Sparking a fire and finding spiritual wisdom in the ashes


photograph thanks to Immanuel Giel

Tim Jones remembers “lots of fires; a lifetime of fires.” In 1955 the house next door caught fire. Tim recalls running away through the snow when he was about 3. And running, at 8, with friends Danny and Bob from a trash can fire that singed his hair. And, as a young adult, assisting an electrician with fire repairs. “Everything plastic was melting.  It looked like a Salvador Dali painting.”

A few months ago when he set his own house on fire, Tim somehow kept his cool.

Last year, to please his wife, Tim was installing a spigot by the back door of their ranch house in Commerce Township, MI.  Wife Sue wanted an easy way to water flower pots on the patio.) Having by now held many jobs in construction and construction management, Tim sledged a hole thorough the brick to access a water line in a powder room.Draping a wet rag  over the hole, he used a torch to sweat (solder) the new hose bib (connection).

“I finish up, go outside to admire my handiwork, and grin. Then I smell fire. There are 4 cats and a dog in the house. I move fast. Call 911. Give my address. They start asking questions. I throw the phone and rush for a fire extinguisher and ladder. It looks like the whole attic’s on fire. I empty the fire extinguisher and race to get two more. Back up the ladder, I dump both extinguishers on the fire, then zoom back in the house. I pour another extinguisher into the wall where the fire started.”

At last Tim started to relax. He texted Sue:

Caught house on fire; give me ten minutes; everything okay.

The fire department showed up. Unable to clear smoke from the attic, they worried the fire could reignite. Tim noticed their gas-powered saw. Planning to remodel the kitchen and considering a skylight, he suggested the fire department cut a hole in the roof above the kitchen.They did , climbed in and inspected.

It turned out the 1970s house the Joneses bought several years before had been poorly remodeled. The wall in which Tim sweated copper was unfinished. “It acted like a chimney.  A spark got past my wet rag—and flame on.” The smoke couldn’t exit the attic, also due to poor construction.

At last, Tim says, “The smoke left; the fire department left; and I felt like a jerk. I’m an expert in construction and I set my own house on fire. Sue came home and consoled me. I turned myself in to the insurance company. They cleaned and boarded up the house.”

Citizens Insurance explained they understand problems occur; they would cover everything. The adjuster asked what Tim did for a living. Retired from construction, he said. Did he want to bid on the repair?

Tim said, “That’s pretty nice, considering I started the fire.”

“Things happen,” the adjuster said. The company told Tim the amount they’d pay. Tim agreed. He repaired everything and more. “Since I spent my career trying to get the best bang for the buck, I stretched the settlement into most of a new kitchen.” (They nixed the skylight.)

“Sue’s still concerned they will haul me away for starting the fire.”

Sitting in his kitchen, surrounded by new oak cabinets, a convection oven and mottled dark green laminate counter tops that “sure beat the old lime green,” Tim reflects on the experience. He sees it as “the most dramatic of many ways God has visited me lately.”

Among them, he sees God’s hand in the volunteer work he did with the developmentally disabled. “They were sweet but, more importantly, they trivialized my mundane problems.”

Tim told his friend Anne (the sage who happens to be my sis) that he felt some power watching over him in recent years. She said, “Maybe it’s been going on longer. Perhaps you just didn’t notice.”

“She’s right,” he concludes. “I can’t wait to see what happens next.”

Lessons learned.

1.  God’s on the case. Pay attention.
2.  Have fire extinguishers on hand.
3.  This is one move by the Joneses that nobody wants to keep up with.

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