A year ago, my husband and I finally came to the realization that we were terrible “resters.” To be honest, we both had completely forgotten how to rest altogether! For the past 9 years, our lives have been spent raising our three kiddos, homeschooling them, building our farm, growing our small herd of cattle, renovating countless construction projects, and building our house – all the while together managing my husband’s growing veterinary practice. Thankfully, both of us have get-it-done-type personalities and thrive off of having our plates spilling over, but the hours were becoming longer, the after-hours vet emergencies were increasingly exhausting, and the phone calls at home were endless. Our candles were burning at both ends, and our family needed a serious intervention that would force us to relearn how to rest and reconnect again.
We threw around several ideas. Should we buy a camper? But then we would have to buy a bigger truck to pull the camper. How about build a houseboat on top of a pontoon boat and float around in the Tombigbee River? (His idea . . . NOT MINE!! . . . which was quickly vetoed!) Back and forth we bantered around ideas that would force us away from our daily stress-filled life, so we could attempt to learn how to slow down again and rest. In looking into affordable options, God opened the door for us to buy a little lake-side cottage (aka . . . a nearly 20-year-old double-wide mobile home) on the rural Mississippi lake I grew up swimming in as a child. So last summer, we rolled up our sleeves and began cleaning up and updating our little double-wide while also learning to enjoy moments of floating and splashing around in the lake, reconnecting with childhood friends, going to church with family at the church that led me to Jesus, and making memories with our children.
For a solid year, our double-wide dream (as I like to call it!) met all of our needs of rediscovering the importance of rest in our lives. It became a refuge where time slowed down for a moment, so we could focus on the people that really mattered.
Since our little escape is only 10 minutes away from my parents’ home, a few weeks ago, Jeff and I dropped off our kids with them after Sunday lunch and headed back to the lake to spend a couple of nights – kiddo free! I needed to catch up on a bit of writing and didn’t want to waste valuable time driving back to our farm 40 minutes away Monday morning, so I convinced Jeff to wake up, drive to work, fix some dogs and cats, and then drive back to the lake to meet me Monday night.
While Jeff was busy saving animals’ lives, I spent most of my day typing on my laptop. Caught up in writing, I heard some strange noises outside my door, but I managed to tune them out. Then, I heard several voices frantically screaming, and blinking out of my writer’s trance, I threw my computer down and ran outside. Coughing at the smoke-filled air, I looked up and saw more clouds of smoke barreling out of the attic of our next-door neighbor’s home. Friends and neighbors were running around with buckets of water and water hoses, desperately trying to put the fire out. But after several minutes, it became clear that all attempts were in vain as flames began piercing through the rooftop. I called 911 – and told them to hurry.
For over three hours, our rural Mississippi volunteer fire department hustled to put out the fire. Tears were shed. Prayers were said. Curse words were thrown. It was a real-life, as-seen-on-TV drama, and it was also painfully heart-wrenching to watch. Jeff drove up after work to the driveway we share with our neighbor filled with the flashing lights of the firetrucks, strange vehicles scattered throughout our yard, and neighbors standing around watching helplessly – all wishing we could fix a helpless situation. Finally, at 10:30 pm that evening, the fire was out, and we were exhausted. Jeff and I were finally able fall into bed and sleep.
At midnight, I heard Jeff’s phone ring. Unable to wake him and before I could reach over to see who had called, I then heard my phone begin to ring. It was my friend and neighbor who had spent the afternoon with me as we watched the heartbreaking destruction of the fire. She was shouting at me something. Still groggy and waking up, I asked, “What?” She said as she yelled into the phone, ”Macki, you and Jeff have to get out of your house. Rhonda’s house is back on fire. It’s too close to your house. Y’all have to get out now!”
When I walked out of my front door, the heat from the fire hit my face, and smoke filled my lungs. I could hear the hot embers clanking down on our metal roof as I began coughing from the dense smoke that was also beginning to burn my eyes. Looking up, I saw the flamed embers soaring 50 feet up into the pine trees surrounding our houses, beginning to catch one of the tall pines on fire.
I called 911 – Again.
My husband was still delirious, not wanting to wake up. He kept mumbling something about me putting the fire out with our fire hose. Frustrated with his lack of initiative to wake up and leave the house, I began making a lot of noise, hoping to jar him awake. I turned the lights on, grabbed my wedding bands, my dog, my computer, and my daughters’ homeschool books. (It’s funny the things you think to grab when you believe what you own may burn.) By this point, my husband was finally moving around – grumpily – but at least moving. When he touched our outside door to open it and inspect the fire for himself, the doorknob was warm to the touch from the heat of the nearby fire. He quickly knew I wasn’t exaggerating, nor would our water hose help a fire so massive. We both said our good-byes to our little house, thanking it for a fun year, and thinking there was no way the fire would miss reaching it. Then we loaded up our vehicles and moved them from harm’s way.
Amazingly, the firefighters were quick to respond and were able to keep the blaze from spreading. My husband also stood guard, continually soaking our house with water (a use for our water hose!), praying the water would help keep the flames away.
For the second time in one day, we helplessly watched our neighbor’s home burn. This time, however, the flames completely consumed it, crashing the walls to the ground.
We all walked around dazed for several days from the events of that scary night, but after the dust had settled a couple of days later, my neighbor Rhonda messaged me to drive over before the debris was cleared to see the message God left behind on the wall. Impulsively, I loaded up my girls and made the forty-minute drive to the lake the next afternoon, believing God had left a message for me on her wall as well.
I pulled up to our little house, and the smell of smoke was still lingering in the air. Stepping out of my van and over the debris scattered throughout our yard, I walked up to Rhonda’s back patio covered with shattered glass. Peeking through the broken window, her son pointed me in the direction to look toward a simple plaque that had fallen off the wall but was still somehow sitting upright, unharmed, and was the only item in her entire home that survived the fire! Goosebumps prickled my skin when my eyes finally landed upon the message God left. Gently leaning against the wall surrounded by ashes and brokenness, the words of Jeremiah 29:11 written across the plaque boldly shouted, “I know the plans I have for you . . . plans to prosper you, and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”
When you witness a snapshot of such significance, you stop, ponder, and know that God is most certainly in our midst, speaking to those who are willing to listen. Dear friends, never doubt, though God may seem invisible and quiet at times, He is always working and moving in our lives. Throughout scripture, God continually restores beauty from brokenness. Though it may appear we have to nothing to offer Him except our messes, strife, and our dirty ashes, He desires to transform all of our brokenness into a redemption story filled with abundant beauty. ❤️❤️❤️