Sep 12, 2011

“Where was God in that fire?” Psalm 34:18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’

I was four-years-old when I visibly witnessed my first tragedy. We didn’t really know the family who lived in the apartment over across the blacktop road. But the married couple had two small children, a boy around my age, and his younger baby sister. It appeared to us that the woman was a stay-at-home mother and her husband worked with the local law enforcement. We saw the children's' grandfather visit their home regularly.  Sometimes, while the mother was out running errands and the father was at work, in their absence, the grandfather provided childcare for the little boy and baby sister.
I remember the weather being warm and sunny that day. I had just returned home, midday from preschool as my mother pulled a freshly baked cake from the oven. Our home smelled delicious! She intended for us to return to preschool later the same day, and participate in a school fund-raising event. My older sister was still at school for several more hours.
That day, the grandfather was working on fixing his car outside their apartment. Before long, he went inside to rinse his hands. Somehow, fumes from the gasoline on his hands blew down the hallway and ignited the wall mounted heater a few feet away. The heater instantly exploded into raging flames! 
I remember the smell of burning smoke immediately pouring through our apartment. I asked my mother if the cake in the oven was burning. Then suddenly, the grandfather ran towards our apartment screaming, “Help me, please help me!”
I watched in horror as the grandfather attempted to douse the flames that were consuming his own arms. My mother calmly called the authorities for help and then immediately ran with the grandfather towards the engulfed apartment. As they approached the wildly burning apartment, the young boy started screaming and ran towards my mother and his grandfather. He was on fire, from head to toe!
Even so, my mother scooped up the terrified boy and returned to our apartment. She sat him down on the coffee table directly in front of me and told me to reassure the scared little boy that he would be okay. She commanded me, “Do not to leave his side!”
I obeyed my mother and sat glued to the couch. I felt powerless and terrified as I watched the child writhe and scream in agony. My heart ached with compassion and I wanted desperately to help. Yet, I could barely make eye contact with the child. My mixed emotions overwhelmed me!
Meanwhile, my mother had quickly rushed back to the neighbor’s apartment to rescue the baby girl. The grandfather directed her to the backyard of the home. Then he pointed his shaking finger to the outside of a room where he had thought the baby would be.  My mother heard screams of a toddler. She yanked the screen from the window and peered inside the smoky room. Yet, all she found was a crib with a small doll. The baby was not there.
Then, the screaming of the baby stopped. Frantic, my mother yelled at the grandfather, “Where is the baby?”  They ran to the outside of another window, but by the time they reached the second room, hot and raging flames were consuming the apartment.
Just as my mother started feeling the sinking, helplessness of not being able to reach the baby, another neighbor appeared, grabbed a hose, and forced it into to my mother’s hands. My mother sprayed water on the walls in the direction of the screams.  She thought, “Where is the fire department?” Then, immediately, out of nowhere, a fireman appeared by her side and nudged her out of the way. She watched as another fireman pulled the baby from the burning apartment. Simultaneously, several firemen entered our home and began to administer help to the terribly hurt, little boy. Both children were rushed to a nearby hospital.
Days later, we visited the hospital to see that small boy again. We waited in a long hallway while the boy came to see us. He walked straight to me. I wondered, “Why is he wrapped from head to toe in that long stocking?” I remained quiet while my mother spoke to the other adults. We left the hospital with many other unanswered questions that day.
A few days later, we toured their apartment. It was literally reduced to ashes. The pungent smell of the fire lingered in the air for weeks. I remember that the only belonging still standing was the family refrigerator.
Over the years, the memory of that fire would invade my mind as I awakened in the middle of the night with horrible nightmares. Sometimes my mother would unknowingly rekindle the pain by retelling the story. Sadly, for much of my life, all I carried regarding that painful fire was the suffering and confusion it caused deep within me. I questioned, “Where was God in that fire?”
Then in 2008, I endured another harsh trial. This time, I surrendered my heart to Jesus Christ. When God began to heal my traumatized heart, I started to wonder, “Had I allowed the pain and suffering of that fire to rob me of an opportunity to see the presence of God?”   
With new hope, I now realize God’s SAVING GRACE was with all of us that painful day. God used my mother to urgently respond to the cries for help and safely place the scared and hurting child in our home. God used a neighbor to help my mother the moment she began to grow helplessly drained and weary. God sent firemen to protect my mother, the neighbor, grandfather and children from the hungry flames and God used me to remain by that hurting and scared child's side. 

#California Fires
LORD Jesus, only Son of God, right now, there are people near where I live who are suffering from the aftermath of another fire. I am sure that they are too hurting, scared and feeling broken. So, today, with all the compassion I have within me, I pray this prayer for each broken heart. 

"Father God, Your Word says, ‘The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.’ (Psalm 34:18)    I pray for all those who are crippled by a broken heart today, as my own heart grieves with them. LORD, please help each person to see Your mighty saving hand. Show each person just how You worked to save them. Assure their hearts that You have a future of hope waiting for them. If someone doesn't know You, please God, use this situation to miraculously give the person a new clean heart, ready and able to serve You. LORD, please use this painful, scary and dark situation to bring glory to Your name. I ask this in Your holy name Jesus. Amen.”
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