Two Helicopters fighting a fire in Wyoming, 2016. Photo ©Stacey Tuttle
I was worn out. Exhausted. Empty. And I knew it. I had a list a mile long of “urgent” and “important” things to do, but a friend had called, desperate. The gate had broken and her dogs had gotten out and she didn’t know where they’d gone. They had a history of egging each other on if they got outside the fence together, and one was skittish of strangers and hard to catch. My friend herself had been in a very difficult and painful season in her own life and I didn’t think she could handle another tragedy right then. Oh Lord, let them be found and be OK. I had little hope I would find them, or that my searching would do any good, but sometimes the good you can do isn’t about solving the problem but about support. I packed up my work, just as I was really getting into it, and left the coffee shop and started driving the streets in the opposite direction from where she was looking. Praying all the while.
As I suspected, I wasn’t the one who found them, some seven odd miles from home, two hours later. But I was there for other reasons, too. To pray. To support and encourage and tell her she wasn’t alone. To let her know someone else cared about the things she cared about.
As I drove around in that time, praying for her, waiting for news, looking, I began to breathe a little and realize just exactly how tired and empty and emotional I really was. I had been surrounded by drama, little fires all around me. Not a single one was major, but it wasn’t in the magnitude but in the volume that my problem lie. Like the camel carrying straw…it wasn’t the weight of a piece of straw, but the number of pieces of straw that were weighing me down.
By the time the dogs were found, I was hungry and time was limited and I knew I needed to take care of my soul. Work would be futile, and I knew it. So I grabbed something to eat and felt strangely called to a run. To be clear, I don’t run much these days. I used to…but health issues made jogging difficult and now I’m completely out of practice and endurance. So, when I say I was “strangely called to a run”—it really was out of the norm. As I had driven around looking for the dogs, I’d driven by a trail I hadn’t been on in about seven years, since I first moved here, and I had this desperate urge to go back there. And I ran… a lot, (4 miles in all, a lot) which was amazing for SO many reasons. (Lest I oversell it, I also walked intermittently, a lot…but whatever—I ran, in the mountains no less, and for that I’m going home a winner.)
As I ran several amazing things happened. One, I prayed and talked with God. Just choosing to take time out to be run and talk with God reestablished priorities and told God I would trust Him with the work and choose to make our relationship the first priority. It also was a sign of obedience, that I would follow His leading even when it doesn’t “make sense.” Of course, running itself releases endorphins which I needed. It also cleared my head and emotions and helped me feel more like a capable overcomer than an overwhelmed victim. All these things were important, and what I truly needed—far more than I needed to knock things off my “to do” list. But something else amazing happened…
As I ran I saw a ton of smoke from just over the side of the next hill. There was a fire. And in no time, there was a helicopter there to put the fire out. I couldn’t see the fire, just the smoke, but it was close enough I could have jogged there in no time had the trail gone that direction. That means I also got a front row to seat to the helicopter as it worked to fight the fire.
I saw the helicopter hover around the fire and, finding the perfect spot, drop the water. The moment that bucket of water was empty, the helicopter left. He went away from the fire, to the top of the butte where there happened to be a reservoir of water. He filled his bucket and, once again filled, went back to the fire. Over and over and over again. Fill, dump, leave, refill and return.
As I watched this process I thought about a few things. Firefighters LOVE to fight fires. It’s in their bones. There’s even a part of them that wants a fire—not that they want people or property to be hurt or problems in the world…it’s just that they love to help and feel needed. I get that…metaphorically speaking that’s me. But, that guy in the helicopter, no matter how stoked he may be about there being a fire and about his getting to put it out, he knows that there is only so much he can do. He knows that he is only useful so long as his water is full. The moment his water is empty, he knows he can do nothing else and he leaves to refill. In fact, not only is he no good empty, but if he hangs around the fire without his water, the wind from his helicopter will actually spread the fire. He’ll make it worse. He has to leave. He would be better to be absent and do nothing at all than to try and do something without his water. In truth, I think that firefighter probably spent more time refilling than he did actually fighting the fire, but he knows that refilling is the most important part of his job.
In this case, he was lucky because his water source was so close, but I’ve seen other times when the water was much farther away. (Note, the pictures are from another such time, as I, regrettably, ran without my camera this time. Lesson learned.) A good firefighter knows, however, that it doesn’t change things if the water source is far away. He’ll still leave the fire to refill. He must. Even if it takes time—lots of it.
As I watched this, I realized I wasn’t just watching a firefighter, I was being reminded of some spiritual principles that I needed to pay more attention to. This is why I felt I had to come out to this spot for a run. I didn’t really hear God speaking to me, but looking back, it’s so clear He was—He was urging me to come there, at that moment, to breathe, to learn and to refill my water tank. I was surrounded by little brush fires but I’d been trying to put them out with an empty water bucket. I wasn’t quenching anything, and if I’m honest, I was probably spreading them, growing them, adding to the drama. A bit sickening to think about…I hate to think I was adding to the drama.
There’s a part of me that is drawn to the fire. I always have been. Both literally—I can be a bit of a pyromaniac…just give me an opportunity to start a campfire!!!—and metaphorically…I’m drawn to hurting people and their problems. Everything in me wants to help and to save but sometimes that desire gets out of place and causes more damage than good. A firefighter is only as good as his (or her) water supply (at least the ones who fight by helicopter). It can be so hard to pull away from the present need to refill, but watching that helicopter it became so obvious that it’s the only way. It’s not just better; it’s critical.
It’s also necessary to keep pulling away, as often as it takes, as often as I’m empty. That may mean I spend far more time alone with God, refilling, than I do helping others, but that’s OK. I’m only useful when I have living water to give, pour, dump…as the case may be. That may mean I pull away once a day, or once an hour… different times, different fires, different seasons… and different sizes of buckets—they may all impact how often I need to retreat to be refilled. It was also interesting to realize that sometimes my water source might be near and other times it might be a bit farther away. Or, as I watch my fellow Christians around me, their water source might be nearer or farther than mine (just as their bucket might be larger or smaller). Point being—I need to not compare myself with other people or other times in my own life. All I need to “worry” about is whether or not I’m leaving the fire to refill when my bucket is empty and that I have a good water source (and to encourage others to do the same).
It’s also important that I always know where I can get my bucket filled. What fills my bucket? I mean, yes, Jesus, of course. Time in His Word. Time in prayer. Yes. But for me it’s more than that, too. Sometimes I read the Bible and don’t feel filled up. Other times I do. For me, setting makes a difference. I need to be receptive. It’s not enough for that firefighter to take his bucket to the water if he doesn’t also fill it. The bucket has to receive. It can skim the top of the water, touch it even, without being open to the water.
There have been seasons in my life where, like the other day, a run was great a great time to pray and be with God and fill my soul. There have been other times when running was miserable and hard and got my mind stuck in a horrible rut and emptied me all the more. In those seasons, a drive in the car in the country and/or during the sunset was a much better way for me to actually receive His life-giving water. Sometimes getting up to read my Bible in the dark, quiet morning hours is where my soul listens best, and other times I’m just tired and unable to focus and it becomes a chore of duty. You get the picture. I’m not saying to just do what feels good—sometimes there is no substitute for discipline and God honors that! I am saying, however, that there is wisdom in listening to God when He says, “Your bucket is empty, let’s go fill it… and today, your best water source is over here.” I am saying that we need to know what season we are in and where we can best refill. (In Texas, water sources were pretty constant but in Colorado, there are rivers of snow melt in spring that disappear later in the summer…I dare say some people are like Texas and some are like Colorado in this.)
In some climates, there are water sources everywhere and access is easy, but in the desert, water sources have to be created and fought for. This water source that my helicopter retreated to was man-made. That means, some wise person realized that unless they created a closer source to draw from, help would be too far away to do any good when they needed it. More accurately, they had to forge access to a source. They had to dig deep and tap into a reservoir under the surface. For us with God, the Source is always there, the question is always one of access. In a way, this is what missionaries do—they bring more ready, obvious access to the living water to a people who haven’t had access.
So many truths…all wrapped up in one little helicopter. I came away from the run with a swarm of fires still burning around me, a pile of work still growing, but I had a couple key things. My empty bucket was filled up again, and ready to be of use. I also had permission to keep walking away from the need and all the little brush fires around me, over and over again, as often as necessary. I had permission to actually let them burn while I refilled. Not only permission, but a mandate, because I could see that not doing so was only making things worse—and I definitely don’t want to make things worse. I also was challenged to think more intentionally about what best refills my bucket, my soul, now, in this time, place, season of my life, and to fight for that, because I know that just because I walk away from the fire, doesn’t mean I’m refilling my water.