Fire and Flood

A photo of me walking through our 35th St. duplex after the fire. March 31, 1996

A photo of me walking through our 35th St. duplex after the fire. March 31, 1996

I mentioned in my last post that Thomas and I lost a home to fire when our first two children were very young. Fires are traumatic.  We didn't sleep well for awhile.  I had trouble leaving the house. Letting my children out of sight was harder still, even when they were in the care of trusted friends or family.  The biggest stress was a lack of privacy. Though we were able to move into the spacious Cogdell family home, it was not our own. I, more than Thomas, felt the strain of being a guest; and sadly, I passed that stress along to the little ones. Overnight our family patterns changed.  I no longer allowed Noah to get his own snacks, or make messes in the living room.  I felt uncomfortable taking a nap in the middle of the day, and since I wasn't sleeping well at night, I was chronically tired. I cringed every time the kids cried, worried about bothering Thomas' parents because I knew that they too had lost a great deal of peace and privacy.

But that fire was also a blessing we would not trade. Through it we learned how much we were loved, and how beautiful the Body of Christ can be. Before we could ask for help, people from our church were on the scene. They saw we were too overwhelmed to make decisions, so they quietly went to work, looking for tasks to do.  A group of women gathered every dish that was not broken, distributed them among themselves, and took them away.  A few weeks later they were returned, scrubbed clean from any trace of soot.  I cried knowing what a labor of love that was. Removing soot is no easy job!

Someone else bagged clothes that were not burned and took them home to wash.  Not many clothes were salvageable, but what a gift it was for someone else to do the sorting! The Red Cross showed up within hours, giving us coupons for food, shoes and a new mattress. Friends brought meals. Caroline took our children to play at her house while Phillip came with a giant shovel and scooped  ash off the floor.  I am not sure why that particular act of kindness touched me so much, but I will never forget the sight of Phillip wielding that shovel. I would not have had the energy or even the thought to clear the floor; but his quiet, solemn work brought order in the midst of chaos. It felt holy to me, rather like a burial.

I remember lying in bed talking to Thomas about how much love had been lavished on us.  We were humbled, changed, woven more closely into the Body of Christ by this great debt of love. I asked my husband several times, "What happens when a whole community is struck by disaster?  When everyone is so overwhelmed that there is no one to help? How do people survive without this kind of love?"

When I see photos of the flooding in Houston, this questions comes to mind again.  What happens when an entire city is traumatized? How will they experience the love of Christ and the provision of their Father in Heaven?

In the past 20 years I have become more confident of the Father's ability to provide in the wasteland.  I pray with hope that many brothers and sisters will experience Hurricane Harvey as a blessing as well as a trauma.  I know this will not be the case for all.  Much will depend on the way the Body of Christ responds to this disaster.  I am praying that we will love like the Good Samaritan, like Jesus has loved us.  Kindness like we experienced after our fire changes lives.

The homily from today's Office of Readings is particularly apropos.

From a homily on Matthew by Saint John Chrysostom, bishop.

Do you want to honour Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honour him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me. What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.

  Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honour Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honour he desires, not in the honour we think best. Peter thought he was honouring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite! Give him the honour prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.

Lord, have mercy!