Earth, Wind and Fire Visit Paradise

It was pretty easy saying yes to my husband when he asked me to move to Santa Barbara, California for his new job. In fact, I said yes without ever having been there before—Google Images had me convinced.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget driving up the pacific coast for the first time—mountains on one side, ocean on the other. A sense of independence and excitement swept over me. Despite not having a place to live yet or a job, I was hopeful that we would be happy here.

And we were. Two days of apartment searching and we found the perfect one bedroom apartment in the perfect location. We prayed hard for this—especially being in an area with one of the highest costs of living in the country and Jackson already starting his job. Even months later, we’re still thanking God for the perfect place that encouraged us to be minimalist, is close to our gym, central to our commutes, and walking distance to Chick-fil-A.

Three weeks later I started a new job. Every time I tell someone that, they’re astonished I found something so quickly. Believe me, so am I! Another reason Jackson and I have felt so blessed with our decision to move to California.

We’re doing our best to enjoy as much as we can here. Walking along the coast. Hiking in the mountains. Exploring the local shops downtown. We simply love it.

And then the fires started. Breaking news on December 4, 2017 informed us that a massive wildfire had broken out 45 minutes from our charming little town. It didn’t take long for the smoke to reach Santa Barbara and the air quality plummeted soon after. Low humidity, strong winds and no rain created the perfect storm for the Thomas Fire. A week later the fire had made its way to Santa Barbara. I was terrified. I was headed into work one morning and felt like an idiot driving into California’s Largest Wildfire, breathing in more and more smoke every mile. Soon after, I was sent home to work remotely as the office was hazy from so much smoke.

Emergency evacuation alerts began popping up on my phone, updating new mandatory and voluntary evacuation areas. At one point, our place was surrounded by voluntary evacuations but we weren’t technically in one. One of the days we could see fire on the mountains from our apartment. To make matters worse, Jackson needed to go to LA indefinitely so his team could practice in clean air. I was alone. Facing a natural disaster I’ve never encountered before. I wanted out.

That’s when I decided to visit my uncle south of LA for the weekend. I was in desperate need of clean air and an anxiety-free environment. After living in a town of 600 people for the first 18 years of my life, I was terrified at the thought of driving through LA by myself. But I was even more terrified of the fires so it made that feat so much easier. Removing myself from the fire, smoke, and 24/7 news coverage almost immediately calmed my nerves. But the weekend had to end sometime so I checked the weather and containment lines looked good, allowing me to head back to Santa Barbara. Thankfully, Jackson anticipated arriving home that night too.

Ash littered the streets like toxic snow. Citizens wore N95 masks like there was a zombie apocalypse. Fire fought homes to the ground, but firefighters fought harder.

There were over 8,000 firefighters working together to fight the Thomas Fire. And it wasn’t until January 12 that it reached full containment.

Unfortunately that’s only the half of it.

On January 8, it began raining. Officials warned the community of potential mudslides and even drew mandatory and evacuation borders once again. Some people left right away. Others thought the city was being overcautious and they stayed.

Mudslides? I didn’t even know what that was. A massive flood of mud and debris sliding down hillsides? Yup. That’s basically what happened.

On January 9 at 3 am I woke up several times by emergency alerts on my phone. I may have read one, but ignored the rest and went back to sleep. It wasn’t until Jackson and I got to the gym that morning that we realized what had happened—Breaking news of mudslides sweeping through our neighboring community, Montecito. People missing. Structures destroyed. Hwy 101 closed for miles. Everything covered in mud.

We were in shock. It didn’t even seem like much rain. But the Thomas Fire’s pre-show set this mudslide up for yet again the perfect storm. The burned areas didn’t have enough vegetation to hold the hillside together and with persistent rain, boulders and mud tumbled into the community, destroying everything in its path.

So much has happened over the past month. Loss. Pain. Exhaustion. Almost everyone knows someone who knows someone who’s personally affected. What once seemed like the perfect place to live is now a victim to not one, but two, natural disasters—back to back.

But here’s the truth. God is still good. He is still the faithful God that led us to California. Who provided us with jobs. Who found us the perfect little apartment. Who placed specific people in our lives and made us feel welcome. Who kept us safe through it all. God is still good and it’s evident.

The community will rebuild. After all, they’re already coming together in prayer. Taking people in. Providing rescue crews with meals. They’ve come together. They are strong. And because of that, my yes to Santa Barbara is still a yes. It’s a yes to all its beauty and all its scars.

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