to Matthew 5. I read that there should be a blessing with the mourning. Jesus himself made the promise of comfort. Sitting in my bed crying at night didn’t feel like a blessing. What about the times when I wasn’t mourning, or doing any of the other things outlined in the beatitudes, was I not blessed then? I realized that I technically don’t qualify for any of the blessing or the “they shall”s. None of those things were fully me, so why did Jesus say them?
I realized that as you work through the list -- “blessed are the poor in spirit…, blessed are those who mourn…, blessed are the meek…, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” -- the person you see as the blessed is Jesus. He is the one who fulfills all of those blessings. When he went to the cross, he removed our separation from him. We now know that as we accept him, we become heirs to his blessings.
The promise is fulfilled in him! I realized that the blessing was not in the mourning, the blessing is in him! It just so happens that as I mourn I actually have the ability to experience him in a new way. He is the one who weeps over loss (John 11:35). I get to also experience his promise that there will be comfort! As I figured this out, I didn’t feel instant comfort, but I instead got to mourn as one who lives in the promise of the One who brings comfort. I’m not sure if this comfort is meant to be fully experienced on this side of heaven, but I now find hope in the ultimate promise of my hope in Him.
You see, the promise my dad made me was not that the forest fires alone would bring new life. Fires are painful and, at first glance, destructive. He did, however, promise that no matter how painful they were, the destruction was the beginning of new life.
I love that the God we look to this Christmas season modeled this for us. He came and died so that we may experience life in him. It doesn’t mean that there won’t be pain, destruction, and mourning. But it does mean that we get to live knowing that even in the hardest moments, we are already experiencing the hope and the beginning of new life.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 -- But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
Stephen originally shared this devotional at IoH's Memorial Gathering on December 13.
Stephen Poquette's favorite memory of his own Legacy Retreat® was the feeling of belonging he experienced as the volunteers and staff welcomed his family when they first arrived. His mom passed away just a few weeks after their family was served on the November 2016 retreat to NYC, but that sense of belonging he experienced kept him involved with IoH. First as a fundraiser, then a volunteer, and now as a staff member, Stephen wholeheartedly works to ensure other families have the chance to make memories before it is too late. As our Family Communications Coordinator, Stephen supports our Coordinators and makes sure our entire IoH Family stays up-to-date on all we have to offer.