House on Fire

It was my fault.

Our house burned down in August 2006.

“Dad, dad. The house is on fire! It’s huge. I’m not even joking. Call me back. I’m scared.” The fear in my son’s voice was unmistakable. Now I was scared. I raced from the church to the house, breaking land speed records, and violating most traffic safety laws in the process. It only took most of 20 minutes, but by the time I arrived the house was gone. Twenty-seven firefighters, three firetrucks and a helicopter, had gotten on the fire in a hurry and thank God, kept it from spreading to our neighbors and the trees which surround our house. I quickly took in the scene. The house was in ruins. Smoked poured from what remained of the structure as firefighters continued to pump water into the rubble. Emergency vehicles, firefighters and hoses peppered the landscape. Dozens of lookeyloos were already in place, taking in the show. Photographers, newspaper reporters, concerned neighbors. It was quite a scene. Right away I spotted one of my friends. Actually, it was my builder, Greg, who also lives in the neighborhood. “We’ll take care of you guys, Mark. We’ll rebuild. It’s gonna be okay.” It seemed like we had just finished building our new house, even though it had been almost 2 years since we moved in. I didn’t want to think about all that needed to be done. I was told our boys had been taken to a neighbor’s house, which had been set up as a temporary staging area of sorts. I made my way down the street to their house where I was reunited with my family. My wife had just arrived as well, making her way from her office in town. We all hugged and prayed together, thanking God for His protection. About 20 friends were already there, looking somber. I was struck at that moment that this would be the same scene, with the same people in the room, had any of our kids died in the fire. Thank God it wasn’t a real tragedy… it was just a house. Sure it was “OUR HOUSE,” but in the end, it was replaceable. Still it’s been hard.

That was 9 months ago. The new house is almost finished being rebuilt. All that remains to be done is to build our deck and a finish a few other small things. I am actually writing this from the house today. It’s weird to be here… the last article I wrote was only a week after the house burned down. It seems appropriate that here at the end of the process, we put a cap on the story. People like happy endings. I hate going to movies where there is no resolution to the conflict. It even bothers me when we sing songs that don’t resolve, (finish with the chord you started with). You can call me a “type A” or write it off to me being a first-born, but I think that secretly we all want to believe that the world is fair. Or that at least God is fair. It makes it easier to deal with our personal pain that way. It gives us hope.

The problem is it doesn’t always work that way. Life is unfair. It seems arbitrary at times. Why does the tornado hit this house and not that one? Why does one die in a car accident, and another does not? I have more questions than answers. Maybe someday I’ll understand; but probably not.

Honestly, this has been a year of pain for us. And the house burning down is probably 3rd or 4th on the list of most painful things that we’ve had to go through this year as a family. A year ago we had to leave staff at the church we loved, and my wife stopped sleeping for weeks on end. Then this summer, her mom got cancer. Our house burned down in August, and two weeks later our Dalmatian of 12 years died. I know, it seriously sounds like a country western song waiting to be written. You know what happens when you play a country-western song backwards don’t you? You get your wife back, your dog back, your house back…. Lol. I wish it were that easy. Anyway, it’s been quite a journey this year that’s for sure. My wife had the hardest time with our job transition and with her mom’s cancer. For my oldest son, it was our dog, Sebastian, whom he loved dearly. For my youngest, it was being separated from his best friend, who was our next door neighbor, and feeling he was being replaced at times. And for me the greatest pain has been watching my family go thru their private pain and not being able to do anything about it. I could rebuild the house. I could get new furniture. I couldn’t bring the dog back to life. I couldn’t fix my wife’s sleeping disorder. I felt helpless at times. Men want to fix stuff. It’s our role, as provider, as protector; it’s innate, it’s built into who we are. For me the breaking point was the dog. If you’re not a dog lover you won’t understand, but it’s like losing a family member. I’m tearing up even now, just thinking about him… I can’t believe it’s still that raw. God and I had some frank “discussions” after that. Meaning, I would go for walks in the woods and yell at Him. I felt He was being unfair. I felt He didn’t care. I felt like He was piling on. Someone should throw a flag here. I mean, come on, enough is enough. Just how much are we supposed to be able to handle?

And therein lies the rub. I was broken. Truly broken. For maybe the first time in my life I could not pull myself up by my bootstraps and dig myself out. This was way beyond my control, beyond what I could handle. I needed help, and though I hated to admit it, I needed God’s help. And I was going to need help from other people. I think that’s hard for most men to admit, maybe even more so for Godly men.

I’ve learned a few things through the process. Things I knew in my head before this year, but now I know through experience. It’s completely different.

Pain is part of life. We have been led to believe a lie as Christians in the U.S. We think that we can create a little piece of heaven here on earth; a relatively pain-free, suburban lifestyle, with 2.3 kids, a minivan and a dog. Happiness and the pursuit of it is our birthright as Americans. We think we deserve it. That life owes it to us. But Scripture says, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.” We live in an outdoor world. And when it rains, we all get wet. The pain some people have to walk through is unbelievable at times. Have you ever had to do a funeral for a teenager? Counseled with someone who doesn’t want to live? Sat with a kid whose parents have just split up? Throughout this year I’ve held onto Psalm 23… “yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…I will fear no evil, for thou art with me” This verse reassures me that I’m never alone in my pain, which is half the battle by the way, and reminds me that the pain is not permanent…. God is walking with me through the valley. And your valley does not extend indefinitely. This is just a chapter in your life. It is not the whole book.

Whatever your pain, let God be your source. He will bring good out of bad if you let him. One of the youth pastors I’m coaching said something the other day that I’m going to hang onto… “you know God doesn’t waste anything.” I love that. In our situation God is bringing “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning.” I don’t really believe backward masking has invaded country music… but we are getting our house back, our lives back, and we have a new puppy.

~Mark Moder

Originally published in Network Magazine – Fall 2007 (a publication of National Network of Youth Ministries)


About markmoder

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