By Jane Jarrell
On a peaceful, humid, summer night, our lives were suddenly thrust into a life-altering nightmare. As we were sleeping in a cool and comfortable hotel, our phones began to buzz. Our neighbors were calling to alert us that our home was in full blaze. What?
I still ask myself this question. What just happened to our lives? At first, we were numb, really numb. Then slowly, we began to look at the facts, the provisions, and the next steps. Those steps have defined the past four months.
The first steps seemed simple enough—call insurance, get some clothes, and find a hotel. Still numb, a vague plan unfolded. All of our remaining belongings were whisked off to two separate locations, one for clothes and electronics, and one for furniture and contents. "Contents" seemed a catchall word, but it meant Grandmother's broken china, the burned photo albums from childhood, as well as my favorite antique jewelry. "Contents" were all the items that meant something. At this point, life divided into two columns: salvageable and unsalvageable. One itemized list was 193 single-spaced pages—there were three more lists! So. Much. Stuff. This process made us evaluate all the stuff in our world.
No longer were we living in our home surrounded by our belongings, but in a rented house equipped exclusively with rented goods. Everything we used was leased, from the furniture to the sheets and silverware.
We were forced to evaluate and reevaluate. What to replace? What is enough? Picking through shards of broken glass and playing the scratch and sniff game with every item of clothing made me think. Hours spent standing in a hot warehouse examining item after item after item forced me to look into my heart as we made “the list” of what to replace. What really is enough? When life as we knew it came to a complete halt, we began to question everything.
While mindfully or mindlessly sorting through “things” I had plenty of time to reflect on stuff, and how much stuff we really needed. I remembered the light-hearted wisdom of Madame Blueberry’s Stuffmart (VeggieTales). She lived in a lovely tree house but was blue because she thought all her neighbors had better stuff than she did. When a Stuffmart opened near her home, she went shopping and decided not to leave the store until she had everything she needed to be happy. Eventually, the weight of all her stuff caused her home to crash to the ground.
As I made my replacement list, I wanted to remember Madame Blueberry’s lesson and not tie my happiness to how much stuff was in my home. But what really did matter and what did we need to make a home again?
Reflecting on this deeper question reminded me of another classic short story, "The Rocking-Horse Winner" by D. H. Lawrence (1926). In the story, Hester is a mother who is disappointed by the amount of money her family has, and her children sense her anxiety—the need for more even whispers through the house. Eventually her son’s anxious pursuit of money leads to his death! This tragic tale highlights what can happen when the desire for more takes over a family.
While this sad story does not reflect the reality of my family, considering the negative consequences of more and more possessions weighed on my heart as I made my “what to buy” list. What really matters? Can money bring happiness for our family? And how much is enough?
“Things” can rule our lives if we choose to allow them a place of power. Right now, my family does need some things to carry on regular life. But finding myself with nothing has caused me to evaluate all of our somethings.
By the grace of God, we will be restored. By the provision of insurance and time it will be restoration the hardway. But we have hope in the hard. Our goal is to find lessons amongst the ashes and not miss the opportunity to learn what God has for our family in this hard season. This is the one thing we are determined to do.
Philippians 4:11 I am not telling you this because I need anything. I have learned to be satisfied with the things I have and with everything that happens.
To rap it up…..