Debbie Williamson

Out of the Abundance of the Heart



January 2018



Out Of The Ashes . . .

Written by , Posted in Family, General

The people of Santa Rosa are sifting through the ashes. Literally. And the people of Ventura and Fallbrook probably are too. The fires that consumed so much of California this year have wreaked havoc on families and communities up and down the state.

I was in Santa Rosa in December. I’d flown up to celebrate my mom’s birthday, her first birthday in 58 years that she’s not spent with my dad.

The fires in Santa Rosa had burned down the place we had planned on moving her into after my dad died, so we found another place. It’s just miles from the Coffey Park neighborhood.

And the Coffey Park neighborhood is gone. The fires had jumped the 101 Freeway and had burned home after home, block after block, acre after acre. Everything is gone. 1347 homes in all.

As we drove through in December, there was nothing left. Nothing. We’d seen the Fountain Grove neighborhood, 1590 homes burned there. In the Coffey neighborhood . . . nothing. Burned out cars, blackened trees, a chimney. Other than that — ashes. Empty lots. Driveways to nowhere. The insurance companies had been by and on every lot there was a sign with a check list, things that needed to be verified so the claim could proceed.

And every couple of blocks, a Christmas tree on an ashy lot with a few ornaments and some battery powered lights. I cried.

(Photo: The Press Democrat)

The next night at a birthday dinner given in honor of my mom, 10 women shared around a beautiful table their hopes and heartaches. One dear friend mentioned they were grateful they weren’t sifting through the rubble of their home. (This woman and her husband were though, living in a 5th wheel on their son’s property so they could rent their home to a family who’d lost theirs.)

Sifting through the rubble of their home.

Out of the ashes . . .

That was on the fliers I was seeing around Santa Rosa — “Out of the ashes we will rise,” they said.

Out of the ashes we will rise.

How do you do that?

How do you say good-bye forever to the life you had? The one with the house and the art and the cars and the memories? The scrapbooks and the Christmas decorations and all the children’s school work? The wedding china and the jewelry and the family antiques? The just perfect bedding and that great pair of jeans and the beautiful scarf you’d gotten as a gift?

We know people who were awoken in the middle of the night and told they had ten minutes to get out.

Ten minutes in the dark to get out with everything important. Our friends got out with the clothes they were wearing and their ID’s.

They’ve moved to North Carolina to be with family.

The life they knew in Santa Rosa is gone. That life is gone forever.

Others are going back to their property each day to sift through the ashes to see if anything of value is left.

And the Christmas trees in the Coffey neighborhood with lights and ornaments from Target . . .

Hope and a future?

That is what God promises His people, right?

Hope and a future.

That verse in Jeremiah we all like so much.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you hope and a future.” Jer. 29:11

What does that possibly mean to people whose homes have burned to the ground?

Hope and a future.

What are they hoping to find as they sift through the ashes?

I want to know because the past few years have been fiery for me too. We’ve not lost our home, but the loss has been just as hard. Metaphorical fires have burned my heart and my mind, my hopes and my future.

Diagnoses, death, unemployment, fractured relationships . . .

Can we compare? Would I trade my loss for theirs? Would they trade for mine?

Crazy, I know. There is no comparison. But this is what the human mind does.

It’s just all so surreal. So so sad. My heart hurts.

And I wonder . . .

Where’s the Joy? The Hope? The Future?

I have a friend who wrote this on her blog recently:

If you followed along my journey in 2016, you might remember that one of my greatest lessons was the connection between gratitude and joy. Put simply, if you want more joy, practice more gratitude. I’m as convinced of that as ever.

The connection between gratitude and joy . . . ‘

If you want more joy, practice more gratitude.

Joy is my word for this new, loopy, even, 2018 year.

And because the past two years have been hard and arid and joyless, I’m going to take her wisdom to heart and begin to practice more gratitude. Joy is a fruit of the spirit, after all, so we can’t just want more fruit. We must nurture the ground and feed the tree that produces the fruit we’re wanting.

So if I want more joy in my life, what am I going to do to water and fertilize the ground around me in order that joy sprouts and grows and matures?

I’m not sure yet.

I’m still mourning my dad and the loss of the family as I’ve always known it.

I’m still mourning the life my husband and I had for 34 years.

I’m still mourning for my mom and the new, single life she’s now living.

And yet, God knows.

We matter to Him. As do all those who have lost homes and life and treasures as the fires roared up and down the state this fall.

He knows and He cares and we do matter to Him.

So as I strip away the fluff in my life.

As I pursue intimacy with God without church.

As I ask Him about the future and trust Him with all I hold dear . . .

I will believe and believe and believe again, that beauty will come out of the ashes, that joy will come each morning, and that as I practice gratitude while walking the streets of our neighborhood at dawn each morning, God will cover me with the shadow of His wing and I will rise and be who He has created me to be.

Joyful, faithful, wise.

Out of the ashes . . .

It is a new year.


We’ll see.

For more images of the Coffey Park neighborhood, go to:,+christmas+trees+after+fires&rlz=1C5CHFA_enUS742US744&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwic9NmomcLYAhUK64MKHfqnABYQ_AUICigB&biw=1421&bih=692


  1. Heidi Ambrose
  2. Maggie Gamester
  3. Amy
  4. Brandon Troyer
  5. Kathy
  6. Anita Shrode
  7. Renée

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *