In December, the northern stars are very bright. They seem to descend close to earth. It was on just such a black, black night when the stars shone and the snow made the Minnesota woods soft and still that my sister, Roxanne, and her family returned from a weekend away. They turned into the long drive that winds to their house on the lake. The air snapped with cold and a peculiar orange glow rose through the trees. It was their home--on fire. Flames licked through the roof and smoke poured out the windows.
Priscilla, who was only four, understood what they were losing, and cried for the bed and dolls she would never see again.
Little David's eyes were round with awe over such a sight--to think that the fire engines would come to your very own house!
They lost everything--not only the necessities for living, but their treasures. It hurt to reach for something familiar--the book left beside the bed--the quilt a grandmother made--a photo album with baby pictures, only to have a rush of memory remind that this will never be again. The next day as Roxanne wandered through the wreckage she saw a glass sitting on the counter right where it had been left a few days before. Miraculously, it sat unbroken, encased in solid ice, and sparkling in the sun that shone through the holes of the roof.
Was it irony or parable? Ironic that something you could replace for 85 cents at Kmart made it through the fire? Or symbolic that God could bring his children unscathed through tragedies and trials. Roxanne didn't know, and in a moment of grief she hit it with a crowbar and watched it spin through the debris and come to rest--still without a chip.
Slowly they recovered. Priscilla's childlike resilience allowed for the quickest healing. One evening in their crowded motel quarters, she knelt and prayed: "Dear God, thank you for burning our house down." Startled, Roxanne asked her why she had prayed that! "Because," Priscilla replied, "Now God is going to build us a new house--which I've always wanted." We could not have guessed how prophetic her prayer would be when months later a beautiful log home stood where the old house had been.
That year Christmas was different for the entire extended family.
We were excited to be giving to someone who really needed help. For the first time we had someone really "needy" right in our family. We plotted and planned. We filled boxes with items for everyday living. We put together personal packages for each family member--from socks to sweatshirts and trucks to dolls.
With joyful abandon we gave gifts, remembering that it was through his son that our Lord "has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor" (2 Corinthians 9:9). What a pleasure it was to meet more than "felt needs" and to know our gifts weren't received with jaded cynicism or weary gratitude.
That fire also caused me to assess my attitude toward our possessions. Sitting in my cabinet are some priceless pieces of antique china. Since we inherited the china, I wanted to use it, but in reality, I stiffened whenever anyone touched it. That December I brought out the dessert set to serve a group of friends. My youngest daughter, who was 11, joined us only to drop her plate and break it into a hundred pieces. My gasp followed by a shriek caused every head to swivel my direction. I was exposed. There was no taking it back. Everyone knew what my heart treasured. In shame, I remembered my sister's fire.
How typical of me to forget the temporal nature of our belongings. In a moment, the hand of God can strip them from us through fire, flood, or any means he chooses. Material blessings are mine to care for--but not to clutch tightly in my fist.
Only God can keep a cherished possession forever. It is an amazing thing that he chooses to claim and keep us in just that way: "The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession" (Deuteronomy 7:6).