Words fail. Even words like "apocalyptic"... "war zone"... "total devastation."
The racing flames in the iconic Lahaina community of Maui simply consumed everything in its path - often leaving only ash where minutes before a building had stood. In a community where people have lived for a thousand years.
Fire doesn't care what it destroys. Even if it's the centuries of royal and religious history in its path in Lahaina. And the lives and livelihoods of countless Hawaiians. The number of lives lost? Tragically, the number continues to climb. Some say we may never know.
The charming tourist magnet and idyllic community has suddenly become a desolate landscape of loss.
Except for the tree. The 150-year-old banyan tree that soars to 60 feet and covers an entire city block. It is badly charred and its future is uncertain.
But today it stands as one surviving symbol of hope amidst all the sadness and ruin.
"Everything is gone," one survivor said. But the tree is still standing.
Which, I realized as I prayed for Lahaina, is just how I felt on that May day when my "everything" was gone. My Karen. The love of my life since I was 19. The only person on earth who had done my whole adult life with me. Our family treasure. Gone. Suddenly gone.
But one thing was still standing. The Tree. The one you often see on necklaces, on church steeples. The cross where Jesus died a death that has changed millions of lives ever since. I'm one of them. That cross became an anchor that darkest day of my life.
I know my days of life-altering loss certainly aren't unique to me. Some time or another, the fire comes for all of us.
Maybe in the form of a devastating diagnosis or disease. Or a disaster that destroys our treasures. Desertion or divorce that leaves us emotionally "homeless."
And, of course, the ultimate hope-robber. Death.
I've been to a lot of funerals. But the one at that windswept burial ground on a Native American reservation is one I'll never forget. Danny's brother had died suddenly and tragically. And Danny was not only grieving - he was broken. It was after we all had passed by the open grave and thrown in our handful of dirt that I saw the scene I can replay in my mind even now.
As people were leaving, there was Danny at the head of his brother's grave. Hugging as he wept, the rugged wooden cross that had been placed there. It seemed the cross was literally holding him up that day. The "fire" had burned through his life and it must have seemed as if everything was gone.
But the Tree was still standing. As it has for millions of broken people for 2,000 years. People like me.
Some stunning things happened on that grotesque day when the Son of God was nailed to a criminal's cross.
From that cross, He declared, "It is finished!" The spiritual penalty for every sin of every person on this planet had been paid for by the only One who could. Because He had no sin of his own to pay for.
In the Bible's words: "He personally carried our sins in His body on the cross...He died for sinners to bring you safely home to God" (1 Peter 2:24, 3:18).
Safely home. When it feels like I've lost everything, I'm still "safely home" in the unlosable love of God. I have an anchor relationship that is fireproof... disaster-proof... death-proof! "Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:39). That is God's personal guarantee to those who belong to Him.
I did not stand alone as I stood by Karen's fresh grave. My Jesus was there.
Lahaina's banyan tree has an uncertain future. God's "safely home" Tree is there forever. Indestructible.
That Tree says I am forever loved. Forever forgiven. Forever safe. Never alone.
No fire can take that away.
* Name changed for privacy.