For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die … a time to break down, and a time to build up… –Ecclesiastes 3:1-3
On the morning of August 24, 2008, our home telephone line rang much too early. My husband, Pete, was in the shower getting ready for work, and so I answered the phone. It was an employee of his company, who also happened to be a friend. On that particular morning, his normal friendly, chatty tone was not there. All he said was, “Can I talk to Pete?” It was obvious something was wrong, and so I hurried to hand the phone to my husband, and then watched as his face fell and a look of panic and fear came into his eyes. He said, “I’m on my way,” and hung up the phone.
“The (office) building is on fire … I’ve got to get down there,” he said as he threw on some clothes and headed for the door. Needless to say, there was no time for questions, and I already knew he didn’t know anything more than he’d been told. My heart raced and my mind whirled around with thoughts and fears. I said a quick prayer, and then had to continue making breakfast and bagged lunches for our three daughters in order to get them ready for school.
My morning routine, however, always included watching the Today Show, so the TV was on and on the next local news segment, I saw the flames and smoke with my own eyes. The NBC helicopter was circling the office building that housed the company that my husband had owned and led for 11 years; the building that housed the company that provided for our livelihood, and that of the more than 100 employees who worked there; the building that housed the company in which my husband (and really, our family) had invested so much of our time and treasure in and had sacrificed so much for; the building that housed the company that we thought held our future. Those are the thoughts that coursed through me as I watched the commotion; but luckily, I knew it was also the building that housed the company that my husband considered his ministry. I knew he had honored God in the way he ran the company, both internally and externally, and that God would be with us and promised to work this for good (Romans 8:28).
And He did.
I would come to find out later that God was comforting my husband with that same verse. Even though Pete admits that he was thinking “everything I have worked for might be lost” as he arrived at the building, he says he also knew “my identity wasn’t invested in that business. If I hadn’t known that I would have been in the fetal position.”
He remembers saying a flash prayer: “Ok, God, where are we going with this? What’s the plan?” And then, he says, “Romans 8:28 came to mind, and I trusted God that something good would come out of this.”
Interestingly, the fire came at a time immediately after my husband had committed to devoting more time and energy to kingdom causes. He had just hired a president of the company (someone to replace himself in the day-to-day, while he would continue to serve as CEO); his intention was to create more margin in his schedule so that he could serve others and share his gifts outside the company more often. Pete was excited about the plan and had spent the last few months (before the fire) laying the groundwork for it to be possible. As smoke poured out of the building, he says it was hard to not question why God would be allowing this to happen.
But we all know that God works in mysterious ways, and even in the calamity of the fire, He was there. Pete’s company was (he has since sold it) an employee engagement software platform for Fortune 1000 companies, so his computer systems and servers were the lifeblood of the business; and by God’s grace, they never went down. His technology team had convinced him not too long before the fire to install a firewall and cooling system around the servers. At the time, Pete thought it was “overkill” and “not worth the money,” but consented; without those protective systems, everything would have been lost. The fire, which started from a space heater left on overnight under a desk, primarily damaged the corporate office areas (the servers were spared, the inventory was spared, and the manufacturing and shipping areas were spared) which were, without a doubt, the easiest thing to replace. Temporary buildings were brought in, restoration teams began their work, and plans were drawn for the rebuild.
While obvious, I think it’s worth noting that the definition of rebuild is to “build something again after it has been damaged or destroyed.” I also think it’s interesting to note that often when we “rebuild” we don’t build it back exactly like it was. We use the opportunity, provided by the rebuild, to change the things that we had wished were different in the original design. We add an electrical plug where we needed one before but didn’t have one. We open up the wall between the kitchen and the family room for more “open living.” We turn the garage into an office. So improvement is, in essence, part of rebuilding! We build back stronger, better, more efficient. We learn from our mistakes or the flaws in the “old design,” and the result is a finished product that is even better than the one we started with!
That certainly was the case with Pete’s office. The company had grown and evolved since he had moved into that office. They were needing a larger conference room; they needed more desks in customer service; they needed a more substantial break room, etc. The fire forced them to rebuild, but left them with the opportunity to redesign the space to better fit their needs and the insurance money with which to pay for it! God blessed Pete, and the company, through the trial of the fire. Pete says, “While that experience was incredibly painful, it brought my team together like never before, gave us the time and opportunity to evaluate how we wanted to redesign the office space, and ultimately ended up launching a period of incredible growth in both the company and my faith.”
Now, what I have failed to acknowledge so far, is the fact that the rebuilding process itself can be messy! The starting point, whether the “demolition” is forced, as in a fire, or intentional, as in a planned home remodel, is often barren (“stripped down to the studs” as they say), dusty, cold and dark. Progress can be slow; there are often “setbacks” and unexpected hurdles or complications; and it always comes with a price. In addition, it can be hard to imagine what the finished product will look like, and how all of the moving parts will ultimately come together, when all you see is the debris and disarray. But slowly, but surely, with intentionality and hard work (and usually a group of people working together, not alone), the pieces come together. Sometimes it takes months, sometimes it takes years, but a day will come when the project is over and you are finally able to enjoy the end result.
As Christians, we believe that God is, in fact, the architect of our lives, so it makes sense that His plans override our plans. When He schedules, calls for or allows a rebuilding period in our lives, the more we can embrace the challenge, lean into the process, and work with and trust in God that something good will come of it, the more beautiful the end result will be! After all, we are told in Matthew 7:24 that “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” He is, without a doubt, our firm foundation! And to take this building/construction analogy even further, is it lost on anyone that Jesus Himself was a carpenter while here on Earth? Interestingly, according to my study Bible notes, the word that is translated as carpenter can also mean builder or laborer.
If we are to rebuild anything — our Christian life, our church life, our marriage, our career, our concern for those around us, our home, our office or our life in general — we must do it with the help of THE carpenter; we must pray and put our plans in the hands of the Lord (Proverbs 21:1).
Isaiah 43:2-3 promises, “When you walk through the fire you shall not be burned and the flames shall not consume you. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
I also like what Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Ministries says about trials: “It’s a great thing to know that when the Lord lets His children go through a fiery trial, He always keeps an eye on them and an eye on the thermostat!”
We serve a “great and awesome God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love Him and His commandments.” May His “ear be attentive and his eyes open to hear the prayers of His servants” (Nehemiah 1:5-6). And may we, His humble servants, be ever ready to work … to build and to rebuild … to bring glory to His name; and may we always feel His presence during times of trial.