At home and safe

Originally appeared on

A few years ago, a neighbor called late one night to say that flames were shooting out of some windows on the second floor of our condominium building. In the next few minutes, law enforcement officers rushed through the hallways knocking on the doors of residents. Everyone needed to evacuate our building immediately. Jumping out of bed, I threw on some clothes, placed two surprisingly calm cats in a pet carrier, and left. Many residents, along with others from the neighborhood, were outside mingling, crying, comforting each other—and I’m sure, like myself, praying despite the screams of police sirens, ambulances, and fire trucks.

In an attempt to calm my own thoughts, I positioned myself on the side of the building, and prayed while looking up at the flames. What came to me was something Paul asked the Corinthians in the New Testament. “Do ye look on things after the outward appearance?” (II Cor 10:7). Although a question, it seemed to include the promise that even in the face of the alarming scenario of an obviously burning building, God, divine Love, is always on the scene despite the “outward appearance.” Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity, the heavy black smoke pouring from the roof turned to gentle white plumes. The fire had been extinguished.

Residents weren’t permitted to reenter the building right away, so we waited together in the courtyard. Hours passed. I gratefully acknowledged how blessed and safe from harm our little community had been. The homeowner who called the fire department said he felt impelled to take out his garbage at what was an unusually late hour. He’d spotted the fire through a window near the garbage chute. When the firefighters arrived, they covered the furnishings of the neighbor’s apartment below the unit where the fire had started in thick plastic. This helped to mitigate water damage.

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