House on Fire

A few years back I lived in Madeira. It was a Saturday morning and I was coming back from doing something unimportant and heading home.

I was coming up Hosbrook and saw smoke up ahead. I took notice as I got closer because the smoke was black smoke rolling up from what appeared to be one of the houses ahead of me. In my mind, you don’t usually see black smoke unless someone is burning something they shouldn’t…or something is on fire that shouldn’t be.

As I got closer, I started to pass a ranch house with a garage underneath. The garage was opened and on the left side of the house and as I drove past it, I saw black smoke and flames pouring out of it. There were no police cars, no fire trucks, no gathering neighbors…this was happening right now and I was one of the first bystanders to realize it.

I pulled up on the side of the street and jumped out running up to the house.

The fire was taking off, gaining momentum as flames and black smoke were pouring out of the garage and I remember hearing glass breaking.

As I reached the front yard there was a young boy standing in the middle of it. He was maybe 8 or so, wearing shorts and at t-shirt. He was in a lot of anguish and unbelief and horror as he was watching…slightly pacing…not sure what to do. It was where he lived.

I went up and asked him if he was ok…and was anybody else in the house?

He started to say no, but then screamed “Barney! Barney’s in the house!”
I looked at the house thinking “oh Jesus help me” and could see the garage was spewing flames and black smoke but neither the first floor nor the roof were on fire yet.

“Who’s Barney? Is Barney your brother?” I asked…
I mean if it’s a brother or goldfish or toy animal, there was a big difference and I was going to have to weigh whether I was going in or not.

“He’s my dog!”
Dang…I knew I was going in.

I remember the lady standing next to the boy saying something about “you can’t go in there!” (there’s always one of those) as I ran to the front door of the house…big metal door was right of center of the house. I had no idea whether it was locked or no, but I turned the handle thinking a big “oh shit” thought. I had a flashback to a movie with Robert DeNero where someone opens a door and fire shoots out to consumes the person. (That was only in the movies, right…right?)

I turned the handle and opened the door.

As I opened the door…and there was this literal wall of dark grey-ish smoke…smoke so thick you couldn’t see anything BUT the smoke. “I gotta find this dog” I thought as I stepped into the fog bank and immediately realized the danger of moving forward into the room, away from the door.

Stepping into the smoke was an immediate shock to me. It was a white out situation where all you can see is grey smoke. You can’t see what’s in front of you at all, you can’t even see your hand in front of your face let alone the furniture, shape of the room, or a dog. The thick smoke choked my lungs and I could hear the raging fire eating the building. I could hear popping glass from what I assumed were the first floor windows over the garage breaking from the intense heat. I distinctly remember having the thought “Oh…this is how people die.”

I stopped in my tracks.

I still had my hand on the door and pulled myself back, stepping out of the wall of smoke, stepping back onto the porch.

My mind raced for a second…where would the dog be? Could he hear me? Was he still alive in there? Was it a big dog or small? What exactly was this dog I looking for?

Going back into the wall of smoke was no good, but leaving the dog in there was also unacceptable. The smoke that was heavy and thick, I couldn’t chance getting lost or passing out…there had to be another way.

Believe it or not, I remembered a childhood video where they told you to stay close to the floor…so I bent down close to the patio floor and got on my knees, peering into the front door. I could see a little through the smoke just above the house floor. I decided I would crawl in if I had to.

Crouching down as close to the ground as I could get, I screamed into the fire,
“Barney! BARNEY!” The only sound was the roaring fire.
BARRRNEYYY!”

Then, like an ghost, this old gray haired beagle came wandering out of the smoke. He seemed ancient and the look on his face was one of confusion. He looked more like a “Yoda” than a Barney, but boy was I happy to see him. He looked at me at total confusion.

For a second, I was SO happy as he came out of the wall of smoke. I smiled and I said ‘good boy’. This look of total confusion was on his face as he looked at me…

…and then turned and walked back into the cloud of smoke and vanished.

I was caught completely off guard and dumbstruck as he wandered back into the smoke.

I just about fell over myself launching into the smoke to blindly grab, well, actually tackle him, and scooped him up. Pulling both of us out of the smoke.

He didn’t fuss or go wild or bite me, he seemed to know I was ok.

I brought the dog back to the boy, who, just for a minute was relieved.

A neighbor had her arms around him. She handed him a phone…he (and I) didn’t know what she wanted him to do with it. “Call your mom and dad.” She said. I felt sick for this boy…he made the call. (To this day I regret not taking that phone from him so that he didn’t have to tell his parents.)

At this point, I could hear the sirens wailing in the distance, they were on there way to where we were standing. Knowing that there would be nothing else I could do, I went to my car and drove home.

God uses us for moments like this….no doubt in my mind and I think most people would agree.
I came at the right time, right place, to save this family’s dog.

It struck me later, as it does now still…the dog.

The dog knew it’s world was on fire, it knew that everything was wrong. I’ll go as far as to say it knew it’s very life was in danger. When I called his name, he knew to come to the voice, came to someone calling his name. But when the dog came out of the wall of smoke, he saw something that he didn’t understand, someone he didn’t know, couldn’t conceive?
He wandered back into the wall of smoke, back to where comfort and safety had once been…back into the burning building.

Said another way, the dog would rather stay and die in the surroundings that he knew than have a stranger pull him to the new uncomfortable reality. That’s a goofy thing the dog did, right?

But…

We’re like this dog in so many ways. Our world can be on fire, burning down around us and we’re waiting for the firemen to show up while we sit in the Lazy Boy flipping channels in denial.

The job is coming to an end, the marriage is in shambles, our finances in flames, our addiction our of control…
….and we go turn on the tv
…crack another beer
…look the other way
…pretend it’s not happening.
We wander around a burning house wondering why it’s burning.

Often God sends someone to jolt us out of that denial…a brother, a sister, a police officer, a good friend…and we just turn and walk back into the fire, “nope, reality is not happening today” and we’re not going to hear it. ..it’s like we’ve done enough adulting for the day and that’s all there is that’s going to fit into our reality for one day. We ignore the flames and blinding smoke and noise that’s consuming and sucking the life out of us.

If…

If your world is on fire…then I believe God can be trying to send you someone to call you out of the confusion, out of the fire. I’ve never seen where the Good Father gives up on His child. It may be a familiar face or it may be somebody you’ve never met. But when the way out shows up, no matter what it looks like, get through that door.

Today is Thanksgiving 2018.

If you’re reading this, and it occurs to you that I’m writing this story for you…then take it as a sign that God wants better for you…and then answer God’s voice and reach out your hand for Him to take it.

If you’re reading this, and it occurs to you that I’m writing this story for someone you know. We have those people in our lives that we have reached out to so many times…their lives burning down in front of us…and we’ve watched them and reached out for years, and they continue to wander in smoke.

Ask God to help you reach out again…ask God to bring them to the door…then through the door. Those we know can be the hardest to reach. You can’t tackle them like a grey haired beagle…you have to extend your heart before you extend your hand.

You never know when someone is ready for a new start, a new life.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone,

Tony

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