Lessons from a Burning Van

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Last Saturday, we planned to take the kids on a special family day up in Blowing Rock. It turned into an unforgettable day, but not in any way I’d expected. Near the top of the mountain road, the transmission seal broke on the van and when it started smoking, my husband (Brian) pulled off the road. By the time he stopped, the smoke billowed all around the van and was even coming inside, so I told the kids we should get out until it settled down.

We walked a bit away and when I turned, I saw liquid fire dropping from the hood to the gravel. I yelled to Brian, who was still at the van planning to look under the hood, and we all got away from the van. The hood caught on fire. I kept expecting it to die down, but the wind blew and the fire spread. The windshield exploded, pockets of fuel burned bright and loud, and we watched the van melt.

I stood there looking at the spot where my little girl’s booster seat had been and just thanked God for His protection. There are so many small things and big things God did right then and since then to show us His goodness that I don’t want to forget, so here I am…

I’ve been teaching the children that if you learn from something, it is not wasted, and I don’t want to waste this. I don’t want to miss or forget all the things God showed us about Himself and His people through what some people might consider a tragedy. God can always take terrible things and turn them into something beautiful. Here are some of the lessons to be learned from the day our van burned…

1. You can’t avoid all the things you fear, or even things you haven’t thought to fear yet. I struggle with fearing for my kids, for their safety, for their protection from evil. I worry about them riding their bikes on the road, or playing out where I can’t see them. I never thought to worry about our van burning to a crisp. Me worrying cannot help them or protect them. Only God can keep them safe.

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2. You can’t take a day, or life itself, for granted. We make plans, but only God knows the number of our days. Make sure you’ve loved as you should love, you’ve forgiven and asked for forgiveness. Don’t leave things undone, because life can change instantly.

3. Fire is terrifying. People passing by were surely sobered by seeing a vehicle melting away to a charred shell. It surely brought thoughts of life and death, of heaven and hell. That fire was out of control, and we could do nothing to stop it. The thought of any person facing that in eternity is more than terrifying. I don’t want anyone, anyone, facing that. It gives a reminder how much we should care about reaching the lost for Christ while there is still time.

4. Treasure on earth can be destroyed in an instant. My wallet was in the van, and my phone, and my camera. All those things got incinerated. There’s nothing left. The Bible teaches that we should place our treasure in heaven, where things aren’t destroyed or stolen. Things here on earth not only cannot satisfy, they don’t even last.

5. Stuff is just stuff. Things can be replaced. People can’t. I’m so grateful for God’s protection for my family.

6. What’s weak will be revealed when tested. That van we bought used last month looked great, but when it faced the test of taking us up a mountainous road, the weakness in the transmission ended up destroying it. We might be able to look good to others, but if there is stuff we haven’t let God have, it’s going to show up when things get hard.

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7. God is above the chaos of my present circumstances. As we waited for help to come, a beautiful yellow butterfly flew by. It gave me such a sense of peace, that what was happening right now was just a circumstance, but God was still God, He still had beauty all around me, and was still in control.

8. The thought patterns we have trained ourselves to have will either help us or hurt us when the crisis comes. We’ve been trying to teach our children to look at situations and see what can be learned. We also memorized the verses about having treasure in heaven. Both came to the surface as I stood there with my arms around my kids watching flames consume the van. What came out was not what a tragedy this was, but what a reminder it was to have treasure in heaven, because treasure on earth can go just like that. In the midst of the crisis would not be the time to start trying to think rightly.

And do not be conformed to this world,

but be transformed by the renewing of your mind... Romans 12:2

9. Memories can be routed by choice. Renewing your mind as the Scriptures say is teaching yourself with practice to think with an eternal perspective (Romans 12). The more we do it, the easier it is to look at things which on the surface seem terrible, and instead see God and goodness in them. That night when we got ready for bed, the kids mentioned maybe having nightmares or seeing the picture of the fire in their minds. I told them that instead of letting that be something that makes them afraid, to let it remind them how God protected us, and use it as a reason to praise Him. Most of us have memories or fears that plague us. We can choose to change our inner response to them, according to the truth of the Scriptures, and that’s how the truth sets us free. We don’t have to be imprisoned by our emotional response. We can reroute it by choice to something good.

…bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

10. There will always be if onlys. If only we had stopped sooner. If only I had grabbed our stuff before we got out of the van. If only…. Anyone who has lost anything knows how those if onlys can plague the mind. But again, if we truly believe God is in control, we can give Him all the “I wish I had”s and “If only”s and let Him hold them.

11. There will always be unanswered “why”s. Why did God let this happen? Why a fire? There’s no telling why God allowed this to happen. Maybe someone who passed by got right with God when they saw the fire. Maybe we would have gotten into a head-on collision a mile up the road and been killed. Maybe God wanted to show my children how amazing their spiritual family is. Maybe He wanted to reward all the people who responded and gave. Maybe He wanted to teach me to give Him my fears. All of the above? It’s not my job to decide why God did something, but to trust that His hand is around us and under us, and nothing can touch us without His knowledge and Him being able to put purpose and good in it. (Psalm 139)

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12. God’s people care. From the moment of the fire, we saw God’s people in action. They stopped and offered to help. They brought us water and snacks. They have given and given and given. And here’s something amazing. We lost treasure on earth when that van burned up. It was money just gone and we didn’t have the money to replace it. Had we scrimped and saved and worked to buy a replacement (which of course was the plan), it would just be another treasure on earth. BUT, God’s people are giving, and because they are giving to Jesus, not really for a van, every since penny of that is treasure in heaven! Our new van is going to be a tangible visual to my family forever of God’s people sacrificing their own treasure on earth to have treasure in heaven instead. And though we can’t repay all these people, and I am so humbled by their generosity and care, I know for sure that the God who owns all things will reward them over and above what they gave. 

Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you. Luke 6:38

13. God can turn anything, even loss, into something beautiful. We have been overwhelmed by the love shown to us since this happened. And now there are all these people who have more treasure in heaven because they responded to our need. Our children have seen God provide in a way they will never forget. I, and others, have been reminded what a precious, irreplaceable treasure our children are. There are so many good things God has created out of what felt far from good at the time.

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When I look back on these pictures and the memory of this day, I don’t think I will ever see it as a bad thing again. God took our need and made it an opportunity to show His goodness and love.

Only God can do something like that. I praise Him, thank Him, and hope I don’t forget the lessons learned from our burning van.

 

For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand,

saying to you,

Fear not, I will help you. Isaiah 41:13

 

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