Jane Johnson Struck

Jane Johnson Struck
The percolations of a coffee-guzzling wife, mom, grandma, writer, and editor

Drink This In

"Coffee, according to the women of Denmark, is to the body what the Word of the Lord is to the soul."
Isak Dinesen
"Coffee makes us severe, and grave, and philosophical."
Jonathan Swift

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Ashes, Ashes

It is worse than I imagined.

Outwardly the house looks the same—a homey colonial flanked by maples bedecked with bird feeders, surrounded by gardens spilling over with blooms. Inside, the house is acrid and cavernous; footfall echoes uncomfortably off bare floors and walls. Distraught, I wander through each room with my father, surveying the smoke damage, capturing with my digital camera its images of stained paneling, sooty wallpaper, filthy flooring, smudged ceramic, and blackened ceiling tiles.

This is home—or rather, my parents' home, the place where they've lived for 31 years. A week ago, fire ravaged Mom and Dad's basement while they attended their church's midweek service. When my parents arrived at their house, they heard blaring alarms and discovered billowing black smoke. Five firetrucks heeded their panicky 911 call; by midnight, they'd booked a room at a nearby hotel with only the clothes on their backs and a few items hastily stuffed into a couple of suitcases.

It is still difficult for me to comprehend. Maybe that's because just three weeks earlier, I visited them here after making the six-hour drive from my home. I sat in their kitchen, laughing with them over coffee, reading the comics, and working on crossword puzzles. I slept in the front bedroom filled with handmade quilts, framed samplers, and childhood memorabilia. I checked e-mail from the computer that rested on the beautiful oak desk built by my dad, in a room brimming with family heirlooms and precious collectibles.

Now all my parents' belongings—the everyday mixed with the irreplaceable--sit in storage, waiting to be cleaned, while construction people and insurance agents hash out how many months it will take to remediate the damage.

As I take all this in, for some strange reason "Ring Around the Rosie" runs through my mind: Ashes, ashes, we all fall down!

My parents' house could have been completely incinerated; they could even have lost their lives. Thankfully these things didn't happen. But my mother and father have been tested by this fire. Their sense of security, of rootedness, of place, has fallen down around them in figurative, if not literal, ashes.

I'm sobered by how easily the things we bank on for comfort and connection can be “here today, gone tomorrow.” I'm convicted by the awareness of how much I live for and love my stuff. This house fire is an unwelcome reality check, a stunning reminder that we live in a world where every earthly treasure we cling to eventually ends up consumed by moth and rust, smoke and dust, flood and fire. Even our very flesh inescapably becomes ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

I look at the damage to my parents' house and remember how Jesus told us only Kingdom treasures survive the test. This is what I need to be storing up.

And I reflect on how God alone can pick up those whose lives have fallen down around them. Ashes, ashes, we all fall down succinctly sums up our sorry human condition. Yet God can take these ruins, these ashes of ours, and replace them one day with the incorruptible, the eternal, the everlasting.

Thank God my parents know their true home is in Christ. And while it will take them some time to shake off their shock over this unexpected loss, they know they still own what is of utmost value—what no flames can destroy. And, gratefully, so do I.


  1. Jane, I appreciate how you tied this very sad incident your parents, and even you went through to a Biblical message. I love reading YOUR writing and your descriptive voice. I'm thankful your parents are okay and that they know their true home is in Christ. Amen!
    ~ Wendy

  2. I'm so sorry to hear about the loss of your family home. Your parents are in my prayers this afternoon.

    Thank you for your wonderful piece helping us see the indestructible foundation of your family's life.

  3. Well, I pray that the lord turns this unfortunate situation into a positive outcome. As we both know, it could always be worst. I hope it brings you family closer...