“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me.” Ps. 23:4
I crouched low, shielding a toddler under each arm. Fire was devouring the front end of our car. Sandy gravel crunched under my shifting feet as we huddled at the curb. I clung to my boys, crying and shaking and thanking God. “We’re safe. It’s OK. We’re fine.” My reassurances were for me as much as for them. It was hard to convince myself they were definitely alive and unhurt. My eyes searched for my husband. There he was! He stood at a safe distance taking pictures. Relief washed over me.
Moments earlier we had been driving. When a strong gas smell alarmed us we stopped to check out the problem. Jerry diagnosed a gas leak. As he worked to fix it enough to limp along to an auto parts store the sun beat down mercilessly, bouncing off the hot pavement. Doors were open and water bottles in hand. My first concern was that our 2 and 3 year-olds would get overheated. My mind whirred as they drank. What to do next? It must have been God directing my thoughts as I considered the strong possibility of a car fire. Jerry says he didn’t expect that at all. I imagined how it might start and where it could go. With a few quick swoops, I contained the messiness in my car to the trunk. The flames would have liked that tinder.
The boys sat in their car seats contentedly, oblivious to the danger nearby. That’s when I was absolutely compelled to sit in the back between them. My purse slouched in the front seat. It could stay. I quickly pocketed my keys, wallet and phone then climbed in. I can still feel it—like a burning ball inside propelling me purposefully. Strong and deep, yet without fear.
Jerry shut the hood and looked at me strangely in the back seat. While he drove I planned our escape. It was a treacherous trip. Each stop in traffic brought frustration and concern. Would we make it? Just ahead was the shopping center. Left lane. Turn. Then a PHWOOSH sounded under the hood and flames swept around the passenger side. How we made it to that parking lot amazes both of us. By the time we came to a stop, I had the boys unbuckled and Jerry appeared to catch our precious charges as I quickly handed them out.
I turned my head back to look at the flames and froze. It was enough that the babies were out safely, wasn’t it? I imagine my angel giving me a swift kick as I awkwardly exited the burning car. Gathering our boys under my arms, we dashed toward the shelter of a big blue dumpster at a far curb.
There I tried to comfort the children. I surely wasn’t being the unemotional parent I thought I was supposed to be in a crisis. Instead, my voice was high, my chatter quick, and filled with praise to God for every detail of this rescue.
The fire crew arrived quickly and set to work. I soon reverted to my previous concern about the extreme heat. The scorching sun was near high noon. A kind man offered his air-conditioned car for us to wait in. How welcome this was. When the ordeal was over, this same man drove us right to our door.
We had absolutely no loss of possessions in this fire—not even the glove compartment contents, my aunt’s handmade blanket, or my tiny clip-on sunglasses. Even the car seats were still usable. Of course, I really didn’t care if we got any of it back. My kids, my husband and I were unharmed—that was enough! Things could be replaced. Yet, for some reason, these were protected as well.
So many what-ifs float through my mind about that day. It all seems surreal. I sit watching Brother push Little Brother in the swing. They giggle at their own silliness. Here they are, same as before. Every so often I pat my face in disbelief and appreciation for my unchanged skin. I squeeze my boys a little tighter and smile more at my step-son. What if he had been with us instead of with his mom that day? What if we had not stopped, allowing me to move to the back seat? I turn my gaze toward my husband and our eyes exchange something deeper than before.
I do not understand God’s timing or His purposes; they are His own. We receive with gratitude. We live now. God walked with us through the fire. And He will walk with us through whatever adventures lie ahead.