The shrill wail of the fire engine sirens pierced the early morning air on Election Day years ago as I stood outside a voting area to help a church member running for office. As the ambulance and two fire engines sped by they were heading for a neighborhood where many church members lived, so I followed the rescue vehicles only to find a catastrophe too horrible to ever forget.
The flames were still leaping from the windows of the small house as firemen and police officers scurried in every direction. A young couple with three small children lived inside. Two firemen ran out of the house towards the waiting ambulance clutching one of the children. Another child was already inside the vehicle along with his mother. The third child, a baby was still inside the house.
As the ambulance sped away with sirens blaring toward the nearby hospital, I followed knowing my place needed to be with the family. I found the young mother by herself in the waiting room and sat with her while helping contact her husband who had gone to work earlier that morning. During that time, a doctor entered and solemnly informed her of the loss of their baby who died at the scene. Thirty minutes later a nurse came to break the news her next youngest son also died.
In just a few short moments this poor young woman lost two of her three precious children.
She asked to visit her child. What could they say? We walked down the hall into bay three of the emergency room. The curtain was drawn to give us privacy. The mother tenderly picked up her little boy who merely looked asleep and soothingly cradled him in her arms as she began to sing his favorite lullaby. The nurse, overcome, ran out of the room crying but the mother seemed oblivious as she gently combed her child's hair with her fingers and continued quietly singing.
Years later, I still vividly remember the scene.
When tragedy occurs we ask: Where is God? There is no easy answer but I found comfort in Isaiah's words from God:
"Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you go through deep waters and great trouble, I will be with you." (Isaiah 43:1)"I will be with you."
God was there as people in the community gathered to pray, offer comfort and provide temporary shelter for the family:
"When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown!" (Isaiah 43:2)
God was there as our church helped provide clothing, appliances, furniture and even money toward a scholarship fund for the surviving son:
"When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you." (Isaiah 43:2)
God was even there as I went back to the charred ruins of their house looking for mementos that might have survived the fire. Everything was destroyed, or so I thought. But, on the coffee table in the living room amidst a smoldering pile of ashes lay a family Bible. Other than a few burn marks on the cover, the Bible was in nearly perfect condition. A fireman came by, whistled softly in amazement, and said, "Larry, nothing should have survived this."
"For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior." (Isaiah 43:3)
God was there several weeks later as mother and son attended our Sunday church service to thank us for the many kindnesses extended to her. During worship, she became flustered trying to read an unfamiliar bulletin while holding her hyperactive son. I cringed for her, but could think of no way to stop the service and help her. But, a kind older woman near the back of the sanctuary stood and quietly moved forward to sit and help the distraught mother and child.
Is this a perfect ending?
Of course not, but real life seldom supplies perfect endings — which is why instead of answers, we discover comfort in the midst of tragedy.
"When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you."
When tragedy strikes, remember this: God will always, always, always be there!