My grandmother’s cabin was built in the 1950s, an enormous log affair with four bedrooms, a beautiful loft, a large and inviting kitchen, and the most delightful, airy spaciousness throughout. The table was built as part of the cabin, all of hewn logs, and with two long benches to match. You could do so much with a house like this–hang things from the loft rails, host whole Bible study and prayer groups at that long table, tuck a bed under the sloping roof in one of the bedrooms and open the window in order to listen to the lapping waves from the nearby lake… Once, when my parents and younger sister and I came to stay for a week, Sister of Mine found her niche in a little bed on the mezzanine, where she could look down and see everything that was going on–important, adventurous, whimsical necessities for a four-year-old. I, meanwhile, had been given the distinction of the aforementioned Lake Room, complete with sloping plank roof, a well-appointed window seat, and the softest possible rug on the floor. There was a chair in the room, but the rug did even better duty as a seat–I spent countless hours there, sitting amidst that plush softness with books, journals, and music, feeling as though I were in a field of something ineffably beautiful.
And the things stored in that cabin! It was a veritable attic, from the myriad sets of chimes in the kitchen/living room to the old wicker chairs, to the stacks and stacks of books in the living room, to the antique rugs placed every which where upstairs, to the 1905 gramophone, to the collection of old quilts, to the cameos and other precious jewelry, to the old worship music c. 1972 that no one seems to be recording anymore, to the dresses and robes and blouses and pants of every shape and size, to the button boxes, to the hand-made coffee cups, to the cards and letters and pictures and scrapbooks, to the toys antique and modern… Case in point: My grandmother once found a 110-year-old book of children’s Bible stories in among some more modern books, a few discarded jackets, some videos, and a few containers of vitamin supplements and, calling it “junk”–that is, unnecessary to her life, bestowed it upon me as a matter of course. Another time, she sent a spool doll with a note stating, “School children made these in the nineteenth century. Enjoy it, and throw it away when you’re done.” I think not! But those sorts of things were so commonplace for her that she regarded them with little fanfare.
There are no words to describe the fragrance of that house I cannot adequately describe it save to say that it was leather, books, antiques, and well-cared-for wood, with a touch of myrrh and gentle undertones of peace. That aroma clung to everything she ever sent us, and we couldn’t receive so much as a plastic bag from her without inhaling the beautiful fragrance first. “It smells like the cabin! It smells like the cabin!” was our joyful cry–though, not like the cabin, not like so many antiques, but more like grace and mercy, unconditional love, being set free and restored and healed, conversations about the things of God, Bible study, worship… That was the aroma of the cabin. I once sent my grandmother some pajamas so they could absorb that scent. And, if she ever put dried apricots or chocolate-covered cherries or even oyster crackers in a package, you can bet that the food would even taste of the cabin.
Grandma never kept the blessings to herself, either. I was not the only recipient of spool dolls, antique books, and Scripture in Song cassettes. The cabin served as a sort of lending library. Every summer, my grandmother would have a yard sale and try to get rid of some of the material things she didn’t need anymore–old tables, T-shirts, toys that her fifteen grandchildren had gradually outgrown, boating equipment, etc. But she never, never charged for any material that pointed the reader/listener/viewer to the Gospel; that was always free. Even when the yard sale had run its course, she always sought out people whom she could bless with her books, CDs, and videos. When the recipients were done, they could keep the theological fodder, pass it on to someone else, or return it to the Christian Cabin Library for further informal “circulation”.
On the evening of 15 August 2013, that cabin burned down. The damage was total.
Over four months later, I’m still in shock at this–that all those beautiful memories could be obliterated in a mere three or four hours. My heart aches, for that house was dear to me. If I were going to anthropomorphize anything in life, which I don’t make a habit of doing, that precious log cabin would be my first candidate. On one hand, I mourn the loss of all those precious moments–of every hand-stitched quilt and hand-crocheted afghan.
On the other hand, part of me is in denial. Why, just weeks before the fire, I had perused an obscure British book by Jennifer Reese-Larcomb entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD?. The book addressed those spiritual valleys through which we all travel and, unlike so many other books I’ve encountered, attempted to tackle the question straight-on, to explain why some of us face times when we do not know the presence of God. It was so beautiful that I passed it on to my grandmother, who was reading it voraciously. She, too, was enjoying it and planned to donate it to her church when she was done. I had ordered the book from the Amazon Marketplace and it came to me with the deep, joyful fragrance of the cabin already clinging to it. I think there must be a Spirit-filled, antiques-infused counterpart somewhere in the English countryside… Anyway, I still picture my grandmother with that book. She’s sitting in one of the wicker armchairs in the kitchen, with cushions and furs hiding the flaws in the twisted twigs. A cup of black coffee is in one hand, my book in the other. The phone rings. She puts a bookmark in the book–likely the bookmark that I gave her back in April, the one bearing meaningful Scriptures, and sets the book on the table between the two chairs, intending to return to it when she’s taken the prayer request and promised to pass it on through the church’s prayer chain. But one phone call turns into four, and then there’s supper to get and Sid Roth to watch, and then it’s off to bed. She never does finish Page 57. Now, the book, the bookmark, the table, the coffee cup, the chair, and all the cushions are gone–burned or, if salvageable, sold. It seems so… unreal.
But what is real, what is abiding and steadfast and unwavering, is the faithfulness of our loving Lord. And I can’t overlook the many blessings and miracles that came forth from this time. First and foremost, my grandmother is safe. She smelled the smoke, fled the cabin, and was entirely unharmed–no flare-ups of her asthma, no injuries of any kind. I am daily thankful to the Lord for this–that it was not her time to be with Him, and that she and I are still able to keep in contact. She is having a new house built, and it sounds lovely. It really makes you put things in perspective–a house is just a house, after all.
Then, there’s the miracle of the Bible. Everything was lost except for that precious Book. When the firefighters came, one of the first things they salvaged was the Bible my grandmother has been reading and using for at least fifty years, complete with the dates on which she and others received the Holy Spirit, notes about abiding in Jesus, and modest highlighting–Grandma never highlighted or underlined unless she was certain that she would feel the same way about a passage for the rest of her life. Half of the cloth case in which she kept it was burned, but the Bible itself did not even smell like smoke! On a side note, I just reread the previous sentence and saw that it bespoke a parallel to Hannaniah, Mishael, and Azariah (most of you know them as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, but I prefer their original Hebrew names). I didn’t mean to create that parallel, but I think I’ll let it stay.
In a way, this whole thing reminds me of how transient our lives and circumstances are–that we are but mere vapours in the light of eternity. One moment, I was talking to my grandmother on the phone that has been connected in that cabin since before I was born, the phone she answered when I made my first independent telephone call at the age of five. The next minute… That phone is no more, but the connection remains. A new landline in a new house, but the same kind, practical, steadfast, trusting woman who loves Jesus and still knows how to pray–still wakes herself up many nights praying in the Spirit. The woman behind those brand-new doors has not changed. She is safe and sustained in heart. In so many ways, that is more than enough.
In all of this, I have been reminded of a love-drenched promise verse and a beautiful hymn. The verse, being God’s wondrous words to us, is of far greater importance–Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” So very, very true. The flames may set our house ablaze, or our pride, or our anger and envy and strife, our temporal possessions or our money, fame, or prestige, and perhaps even our health, body, abilities, and strength, but they will not set ablaze the love of the Lord, the hope that dwells in us, our peace, our desire to live a holy life, our faith, or our trust–our spirit, soul, and heart.
And so I leave you with “God Leads Us Along”, a hymn penned by a man of God named George Young. I’m particularly fond of the refrain: “Some through the waters, some through the flood, / Some through the fire, but all through the blood; / Some through great sorrow, but God gives a song, / In the night season and all the day long.” And, under that definition, covered by the blood, reminded of His gift to us, standing on His promises, we can trust even in trials like these that He, in His infinite mercy, will lead us along. Amen.