A Moving Truck, A Tow Truck, and A Fire Truck

“For we brought nothing into the world,
and we can take nothing out of it.”
– I Timothy 6:7
We’ve all seen footage on TV of fires and floods destroying homes. We’ve seen images of people picking through the rubble, wondering how to rebuild a life with literally nothing but the clothes on their backs. As a kid, I used to wish that I could say, “Well, you see, my house burned down.” It was a simple yet straightforward one-sentence summation that said it all. But the real story, of course, was more complicated than that.

When I was eight years old, my family moved from the Midwest back to California. With just a change of clothes in our car, everything we owned was loaded into a U-Haul truck. After a few days on the road, we came to a city where my parents knew some friends who offered to let us park the U-Haul in their church’s parking lot and stay the night at their house. Eager to abandon the Motel 6 ritual, we gladly obliged. The next morning, however, the truck was gone.

After notifying the police and filing a missing vehicle report, my parents received a call that changed our lives forever. The police discovered the abandoned truck – completely empty. As events unfolded, we found out that everything inside the U-Haul was sold at a giant yard sale. Worse still, some neighbors of the house in question reported that a huge bonfire had occurred a couple of nights earlier. The bonfire, we later learned, destroyed all the photo albums, baby books, and anything personal that could link the belongings with our family. Everything we owned was stolen and then burned or sold. But it would have been easier just to say, “My house burned down.”

We brought nothing into the world, and we know that we can take nothing out of it, but we sure would like to hang on to our stuff in the meantime. We need clothes and something to sit on after all. Spoons and bowls help too. Starting from scratch can be overwhelming and painful, but living through that helped me to see material things for the finite objects they are. Things are useful, yes, but that’s about it. Clinging to things is like chasing shadows.

When I was nineteen, I moved into my first apartment. Furbished with a mismatched collection of hand-me-down furniture, it was mine, and I loved it. Usually, I went to work every day, but since the engine in my car had just blown up, I was home one afternoon waiting for a tow-truck to arrive. I heard a loud knock at my door, but when I answered it, no one was there. So I went back to blasting my stereo to Sandy Patti. Then I heard more pounding on my door, but again, no one was there. I assumed some kids were playing pranks, so I ignored the next few times it happened.

Soon thereafter, I heard someone scream, “Get out! The building is on fire!” I ran outside to see ten-foot flames shooting out of the kitchen window in the apartment next to mine; we shared a wall between our units. My neighbor on the other side was running furiously back and forth between her apartment and the curb with a laundry basket full of stuff. She was the one hitting my door each time she ran back into her apartment for another armload.

Just then some firemen surrounded our building and ordered everyone to evacuate immediately. I had no time to grab anything. If only I didn’t listen to Sandy Patti so loudly! My frantic neighbor and I were quickly, and gruffly, escorted across the street and not allowed back inside our homes. My other neighbor, whose home was now consumed with flames, stood there sobbing. Throngs of people were gathering from every direction when I heard a fireman all-too-calmly say to another, “We can’t save this one. Just keep it from spreading to the other buildings.” That was it. After two decades, I could finally say, “My house burned down.”

I sat on the curb and contemplated the odds of one person losing everything twice – and before the age of twenty! Then I Timothy 6:7 came to mind. This verse reminded me once again that it’s all just stuff, and I wasn’t planning on taking any of it with me to heaven anyway. In that moment, God’s Word brought a peace that can only be described as surpassing all human understanding. I quietly prayed for my neighbor while the fire advanced like tendrils twisting around each banister and rail.

Tearing holes in the second-story roof, the firemen eventually quelled the spreading destruction. Several neighbors lost everything to ashes while the rest had varying degrees of smoke and water damage. To everyone’s surprise, my apartment, opposite the wall where the fire originated, was the only unit unscathed.

Sometimes God blesses us with the opportunity to learn “the secrets of being content in any and every situation . . . whether living in plenty or in want” (Philippians 4:12), and sometimes God just blesses us.

This is a re-post from 2009.

 

2 thoughts on “A Moving Truck, A Tow Truck, and A Fire Truck

  1. DJ, this is an amazing story, or combination of stories. I've known a couple of people who had their moving van stolen and lost everything. One man, a retired preacher, lost his entire library, notes, manuscripts, etc. It is healthy how you are able to see a bright side to such an experience – “Things are useful, yes, but that's about it. Clinging to things is like chasing shadows.” Good post.

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