Speak Eagle

It Only Takes a Spark

I was having a hard time finding things to be thankful for in the midst of my crazy-busy, running-ragged-from-one-thing-to-the-next-with-kids-in-tow day in May, 2012. And it didn’t help that I had gotten a speeding ticket. My then 3-year old added insult to injury by wriggling out of his car seat to peek up front and ask the officer, “Are you giving my mama a spankin’?” I smiled nervously, explaining, “I’ve told him speeding tickets are like spankings for mommies and daddies.” The officer didn’t smile back. He just handed me a ticket for $150. Ouch. That spanking really hurt.

By late afternoon, I’m back home and ready to clock out. But my husband is out of the country and my in-laws have invited the boys and I over for a cookout. They had been renting a home at the end of our street until a few weeks prior when they decided to move to a condo across town. I just couldn’t bring myself to find 4 sets of shoes again and get the crew back out and buckled into 4 car seats. I text my MIL, Nancy. “Long day. Can u come here instead?”

Thankfully, my in-laws are quite flexible and understanding, so they arrive at my door an hour later, ceremoniously attacked by 4 boys. Nancy puts down her purse; George-the-Grill-Master heads through the kitchen to the back deck.

And then it happens. George’s cell phone rings. It’s one of their new neighbors. A condo on their street is on fire. Not sure which one. They race out of my house and into their car. “Pray!”

I gather my boys and tell them the news. We pray. Fervent. Tearful.

Nancy calls, breathless. “I can see the smoke! I’m running up the street now. I can’t tell if it’s our condo yet…” And then…”It’s ours! Heidi, it’s ours!”

I dash out, ask my neighbors to watch my boys. Driving, I can see the smoke three miles away. Black, billowing.

Once there, I hold onto Nancy as we watch the flames devouring their belongings and keepsakes like a starving dragon. A fireball explodes out of the roof. “There goes my bed,” Nancy chokes. Not just any bed- but her priceless, hand-painted bedroom suite handed down from her grandmother.

condo on fire

Firefighters try to get the blaze under control. Passersby offer condolences and details of what they’ve heard of how the fire started. We slowly piece the story together.

Their next-door neighbor had just finished grilling chicken on his back patio. He left the grill on, shut the sliding glass door and set his plate of chicken on the table. He retrieved his grill brush and headed back to the door, ready to scrape residue, when he heard a sound like a jet engine taking off.

A fuel hose had come loose from the grill’s propane tank and was crazily spraying fire everywhere. He called 9-1-1, neighbors pitched in to try to put out the fire. But it was no use. The fire was too hot, immediately melting the siding into ribbons, licking its way up the back of the condo, quickly scorning property lines to overtake George and Nancy’s adjacent home.

Surrounded by 13 firetrucks and dedicated firemen blasting water at the blaze, I suddenly realize my boys need to witness this scene and remember these profound moments in our family’s history. I drive home to get them, now not too tired to find shoes and buckle seat belts.

We arrive, little eyes wide and wondering, curious and concerned. They look through the back fence towards the end of the condominium building where firemen are spraying water, good overcoming evil. The flames still blaze, now in spurts, the last dying breaths of destruction.boys watching

The indelible images keep coming…A fireman clomps past us in big boots, back to his firetruck, his face black with soot.IMG_0473

The eyes of the boys then turn to their grandparents. George and Nancy had been steadfast and immovable in their faith despite unemployment the past two years, telling the boys often of God’s love and faithfulness. I can see the boys scanning their faces. Would they waver now?

George gathers his little flock, explains that fires happen. And even though we don’t understand why, we know that God is still good and still in control.

No wavering in sight.boys gathered

Friends, neighbors, business pour out generous kindnesses- dinner, offers for lodging, toiletries, even pajamas. The community sets up a Help Fund and rallies to support the families who have lost so much.

The next day, Nancy and I return to the rubble to see what we can salvage. Her bedroom looks like a war zone; the heirloom furniture a total loss. master bedroom

On the way out of the house, I snap her picture, taken aback by her radiant faith, even in the midst of tears and grief.

No wavering in sight. Radiance- full of faith

We discover the one wall in the garage that housed their boxes of family pictures and other keepsakes- untouched by fire or water. Incredible. Merciful. Divine.wall of family photos

Suddenly I’m awash with gratitude to God for a million things- like life and family and community- and even a speeding ticket- the last straw in my day that put me over the edge to stay home.

My home- instead of being on the back patio of the condo, where a grandpa and four little boys would have been directly in the range of a neighbor’s out-of-control, fire-spewing fuel hose.

Fire can destroy a lot of things. But it can’t destroy faith. It can’t destroy community or generosity. And sometimes it might even spark a whole heart of gratitude.

9 thoughts on “It Only Takes a Spark”

  1. Thanks Heidi! It is truly a story that God is writing and we are in it! Tears… yes. Shock, wonder, Praise to God! In addition there was a rainbow over all three of the blazing condos! God of all comfort and provision! June 20th will be one year!

  2. Heidi, thanks for sharing this beautiful story. What an awesome display of faithfulness in the face of such loss. I really needed to read this today…been struggling with my work load at WC lately (along with my responsibilities – and blessings – as a wife and mother). Thanks for the reminder that I have so very much to be thankful for!

    1. Yes, Susan, I can only imagine all that you are juggling. I will pray for His strong arms to carry you as you carry all your responsibilities- and blessings! Thank you for sharing your heart. Yes, we do have so much to be thankful for.

  3. Great post and words of incredible faith. There’s no way I would have been smiling if this had happened to me, but I’m encouraged to be that kind of person.

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