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TITLE: Tested by Fire and Mud
By Betsy Tacchella

Our beautiful, newly built home stood nestled among the rolling hills of northern California. Golden grasses waved in the breeze, hardy oak trees majestically dotted the landscape and a quiet creek trickled in the ravine below. Our eyes feasted on the beauty around us.

It was moving day. While my husband, Bill, and our older daughter, Kim, ran some errands, our younger daughter, Laurie, and I confronted the task of unpacking. Moving from box to box, arranging and rearranging, we enjoyed light conversation and the fun of settling into our new home. How fleeting this tranquil moment. Abruptly our peaceful afternoon ended. Laurie stood fixed, a startled look on her face as she stared out the bedroom window. The panic in her voice escaped me at first.

"Mommy," she hesitated with a catch in her voice. Then with high pitched alarm, "the hill behind our house is on fire!" Sure it is, I thought nonchalantly, her words not registering in my preoccupied mind. To appease her, I pulled myself up from the scattered boxes and peered out the window. My heart pounded as I stood in immobilized panic. Riveting my gaze on the roaring fire, I watched as it quickly devoured the dry, golden grasses surrounding our home. Stunned for a moment, we both stood frozen watching the raging flame eat its way toward our house. Shaken with fear, we moved to action bounding down the stairs to call the fire department.

No phone! We had no phone service yet! My hands trembled as I grabbed Laurie and my car keys, all the while imagining our beautiful home going up in flames. Dashing out of the house, we lunged into the car and sped down the hill to a friend's house. Would we contact the fire department in time?

How quickly I forgot that the previous night we had gathered with some close friends to dedicate our new home to the Lord. We knew this house was a gift from Him. The chain of events that led to building it proved that. When we had looked for a lot to build on, we found several that we liked, but the one we really wanted was this one surrounded by acres of rolling hills. We spent hours pondering how nice it would be to own it, but we were told it had been sold and others were ahead of us on a waiting list.

We had committed our hopes to the Lord and prayed that somehow that lot could be ours. It didn't look hopeful, but we weren't going to "have not because we asked not." Several months passed. One evening as Bill and I played tennis, our realtor dashed out of his nearby office and sprinted toward us. "It's yours," he yelled, "if you still want it!"

He explained that through an unusual set of circumstances our name had come to the top of the list. What a wonderful surprise! We began building our dream home right away. Now, however, it appeared our special dwelling place from God would burn to the ground. Envisioning only charred remains, my faith plummeted.

Parking in a friend's driveway, Laurie and I quickly rushed to the door. Without knocking we burst into Bev's family room. Out of control I screamed hysterically, "I have to call the fire department; our house is in the path of a grass fire.!" Shaking badly and incoherent from fear, I had trouble finding the number in the phone book. Fumbling, I misdialed twice.

Busy! The fire department line was busy! After what seemed an endless time of dialing and redialing, help was on the way.

"Pray, Bev," I cried as we dashed to our car. "Pray God will change the wind to blow the other direction where there are no houses." Frantically I prayed, too, but it seemed so empty, so hollow.

By now friends and old neighbors saw the fire spreading and gathered at our house to help. Scaffolding left by the builders served as a ladder to the roof. Hooking up a hose, one fellow clambered his way up and began watering the shingles. Others sprinted up the hill, sickles and shovels ready to cut down grass and dig trenches in an effort to stop the fire. Soon Bill arrived home and also attempted to ward off the fast approaching flames. I remained in the driveway ... crying. My faith seemed weak and I felt helpless.

At one point I raised my tear soaked eyes to assess the situation. As I looked around I thought it appeared the fire had begun to move in a different direction. Blinking several times to see more clearly, yes, there was a change taking place in the wind pattern. Where it had previously curled up over the hill blowing smoke and flames straight for our house, it was now moving in the opposite direction. A thought pierced my soul. God had never intended to allow the destruction of our house. This was a test and my faith had failed miserably. Whose house was this anyway? I reminded myself of how we had dedicated it to the Lord. Now I clutched it as though it were mine and God couldn't be trusted. In a time of crisis I had not exercised faith; I had panicked.

The crisis passed but several firemen remained on the hill all night watching the seventy burned acres. Their muted conversation quietly drifted down the hill as they watched for any renewed sparks. I also sat up all night watching and waiting. The thick smell of smoke permeated the air and wafted throughout the house. As the hours passed by, I pondered what kind of Christian I was if I couldn't stand in faith during a trial. A friend later helped me when she encourated me with "This is how we grow, Betsy. God doesn't expect us to suddenly be mature in every area of our lives." Reflecting on her words, I determined in my heart that the next crisis would find me prepared with faith.

A wonderful year and a half passed but now due to a job transfer, we prepared for another move. With the "For Sale" sign properly placed in the yard, we awaited the realtor's open house. Though it was an overcast rainy day, we felt confident the house would show well. As we left for the day, we anticipated returning to find a "Sold" sign in the yard. After all, scores of people had wanted this lot at first.

As we arrived home on that dark, rainy evening, a nervous, pacing realtor met us in the driveway. "You'll never guess what happened!" he anxiously exclaimed. Confident he was about to tell us he had sold the house, we prodded him on. "Well," he began, "I was showing the house to a couple when another lady called down from the master bedroom, 'Have you ever had problems with mud slides in this area?' Laughingly, I assured her that we've never had that problem here."

"Oh, my!" she yelled as she peered out the window. "Well you do now!"

The realtor continued, "At that moment a huge section of earth slid down into your back yard. Only the now half toppled wood fence kept it from oozing closer to the house."

Upon hearing his tale, we rushed into the house, grabbed a flashlight and headed out back. Sure enough, there it was, a twenty foot wide hole in the hill and tons of mud pressing against our fence, slowly creeping into the back yard. My immediate response almost surprised me. I laughed! Instantly I recalled the fire and how God had been faithful even when I was faithless. Seeing the mud slide, my faith soared. What a challenge to trust God! Reason and intellect told me that it would be impossible to sell this house now. Someone would have to be crazy to buy a house with a sliding hill and no guarantee the mud wouldn't be in the house with the next rain.

"Lord," I prayed, "we know you have called us to move. You have just made it perfectly clear again that this is your house and you will take care of selling it. Thank you." We knew at that moment that if this house sold it would clearly be God's doing.

The next day we looked out the window at the still oozing mud slide. Even with some clean up, the hole in the hill remained obvious. There was no mistake about what had happened. We continued to pray each day, "Thank you Lord that you are bigger than a mud slide. We rely on you for the sale of this house."

Within one week we had two offers and sold the house for our asking price. God had truly worked a miracle. But I wonder which was the greater miracle... that He sold a house with a mud slide, or that He changed my heart from panic to peace, from little faith to trust in the Lord?
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