When I think back on my childhood, I remember highs and lows. I have great memories of family vacations, fun in the neighborhood, traditions at home. I remember guests we hosted and holidays we celebrated.
And I remember that summer night in ’88.
With the best fried potatoes on our dinner plates, our neighbor burst through the door and our dinner, our evening, our lives, were changed in an instant.
The flames were rising from the attic, and our neighbor spotted the fire from across the street. He, quite possibly, saved our lives. (His mom told him not to joke around when he first told her. Thankfully she checked it out for herself.)
The tragedy of that summer night soon became a story about Christmas in two ways.
It was Christmas when we came back home. December 3, 1988. Our house had been repaired thanks to the hard work of Rick Bulifant and his team of contractors (and no thanks to our sketchy insurance adjustor. Even at 4 years old, I had him figured out.).
Apparently I had become the “architect” on the job, knowing every detail of the rebuilding and giving tours to anybody who needed one.
Come Christmas morning, Lego’s destroyed in the fire were replaced with new ones, and I got a fireman’s hat, too, with a flashing light on top. I had really wanted the Jeep fire truck from the Best Catalog (price tag: $295!), but Santa didn’t think we would have room to store it. He made a fire truck out of Lego’s instead. Many, many years of fun were born that Christmas morning.
The excitement of toys faded away eventually, but throughout the months after the fire, little miracles like the bear ornament had happened, too:
Out of this tattered, 25-year-old envelope, I still pull out a well-worn Ziploc bag, a folded note and a silver bear ornament.
The Christmas after I was born, this bear ornament adorned our tree and would forever mark my first Christmas. But after the fire, it was found buried in the rubble, covered in soot and tarnished, almost beyond recognition.
Enter Burke’s Jewelers. After they worked their magic, and this envelope came back in the mail, with a note attached:
Looks a little better, huh? The back would not polish up without taking off a lot of metal but the front side cleaned up pretty good.
Hope things will be back to normal for all of you very soon. There is no charge for this.
Now at Christmas, with music playing and the tree sitting in the middle of the living room floor, I still open the envelope. I read Fred’s letter, and I pull the shining bear from the bag and think about those little miracles in the fall of ’88.
Some years, the sight of the envelope or the words of the letter bring a tear to my eye (even writing these words does).
When I hang the bear on the tree, I know God saves and God makes things new. And that’s really what Christmas is all about.
May God bring peace and restoration to part of your life that needs it this Christmas.
Adapted from the original December 2011 post, A Dad’s Plan (Part 2).