The worst phone call I ever made was to my husband the day our house burned. Still cold and shaking from running door-to-door for help in sub-zero weather, I called Dan from a neighbor's house to tell him the bad news. He rushed home, not prepared for what he would encounter.
When he arrived, thick, black smoke was billowing from every window. Firefighters were smashing glass to release the heat before running into the house with hoses snaking behind them, ready to douse the blaze. Within minutes the flames were out. But our "trial by fire" was just beginning.
Dan stepped inside to assess the damage. Downstairs where the fire had started, he sloshed through a smoldering mess of week-old Christmas toys, a television that had melted to the floor and countless other unrecognizable items that had been destroyed by flames, intense heat and smoke. Our family room was a charred skeleton of beams and melted linoleum. Upstairs, black soot coated every-thing. Christmas ornaments dangled precariously from the brittle branches of our once-festive tree.
In a daze, Dan made his way toward the bedrooms. The noxious smell of melted plastic burned his nostrils. Halfway down the hall, a photograph lay on the floor. It was a treasured picture of Dan and me with the kids, ruined by smoke and water. Tears welled up in his eyes as he lifted the picture off the floor.
He had gone to work that day like any other, fully expecting to return to the comfort of home that evening. Instead, he came home to complete loss. Well, not complete loss. The things that mattered most to him—me and the kids—were still safe and waiting for him across the street.
When Dan greeted us at our neighbor's house, I was afraid he might be angry about the fire. Neither one of us knew how it had started, but I felt responsible—I was the one home when it happened. My fears were unfounded. Dan embraced me with tenderness, concern and gratitude, thankful the only injuries were my sprained ankle and frostbite on our oldest son's toes.
As the day wore on, my shock dissipated—giving way to vivid images of smoke and panic and chaos. What would we do next? We had just moved into this house five months earlier, and being new to the city, we didn't have family or close friends to turn to. Recognizing my despair, Dan described his walk through our house, which now seemed more like a cave. He told me it was then that he realized the fire revealed something significant about us: In losing all of our possessions, we could see more clearly what we really have—each other and a home that cannot be destroyed by fire.
We spent the next two weeks in hotels. That first night, Dan and I lay entwined in our bed, while our three children slept soundly in the queen-size bed next to ours. The sound of their breathing was the sweetest lullaby I've ever heard. As Dan cradled me, a salty mixture of grief and joy began to wet my pillow.
Here we were without a house, yet I felt completely rooted and sheltered by his love. It was at that moment that I discovered what it means to have a sense of place. Mine is with Dan.
As I drifted off to sleep, the lyrics to the old Billy Joel song, "You're My Home," ran through my mind. This had been our song years ago. What prophetic irony. With Dan by my side, I truly had "a roof above and good walls all around." Gradually, I dozed off with the song on my mind, Dan in my arms and a thankfulness to God that "wherever we're together, that's my home."
Marian V. Liautaud is a freelance writer. She and Dan live in Minneapolis with their three sons.
Copyright © 1996 by Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership Magazine.