Reflections on Firestorm 2007 in San Diego

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From tragedy to abundance:
Reflections on Firestorm 2007 in San Diego
by Ken Blanchard
On Oct. 21, I flew to Naples, Fla., for a golfing trip with some Cornell fraternity brothers. On Monday morning as I was beginning to dress, I checked voicemail messages. There was one from my son, Scott. As I listened, my heart sank. He said, "Dad, Mom, I don't where you guys are, but we just had to evacuate our house and have pulled over on the side of Pomerado Road before getting on I-15. Our house is a big ball of flames and yours must be gone, too. It is unbelievable."

My first reaction was remembering the words of our Bible teacher, Rich Case, who taught us that Jesus wants us to experience three things from our abundant life: joy, peace and righteousness. Any time we feel anxious, scared or sad, we are trying to go it on our own and have detached from Him. So I held my hand up in a receiving gesture and said, "I need you Lord; I want to stay connected to you. I can't go through this without you." Then I shared what had happened with my brother and roommate, Phil Hodges, and we hugged each other in prayer. The feeling of joy, peace, and righteousness filled my heart again.

My second thought went to the words of my friend, John Ortberg, in his new book, "At the End of the Game, It All Goes Back in the Box."

As chief spiritual officer of our leadership development company, I leave a message every morning for the nearly 300 folks who are part of our family. The message includes prayer issues, praises for jobs well done and a tidbit from something I've read or experienced.

About 10 days ago I shared with my employees an exercise I got from John's wonderful book. I told everyone, "It's 4 p.m. in the afternoon and you have decided to head home. There are two pads of Post-Its on your desk. One says 'Important—Forever' and the other says 'Stuff—Temporary.' As you leave your office, put a Post-It on anything you see—your computer, your desk, your secretary, the soda machine, the receptionist, your car, your house, your spouse, your kids—anything you see. Which Post-It do you put on what or whom? What is important and what is stuff?"

Both reactions really put Scott's message in perspective for me. What was really important was my relationship to the Lord and to people. I focused first on the people I love and who love me—my family, both at home and at work. Even though San Diego was under siege by uncontrollable fires, everyone in my family came through safe and sound.

Since everyone at home was safe, we were advised to stay put. 

That night when my wife Margie—in Orlando for a conference—and I talked on the phone before we went to bed, we both shared that our real sadness was about Scott and Madeleine's home. They had spent nine months fixing up a house, one third of a mile from our home, that their blended family—three sons ages 9, 10, 15 and a daughter, 18-called home. The house was so full of hope and love.

Marge and I both felt that if there was still a choice between their house being saved and ours, we would rather have theirs saved. That was my prayer as I went to sleep.

On Tuesday afternoon Scott called.

 "Dad, you won't believe it! Our house is standing, but your house is gone." 

I cried with joy, "Scott, that's an answer to Mom's and my prayers." I shouted into the phone, "I feel so blessed!" It truly was a miracle about Scott's house. Three eyewitnesses, including a police officer, had reported that Scott and Mad's house was gone.

Thursday morning our offices in Escondido re-opened for the first time and when Margie and I walked in everyone applauded and hugged us with tears of joy and sadness.

At an appropriate moment, Margie and I were asked to speak to everyone.

When it was Margie's turn, she said, "I don't see how we could have used our house more. It held company parties, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter holiday dinners for family and friends, and it had become an inn for out of town colleagues." 

Margie went on to say the house had served us well.

At that point we decided to have a memorial celebration for the house the following Monday at noon at the company. We wanted to give this wonderful place a proper ending.

That afternoon we headed to the site of our former home. When we arrived loved ones were already there raking through the rubble to see if anything was salvageable. 

It wasn't.

Our beautiful view was there but the house was ashes. Earlier in the day a dear friend, Tom Crum, shared an old Japanese quote, "Now that my barn has burned to the ground, I can see the moon." That really took on a whole new meaning during that moment.

Margie's reaction to seeing the devastation was, "I have no feeling for our house anymore. All the energy and love has been sucked out of it."

That is what we will put into our new home. To me we had lost a bunch of stuff, but what is really important and forever was still alive.

Thursday night we went to our church for a special service. Fifty-seven families in our congregation lost their homes. Our wonderful pastor, Bruce Humphrey, had everyone greet each other saying, "We are survivors and God is with us."

Dr. Ken Blanchard is a best-selling author of more than 30 business books, including coauthor of "The One Minute Manager." He is Chief Spiritual Officer of The Ken Blanchard Companies, a leadership development firm that works with organizations all over the world to make a leadership difference by developing better managers and better workplaces. Visit www.kenblanchard.com.

Published, December 2007