“Replace It All”

A rapid-moving fire gave time for reflective thought

Heather VandenHoven
“Replace It All”

“Replace it all. May there be You all through my life.” These are the words of a prayer I wrote in my Bible several years ago. I was moved by my own prayer and awakened to the authenticity of that time. I immediately felt a stirring and soulfully wanted to return to that authenticity and renew that prayer. Somehow life arises in the weekday morning and begins its daily task of getting done and moving through the day. Somehow when the garage door closes and the car leaves for the day, so many things replace the “Replace it all, Jesus.” Life demands attention from morning shower to sundown bed, and somehow everything gets multitasked except Jesus. And I let it. It’s hard. It’s hard when I love Jesus with my whole soul and yet compartmentalize Him to quiet moments on the weekend or desperate moments during the week. It’s hard when I know I’m tabling Him and selfishly justify doing it. It’s hard to be living because of Him and yet not living with Him. I want to change that, and I know others feel the same struggle. “Replace it all. May there be You all through my life.”    

Not too long ago my family was evacuating from all the California fires burning in our area. The location of our home was not yet under perilous threat, but the roads were closing all around us and the winds were shifting day and night, causing anxiety about where the fire would assault next. Thick, ashy smoke was claiming visibility and healthy air, and the town gas station was lined with scores of cars trying to fuel up before the gas station closed. Power had been out for days, refrigerator food was going bad, and gallons of water were flying off the market shelves. The fires surrounded every town around us, leaving us in the circle in the middle—but for how long we didn’t know. Most people in our town felt the urgency to leave, and all were questioning: “What could be replaced if it all burned? And what might never be replaced? What should make it into the car, and what shouldn’t?” Anxiety and mental clarity were fighting it out in my head as I tried to determine exactly what we needed to take with us. 

What Do You Do?

I went to grab our official documents, wedding pictures, and a couple photo albums. I grabbed my Bible, family recipes passed on through generations, and last of all the ring my late brother gave me a few years before he passed away. We loaded up the car with a few changes of clothes, watered the lawn, sprayed down the dirt areas, and left. Our dental office doors were forced to close too, so we also left with the hope that our business would not burn as well as our home. Our life was in this town: home, business, and school; all was now reduced to a fueled-up car and us.

 Our family would be totally dependent on firefighters to go in as we went out. I was touched at the powerful thought that firefighters would purposely head into danger so we could depart in safety. For a moment I thought of the cross. Christ went into torture and death so we could depart to safety someday. It’s a humbling sensation to have wash over you, and I was embarrassed to realize that I needed a time of fire to awaken that thought in me. While considering that dealing with these fires was perhaps good practice for end-time preparations just before Christ’s return, I was also shaken that we weren’t as prepared as we should be. Emergency was not something we had talked about often in our home. But we know that no amount of worldly technology, money, or home comforts would take care of us in authentic end-time events. I was learning on the job.

I sensed a problem with that. But then, somehow, in the middle of all those colliding thoughts, one thought steadied me: nothing mattered except togetherness. We were all in the same place and leaving for safety together. If ever there was a time to cry out to Jesus “May there be You all through my life,” it was now. Whatever happened, it was time to say, “Jesus, replace it all.” “Replace it all” was taking on new meaning in my life as fires raged all around.    

We returned home several days later. As we drove back, we looked out our car windows at the hills, homes, and terrain assaulted by the fires. For company, blackened swaths of land had spindly burned trees; and for landscape, a white ashy checkerboard laid down on toxic charred clay. Smoke was seeping into the air from still-smoldering pockets of debris. Planes and choppers were continuing to rotate around the clock, dropping red fire retardant and gallons of water over higher elevations and deeper canyons still burning. People had stopped all along the road to finally digest what had happened so fast. War had come in and left its ugly canvas of wreckage everywhere. The words of a man interviewed on the news kept echoing in my soul as we drove: “What do you do?” He had lost his home with no time to do anything but flee. All was gone. What do you do? Where do you start, physically, emotionally, or financially? How do you replace home? I ached inside for the homeless, for land and beauty, for people’s souls, and for what we had all been through. How do you replace it all?   

What Truly Matters

When we were somewhat settled and the fires contained, the fridge filled again with fresh food, the car unpacked, and normalcy slowly resuming, I found myself wondering if I would want it all replaced the same if something had happened. To some of the items, the answer was no. I wouldn’t want to replace some of me with the same normalcy as before. Broken things in my life caused broken preparations in a time of emergency. My home and my heart should be with Jesus, and I’d forgotten that. I needed my routine faith to be replaced with acting faith. I needed my surrender to be replaced with authentic surrender. I needed my possessions to be unshackled from need and replaced with relationship needs. If it had all burned, I needed to know Jesus would rebuild me and my family stronger in Him.   

I will always wonder why God allows loss and tragedy the way He does. But until He comes again, the ravages of life will go on. Christ’s tears and ours will fuse together every single time. He loves us so much. We’re just not home yet, but we will be. For me, the bravest thing I’ve learned is that all I can do in times of fire and broken preparations is to say, “Replace it all with You, Jesus,” and then be willing to evacuate the home of my heart so He can go in and save it.   

So, dear Jesus, “replace it all. May there be You all through my life.”   

Heather VandenHoven