In an instant

From summer 1998

In bed, asleep, shortly after midnight, my husband and I wereawakened by the frantic barking of our dog in the basement. As abruptly as the barking began, it ceased. It was followed by a long, low, rolling boom that jolted me out of bed and in to check on my children instinctively. Over the next half hour, we watched through the large foyer window as rescue equipment rushed in the direction of the billowing smoke a mile away.

In the light and relative calm of the following morning, we learned that a new home had exploded. Two children were thrown from the third story where they had been asleep in their beds. Their parents, who had not yet moved their bedroom furniture into the house, were sleeping on a sofa on the main floor. The children’s father survived the blast, sustaining life threatening burns over his entire body. Their mother perished in the blaze, calling for help, as new neighbors stood by helplessly, awaiting fire and rescue equipment.

Before the questions and angry accusations of incompetence began, an entire small town struggled through the shock to make sense of the tragedy. I spent the day wondering. I recalled a woman I’ve known all my life who always makes sure the entire house is immaculate and even the bathmats are freshly washed before she leaves town on a trip. Her theory is that one never knows if she might not return and she wouldn’t want the people who come to her house after her demise to find a mess. I guess the bathmats don’t matter much in the house down the street. I wonder if the mother’s relationship with her Lord was a strong and vital one. I wonder if she met her maker with confidence in His goodness and mercy.

Did the mother spend a few extra minutes with her children that night, snuggling and talking before they went to sleep? Or was she feeling pressed to continue with the myriad of chores associated with settling in a new house, trying to make it feel like home.? Those children have no tangible mementos of their mother. There are no family photographs or videotapes left in the house, no carefully written baby books, chronicling how her love for them grew as they did. All they have left is the memories of her time with them. I wonder; did she spend that time as she would have had she known how short it was to be?

Did she give her husband a kiss before they went to sleep that night? Did they have time to talk together and to reflect on their new life in their new home? Or did they sink into bed, exhausted by the physical and emotional exertion of moving? He is lying in a hospital as I write, fighting to recover from severe burns. If he survives, and our fervent prayer is that he does, he will be left to raise his children alone. He alone will live out this couple’s greatest life’s mission. I wonder; will the foundations of his relationship with his wife, the investments that they made in their marriage and their family before her death, be strong enough to sustain him in her absence?

A new house is a huge investment. Financial experts agree that, for most people, it is the largest single investment they will make in their lifetimes. It shouldn’t be. The largest investment should be in the relationships one has with the people live who live in the house and the God who created them all.