A burning reminder to focus on eternal treasure

We have and we hold the stuff we all feel we need to live. But as my husband has often reminded congregants, we dare not clutch it too tightly, because everything we own will one day end up in the landfill.

Our neighbours’ fire provided a poignant reminder of that.

They had spent years gutting and renovating the century-old home behind us. Originally a simple farmhouse, it stood like a sentinel at the highest spot in the village.

After commuting back and forth from their temporary home for far longer than they hoped, the couple had only recently moved in. Planted their first garden. Watched over it like nursemaids. Held a yard sale. Adopted a gorgeous new puppy. Got comfortable – until the morning of the blaze.

Several other neighbours and the Preacher and I stood nearby as the village’s volunteer firefighters scurried up and down ladders with hoses and axes. We prayed for their safety. For something of worth to be saved. For the owners as they stood watching smoke and flames billow from the upper floor windows, cancelling thousands of hours of grit, determination and back-breaking work. Wafting away their dreams.

“I can’t believe it,” my neighbour told me, her face streaked with ash. “We were just getting to floor choices.” The sun shone, but the wind blew cold on the slight hill. She shivered.  “Look at me,” she said, “I’m still wearing half my pyjamas.”

And bare feet, I noticed. “Come to my place,” I said. “Take a break.” Like a lamb, she followed me home. But I noticed the awkward position of her hand.

“Are you hurt?”

“Just a little burn,” she said. “I touched a wall….”

I ran the water cold and as she held her arm under the stream, I looked for an ice pack. Finding none, I handed her a single frozen wiener. “Here. Perhaps this will help. When it thaws, the dog can eat it. And here’s some coconut oil to put on when the heat is less.”

“Perfect,” she said.

I placed my hand on her arm. Prayed aloud for Jesus to comfort her and her husband. “You’re strong,” I said. “You’ll get through.”

What does one say to someone in shock? A neighbor in the midst of a nightmare? Friends watching their dream smolder? So little, so little I could offer, it seemed. Cold water. A wiener. The oil of a coconut. A prayer.

Dinah Jane had watched the house on the hill burning, too. The nine-year-old had trailed us back home. She listened to my stilted words and feeble offers, then disappeared. Now she shyly approached holding a folded piece of paper – a hand-drawn offering of comfort for someone she’d only met twice.

Jesus cautioned us to invest in indestructible treasures. Fireproof. Theft-proof. Mildew-proof. Things like love for God and compassion for those with whom we share the planet. Those who have less. Strangely, it’s often only when those other treasures melt away that we’re reminded what those are.