I am a pastor, and that means I care for people. I am a teacher/storyteller, spiritual director, friend, mentor, and a giver of hope. I love it and am made for it. I had hoped to share with you a week of faithful service as I counsel, encourage, and guide people that I love and care about. Yet it seems God is not without a sense of humor. You might not see much of me giving selflessly to others this week.
My wife, Lisa, and 21-month-old daughter, Hanna, and I went to dinner Saturday night with a friend from Philadelphia who is traveling the United States and parts of Europe for the next year. He is a social worker and saved most of his salary last year for his adventure. After introducing him to Ninfa’s (some of the best Tex-Mex you will ever taste), I drop them off while I go to rent a movie and close out Saturday night on a relaxing note.
As I pull into Hollywood Video, my Nextel phone (which is like a two-way radio, but better) screams, “YOUR APARTMENT IS ON FIRE! COME HOME!” I think it’s a joke, but it’s not. I race home. My wife and baby are safe outside, but there is smoke everywhere and the smell of burnt plastic is putrid and pouring out the door. I find a fire extinguisher encased in glass that will not break. It must be freakin’ Plexiglas or something, because it takes 20 blows to shatter it. I run into our smoke-filled apartment to find a kitchen that is one big flame. I empty four extinguishers. Neighbors keep bringing another over just as I empty one. I can’t see anything, so I just take a deep breath, run in, and hope for the best. Breathe … Run … Spray … Run and repeat until all the extinguishers are empty. I get most of the blaze out before the fire department arrives. But I suck in enough smoke to make me eligible for clinical trials for people with high risk of lung cancer. The firefighters convinced me to get some oxygen in the ambulance while they finish fighting the flames.
In the ambulance, the paramedic checks me out while I peek through the window to see how bad the damage is. “You must work out,” he says. “Your pulse is incredibly low.” I realize I am not in despair or distraught, and my pulse is not even racing. Perhaps it’s because my family is safe. Perhaps I don’t love my possessions and material comforts like I love God, friends, and family. Perhaps I do, but the shock of the loss of material things has not sunk in yet. Or I figure insurance is the great equalizer. Time will tell.
Fire destroys and smoke permeates everything. It leaves nothing untouched. My family spends the night in an empty apartment 20 blocks away and try to sleep as we sort out the ramifications of cleaning or replacing everything we owned and where we would live. Sleep mostly escapes me. My mind is focused on the joy of my “night-night” ritual with Hanna at home. We all play in our bed, sing in the mirror, read books, tickle each other, and fade off to sleep as a family. That routine seems weeks or months away from being reality again. So, my wife washes smoky clothes all night and we get ready for our church service on Sunday evening (I know most churches meet in the a.m., but we are not most churches. These young postmodern urban dwellers are happy to sleep to noon and worship late). My wife sends me to the store with a grocery list. It says: lemons (for a lemonade fast so I can detox all the carcinogens that I swallowed last night), paper plates, cups, a knife, papaya, distilled water, soy milk, and a pregnancy test. I think she’s most likely paranoid that inhaling smoke and cleaning soot could endanger a potential fetus. If a $12 pregnancy test puts her mind at ease then it is a worthwhile investment.
So we cut the papaya, drink some water, and take the test. Holy Hellfire! There are two lines! Parents, you know what I’m talking about. There is a control line and a “You are great with child” line. Lisa is pregnant. We have our second child and I am now a father of a homeless family of four.
At 5:30, Ecclesia, our spiritual community, meets for our quarterly love feast. It is a celebration of Christian community. A time to share our stories of joy and sorrow. A great crowd is there for music, cuisine, and real-life stories. I share ours and the community finds ways to lighten our load. By the end of the night we find out we have countless people coming over to clean, $90 has been collected to buy supplies, and friends are making us dinner each night of the week.