For several days after the fire, the ground was a muddy mess. It was a while until the ground dried out enough and the air was warm enough that we could begin a clean up process. Some of the things we found amazed me. (If you haven’t already, you can read about the fire here.)
Among them were pieces of jeans out in the front yard about 7 inches long, and a half burned shoe. I spotted two Corel baking dishes sitting down in the bottom of the basement, which apparently were able to withstand some serious heat. There was broken glass all over our yard, much farther out from the house than I would have expected to find it. For the most part, we found very little that was salvageable, but there were a few surprises!
There was a closet under the stairs of the partially standing addition that the fire did not burn. There was still heat, smoke, and water damage. I kept Christmas decorations in there, stacked in plastic totes. The ornaments in the top tote were melted, and swimming in water. The ornaments in the tote below that were mostly okay, and the tote under it (although completely black from smoke on the outside) held my Willow Tree Nativity, which was untouched in every way!
A few years ago, my older kids pooled their money and bought it for me. I was absolutely thrilled! It was perhaps my favorite gift that they had ever given me. My little ones have been pretty hard on it over the years. Some tiny criminal always seems to get their hands on it when mom isn’t looking, and a few of the figurines have cracks and missing hands. The most important pieces have remained intact though!
To find that Nativity completely unharmed by the fire was such a gift! My 7 year old, Koi, was there when I found it. He said, “Mom, why is all the God stuff okay?” Ha! In addition to the Bible that I found mostly intact the day of the fire, there were pages of another Bible all over everywhere! We found them all over the yard, and even in the field across the road. My kids kept gathering those pages for a while, and then sort of gave up because there were so many. We had also just discovered the Bible that I use in our morning devotions, the fire hadn’t ruined it but it was soaked with water. So even a child could see a pattern!
Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My Words will never pass away!” Of course, He wasn’t actually talking about pages from the Bible, and certainly not a cross on the wall or a Nativity, but I love how God used this opportunity to drive home for my kids the power of His Word with a tangible illustration. We lost almost all of our material possessions in that fire, except for our vehicles and our small plot of land, but remembrances of our God were all over the place! Even in the story of Job, the devil only destroyed what he was allowed to destroy!
During the cleanup, my cousin picked up a small picture album in the yard that was covered in ash but unharmed! I was pretty excited to get that! Any pictures at this point are a real blessing. And a few days later, our oldest son picked up a pair of my sewing shears that I have had for more than twenty years! It was the larger of two pairs that I owned. A couple of days later, they found the smaller pair! After cleaning and a little filing and sharpening, I believe I will still be able to use both pairs. They aren’t shiny anymore, they will always look like they have been through a fire. But perhaps they will remind me, every time I use them, of how good God has been to us!
So once we picked through stuff, it was time to get rid of the mess! My dad has been invaluable to us through this whole thing. He operates like a bull in a China closet, but he gets results! He made phone calls to family and friends, borrowing equipment, and pushed down what was left of the house and lit it on fire! Eventually we filled in the hole with sand (also given to us by a friend) and there was nothing left of our old house.
Now we are making plans to rebuild, largely made possible by the generosity of others! We have several skilled carpenters and builders in the family, and we plan to do this thing together. By doing as much as we can on our own, we hope to keep this project very affordable. Thanks to so many generous people, we have a head start! Please pray that God will see us through this process and provide every need along the way.
I have been completely overcome by the generosity of our friends, family, and strangers! So many people sent cards and letters filled with encouraging words and prayers lifted on our behalf, and I read each one. I plan to read them all again, and again! Many shared similar trials in their own lives, and testimonies of how God has been faithful. Some talked about how others had helped them and now it was time to pay if forward.
Some gifts were big, and some were small. One that I will always remember, was six $1 bills placed in a ziploc bag, from a sweet little girl whose heart was so concerned for us! I am still carrying that ziploc bag of money around in my purse, waiting for just the right need to spend it on! Someday soon, I want to be able to tell our little friend exactly how her gift was used to bless us!
There have been so many gifts of food, clothing, household supplies, gift cards, and money. Some of those gifts were given from a place of abundance, and some were given sacrificially out of a place of scarcity. To be honest, some were very hard to accept! Especially the gifts from those that surely needed it themselves. But we did accept every gift, because we know one very important thing: You cannot outgive God! We are praying that every gift is returned to the giver a hundredfold, and trusting that God will do just that!
Right after the fire, a friend sent me an encouraging text. Among the many things she said was “A faith that can’t be tested, is a faith that can’t be trusted.” Those words ring in my ears often. It is so easy to become discouraged when things are going wrong. And so many people have the idea that “stuff going wrong” equates an absence of God’s blessing. But Jesus himself called bologna on that concept. In fact, He assured us there will be trouble! Always!
We live in a fallen world, and this life will be a struggle from our first breath until our last. There are times of joy and times of victory and exhilaration. There are also times for rest and refueling. But life as a whole is a continual journey of climbing up hilltops, clawing at the dirt along the way, tumbling down into valleys on the other side, and struggle, struggle, struggle…
What I cannot bear the thought of though, is all that struggle without a Savior! All that struggle can be, and will be, and is overcome because of Jesus! As a believer, I know the struggle is not for nothing. Every bit of it is a piece of the great story. Every bit has a purpose in the grand design. Every brushstroke contributes to the masterpiece God is painting for my good and His glory.
I am so grateful for all of those who have blessed us, but “thank you” is just not big enough to say everything that I want to express! Still, thank you is the only word we have, and from the bottom of our hearts, we say “Thank you!”
I pray that in the midst of all this corona virus craziness, you are finding peace and rest and hope for the future! Hang in there, this too shall pass!