Things I Learned from My House Fire

Six weeks ago, as I sat at my dinner table with friends, one of them screamed as she witnessed the scene unfolding out the window. Huge flames ascended toward the darkened sky, illuminating the catastrophe in the making. The house next door to me was ablaze. I own the house, and those sitting around the dinner table who lived there are both my tenants and friends. 911 responders soon heard our panicked pleas for help as we began processing the fact that tragedy had struck. Sweet Meeko, my friend’s beloved dog, was trapped upstairs. For the moment, no belongings mattered. We were so grateful that no human was trapped, but anxiously awaited as the firefighter who broke through the window descended, carrying a living, albeit terrified pup who spent the night on oxygen but recovered fully. All belongings were lost in the fire, but thank God, no lives. 

We all process differently during moments of tragedy and days that follow. I tend to be pragmatic and calm in the moment, and my emotions catch up later. I calmly moved my car to allow the fire trucks more room and then just watched in slow motion, realizing that the trees separating my residence and the house on fire were aflame, and if the fire was not contained soon both houses would be gone. For the next few days, I relived what could have been, but feel so grateful that all living beings were safe and sound. I feel the most for my friends who are displaced. Things and homes are replaceable.

The past couple of months have been eventful, to say the least. My friend Kay recently told me that one of her friends had read my book, “My Morning Cup,” where I share personal experiences such as being struck by lightning, held at knifepoint, and watching a friend’s child open the car door and roll out onto the highway while I was driving. This friend told Kay that she might want to keep her distance from me! However, through all these events, I am beyond grateful that no one was harmed, at least for long. Some situations, such as my husband’s illness, didn’t have happy earthly endings, but God remains deeply and vividly present through the fires, the pain, and the victories. Also in October, I experienced the victory of defending my dissertation, so I became a doctor. I joke that now whenever I am flying and I hear, “Is there a doctor on the plane?” I can respond affirmatively and then pray for the person! Currently, I am in the throes of several transitions, including a house restoration. Restoration seems a timely topic that fits well with my doctoral research on “The Relationship Between Hermeneutics (biblical interpretation) in the Restoration Movement and Spiritual Formation.”

The recent fire illustrates and corresponds to many areas in my life. While the terms faith “deconstruction” and “reconstruction” can be thrown around with different meanings, I believe we need to examine our faith, individually and communally. And in doing so, deconstruction and reconstruction will be involved. The Apostle Peter tells us that trials come in our lives “so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:7)

While my faith in God is strong, I have been learning various profound ways my interpretation of Scripture affected/affects the ways I and my spiritual communities are spiritually formed.  Theologian Daniel Migliore expresses this well. “The work of theology is inseparably bound to an identifiable faith community that worships God, attends to Scripture and its account of God’s work and will, and engages in manifold ministries of education, reconciliation, and liberation.[1] He further notes that communities’ quests for truth require continual critical reflection lest it be “threatened by shallowness, arrogance, and ossification.”[2]

I am grateful that I know many, and count myself among them, who are on a continued quest for truth that requires critical reflection.

With this in mind, here are several things I have learned since the fire:

Grief is involved after a fire, and appropriate lament is needed. So it is with disappointments spiritually, both individually and communally. I hold to Romans 3:4. “Let God be true, though every one were a liar.” I am not pointing this toward any specific individual, but this scripture has often helped me throughout my decades in the church, especially when people disappoint. People (including me) are imperfect, and God is the only completely trustworthy one. His plans are good, right, and true no matter what others do with them. Sometimes, when people disappoint, I grieve with this truth.

I need others. I need people who know what they are doing to restore my home, so I hired a restoration company. Restoration is not a one-and-done event. Tragedy strikes and exposes the weaknesses and need for rebuilding. The Spirit’s leading and others’ spiritual gifts are desperately needed. Our lives and churches need continual restoration. 

Tedious investigation is necessary. Insurance investigators seek to find the cause of the fire. They know mine began in the kitchen, but since the appliances melted it is hard to pinpoint the cause. If insurance can prove it is a defective stove or some other cause, they try to get money from them. (Greed remains much of what the world revolves around.) Likewise, we need to find the root causes behind our individual and communal “fires.” Otherwise, problems resurface.

Blameshifting brings things to a standstill. I just want the insurance company to resolve the delays that subrogation brings. Much valuable energy is lost when deflecting responsibility, and this usually results in frustration and hopelessness.  How often we can deflect responsibility. Dr. Henry Cloud, in chapter 7 of his book, “Necessary Endings,” writes profound truths on the frustration and hopelessness resulting when one fails to take personal responsibility. Worth the read!

Unresolved issues create bigger problems. Insurance companies will try to assume as little responsibility as possible, often resulting in subrogation that seeks to place blame elsewhere, thus costing them as little as possible. This can stall the work for who knows how long. The fire site is yet to be released for demolition and reconstruction. Rebuilding can happen so much faster when we don’t shirk from taking responsibility…be it fires, church firestorms, relational issues, or things that are falling apart. The longer things sit in disrepair, the more difficult and costly reconstruction will be. Currently in the burned house, mold is growing from standing water, and who knows what is happening in the hidden places in the walls and basement. Such is also the case for unresolved issues and relationships. Bad things grow. 

Invite others to the table as a team. Restoration companies invite engineers, building inspectors, electricians, plumbers,  and architects to the “restoration table.” Everyone is needed when learning the weaknesses, vulnerable places, and changes that must be made, no matter how costly they may be. Often, we need some experts. They are helpers. 

Don’t take shortcuts to reach the roots of issues. It is worthless to make cosmetic changes that don’t reflect weak structure, footings, electric, plumbing, and studs that are compromised. The studs that can remain must be cleaned and sealed, otherwise the smell of smoke with always come through. Likewise, changes in life and churches must run deep, without shortcuts. I recommend the book “Pivot” by Scot McKnight and Laura Barringer to explore this topic more fully.

Welcome and expect the need for change. The house next door was built in the 1800s, and many codes have changed over the years. Even ceilings were built lower because people were shorter. House codes have changed within the changing culture. While the foundation can be built upon, much will change in the rebuild and restoration that prayerfully will result in a structure far superior than it was, even though I had it thoroughly renovated after I purchased it. Sometimes, renovations look good but still don’t meet the current codes. Deconstruction allows these needed changes to be addressed. Restoration demands change. The foundation remains solid. Thankfully, Jesus is Lord and remains the foundation. 

Patience is required, and it is a fruit of God’s Spirit. So, even though I ask my restoration company for updates and learn when I need to be a squeaky wheel, I must wait patiently, looking to restore my home to a condition even better than it was. My prayer for the spiritual community is the same.  

[1] Daniel L. Migliore, Fatih Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2004), xv.

[2] Migliore, Faith Seeking, xv.

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  1. Stephen Ryan

    Love the connections, but so sorry about your house. Glad all were okay!
    Just began reading Pivot. Is an incredible book on personal and communal transformation. That is the theme for 2024 for our congregation. Pray God will continue to use you through your personal transformations and your coaching to inspire Christlikeness in others. Thanks!

    • Jeanie W Shaw

      Thank you so much. You are always so encouraging!

  2. Lori Gath

    Jeanie, how timely this piece is for me personally. I connected with blame shifting bringing things to a standstill and unresolved issues creating bigger problems. I need others to speak truth to me and help me to stay focused on God’s Word and His will. What a time of growth and change during the hard times! Praise God and thank you for sharing!
    Also as a retired insurance agent this really resonated at an even deeper level!

    • Jeanie W Shaw

      Thanks for your thoughtful words, Lori. I miss seeing you and hope you are well. I imagine this does resonate a little extra as an insurance agent for many years. Sending love.

  3. Deb Wright

    Had no idea about the fire! I identify so much with having a fire that displaces you(happened to me as a Jr. In High School). Loved all the analogies. So great to read your writing again, Jeanie! Love this new sight and just know it will be provide encouragement and needed topics for reflection. Love and appreciate you always!!

    • Jeanie Shaw

      Love you, Deb. Thanks so much. I look forward to visiting you soon in Asheville. 🙂


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About Jeanie Shaw

After retiring from forty-five years in full-time ministry, Jeanie Shaw went back to school to earn her master’s and doctorate in spiritual formation and discipleship. She also serves as a certified Christian life coach who loves helping people discover the joy, peace, and purpose that come from finding and following God’s plan for their lives. She has taught classes and workshops all over the world and has written numerous books. She has four grown children, eight grandchildren, and a golden retriever who thinks he is human. When she is not reading, writing, coaching, teaching, or enjoying her family she might be found walking along rivers, learning new lessons about life.

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