It was 1945 in a rural community near Jacksonville, Fla. My family was gathered around our radio on a damp, chilly winter night to listen to news on the progress of the war. Later, we all went to bed. Just another average day for an average 7-year-old boy.
But in the middle of the night I felt a tug on my blanket. Our dog was vigorously attempting to wake my brother and me. As we got up, I heard strange sounds coming from the attic. I went to my parents' room to alert them. In less than a minute my dad was in the kitchen frantically throwing pans of water at the ceiling in an attempt to extinguish flames moving down the walls. My brother and I were quickly taken to my uncle's home across the driveway. I'll never forget the surreal scene of what appeared to be a large ball of fire roaring and twisting inside our house. We could feel the heat from my uncle's porch at least 50 yards away. When help arrived, the fire was too advanced to save our house. The fire department determined the cause to be a short circuit in the attic wiring.
Some things a fire destroys can't be replaced by insurance. We lost special things of no value to anyone but my family: years of photos, personal papers and irreplaceable heirlooms. Your home is a special place where you can feel safe and secure. But that was gone now—just a memory. A family's recovery from such disruption in their lives can be a real struggle, emotionally and physically.
My family visited the site of the fire after days of smoldering and cooling. The devastation was unbelievable. Steel and glass melted. Even brick mortar turned to powder. Nothing was salvageable. The chimney stood alone over the rubble beneath, a painful reminder of what was once our home.
As a result of smoke inhalation and exposure to the weather, I was hospitalized with double pneumonia. But the sulfa drugs available then weren't working. Hope for survival was fading, and my father, a druggist, began searching for a more effective medication. He knew of a firm in Atlanta that might help and explained his desperate situation. The company was sympathetic and airmailed a new "miracle drug" called penicillin, recently placed on the market. I began to show signs of recovery after a week of injections every four hours. In celebration of my recovery, our family doctor cut out a purple cardboard heart, put a string through it and placed it around my neck. No 7-year-old could have felt more proud — and thankful to be alive.
Miracles come in many forms. Too often we see them only in terms of miraculous or inexplicable happenings in our lives. My childhood memories of this event have shown me the "miracles of timing." If a little dog named Buddy had not awakened our family only minutes before, the ceiling of our burning house would have fallen on us. And if a scientist named Alexander Fleming had not "accidentally" discovered a lifesaving mold just years before I was born, I don't think I'd be sharing this story.
Sometimes God just lets things happen — just in time.
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers