Alloy in the Heart — Mourning and Joy in Arizona

Paul, Dustin & Ryan

Paul Olsen and Dustin and Ryan DeFord

How do I write today’s post? What I had planned must be set aside in light of the great loss that has been thrust upon us. Most likely you’ve heard, but for us, we are a part of the devastated ones, praying for those who are more devastated, those closer to the 19.  We live about an hour from Yarnell, Arizona, where the fierce fire on Sunday, June 30, claimed the lives of 19, beautiful, capable, dedicated Granite Mountain Hotshot  Firefighters.

Dustin DeFord, a buff, rugged 24 year old red head,  is our friend and was one of these “Hotshots.” He belongs to our church. He was in our home on Father’s Day for a big, noon dinner. Dustin and his brother, Ryan, who is also a firefighter, have been in our home for dinner numerous times.  This year,  Dustin, Ryan, my husband, and Peter Kelley took a group of young boys on several wilderness survival camping trips.  Dustin and Ryan are the big shoes to follow — heroes and mentors to those boys —  and to these men who are old enough to be their fathers!  The guys came home from those trips happy and stinking and stronger.

My husband, Paul, was in a deacon’s meeting last night when he heard the news. He came home and told me. Sitting on our couch, he wept like a baby, heaves of mourning, face contorted. I rolled my arms around him and held him. I was in shock. As the evening wore on the  pain settled like a lead weight in my heart. I wept for Dustin’s mother. And for his big, close family from Montana. And I wept for all those other mothers and fathers, sisters, and brothers, cousins, and friends.  To call these men “heroes” is correct, but it is an understatement. They are “the beloved” of their people.

Here are the opening lines from an online news article: ” YARNELL, Ariz. — An elite crew of firefighters trained to battle the nation’s fiercest wildfires was overtaken by an out-of-control blaze in Arizona, killing 19 members as they tried to protect themselves from the flames under fire-resistant shields. It was the most firefighters killed battling a wildfire in the U.S. in decades.” (Huffington Post, July,1)  While we pray for firefighters and their families,  we also need to pray for all those in the Yarnell area.

Irony. Today is my birthday. I had written a post that was not all sparkles and brightness, but addressed the relationship between sadness and joy. Here’s a paragraph from it. “The sadness in my heart that is bedfellow to my joy finds another partner in my physical sadness, my chronic illness that has plagued me most of my life. Some may not want to hear it, but most people’s hearts resonate with the reality of chronic sadness underlying joy. How could it be otherwise, unless a person lives fully in a fantasy world?”

My sadness has a new depth now as I mourn for Dustin and with his family, but the element of mourning is alloyed with the elements of joy and peace. I reflect upon what I know of Dustin’s life.  His is an honorable story. From a family of ten children, Dustin grew up in Montana, son of a pastor. The entire family  loves the outdoors — hunting, nature explorations, living off the land. Dustin and all his siblings were homeschooled. Sitting around our dining room table, Dustin and Ryan seemed to know so much about everything. No matter the turn of the topic, they offered something of substance.  Admiringly, I pondered how old, that is, how mature they were for their mere quarter century of years.

Dustin graduated from a Bible college and followed Ryan to Arizona to be a firefighter, earning his way into this elite group of firefighters, the Granite Mountain Hotshots.  Dustin loved Jesus and trusted Him as His Savior, for everyone needs a savior from sin and brokenness. Some Wednesday evenings, my husband and Dustin prayed together, and Dustin would pray for his firefighting friends. He was loyal to them; they were loyal to each other.  Thus, our joy emerges from our pride in the good life he lived and the legacy he leaves.  Each man lost in this fire has a story we need to hear and a legacy we will respect.

All life is short, no matter how long one lives. This world is but a foyer into the eternal next.  Scripture reminds us that this “world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.”   Comfort one another.

I John 2:17

Categories: Joy & Suffering -- Good & Evil | Tags: , , | 24 Comments

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24 thoughts on “Alloy in the Heart — Mourning and Joy in Arizona

  1. Anonymous

    thanks for sharing this karen. i join you in prayer for this family and for you/paul to be the Lord’s vessels of peace to this family. these men must have touched many lives and may the Lord’s will be accomplished through this tragedy, bringing in a harvest.

  2. Theresa Cruz

    Happy~Sad Birthday Karen. We in other parts of our country morn alongside you who were close and are touched personally this tragic loss. I woke to hear the news on the radio and immediately my prayers went out to the families of these heroes. Thank you for your blog. There is much need of the comfort you bring.

  3. Kathy

    My heart is hurting for all the families hurt by these fires. God is presence and is holding you all in His loving care. I am so sorry. praying.

  4. Sandy shook

    We have never met but we were members at FBC Troy for 22 yrs before moving to Fl. 10yrs ago. I still get the prayer requests from FBC which is how I came across your blog. As I was reading it, the news of the Co firefighters came on the news. How very tragic and I am sorry for your loss.
    Not only do we have friends in common in Troy but my dad also taught and coached basketball at WCH in Columbus. He was Dave Dillon. He passed away 4 yrs ago. Perhaps u knew him. He started there in 1977.
    Sandy Shook

  5. Anonymous

    Paul and Karen,
    I am so sorry to hear of your great loss and pray for you and the firefighters’ families. May God comfort all of you. He is our comforter, I’m so glad that we share together in His love and compassion when we are hurting. Much love to you both, Wendy Rochotte

  6. From the father of Dustin and Ryan. Thank you for this very moving tribute.

    • kltolsen

      Oh, Mr. DeFord! We’ve been thinking of you all day long — you and your wife and your family. That you would respond to my post is most meaningful! May the comfort of the Lord continue to be poured upon you. May the Lord comfort all the families.
      Pastor Petro, his wife, their son, and Paul T. just left our house. They came over this evening so we could comfort one another, and we prayed together for you and your family and for all the other families. It was very precious. We love your sons. They have spoken highly of you and your wife. They have been a joy to us. Someday, we will meet. Matt. 11:28-30.

    • Jay House

      MY heart aches and prayers for Steve,Sliest,Bill ,Flo, and the family.
      Because of Christ LOVE

    • Praying for the DeFord family.

  7. So very sorry for your personal loss, and that which your church and of course the families of the firefighters are enduring tonight. It seems surreal to me and I don’t know any of them. I just can’t wrap my mind around this kind of loss for the towns of Yarnell and Prescott. I am glad to know our Savior catches our tears in a bottle. His love is without measure and yet full of comfort and grace.

  8. thanks, Karen. Dustin was my good friend from Bible school and I think it’s an understatement to say that God used him to leave an impact on everyone he knew. Praise him!

  9. Marcia

    My husband was a teacher of Dustin’s at Bible college. We have taught his siblings and are proud to know them. They all leave an impact on those who know them! Prayers for the family and all of us that called Dustin “friend”. Thank you for this wonderful tribute.

  10. Such a beautiful tribute . To raise our children in a world filled with so much to take their focus off of the one who matters most “Jesus” is a remarkable feat. May He hold Dustins family tightly in the palms of his hands . And hold you and your husband, the other Firefighters families , his friends and a nation close as well ,
    while Dustin’s legacy penetrates our Hearts and Minds to lift ourselves Higher. God bless you richly , Sue Prather

  11. As a believer, I know that joy comes in the morning. That means that we will indeed grieve and mourn through a possibly very long night. My heart is full of sorrow for these fine men and their families.

  12. Wonderful tribute. Reblogging this on my site to spread the Word.

  13. What a beautiful article. I am SO GLAD to know that some of them knew the Lord. The homeschooling, the Bible education, the character – all of that resonated with me. So I sat here and cried for the families who lost these fine young firefighters. Thanks for giving the more intimate side of the story. What a blessing to read about their lives. So sorry for everyone who is missing them.
    Thank you.

  14. Anonymous

    Thanks Karen for a blessed tribute to a very precious family. My husband is a member of Pastor DeFords church and we are blessed by his memory. We have seen through the years the devotion of father and mother to God and to raising their family to love te Lord. God Bless and comfort them at tis time. Betty Harkins wife of Skip Harkins , missionary in Brazil, S.A,

  15. Steven & Becky Howell

    Paul & Karen, as members of FBC TROY, I know that the church is praying for you and the DeFord’s, I know that you are all in God’s hands as He holds you close to Him. We want to hold you in our thoughts and prayer at this time of great sadness. And we all know where Dustin is and that one day we will see him again.
    Steven & Becky Howell

  16. Doreen Lind

    Praying for the DeFord family! I didn’t know the young man personally, but was privileged to meet one of his sisters in our church here in Billings recently as her College choir ministered in our church. So sorry for their loss!

  17. Thank You for sharing this tribute. Though I have never met any of these young men I have shed tears for this tragic loss and prayed for their families. Fifty years ago when I met my future husband he was on a hotshot crew. Then the first year we were married he served for a summer as US Forest Service Firefighter. So this loss resonated in my heart, and we now have 3 sons the ages of some of those who died. I pray this will cause hearts to turn to Christ realizing eternity is just a breath away for many.

  18. sheila

    While you were sharing Father’s Day dinner with Dustin and Ryan, our son was spending the day with the Montana DeFords. We are so grateful for the way their family invests in the lives of so many, including our kids. God is good, all the time, even when we don’t understand. Thank you for your writing.

  19. Thank you for sharing this, Karen. My heart goes out to you and your husband, for the loss of a dear young friend.

    I didn’t know Dustin, but my husband Ian and I graduated with Steve and Celeste, at Prairie Bible Institute. We share with them the loss of a son… our James was called home at age 25, three years ago. Steve and I share a birthday. Our son’s birthday would have been next week, on the 10th.

    These and a host of other thoughts crowded my mind as I learned the news this evening. What a comfort and encouragement to know that our God is sovereign, and nothing happens without His say-so. May He comfort your hearts tonight.


  20. Carolyn Wilkins

    Thank you Karen, for that beautiful tribute. Our hugs and prayers are going out to you and Paul as you grieve for this young friend and his family. We heard about this tragedy as we flew to FL for Charlie’s sister’s memorial. We lost her quite suddenly. I am certain that many will experience God in a whole new way as they hear about this young man. Love you Karen and Paul.

  21. Vincent Carr


    Thank you for your words about Dustin and the impact he had on your life! I mourn with you and Paul about the loss of such a godly young man but praise God that he is with Jesus now. May we also be encouraged by his life and the testimony he and his brother “hotshots” gave to us.

    Vince Carr

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