Several months before an arsonist randomly set our house on fire, my seven-year-old Eden and I read “The Jesus Storybook Bible” together. Every night at bedtime, we snuggled in her bed, and I read aloud one of the stories. Eden, for obvious reasons, had always loved reading about the Garden of Eden in the Bible or hearing it mentioned in church. As I read it to her slowly, taking in the rich language, I was moved, especially when we got to the part where Adam and Eve have eaten the fruit, despite God telling them not to the consequences:
“You will have to leave the garden now,” God told his children, his eyes filling with tears. “This is no longer your true home, it’s not the place for you anymore.”
But before they left the garden, God made clothes for his children, to cover them. He gently clothed them and then he sent them away on a long, long journey—out of the garden, out of their home. In another story, that would have been it. The End. But not in this Story.
“Before they left the garden, God whispered a promise to Adam and Eve: ‘It will not always be so! I will come to rescue you! And when I do, I’m going to do battle…I’ll get rid of the sin and the dark and the sadness you let in here. I’m coming back for you!
God loved his children too much to let the story end there. Even though he knew he would suffer, God had a plan—a magnificent dream. One day, he would get his children back. One day, he would make the world their perfect home again. And one day, he would wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
“That’s not true,” Eden said. I looked at her, surprised. It was literally gospel truth. What was her problem?
“What do you mean?”
“There’s still crying and sadness. It’s not gone.”
I thought for a moment.
“But the story isn’t over,” I said. Eden looked at me. “We’re in the story.”
I realized, even as I was saying it, that I was explaining this to myself.
Surviving the Middle of the Story
I’m rarely aware of it, especially when things are going well. I’m busy living my life, and in trying to be a decent wife, mother, sister, daughter, friend, and neighbor. I sometimes get lost in the day-to-day; I forget I’m a part of something larger, something so big and long it stretches way back in time, but every once in a while, I’m pulled out of the mundane and I remember: we’re in the middle of the story.
That was exactly how I felt in the days after I watched my house burn down. It was like a big book had cracked open, and I was a character right in the middle of the most fascinating—at times, terrifying—story. I couldn’t wait to see what might happen next. I had the sense God was going to reveal all my spiritual and emotional detritus, and like the trash pile in my garage where the actual fire was set, it was all going to burn away. I thought all the other hard times my family had already been through had prepared me for this. Maybe, just maybe, a quiet part of me wondered, this is what spiritual maturity feels like.
I was on a spiritual odyssey—of that I was certain—and I was sure I was going to come out of it with a profound understanding about the presence of God. But I forgot this was only the beginning of a journey. I thought I knew how the story would end.
I had no idea.
The Plot Thickens
This probably won’t come as a surprise, but it wasn’t long before things got very, very hard. Wrangling with insurance, fighting an unhelpful township, making endless choices in rebuilding, struggling to help my traumatized and hurting children, all while dealing with my own post-traumatic stress, began to take its toll.
When something bad happens to a person of faith, many people wonder and ask, “Do you still believe?” Most don’t say it out loud, but it’s present. I did believe; I believed in the beginning, I didn’t blame God—I felt I was the one at fault, and I was letting everyone down.
When we moved back into our house after the fire, I thought we would finally exhale and everything would be behind us. Instead, we began to deal with the fact that a crime had been committed.
No Bows Yet
Healing did come eventually, but it was a long, long road—so much longer and harder than I could have ever imagined at the time. Many prayers were uttered, good therapy was administered, and—the biggest surprise of all—a troublesome little pug we rescued helped so much in the process.
Our story isn’t tied up with a big bow; we’re still dealing with the fallout. Every day has its delights and challenges, its joys and concerns. I can’t yet stamp a big and happy THE END on anything. I’m still in the middle of the story.
We all are.
Alison Hodgson is a writer, speaker and humorist. Her first book, The Pug List, tells the true story of how a needy and naughty pug helped her family heal from the trauma of having an arsonist set their house on fire. Alison lives outside Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband, their three children and two good dogs.