The Lincoln National Forest in New Mexico is one of my favorite places on earth. Not only is it beautiful, full of history, and a place in which I spent much time as a child, it is the setting for a story with a happy ending.
Many are predicting the coming months will be a tough and dangerous wildfire season. I ask each of us not only to be extraordinarily cautious and vigilant, but to pray for desperately needed rain and moisture in the Southwest and Rocky Mountain states. Just a few days ago, a wildfire exploded in the Lincoln National Forest not far from Ruidoso, NM. The fire, as of this writing, is growing rapidly and is devastating stunning places.
As I have been thinking about this fire and praying for those fighting it, I have been reminded of a story I have known since growing up as a child not too far from that part of New Mexico.
In the 1940’s when we were in the midst of World War II, the Japanese military was attempting to use a variety of devices to start wildfires on our western coast. In response, our government developed wildfire awareness and firefighting capacities. During this time, the concept of Smokey Bear was created. The campaign featured an image of a bear with the words that came to be known as, “Only you can prevent forest fires.”
It was a very effective effort to help make the public aware of the dangers of wildfires. At first, however, Smokey Bear was only an image on a piece of paper, that is until 1950. It was that year that a 17,000 acre forest fire broke out in the Capitan Mountain Range within the Lincoln National Forest. During the firefighting effort, firefighters found a young bear cub in a charred tree. Although the bear survived the fire, it had suffered extensive burns.
The bear was carried out of the forest by firefighters and eventually healed. The bear was named Smokey Bear and became the living symbol of efforts to curb future wildfires in the US. The nation was entranced with Smokey who lived out his life at the National Zoo. Smokey Bear became so popular that he was given his own zip code due to the vast number of letters he received.
The Capitan Fire was devastating and many creatures suffered, including Smokey Bear. But it was out of the horrendous fire that something wonderful emerged. The loving care of an injured bear who became the foundation of a powerful and effective fire prevention campaign that continues to this day.
This story prompted me to think of other events in history, of specific times in my own life, in which things were tough, hard, painful, and uncertain. But the story also reminds me that often when something bad happens, blessings, goodness, and what is right often emerge over time.
The theme of good coming from bad is at the heart of the story of Jesus. Resurrection followed crucifixion. All of this, I believe, is an invitation for each of us to pause and reflect on what blessings have come into our own lives in response to difficulties, hardships, upsets, and rough passages.
It is important to honor such blessings and to allow such blessings to serve as a source of encouragement for whatever it is we may be going through right now. Blessings often come from what we would not choose or prefer. So it was for Smokey. So it is for each of us in our life journeys with Jesus.