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Where there's smoke...

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'There's smoke!' she shouted from the bottom. I'm not sure anyone else could hear her though the loud chirps of the smoke alarm.

Jaymie Stuart

Andrew and I had both taken time off work between the holidays. We figured it would be a good time to catch up with ourselves, spend more time with the adult children who would be in and out of town, and get a few things done. None of that happened.

A few days after Christmas, we had planned to see a movie. But because we couldn't decide which movie to see, we ended up spending the evening at home. Who could have guessed how very important that choice would turn out to be?

There were eight of us upstairs when the smoke alarm went off at 8:30 pm. No one was downstairs. Of course we thought that it was probably a malfunction or a battery that needed to be replaced. Still, we went through the motions of checking everything out just to be sure. When it was clear there was nothing to be concerned about upstairs, Juliana headed down the stairs in front of me. "There's smoke!" she shouted from the bottom. I'm not sure anyone else could hear her though the loud chirps of the smoke alarm.

The orange flames and billowing black smoke I saw when I opened the door to Juliana's room was shocking. As I began to walk away, every guardian angel in heaven must have yelled at once, "Jaymie, go back and close that door." We all left the house, called 911, and moved the cars onto the street. Andrew and Austin grabbed the small fire extinguisher we had and sprayed under the door. I went back inside for the dog, but no one could find the cat. The fire trucks arrived, and the neighbors came out.

It took a couple of hours to put out the two alarm fire. We were told that it probably started from loose electrical plug, the kind of accident that can happen anywhere. Although it was contained to a single lower-level room at the far end of the house, the smoke spread everywhere. We were told that the air in the house was toxic and that we would not be able to stay there. Thankfully, when the fire chief took us back inside to get some clothing and a few items, the missing cat came out of hiding. We were told to meet the Red Cross at a local hotel. Volunteers handed us each a bottle of water, keys to four hotel rooms, and a prepaid card with money for food and clothing. We were all shaken. The fact that we were planning to attend a funeral the next day, however, made it easy to keep everything in perspective.

Aside from the black spider webs made of soot along the ceilings of every room, the damage to our house didn't look that bad. That's why Andrew and I were shocked to learn that we would be out of the house for 3 to 6 months. After four days at a traditional hotel, we moved into a more long term arrangement with kitchens. We're doing what we can to make the best of our situation. It is, however, both more involved and more stressful than we imagined it would be the night it happened.

Evidently, the smoke was so thick that the firefighters had to crawl on the floor to bring the hose into the room to put the fire out. God's grace, however, has been just as present, just as thick, and just as real. The day the fire broke out was the last day of a novena to Mary, Undoer of Knots that Andrew and I had been praying together. It was also the Feast of the Holy Innocents, which, if you look at it from another angle, could be called the Feast of the Flight into Egypt. Within the first 24 hours, our family was given food, water, shelter, clothing -- and those are only the corporal works of mercy we received. Many people in the past few weeks have counseled and consoled us, prayed for us, visited us, and much more.

I believe God is using this situation as a vehicle of grace and that that is why he allowed it in the first place. I also believe that Mary is using it to undo some difficult and longstanding knots in our hearts and lives. This truly is a Year of Mercy. While it isn't easy, all we are dealing with concerns earthly things. A cancer diagnosis is much worse that what happened to us. We cannot live in our home at the present, but we have a place to stay now as well as a home -- with new carpeting and paint -- to return to. Those who are truly homeless do not. Right now our lives are complicated and frustrating. But we know all this will pass. We have been blessed and we are still being blessed.

In the end, we are witnesses to the truth that GOD is GOOD! Everyone is safe. Our pets are all fine and found. There's soot and smoke damage, and that one room is completely destroyed, but the scary part is over. The rest will just be (a lot of!) aggravation. The list of what we're thanking God for is long and getting longer:

1) being home instead of going to a movie

2) smoke alarms that worked

3) presence of mind to close the door to the room where the fire was

4) finding our cat

5) paying the home owner's insurance in November

6) excellent firemen

7) helpful neighbors

8) available rooms in a hotel even though it was a holiday

9) pet friendly hotel policies

10) Red Cross help and volunteers

11) Christians who know what it means and what it looks like to be Church.

Everyone knows the old adage, "Where's there's smoke, there's fire." In the past few weeks our family has been learning that where there's smoke, there is also grace. That grace is what will carry us through the next few months and bring us back home. And that grace is what will work in our hearts and lives in all the days to come.


Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a Catholic convert, wife, and mother of eight. Inspired by the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales, she is an author, speaker, and musician, and serves as a senior editor at Ave Maria Press. Find Jaymie on Facebook or follow her on Twitter @YouFeedThem.

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