When I was nine I watched a house burn down.
I was at my grandmother's house on the lake. I don't know what it's like where you live, but there are no neighborhood associations policing waterfront property around here. Un-air-conditioned trailers will share a property line with half million dollar homes. Anyway, my grandparents lived in a pieced-together lodge-turned-tri-level house, held together by good will and tenacity, (picture The Burrow, both in its description and symbolism) and maybe a mile and a half away stood a practically new sparkly three-story house. On that day, it had been struck by lightning. We stood in the thunderstorm long enough to see the cliches unfold - smoke billowed, fire ravaged. Then, finally, only a charred skeleton remained.
I remember it because it was my first interaction with the untamable aspects of life. That the place where someone took a shower and ate their dinner could suddenly be swallowed up by flames, then gone entirely, shocked me. Just as there are kittens suckling on tattered blankets on back porches, there are tigers tearing flesh from young gazelles. Until that moment, I had not understood how much of the natural world was not tame. Nature is wild.
Tonight the boys and I watched a car burn to the ground.
My sweet neighbor brought us cans yesterday afternoon, so we enjoyed cheaper Chick-fi1-A after all. As we were leaving, we saw a man moving away from (presumably his) car. Smoke billowed and fire ravaged. Little Silas kept holding his arms up in a shrugging motion, saying, "Happened Mama? Happened?" "The car broke, baby, and it blew up." We stood long enough to watch the police arrive, then the fire truck. The water hose, the white steam, then only a charred skeleton remained.
And my children had their first glimpse into the wildness of life.
Silas - true to his age - was satisfied with the answers given. The car broke, it blew up. But everyone is safe, and people are more important than cars. He will get a new car. He is safe. He is okay. "Otay Mama," Silas said, and though he continued to ask, "Happened Mama?" he would remind himself of the answer. "Car broke. Car blew up. Fireman put it out. It's okay."
But Asher is older. And the idea that cars could just blow up rattled his three-year-old theology. (Isn't it true of human nature that whatever we can't understand draws us toward One who does?)
"But, that man is not in Heaven. He's okay."
Right, honey. He's okay.
"But will Jesus keep our car from blowing up?"
And I looked him in the eye. "No. This is important. Jesus does not promise us our car won't blow up. What He promises is that He will never leave us. But right now our car is okay. We're safe. And even if our car blew up we would be okay. You don't have to worry about that."
All night long he talked - about what he had seen, about Jesus and Heaven ("I will ask Jesus for breadsticks in Heaven," he said, "Because in Heaven they EAT.") At one point he said, "But I don't like God. He's scary."
"You don't have to be afraid of Him," I said.
"But he's mighty!"
"Yes," I replied, "But mighty means strong. It doesn't mean He's going to hurt you."
Asher sat for a minute before he said, "Okay. But he's still a little bit scary. But Jesus isn't scary. He has fingernails, like me."
Fair enough, son.
He had a hard time going to bed. His room was too dark, he said. The windows were too dark. So for the first time in his little life, I slept in Asher's room last night. We talked about God never leaving us alone. "I don't want you to leave me alone, either," he said. So I didn't.
There will be some who will say I should have covered their eyes from the flames, made something up, pretended the fire was set on purpose (like our grill, I could have said). But wildness exists. Whether we'd talked about it last night or not, his little heart would have known either way. And because we stood together, I could walk with him not only in his fear, but also in his desire to find comfort in God.
The natural world is wild. And God never leaves us alone. They will spend the rest of their lives learning to believe both are true.