Father’s Day. We all went to church together—that little country Orthodox Presbyterian church up the road in our little Dutch community. We’re not Dutch and in a place where the funny motto, “If you ain’t Dutch, you ain’t much” floats around, we sure do feel welcomed here in this old church. They’re the kind of 80-something, gray-haired folks that grew up with names like Wieberdink and Wynveen, Oonk and Obbink, Van Ess and Veldboom. Seems everybody knows everybody ‘round here. Then comes the Swede named Johnson and the English/Scot named MacLaren and all their kids from Russia. We’re all children of God, one family united. We never stand alone.
Then comes the fire department—all those Dutch joining hands as volunteers with at least one Russian—our 20 year-old son. Many of the firefighters go to our church. Great guys. Dedicated men. They love their Lord and they love their community.
He came home covered in soot yesterday and smelling of smoke. Father’s Day. 7 PM. We all had celebrated Dad with a spaghetti dinner made from tomatoes grown in last year’s garden and a salad from our first pick of spring lettuce grown in this year’s raised bed.
His face was still smudged with black. His hands were blacker still. And he sat down at the end of the table looking drawn, tired. I thought about asking him to wash up before eating. He had worked hard since that call came in at 1:00 PM on the Sabbath Day, the day for rest. But big old barn conflagrations don’t know dates or holidays or Sabbath Days. Fire rules, so it appears.
At 1 PM after he raced down the driveway, the rest of us saw the smoke close and slightly to the northwest. My heart started pounding faster.
“Looks like it’s over by the Prinsens.” I said worried. “I sure hope it’s not their barn. They lost their two prize quarter horses in a barn fire two years ago,” I told my husband and kids.
The Prinsens are a husband and wife team who own a hair salon where we used to live 30 minutes south. He used to cut and style my hair for years till we moved up here to the country, five minutes from his house. And he gave me a miniature horse named Annabelle to keep on our farm. I’ve always found him an interesting dude—tattoos on ripped muscles, wearing just-right, tight jeans over cowboy boots, a heart of gold, and a mouth that cusses like crazy—a red-neck, straight, hair stylist who takes his wife and three kids to church every Sunday. What an anomaly! I must admit I love rebel souls like that, probably because I’m a bit of one myself.
So we beg Todd to follow the smoke so we can find out whose barn has been lost. On our way, we see town after town racing to refill their tankers. Eight towns in all are called in—all volunteer around here in the country. And ambulances filled with EMTs are already on sight, tending to the firefighters, checking their vitals every half hour, making sure they are not being hurt by smoke and intense heat. Standard operating procedure, our son says.
We stop short of the barn. It wasn’t the Prinsen barn in flames and smoke. It was his next door neighbor’s to the west. We stop short of the tragedy and talk with the Prinsen’s neighbor to the east.
“It was a calving barn. One hundred head over there. Probably most gone by now.”
He’s wearing a St. Christopher medallion around his neck showing through his slightly unbuttoned shirt.
“These winds are so strong that thing went up in no time. Saw the flames probably 60 feet above the trees!”
All the farmer could do was run and open the gates and release the cows who ran to the woods for shelter. But the calves were stuck in the middle. And the roof came crashing down. There was no hope of saving any life within.
In all, only 25 of the 100 head survived—mostly the mamas. And the saddest fact, the fact that Zach told at our table when dinner was done and he sat eating alone, covered in ash?
The mama cows came running back from the woods. They came running back to the barn up in flames and with plumes of smoke we could see from a few miles away. They came running back to go in and save their babies. Because that’s how they’re wired. That’s how we’re wired. We go back and risk our very own lives to save the ones we love.
But the mamas were held at bay, turned away by our son and other firefighters trying to save their lives. Because the farmer standing down the road with us watching, he said they all do this. They always run back to the barn for their young.
And I sat there at the dinner table and cried, face in hands. I couldn’t help myself. The images of fire and smoke and babies being trapped and mamas running out and trying to run back in to be with the ones they carried and pushed out of their own bodies and nursed—the horror of being turned away, not being able to rescue. I could hear their moans in my mind and it was all—too—much. I wept at the reality of fires and death and suffering hearts that can’t do a thing to stop the sorrow.
And once again, on Father’s Day, I realized the only One who can stop all this grief—is our God. But why not now? Why later? Why not put out the fires and stop the smoke and quench all the tears right now? WHY NOT?
I’m not certain. But I certainly believe. I have my hunches based on what God has said in His word.
God is sovereign and only allows what looks and feels like the most horrible tragedies to point us beyond this broken world where tears remain for a time but will end for all time.
It’s not His fault—all this brokenness. His mercy keeps us from experiencing more devastation and His abundant grace comforts—grace we don’t even deserve but is lavished on us constantly.
So there was mercy. Not all were lost. Not all was lost. And there are mercies every day we will never know this side of heaven.
So there was grace. The neighbor, the hair stylist farmer who called 911. The other neighbor who invited the family down to mourn because he’s been there too, he tells us, when his own barn went up in flames. He says he’s going to feed them a homemade dinner. Grace.
The volunteer firemen and firewomen and EMTs—from EIGHT small communities—who gave up their Father’s Day to help one family suffering loss and who came home to their own families covered in ash, exhausted and grateful for a standing structure where they would lay their weary heads that night and rest, knowing their own barns were still there with animals safe inside.
And knowing our community, the grace won’t end. There will be collections and banding together to help comfort and restore. That happens around here regularly.
And those mamas who moaned grief deep when they wanted to risk their lives for their loved ones?
There is grace for them too. Our son petted them and I can’t help but believe that just a bit of loving, empathic touch heals all the living in some way.
And there was grace given to me.
On Father’s Day, the day we are to serve our fathers and our husbands who are fathers, my husband got up from the dinner table and walked to the bathroom where he pulled a few tissues and returned, giving me cotton to dab my grief while placing a hand of comfort on my shoulder. I was the only one with tears running. I’m such a softy. But I suspect I cried for us all. And I hope all saw all the grace coming from all the day’s devastation.
There is ALWAYS more grace than pain, if we will see.
And our daughter, the one this mama and papa are still trying to save from an illness just diagnosed where medications have stolen our girl who once smiled easy but doesn’t any more—this little woman-child, 22 and a half, still suffering. And her mama’s heart just can’t keep from breaking still with this charring news—she sent me some words of comfort—some words of truth and hope in a text, right before bed—right before the “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep . . .”
Mumsie dear, Keep thoughts and prayers out for that family and friends with their loss of farm and calves. Its emotional. I know God spared some thankfully and rest are in a place in heaven with lush grass and their happy now. Thanks for dinner my mumsie dear. You never cease to blossom. YOU always blossom storms and clear days you amaze me with your strength. I know its fathers day your as important as today! Much much love for you. Sleep rest up don’t let calves make you upset with grief. I’m glad God spared some of the calves. He delivered. Delivered from flames. Love always, Anna
Verbatim. Imperfectly perfect. And the tears flowed again at the grace of it all. Amazing, crazy, perfect grace even when delivered imperfectly by the very one I’m trying to comfort these days.
We woke to a new morning. Perfectly calm. Not even the slightest breeze. And sun. Warm sun I thought would never come even a day ago. But I should have known.
Life is a never-ending series of juxtapositions. Life and death. Wonder and sorrow.
I drove past the ashes today—all the broken down and melted. The farmer was out looking through his wreckage. I decided right there that besides continuing to pray, I’ll bring him a plate of sweetness today to share with his grieving family—a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies. It seems so small but sometimes the smallest touches of love trickle a long way down into a heart and help it start to heal.
I cried once again as I looked at the aisle—the aisle where the babies got trapped—the aisle where the mamas tried to go, flames and smoke consuming.
Nothing. Nothing was left.
But those that survived were at rest under a big old shade tree, cuddled up together.
Shouldn’t we all? Shouldn’t we all cuddle up together in times of suffering and loss and comfort one another?
Shouldn’t we bear one another’s burdens? And shouldn’t we bear witness that, this side of heaven, grace can work miracles, bringing new life from loss—a foretaste of eternal life coming along with our God?
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” The he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true”. Revelation 21:1-5