Tuesday, December 14, 2004

... and out of the ashes

We awoke on Saturday, the 14th, to see the local news. As I said, in Into the flame, we just went through the ordeal, we didn’t want to re-live it again. Still, there it was, for all to see, on the news. So, once again, I got to watch my house as it burned. Oh, joy.
I waited awhile and decided to call my pastor. I figured that, since he is both my pastor and my friend, he ought to know what happened. As I told him what happened I eventually got to the part where I acknowledged my thoughts that God has a reason, and a plan, to use this experience to bless me. Strangely, P. Dave reminded me that sometimes bad things just happen, but I knew better. At least, in this instance, I believed with all my heart that God was going to use this experience to bless me. And not only me, but many others through me. We ended our phone call with a prayer, and I set out to start a brand new day.
I wanted to go over to the house to make sure that it was all locked up, and to rummage around a little bit more. I was hoping that in the daylight the damage wasn’t quite as bad as it seemed in the dark of night. Unfortunately, that wasn’t how things turned out. The full light of day only made things look worse.
Still, I couldn’t help but notice that our Christmas tree still looked very nice in our huge picture window. Even more intriguing were the two little statues that were standing on the windowsill. One of Mary, and one of Joseph. They’re very tall, and slender statues, without much base to stand upon. Yet, there they were still standing. Even after all of the commotion. No small feat in and of itself. I knew that I had to go inside and get them.
I could see all of the damage that had been done by the whole event. Even though several of the firemen had tried to tell us that it wasn’t too bad. I didn’t agree with them now. Things looked bad from where I was standing.
I walked cautiously through the house, looking around for anything that wasn’t broken. The majority of our furniture had been damaged by the water, only a few pieces that were made of glass and metal were clearly unharmed. I would have to come back for those though, today’s mission was the smaller more valuable, and easier to be looted, items that we had to leave behind. The little statues came with me to the second floor.
It was hard to look into our bedroom. There had been two large mirrors that made up the sliding doors on our closet. They were now shattered and laying across our bed like so much glitter. Beside them lay much of our clothing. The firemen wanted to keep it all from catching and causing the fire to spread further and faster. A section of the ceiling had collapsed onto our dressers and effectively rendered them unreachable, at least for now. And finally one of the windows had been knocked out onto the back deck below. It was not a pretty sight, but I was expecting it to be like this. I’d have to be a fool not to.
I did, however, manage to find two jewelry boxes that hadn’t been covered by the ceiling. I opened them up to find all of Jo’s favorite pieces still intact. And yet another small miracle.
After that I moved into Bobby’s bedroom. For all of the damage that had been done to his walls, the biggest part of the mess was that his beds and box-springs had been overturned and were now laying in the middle of the floor. I was fascinated by how well Bobby’s room appeared at this point. Then it occurred to me, all of his furniture was metal. It was an antique set that my mother had from my dad’s late uncle. It was old, and sturdy, and practically survived unscathed, with most of the contents as well. I walked over to the short dresser to open the top drawer, the one that Bobby kept his favorite toys in. Sure enough, everything inside was just as he had left it. The same was true for most of his clothing as well. Can you say “another small miracle.”?
I putzed around for another moment or two before deciding that I had to go up to the third floor. I was dreading it because I knew that there was going to be a lot of damage up there, maybe more than I wanted to face. But I turned into the stairway and started up anyway.
The third floor was remarkably bright because of the missing section of roof in what would’ve been Aliesha’s room. I avoided going into it right away and instead opted for the back storage room. It really did not look so bad. The beams that supported the roof were a bit charred, a small section of the floor had fallen through (on top of our bedroom dressers), but that was all. Most everything seemed to be intact in this room, but this was also the room that held all of the ‘junk’ that we just hadn’t gotten rid of yet. Another moment of delicious irony.
The middle closet seemed to be gone. There was a door frame, and a section of floor, but most everything else had either burned up, or fallen through with the floor. I was particularly upset by this since this was the room where I had been keeping all of my tapes, and albums, and other odd collectibles. Now they were all gone. I couldn’t even find my collection of pewter figurines.
I hesitated before finally facing Aliesha’s room. I didn’t want to look inside. I knew what it was going to look like, and I didn’t want to face that yet, but I did anyway. I stood in the doorway looking at what was, for all intents and purposes, an ash heap. I could make out some of the frame work of her furniture, the coils from her mattress, her melted TV, and stereo. It was a shock to my system. So much so, that for the first time, through the entire ordeal, I felt a sense of despair come over me like a shadow. I felt all of my strength melt away from me. My legs were suddenly just strong enough to keep me from falling on my face. I grew painfully cold, and horribly unsettled by a chill that seemed to run up and down my spine for several seconds. I felt beaten.
It was at this moment that I lowered my head, and offered what was half of an accusation and half of a prayer to God. “Oh, God. What am I going to do now? What’s going to happen?” was what I said. And in a moment of absolute clarity I heard the Holy Spirit speak to me.

“Do you think that I’m blind, that I don’t see this, that I don’t know what’s happening here? Do you think that I would abandon you? I see this. All of this. And all you need to do is to just sit back and watch Me work.”

In the space of a heartbeat my strength had returned to me. The chill had left, and I wasn’t so afraid of what might happen next. I prepared myself for whatever might come my way, and I headed out of the house.
That moment, is the one moment, that has led me to this moment, here and now. I could easily have hung my head and said “Nah, that wasn’t God trying to tell me something. This was all some great, cosmic mistake.”. And then I could’ve went out and moped about my tragedy to anyone who was willing to listen. And believe me, there are plenty of people who are willing to listen to a good sob story. Instead, I went out and faced the world ready to tell everyone about the great things that God was going to do for me. And He did them!
I went back to my mother-in-law’s with the tiny treasures that I had rescued from amid the debris. Jo was making arrangements for her brother, and brother-in-law, to come over and help us to recover some of our surviving furniture. It would have to wait for another day, but it was a relief to know that things were beginning to move forward. Jo also began to get into contact with some of the relief agencies that help at times like these.
The Red Cross was first to respond, so when the Salvation Army called, we turned them down so that they might keep their resources for somebody else. The Red Cross immediately provided vouchers for us to go shopping to replace enough clothing to get us through a week or so. They offered to pay for a hotel stay for a few days, but we informed them that we had already made arrangements. That evening we did the shopping and began the transition into Jo’s sister’s house for the short term.
The following day I went to church. At the time I didn’t go to the morning services. Instead, I attended the contemporary service on Sunday evenings. Our worship leader, JD, approached me with the full expectation of comforting me through the situation. Little did he know that I was quite satisfied to know that God was already watching out for us. I told him that I wasn’t letting this get to me, that I knew God had some tremendous blessing just waiting for me. JD was stunned to hear me say this. Even being a man of great faith, he found it amazing that somebody could go through what my family was going through and still consider themselves to be blessed… beyond the whole “we all got out alive” thing, that you always hear so much about. Sharing my sentiments with everyone else left them all with a sense of blessing. That’s where it began.
When I returned to work on Monday, I was greeted by several of my co-workers who were expecting to offer me some sense of comfort as they asked me about what had happened. I began to tell the story to one person. As I shared the experiences of the night, more gathered around, and I continued. They were all amazed at how easily I spoke of it all, the confidence by which I attributed all of the small miracles to the hand of a mighty God, who has never allowed me to fall. I told them all of what the Holy Spirit had spoken to my heart in the doorway of my daughter‘s room. And I watched them all shiver as the chill ran up their spines. I concluded the story by telling everyone who had come to hear the following;
“I cannot allow this to bring me down. If I let this event break me, then my faith is nothing. If I cannot cling to God through this, expecting Him to perform great things on my behalf, then anything I’ve ever said about what I believe means nothing. And my faith is not for nothing. I will see God work miracles in my life because of this, and all of you will see those miracles, too.”
There was a swell of weeping after this, not the sadness that everyone had originally expected, but tears of great joy that such an awesome story had been shared with them. This same event took place several times through the entire day. Like I said, there are plenty of people out there who are willing to listen to a good sob story, but I’ve seen how people respond to a good miracle. And I’ll take that response to the other any day.
Over the course of the next few days, there were several collections taken by my co-workers, my church, my community, and the schools that my kids attended. There was a great flood of generosity toward us, and it really did help us to get ourselves back on our feet, until the insurance could work itself out. It also made for a truly unforgettable Christmas. One that almost wasn’t.
Things did seem to move quickly afterwards. We found a house nearby to rent until we could figure out what to do next. Our insurance company fronted us enough money to replace our furniture. Life was beginning to fall into place again.
Their was a lot of speculation as to whether or not we should try to repair the house and move back in, or if we should just pay it off and try to find something else. The mortgage company made that decision for us. They required that we pay off the mortgage once the settlement was reached. We figured that it was probably for the better since the repairs would’ve cost us at least three times what we paid for the house. And after paying off the mortgage company, we wouldn’t have anywhere near enough to get the work done.
I admit that it was kinda sad. After all, this was our first house, we had lived in it for just over a year (we moved in the weekend before Thanksgiving, 2001), and we were already making great memories in it. It felt as if a piece of our lives had been suddenly cut away from us. In a sense, I guess it was true. And God never said that the process wouldn’t hurt. Eventually, Jo and I came to accept this as a way of getting a brand new start in life. Everything had pretty much been taken away from us, so there was nowhere to go but up. What was left of the house was torn down in March of this year… anybody wanna buy an empty lot on Pitcairn?
We began the long slow process of replacing the things that were lost, or at least the ones that were replaceable. The insurance settled with us by May, agreeing to pay us the full amount of what we were insured for. That’s when we began the search for a new home of our own. We spent the next few months looking around at places that we thought we could afford, and never really liked any of them. So many of them were “fixer-uppers”, and I’m not a very handy individual. By August, we were beginning to wonder if we would even find another house that we could afford. Things seemed bleak.
That’s when we found a house that we both liked, and didn’t seem to need too much work. It had a big yard with a big rock sitting under a tree, A huge deck, and plenty of room inside. The only problem was that it was just a little bit higher in price than what we wanted to pay (what we thought we could afford).
We mulled it over for several days, while continuing to look at other houses, and none of them seemed right. Finally, as September rolled around, we decided to go ahead and bid on it. We knew we had to bid much lower than what the house was listing for, but we were hoping that the sellers would understand that it was only a matter of what we could afford, and not some insulting low-ball bid. But we wanted to look at the house one last time before we bid, make sure that we could do it.
It was a Wednesday evening when we were supposed to go look at the house. Our agent, Lynn, informed us of a house that was going to be placed on the market on Friday, but that it wouldn’t be open for viewing until Saturday. Lynn thought it was more in our price range. So we waited on the bid.
Friday came and she informed Jo that the house had a lock-box on it and we could go see it that night. We did, and it was a mess. Not that the house was in bad shape, but there was such a mess on the inside. Stuff was everywhere. The previous owner obviously did woodworking, because the basement was just full of wood of every kind, every size and every shape. The house was in desperate need of some cleaning, but other than that it seemed nice enough. Better yet, it was close enough to our price range that we could probably get it. Within a week we had placed our bid, put down a substantial amount of hand-money, and then we waited for the sellers.
A week later we were told that our bid was accepted. We were also told that our bid wasn’t the highest. The sellers, the children of the owner, were impressed by how much hand-money we put on it. They thought that anyone willing to drop that much money on their bid was really serious about that house. The fact that we were agreeing to buy it “as-is” (after some clean-up), probably helped, too.
We closed on the house on October 16th, 2003. We moved into our new house the weekend before Thanksgiving, 2003... Sound familiar? Small miracles everywhere! And now we’ve managed to make a pretty nice life for ourselves. We’ve made some home improvements, some minor changes, and really turned the place into our own. We have wonderful neighbors, in a quiet community. And it’s a great feeling to have all of that, and I know why I have it, too.
Through all of this, all of what I’ve just written here, I know that God was working on my behalf. People look at the kind of tragedy that we went through and they say “Oh, I don’t know how you did it. I don’t think I could’ve gotten through it like you have.”. Even beyond the event, they have a hard time with just getting through it. They lack the understanding that God will only allow us to suffer what we can handle, or what is needed to weed out the chaff. Those people are right, they couldn’t have gotten through it, and that may very well be the reason why they haven’t had to face anything like it. But I have a better blessing than any of them.
I believe that God wanted to do a great work in my life, not that he wanted to test my faith, or anything like that. I am convinced that God wanted to do something truly spectacular for me, and that He knew, well in advance, how I would react to this “trial by fire”, as it were. He probably also knew that this was going to be the best way of doing that spectacular work for me. I am convinced, by the words I read in the Psalms, and by my faith, that God allowed these things to happen in my life for His purposes. Because He knew that I would turn this into a great opportunity to give praise to His holy name. I believe, with all of my heart, that my faithfulness to His words, and the grace of Christ Jesus, are the only things which truly sustained me through it all. It was all in His plan, and His purpose, for my life. I am truly thankful to God for all of these things.
And, yes, I think this story goes along very well with what I shared in my “I got bettah… “ story. Especially my little speech at the end. I hope that I’ve been able to bless all of you with this story as well.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

You did. (thanks)

Lamentations 3:21-23

11:12 PM  
Blogger nikki said...

A very touching event..
Your title makes more sense now.
im glad you have such strong faith that tops the other experiences in your life, it also helps me because i can be thankful for how God works in others lives! Keep doing what youre doing!

Hearing the bit where God speaks and what He says in your situations is powerful aswell. He is our deliverer and our saviour! I praise Him for getting you through.

1:21 AM  

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