We saw the smoke billow black from a distance.
It was obvious. Something was on fire. And we were headed straight for the flames.
The girls and I had a simple morning planned. Church. Lunch. Target. Home. But we hit a detour on our way to Target.
With every turn, the smoke got closer. We agreed before we got there, this was going to be the biggest fire any of us had seen.
We were right. It was the only house fire we’d witnessed that close, and it was a big one.
There it was. A mini mansion burning up in flames. Fire trucks, ambulances, police and what seemed like a hundred people stood by watching it go down.
We pulled into the closest neighborhood and made our way through sidewalked streets. Parents and kids on bikes walked towards the flames. Cars were parked at the intersection in lines, and continued to pull up behind us, too. The fire was in plain sight. Some stood. Some sat. We watched in amazement as the mini mansion went down in flames.
The girls and I sat for 15, maybe 20 minutes, just watching.
This was a rare sight. I wondered why nobody was doing anything. Why wasn’t the fire being fought? Why were the fire fighters letting this mini mansion go up in flames in front of their eyes? Why were we all just standing there? Why wasn’t somebody yelling, screaming? Stop the fire! Put out the fire! For God’s sake, stop the fire!
Everyone just stood there.
Nobody seemed worried. Not even a bit.
I decided. Either the fire had gotten so out of control that they’d decided to let it go down in flames, or the fire was intentional. But if it was intentional, the timing was sure weird. Sunday noon. Intentionally start a fire on Sunday, the holiest of days, the supposed day of rest? Intentionally start a fire on Sunday at noon, during family lunch hour? Why?
My nine-year-old snapped pictures upon pictures on the iPhone.
Layer by layer, the mini mansion burned in front of our eyes. The roof tumbled. Then the windows. And finally, after we’d watched a long while and the fire was nearing the ground, water kicked in from behind.
I felt like a tourist of things bad, so I told the girls it was time to go, time to escape this life going up in flames.
A week later, it still bugged me. I wasn’t sure whether that fire was intentional or accidental. So I asked friends who lived near the scene if they knew anything more. The fire was intentional. A couple had built the mini mansion, which all the neighbors agreed was beautiful, but later got divorced. A developer came along and offered top dollar for the property. So it burned baby, it burned, for the sake of cleared land for new development.
I wondered. What about the husband and wife who lived there? Did they have kids? Were they aware that this mini mansion of theirs was going down in flames that day? And if they were there, if they did know…
How did it feel to watch the life they once envisioned go down in flames?
How does it feel to watch your life go down in flames?
How does it feel to watch someone else’s life go down in flames?
We’ve all witnessed our fair share of fires.
We stand. We watch. And wonder.
Why isn’t anybody doing anything about this?
Why are we all just standing here?
Please, won’t someone stop the flames?
Somebody! Come! Make it all better!
This house. is on. FIRE!
Fight this fire!
Don’t let it go down.
Don’t let it go.
But it goes, anyway.
And we realize…
Perhaps the fire wasn’t ours to fight.
Perhaps there are times when we need to sit and watch the mess go down in flames.
Perhaps foundations were built on sand instead of soil, or rock.
Perhaps mini mansions were built where humble homes should’ve been.
Perhaps empires were erected where walls should’ve crumbled.
Perhaps egos took a front seat to others.
Perhaps dead things needed to burn to the ground before new life could rise again.
Perhaps our lives were never meant to be built, but to be broken, surrendered, and then lived.
God promises. “In this world you will have trouble.” But He also promises crowns of beauty for ashes.
So let the fires burn. Let the old, ugly, broken-down, used-up, long-ago dead things die.
Burn. Burn. Burn.
Until there’s nothing.
New life. It rises from the ashes. It grows. It springs forth. It’s crowned with beauty, more radiant than before.
But when and how do we emerge as fellow human beings?
When do we turn from mere bystanders to helpers, firefighters of the most blazing kind?
We’re there in the kindling, before the flames ignite, before smoke’s seen with the naked eye. When something doesn’t seem right, when we get that nudge, when we hear bits and pieces of this and that going wrong? We lend a hand, open our ears and say “this is how I’m going to love you today.” We remind them they’re not alone. We point them in the way of hope. And we offer ourselves as a ray of sunshine. For God makes all things beautiful. In time.
We’re there when flames burn bright. When all’s failed, when all’s gone wrong, when there’s nothing else to do but let the flames engulf. We stand. We wait. We watch. We pray. We let them know we’re there. And we let them know we’re sorry. So sorry this is happening. So sorry your home is on fire. So sorry your life is on fire. So sorry. So sorry.
We’re there when nothing remains but ashes. When life’s hopeless, worthless, and pointless. When dusty black’s all over their feet and hands, and the mess is trailing everywhere they go. We’re there. Yep. We’re there. We’re there in the waiting and wondering if anything’s going to change. We’re there in the doubting and discouragement. We’re there in the believing nothing’s possible. But we know. Everything’s possible. All is possible. So we sit. In the ashes. With them. We get dirty when we don’t want to. Even when it costs us. Because we bear all things, together, even in the ashes.
We’re there when new life springs forth. When hope abounds. When things are looking up. When nothing but better days are bound to happen. We’re there. When dead things come to life. We’re there, rising forth as fire fighters. Trained. Determined. Ready to love and fight again.
And all the while, He’s there. Bestowing beauty for ashes, making all things beautiful. In time.