The following is a reflection from Anna Montgomery on her deployment with CDS to the California wildfires from October 14th – 18th.
I had never before been greeted with the words “Hi, what’s your name? Did your house burn down too?”
To the little girl who asked, I explained mine had not. But then I got to listen as she told me her story. And then I listened again as the same beautiful girl asked another child the same question, “Did your house burn down too?” Through a “yes” they were instantly friends. Friends who started to share their stories, stories that were the same, but different too. They shared about the fires. Their homes. The things they’d lost. What they’d been able to keep. That they were safe.
They were survivors. Not patients. Not victims. Survivors. That is the term the Red Cross and FEMA used to refer to those we supported during the California wildfires in October. And the children I got to interact with in the Local Assistance Center in Santa Rosa definitely fit that description. They were survivors.
Each child had been through a lot. They had lost much. It showed in their conversations, but also in the pictures they drew, the paintings they created, the Legos they structured, and the play dough they formed. And while they had lost much, as I listened, I learned they had gained much too. I heard an appreciation in their little voices, for the little things, which aren’t really that little at all. A place to sleep, food to eat, that their families were safe.
I also heard amazing stories of kindness and generosity. One girl told me how all her clothes, except what she had been wearing, burned up with her house. But then she giggled and described how she now had even more clothes than before the fire. People had given. They’d shared what they had. Some shared clothes. Others shared supplies. And almost everyone shared stories. And me, I got to share my time – to hear the stories, to play with amazing children, and to remember that the little things aren’t really that little.
Partway through my deployment, I faced a loss of my own. My grandmother, who I lived with and helped take care of, fell. She broke her hip, had surgery, made it through, and then suddenly died. I left California early and headed home to be with family. With my family we shared about who we had lost. How much we loved her. We were her survivors, and we talked about many little things, that weren’t really little at all.
While I left early, I am definitely grateful for my time deployed with CDS. I am grateful for the people I met, the incredible team that I worked with, and that I got to be a support. But I am also incredibly grateful for the support I received. What a gift I found in the CDS team! Women who cried with me, prayed with me, and encouraged my heart in the midst of the hard. In the time since, I have been thinking a lot on this verse: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4
We are comforted, in order that we can comfort. I experienced the realities of this verse up close in California and in the days since too. I have been comforted, I have been encouraged, and I have seen so much of God’s grace and mercy. And so, I too, want to comfort. To share hope in the midst of the hard. To be able to encourage, wherever I am, whether deployed on a disaster, at home with my family, in the Pediatric Emergency Room where I work, or even with the lady in front of me in line in the grocery store. Surrounding me every day are survivors of a host of different experiences. Many, or perhaps I should say most, have been through things that are very hard. And yet, there is mercy, there is grace – there is the God of all comfort. I want to live with my eyes fixed on Him and to love with the love He has poured out in my heart. And I want to live with gratitude, for the little things, which aren’t really that little. Every day is a gift.