Trusting in the Covert of His Wings

Dear Will:

Perhaps you saw this photo recently in the LA Times.

Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times

It’s the sort of photo you’re bound to notice. You can’t help but notice it. Brian Williams did. Or at least someone on his staff at NBC Nightly News did. In any case they did a three-minute segment on these firefighters.

Here’s the background: Twelve firefighters were on a hillside trying to keep the Santiago fire from jumping the road and destroying some homes. Without warning, the winds shifted and sent the flames their way. Seeing that they had no escape route available, they removed their “shelters” from their packs and curled up underneath them—cocoon style—while they waited for help. And waited. With no help coming, they huddled together under those shelters, taking short breaths and enduring untold heat in a quest to survive. Finally, after 15 interminable minutes, aircraft arrived, dumped water on the flames, and freed the men. Not one was injured.

It’s a frightening tale made more frightening when you learn that one of those twelve is your friend. Brett Cowdell was among those on the hillside that day. Brett used to be my eldest son’s scoutmaster. Our youngest sons were born within a couple of weeks of each other. He and I were even co-workers before he entered the fire academy. When I saw his wife yesterday, I felt a surge of emotion, so grateful was I that he had been protected when the fires raged his way.

That image—of a good friend, nearly helpless in the face of mounting peril—brought to mind the promise contained within one of Jesus’s saddest laments: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37). The Lord’s message to all of us is that He offers shelter from the trials which so often rage against us, provided only that we come unto Him. He doesn’t promise to take away adversity, of course; rather he offers to gather and shield us so that we can come through difficulty relatively unscathed. Having personally felt the protection of such shelter, the Psalmist wrote:

Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. (Psalms 61:1-4)

I hope that you and your loved ones are all OK in spite of the danger which surrounds us. And I remind you that help is always near at hand.


Jet Lag and a Trip to the Zoo

Dear Will:

Last week I found out I have to fly to Korea—one of those glamorous business trips during which you spend as much time going and coming as you do working. Should be awful.

Then I found out it is worse than I thought. The only way to get there in time for the meetings is to leave mid-day on Sunday, September 5. And when I arrive it will be Monday night. Labor Day will have disappeared altogether.

Cheer up, they told me. You get that day back on the return. That’s nice in theory, of course, but the truth is that I will have lost a 3-day weekend that I’m never getting back. And on Tuesday, while I’m schmoozing Koreans in Busan, my five-year-old Seth will be attending his first day of kindergarten. There’s something else I will miss that no crossing of the dateline will ever give me back. Let’s just say I’m not happy.

Seth, to his great credit, will hardly notice. The excitement of his new adventure will surely not have worn off by the time I drag back home on Wednesday night, just in time for . . . Back to School Night at Luke’s high school. I anticipate that the teachers I meet that night will find me charming if but a bit unkempt and maybe catatonic. What is it they say about having only one chance to make a good first impression? Luke’s teachers are sure to be dazzled.

Originally we had planned to spend Labor Day at the San Diego Zoo, but instead we’re going down on the Saturday before. No big deal except it means that I will miss my beloved UCLA Bruins’ opening football game, which I will tape and now watch—what?—a week later. Or probably not at all.

What a rough life I lead.

In contrast, my wife just had her third knee surgery last week. Afterward, the doctor informed her that her cartilage is so badly deteriorated that within a few years she will likely have to have knee replacement surgery. Elsewhere, a dear friend is facing a tragic divorce (is there any other kind?) after nearly 30 years of marriage. And another good friend has seen everything he has lived and worked for taken away from him after a series of bad choices and horrible decisions. His life is a wreck.

And here I’m complaining about jet lag and a trip to the zoo. Makes me so ashamed I’m tempted not to send this letter. But by now you probably know me well enough that my pettiness doesn’t surprise you. So . . . instead I shall take deep, cleansing breaths and try to maintain a little perspective: my kids are happily enrolled in excellent schools; my work is going so well that somebody on the other side of the world wants to pay for a couple of days of my time; and I live so close to one of the world’s great zoos that I can do it in a day trip. And besides, my Bruins are supposed to lose, so maybe I’ll be glad to have missed the game anyway. I’ll still miss that first day of kindergarten, but such is life. Right?

Here’s hoping that my miseries are always this profound—and no more so. And hoping that all is well with you.