Friday, November 28, 2008

That Other Thanksgiving

It was 1995. I was working as an office manager near Sarasota, FL. My office was the converted hayloft of a barn with a nice view of a fish farm.
It was the day before Thanksgiving, and my boss was having a meeting with clients. His office was in the same ex-hayloft so I was kind of involved in the meeting as well. I don't remember what made me look at my pager, but I saw that I'd received 2 pages. When I called my voice mail the message was from my daughter who was 12 at the time. Her message told me to call her at the neighbor's house and in the background I could hear our new puppy screeching her head off. The second message was from my neighbor asking me to call. At this point my assumption was that our puppy had jumped off the couch and hurt her leg. I don't know why I jumped to that conclusion, but it's so easy to decide you know all the answers - even when you don't know what questions to ask. So I called my neighbor. Our conversation makes me laugh, even all these years later. It went something like this -
"Hi, you paged me?"
"Hi Mary, you need to come home now. Your house is on fire."
"Okay, I'm on the way." (attempt to hang up phone)
"It's okay Mary, the firemen are working on it."
"Okay, I'm on the way." (attempt to hang up phone)
"Please don't worry, everybody got out."
"Okay, I'm on the way." (attempt to hang up phone)
"So please just come home, Sara's here with me."
"Okay, I'm on the way." (hang up fast)
A quick explanation to my boss and his startled clients, (I'm leaving, my house is on fire), and I was off on the 40 minute drive home. I made it in about 25 minutes. The whole drive my brain just kept repeating, "Small fire in the kitchen, everybody over reacted." Over and over. As I came up the street behind my house the entire block was closed and full of big shiny trucks and men in big coats and boots. Not encouraging. So I drove around the block to the front of my house and into the circular drive. Ahhh, much better. Everything looked totally normal, just a lot of bustle and activity around the side of the house where the kitchen was. Big sigh of relief. I had been right all along, pan caught fire, everyone over reacted. So I confidently walked around the side of the house. To the dark side of the moon.

Everyone has seen what house fires can do so I won’t go into descriptions of the damage. I do want to share some of the amazing things about that day.

First, the fire was determined to be arson. A teenager angry with my daughter who was home from school that day.

My daughter and her friends collected the litter of kittens, the adult cats and the 3 dogs and got them out of the house. This involved crawling under the smoke and locating all of them, some hidden under furniture. This also involved my daughter being in my bedroom when the patio doors in my room exploded inward from the heat. She was knocked down, but not a shard of glass hit her. One of the firemen told me sadly that they had been unable to save one of my cats. I counted heads several times I couldn’t figure out who was missing. When he showed me the black furry body I realized it was a very realistic stuffed animal from my collection. A more humorous moment.

The fire moved from the back of the house toward the front. As it progressed through my kitchen my 25 cubic foot refrigerator was melted down to about 4 feet tall. The fire was put out as it melted the front of the microwave on the other side of the room.

The microwave was against the front wall. On the other side of that wall was a 100 pound propane tank, full. If it had blown, the 75 pound tank on the other side of the house would have gone up with it. All of the firefighters, my daughter and her friends, and several of my neighbors would probably be dead. Most of my block would have suffered damage.

I was in shock for quite awhile, but I felt the Lord’s presence so clearly. The thought that came over and over was, “The LORD gives and the LORD takes away. Blessed be the name of the LORD.”

I’m not saying there was no grief, no anger. The after-fire path led into a dark place, but He was with me there. He led me away from that neighborhood. He helped me deal with the knowledge that someone had done this to me, helped me to forgive. He showed His love for me in so many ways, through so many people. Strangers who showed up with blankets and clothing. My Laundry Angels – the women from church who took the clothes I could salvage, soaked them, washed them and returned them folded and smoke free. (Another humorous moment, I unfolded one of the pairs of jeans and there was no seat left in them.) The trucking company I dealt with through work took up a collection and sent me a check, after trying to figure out how to load up a semi and bring me what they could collect. So many people, so many thoughtful touches. The Lord is in the valley of the shadows. A shadow just means the light is still there. If there was no light, there could be no shadow.

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