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Fire!

Yes, I nearly burned down the house. But I was more worried what my wife would do.

Norma and I enjoy hosting cookouts for family and friends. Our large backyard is great for entertaining. And the best part is the gas grill—big, shiny, with stainless steel covers on the burners.

One beautiful afternoon, we invited our kids and grandkids over for a barbecue. Norma was still at work, so it was my job to get the grill ready. We hadn't used it all winter, so I put all four burners on high to get rid of any residue. I planned to scrape it and spray some oil on it so it would be in prime condition for the cookout. I went into the house to wait for it to heat up. And being ADHD, my mind immediately jumped to a new idea—why not ask the kids if they'd like to go boating?

I called, and they took me up on the offer. So I walked the two blocks to the dock, revved up the boat, and we zoomed off.

Two hours later, as I was docking, my cell phone rang. The caller was sobbing so much that I couldn't figure out who it was.

"Please calm down and tell me who you are and why you're crying," I said.

Finally she regained enough composure to wail, "This is your wife, and the house is on fire!"

I wasn't even wearing shoes, but I sprinted home. The grill and the wooden area beneath it were in flames, and Norma was frantically spraying it with a hose. The grill's knobs had melted so we couldn't turn off the gas—it was coming out full blast, in flames. Thankfully, Norma had called 911; the fire department arrived just as I did. They put out the fire while I comforted my nearly hysterical wife. One of the firemen told me that if Norma had been 15 minutes later, we'd have lost our house.

As I held Norma, I realized with a nasty jolt that I was responsible for the fire. Weighed down with guilt, I confessed.

"I'm so sorry. We could have lost the house because of my stupidity."

Norma forgave me immediately and without recrimination. "Thank the Lord for insurance," she said. "This all can be repaired."

I was overwhelmed by her forgiveness, especially in light of how upset and frightened she'd been. Tightening my embrace, I vowed I'd grant her the same understanding the next time she made a mistake.

The same thing happened three months later! I turned on the grill, got distracted by a phone call, went to help one of our kids, and promptly forgot all about it. When I came back, the new grill was incredibly hot—I'm surprised it didn't explode! Fortunately we'd prepared for just such a situation and removed all the wood surrounding the grill. I turned it off and went inside to tell Norma.

"You won't believe this," I said. "I did it again."

"No!" she said, and went to look. Rather than berating me for making the same dangerous, thoughtless mistake, she laughed and high-fived me!

"Our safety measures worked!" she said.

I wish I could say the two mishaps with the grill were isolated incidents. But I'm easily distracted and I forget things—a lot. I don't mean to leave on the grill or forget to go grocery shopping, but I do such things on a regular basis. Norma has every right to be infuriated by my frequent mess-ups, but fortunately for me and for our marriage, she's chosen to extend forgiveness instead. Rather than rebuking me, she accepts me—burns and all.

Reading me the riot act for my barbecue mishap, though deserved, wouldn't have changed a thing. The damage (literally) had been done. But accepting my apology with grace and humor strengthened our marriage. I'm secure in the knowledge that when I make a mistake—or a lot of them—Norma will respond with forgiveness. That's great to know, because with my track record, I'm going to need it!

Gary Smalley, Ph.D, founder and CEO of the Smalley Relationship Center (www.smalleyonline.com), is author of The DNA of Relationships (Tyndale). Visit him at www.garysmalley.com.


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Forgiveness; Marriage; Understanding
Today's Christian Woman, Fall, 2005
Posted September 12, 2008

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