I am not in Hailey. I am in Washington. I know my tendency to fixate on tragedies happening hundreds of miles away, so I try diligently to stay busy and wherever-I-am-be-all-there-ish. I scold myself internally for being so concerned, and I remind myself that in other parts of the country, homes have actually been destroyed by wildfire, not just threatened. I remind myself to be thankful that no one has died and only three injuries have been reported thus far. I take comfort in the fact that my mom's house is across town from the fire and will be fine because surely the whole town won't burn. I worry about my friends who live just north of town, just across the river from the fire which has already jumped the river in some places. I feel relieved that my brother responded to my message and assured me that he is fine. I remind myself that this wildfire is outside my circle and inside God's circle and He started the fire and He will put it out.
I write to Jeana and process my reaction to the wildfire news, ending with a bold declaration that I am not there, but here, and God has a plan and tasks for me today, here. Not there. I know that I can pray, but I don't know what to say.
I open YouVersion on my phone and read Day 1 of SheReadsTruth's Nehemiah plan.
Hanani, one of my brothers, came with certain men from Judah. And I asked them concerning the Jews who escaped, who had survived the exile, and concerning Jerusalem. And they said to me, “The remnant there in the province who had survived the exile is in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire.”
In great trouble. Yep. Gates destroyed by fire. Yep.
As soon as I heard these words I sat down and wept and mourned for days.
I think Nehemiah and I share the blessing/curse of empathy. But as Nehemiah mourned, he poured out his heart to God, and I find the words for my own prayer:
O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open, to hear the prayer of your servant that I now pray before you day and night for the people of Hailey...
I feel comfort immediately, the cry of my heart finally put into words.
Then I read the accompanying devotional.
[Nehemiah] has just received word that the wall of Jerusalem (his hometown) was broken down and the gates destroyed by fire. The people he loves – his fellow Israelites with whom he and his family go way back – are in “great trouble and shame”. Things are low. Really low.
Look at how Nehemiah responds with compassion for his people. Even though he is 800 miles away, safely and comfortably out of harm’s way, testing wine and food for the king’s table; just knowing that his people are hurting lays him low. Really low.
The Bible tells us that when Nehemiah hears this news he weeps and mourns for days. His people and his home may as well be on the other side of the planet, yet knowing that they are without protection has him fasting and praying and confessing on their behalf.
I am in awe. Instead of berating me for fixating on Hailey, God shows me that He created me to be filled with empathy and compassion for Hailey, and it's okay to be concerned about something that's happening 674 miles away to people I care about. It's okay for my heart to be there.
His heart is there, too.