ImageBack in the eighties, my folks had an apartment in the end of an old warehouse. My dad had rented the hundred-foot-long building as a home for his doghouse business (it was a job he was proud to say “was in the doghouse!”).

The building was originally used as an earthworm farm, and was completely unfinished inside except for the small apartment in the front and a concrete-floored garage beside it. The apartment consisted of a bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and a tiny front entrance. Between it and the garage was a walk-in “cooler” room, probably used for storing the earthworms. The rear three-fourths of the building looked a lot like an old barn, with heavy timber beams of old dry wood, and a floor of large round rocks, much bigger than gravel. It was hard to walk on, and very easy to twist an ankle trying to walk through it.

Dad had set up his shop in the back quarter of the place. He had built a low, heavy-duty table for marking plywood sheets and using a circular saw to cut on. Between that and his table saw, he had built a kind of guide rail to brace the other end of long pieces of wood he was running through the saw.

Since he couldn’t sweep the gravel floor, dad just let the sawdust pile up around the saw over the years. By the time I was camping out there, it looked like a big pitcher’s mound around the front of the saw. Behind him, as he worked at sawing, was a huge bonfire-sized pile of scrap wood. As he sawed his boards and the scrap pieces came off, he would just toss them behind him. And, littered all around the whole area were dad’s cigarette butts, which he never stamped out, assuming they would go out by themselves in the gravel.

One month, while I was waiting for my new apartment to open up, I camped out at the warehouse in a camper van and stored all my belongings in the unused cooler. Besides clothing, dishes and other household goods, I had a large library of books, and boxes upon boxes of children’s church teaching aids, puppets and materials. Much of it was treasures I had discovered or created over the years and would never be able to replace if ever lost or destroyed.

Each night I would run a power cord from the van into the garage, and each morning unplug it and drive off to work.

One morning, when I got ready to leave, I came into the garage to find thick smoke, but no fire. It turned out that my dad had been busily sawing the night before, and quickly tossed a cigarette butt away, without taking his eyes off the spinning blade. The butt had landed in the sawdust pile and smoldered all night!

Not long afterwards, I was standing in the cooler and looking at the boxes of stuff I would have to move soon. I started thinking about the number of times over the years when my dad would fall asleep smoking and drop his lit cigarette. His favorite chair had plenty of cigarette burns in it. I thought about the morning we had found the cigarette smoldering in the sawdust, and thought how quickly I could lose all that was in front of me. I couldn’t always be there to watch out for those smoldering discards.

“Lord, please protect my stuff,” I prayed before heading off to my second-shift job. “There’s not enough room at the church to store the children’s church stuff, and I can’t possibly replace it all if it were to catch fire. You’re the only one I can turn to to protect it and keep it safe. Please watch over all of our things and keep them safe from any harm.”

The very next day I was standing in the bright sunshine in front of the apartment, with my mom as she watered her many potted plants. Dad walked by and tossed away another cigarette butt. I looked down at it smoldering in the patchy dirt and grass. As I walked over to it, and started “grinding” it out, my mom walked over to me. She must have seen my deep frown and read my thoughts.

“Have you seen the side of the house?” mom asked with a strange look on her face.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Go look,” she said and nodded her head toward the creek side of the building.

As I rounded the side of the warehouse, I was horrified to see the entire yard had been burned to a crisp from the side of the building almost to the trees along the stream. One of my brother’s abandoned car bodies, apparently fiberglass, was completely melted down. Mom said Dad had gone out there to burn garbage, and the fire had gotten away from him.

I walked along the side of the building and around the back. The fire had traveled the entire length of the warehouse, right up to its very edge, across the back of the building and up the hillside a couple hundred yards beyond the building! Somehow, even though the dry grass was taller than the concrete block foundation, the dry wood had not caught fire. The blocks were blackened, but the wood was completely untouched.

Somehow on that day before — the same day that a fire was to sweep through there — the Lord had really touched my heart to pray fervently for protection. The fire had traveled all along the side and back of the building, but the Lord had completely protected not only it and its contents, but Mom said the fire “simply burned itself out” before it got to the trees and the neighbor’s equally flammable barn!

Copyright © 1999 by Debra K. Matthews. All rights reserved

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