When an arsonist randomly set their house on fire, Alison Hodgson and her family were home and in bed, and escaped with the clothes on their backs. In the early days afterwards, the sorrow of losing everything was slight compared to Alison’s immense gratitude that her family was safe and she felt sustained by an extraordinary grace. As time passed, and stresses mounted, she realized her family had lost so much more than their possessions, and that only grace could lead them home. It’s a grace to welcome Alison to the farm’s front porch today…
Three weeks to the day after the fire—this was how we were keeping time now—I woke up around four thirty and couldn’t get back to sleep.
It was a Sunday and Paul got up a little before seven to leave early for church. It was his week to help lead worship.
“I guess I thought you would have canceled this month,” I said.
“Well I didn’t, and they’re planning on me. I’d like to go.”
I didn’t want to face anything without Paul, even church.
Everyone was so kind and asked how we were doing but there were also many questions about the fire itself, which was upsetting for the children, and draining for me.
Being an introvert, if there was a way to be airlifted into church and then back out immediately after, that would be my preference many a Sunday, but especially three weeks after an arsonist set my house on fire.
It didn’t occur to me that having that time with old and dear friends on the worship team was a haven for Paul and a relief from stress. Or if it did, it was secondary to the fact that it increased my own.
My sister-in-law Dawn and her husband Thom, had picked us up by the side of the road while the house was still in flames, and we had been staying with them since.
From their home, there were several ways to get to church. I chose the quickest and most familiar route, which brought us past our property. When we reached our intersection, I stopped at the sign and we all looked at the remains of what had been home, but no one spoke.
The sight of the ruins landed like a body blow and a wave of exhaustion fell over me. I was so incredibly tired, I could barely keep my head up. The thought of driving all the way to church, running the gauntlet of caring questions, and then sitting through the service felt impossible.
“Kids,” I said, “we’re not going to church!”
No one cheered, but there was a collective and relieved exhalation.
I decided return to my sister-in-law’s house, using a different route and turned to head into town and remembered something. For insurance, I needed to call a landscaper we’d used before the fire. Their name escaped me, but was engraved on a boulder in a public garden they had planted just off the green in our little village. This was the perfect time to drive by.
The engraving had softened over the years, and I couldn’t read it at first glance. It was an early Sunday morning in summer, and the roads were deserted. I stopped the van. The garden was on the right side, so I leaned across Lydia sitting in the passenger seat and squinted.
“Can you read that?” All three children peered with me, and we read it out loud.
Yes! It was Rooks—a small victory.
“Well done!” I said and took my foot off the brake.
I heard a shout and turned to see several cyclists passing me on the left, and one was right beside my door. I slammed on the brakes and rolled down my window.
Later I will figure out what must have happened. They came up behind me and paused. When I didn’t move, they started to pass me just as I began to roll forward.
“Hey!” one of them yelled, much too close to the van. His face was red and angry.
Horrified at my mistake, I rolled down my window to apologize. “I’m so—” I began to say, but he waved me away, as if to shut me up and rode off.
I will be honest. I always like to be heard. Anyone who has argued with me knows I can be . . . tenacious. So there’s that. I really didn’t like being cut off when I knew I was wrong and was trying to do the right thing.
Also, I was what the professionals call “raw.”
I stepped on the gas.
“Mama!” Lydia shouted, and I could feel the general anxiety of all the children. But justice was calling.
Tires squealed as I pulled up next to the cyclist and kept pace with him. I rolled down Lydia’s window. He looked up, surprised.
“Mama—,” Eden said.
“I was trying to say I’m sorry,” I began.
He shrugged me off and kept riding. This did not work for me.
“I’m sorry I was stopped in the middle of the road. I’m SORRY I didn’t see you because I was trying to read a landscaper’s sign because an ARSONIST BURNED MY HOUSE DOWN!”
The cyclist’s face changed. I can only imagine what mine looked like, but right then, I was past caring.
“Lady,” he said, “we’re OK.” He held out the arm nearest me in a gesture of pacification, but this—or simply the fact that he was completely wrong—set me off.
“WE ARE NOT OK!” I shrieked and stomped on the gas pedal, speeding past him.
The children were screaming now. I turned into the nearest parking lot and slammed to a stop. For a moment it was mostly quiet, except for my sobbing and the kids catching their breath.
I felt so ashamed. I was a terrible mother.
“I’m so sorry.” I turned to them. “I’m sorry I lost it.”
“That guy was a jerk,” Christopher said.
“Yeah, he was. But I shouldn’t have freaked out and driven so recklessly.”
“No, you shouldn’t have,” Eden said primly.
“You sure freaked out all right,” Lydia said. I turned to look at her. Her eyes were wide, and then she smiled. It was a nervous smile, but it was a smile, and I smiled back. We both began to laugh.
“We are not OK!” Eden imitated my screech, and soon we were all laughing but I still felt terrible.
“I’m so, so sorry, kids. Will you please forgive me?”
There was a murmur of “I forgive you” from all three. I looked at them. Tears welled up in my eyes. My throat was sore from screaming, a shameful reminder.
There was plenty to rationalize if I wanted. I was exhausted and had been startled. That guy was a jerk. And maybe there was something to that talk about post-traumatic stress.
All that was real and valid, but it didn’t change the fact that I had been wrong and had wronged another. I had certainly wronged my children.
There was no way to make amends with the cyclist, which I had genuinely wanted to do at the start until I tilted into a rage at his blow-off of my apology. But now, again, I truly wanted to apologize.
I had made it right with my children, but it didn’t feel like it. Not yet.
The funny thing about grace is, even though I know it covers every wrong, it rarely feels like enough. At least in the short term, especially when I’ve sinned before and against my children.
Time and maturity had taught me the only thing I can do is open my arms to lay down my shame and keep them open to receive forgiveness.
There is no plan B.
All I know is to admit my wrongdoing and then accept grace when it’s given — especially when it doesn’t feel like enough.
I looked at my children, one by one, and they looked back at me.
“Thank you” was all I could say,
and then I turned the van around and drove slowly and carefully —
back to Dawn and Thom’s—
Alison Hodgson is a writer, speaker and humorist whose life experiences have made her an involuntary expert on the etiquette of perilous times. She is a Moth StorySLAM champion and a contributor to the design website Houzz.com. Her writing has been featured on Forbes.com, Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog and Religion News Service. Alison lives outside Grand Rapids, Michigan with her husband, their three children and two good dogs.
In the fire’s aftermath of insurance battles royal, rebuilding plans, parenting in the face of life’s hard questions and a scorching case of post-traumatic stress, now is absolutely the worst possible time to adopt a dog. But to Alison’s seven-year-old daughter, Eden, it’s the perfect time—and The Relentless Campaign begins. Enter “Outrageous” Oliver, and the hilarity, healing, and irresistible hope that follows in The Pug List: A Ridiculous Little Dog, a Family Who Lost Everything, and How They Found Their Way Home.
[ Our humble thanks to Zondervan for their partnership in today’s devotion ]