Calif. fires claimed her home, but not her faith

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (BP)--Ashes fell from the sky like snowflakes on a cold winter morning -- but it was neither cold nor winter. It seemed that California Baptist University would remain untouched by the blazing inferno that covered thousands of acres across Southern California.

But various members of the CBU community suffered greatly, especially students' families who lost their homes in the late-October wildfires, along with director of advising Margie Arnett and her husband, Joe.

"We lived in San Bernardino at the base of the mountains," Arnett said. "I think of it as heaven on earth and we plan to rebuild there."

Neighbors told the Arnetts early in the afternoon that they had about an hour to pack up their essentials and evacuate their home.

Both her parents had died earlier in the fall, Arnett said, "and I lost almost all the family heirlooms they had given me."

Nevertheless, she said, "Through this, I see God as being right in the middle, holding me, giving me strength, guidance and comfort.

"For some time prior to this, I asked Him daily to light my way, guide my path and let me be His servant -- however it would look," Arnett recounted. "I didn't expect all this 'tragedy' in the last month and a half. My parents ... were Christians and I know that they are at peace, so I am at peace. My house and earthly possessions burned down. But I've had so many prayers, love and much-needed assistance the past two months. I do have a 'peace that passes all understanding.'"

The CBU housing staff provided shelter for the Arnetts and fellow evacuees Sean Kennedy, the university's director of public safety, and his family.

"We have been wonderfully blessed by the CBU community and feel our needs are taken care of," Arnett said. "We have been provided for in so many ways: many prayers, a wonderful furnished one-bedroom apartment, great food at the cafeteria and a week off to deal with a few things."

She added, "So many people have prayed for me for comfort, strength and peace and have graciously shared clothes, clocks, toothpaste, couches, bubble bath, hair spray, that I feel so loved part of a bigger family."

Kennedy expressed similar sentiments in a campus-wide e-mail Oct. 30.

"We have been blown away by everyone's prayers, love and generosity," he said. "The CBU family has been amazing to my family and I."

Arnett, in weathering a tragedy of this magnitude, said she has sought to look for the positive in the situation.

"During adversity, ask for others to pray for you, and God will be there," she counseled.

And don't rule out the miraculous.

"Prayers do work," Arnett said. "My mom was given six weeks to live, and through many prayers she was with us another nine and a half years! The doctors couldn't explain it. Dad's story was pretty miraculous as well. God is there in the big and small stuff and He listens to and cares about us all."

Among other positives, Arnett added, "I thank Him for my eyes when I see the beautiful landscaping and my sense of smell when I'm by [the campus] roses, my ears when I hear the birds chirping. I believe He blesses each of us every day and we should be thankful and praise His name as often as possible."

Her conviction "to truly seize the day and live for each moment that God blesses me with [is] not because life is short for me personally, but because every day can present such different challenges and opportunities. We never know what life has in store for us or how God will carry us through. But I can make the choice every day how I will respond to life. I choose a cheerful and positive outlook; I find it's much easier that way, whatever the circumstances."


(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: HEALING THE BROKENHEARTED and A DIFFERENT KIND OF EDUCATION.

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