Unforced Rhythms of Grace by Chris

Noise is hard. Drama is hard. One of my favorite TV shows is The Walking Dead. I have a slight fascination with zombie based lore. Our fire was on a Friday, the new season premiered two days later on Sunday. I haven’t been able to watch a single episode. Watching a show that places me in a state of panic, even if it’s just imaginary, does not feel good. One day I’ll watch it, and until that day comes I will avoid every single spoiler. But for now, noise is hard.

I’m feeling similar ways about music. We listened to a lot of Disney soundtracks post fire. A LOT. I know every word to every song from Muana. I think Disney music has been easy, it’s mostly light and kid friendly and it is not heavy.

Since the fire my car radio has been exclusively tuned to a Christian radio station here in Houston. Again, because it’s uplifting and light and I don’t have to hear about the latest hollywood drama on the morning show, because I just don’t care, and I cannot handle Hollywood’s very very loud noise.

This morning, after dropping Issa off at VBS (Vacation Bible School for those not well versed in Christianese), they had a special guest, Darren Mulligan, a Christian artist I hadn’t heard of, he was speaking of Ireland in his very lovely Irish accent and he mentioned something called thin places. It’s an Irish term meaning the rare places on Earth where the distance between Earth and heaven seem to be a little bit closer. I’ve seen a few of these place. They are the places where you feel God more and I love that I now have a term for them.

Darren, about to perform a song live, made a statement that immediately made tears pour from my face. “Lay your head on His chest and let Him be greater than your own forgiveness.” I pulled into our neighborhood balling. He started to sing his song. I pulled into the driveway of our burned house, half out of muscle memory and half because I couldn’t see through the tears enough to make it safely to our rent house. I sat in my car in the driveway and balled through his entire song.

Guilt is a funny thing. Guilt clings to you. It clings to you like a giant ball of sticky black tar. I remember walking along beach of the Gulf of Mexico as a child and my mother would warn me to avoid the tar balls, “if it gets on your feet it’s very hard to get off.” It wasn’t until adulthood when it hit me that tar, on a beach, can be a product of an oil spill. They also occur naturally, when the earth decides to spew out a bit of crude oil from itself.

I wish I could spew off the guilt, but instead it sticks and clings. The guilt I carry clings to me like a tar ball. It rolls around, sometimes it’s incredibly apparent, sitting on my shoulders, weighing me down. Other times it behind me, hanging around on my back, not in the forefront of my mind, not in view, but still there. Other times it squishes itself out of ball form and covers me, it oozes over my chest, around my arms, onto my face covering my eyes, it fills my lungs. It encapsulates me.

What’s left of our house, on the inside, is black. Our home, the place we built is covered in a layer of smoke, and ash and soot and tar. When wood burns it creates tar. Tar covers our home. It covers our walls, clothes, furniture, daughter’s toys, our memories, it covers me.

Marla has said I need to forgive myself for leaving the candle lit. For forgetting. Bill has said it too. So has my mom, my dad, friends, family, even strangers. “It was an accident. It could have happened to anyone. People leave candles lit all the time. You didn’t do it on purpose.” They all say these things to me, but in my head it’s simple, it’s a lesson you learn early on, it’s a lesson I’ve recently been teaching my daughter. Your actions have consequences, it’s called cause and effect. I lit a candle. I was negligent and forgot to blow it out, ergo my house burned down. In the simplest of forms, an action I did caused this tragedy to my family.

“Lay your head on His chest and let Him be greater than your own forgiveness.”

Let Him be greater than your own forgiveness.

I go to our burned house often. I shared this recently on Instagram, but before then, noone really knew. Most times I sit in the driveway in my car. Often I cry. Sometimes I yell at God. Sometimes I curse the smoke and the fire and the mold. Every single time I pray. I don’t stay long, 10, 20, 30 minutes max. But I sit.

The jews do something called sitting shiva, for seven days after a loved one has passed they just sit, family and friends join them. They mourn and they comfort each other. For a long time I thought this is what I was doing at our burned house. But I realize now that it’s not, not entirely, mostly because every time I sit there, I sit alone.

I remember early on in my college years we learned about the history of our university. Oral Roberts, the founder, would go and walk the land and pray, long before a university was ever built there. The story goes that he would pray for the vision God had given him, for the students that were to come, and for all the unknowns that would need to happen for his dream to become reality. Often I pray these same things over our burned house when I sit there. I pray for the unknowns, the budget, the really large dreams we have for the new build, for the architectural plans we’ve developed, for the workers who will be on site, for the memories we will make in the new space.

For me, our burned house is a thin place. It’s not beautiful, it does not smell lovely, but it’s a place, where in this tragedy I see God very very clearly. It’s a place where the barrier between heaven and earth is a tad bit thinner because my husband made it out alive when everyone said he shouldn’t have. It’s the place where I have to forgive myself and scrub the guilt from my body. That house and I are connected. I truly believe that as it is demolished and as the frame of the new house goes up and the walls and plumbing and electrical and paint and everything gets rebuilt, fresh and new, so will I be rebuilt.

In the meantime I will sit in the driveway and cry, or pray or yell or sing, and I will rest on God’s chest and allow his forgiveness to be greater than my own. I will sit by the pool in our rent house at night, after Issa is asleep and watch the course of the evening unfold and I will rest, through this I will learn to live freely and lightly, because of this we are forever changed.

Our burned house and the rendition of our new house from our architect.


  1. Blisandt on June 29, 2017 at 6:01 pm

    Thank you for baring yourself to us here. I am sure it helps, but I am also sure it hurt to do. I too have a “thin place” but had no word for it until know. I too spent many hours there, “rending my soul” (instead of my clothing as the Jewish tradition also does). I have emerged. I believe you will also. In the meantime, be kind to yourself. And thank you.

  2. Charlene Smith on June 29, 2017 at 6:34 pm

    In HIndu mythology Vinata, the daughter of the Hindu god, Daksha, says: “Nothing ever ends because everything leaves a residue, and every residue is a new beginning.”
    The residue is your home. The new beginning is the renewed attention you are giving to life. To valuing and not taking for granted anything or anyone around us. Sometimes God comes and smacks us, smacks us hard because we’re not paying attention. This was your wake up call.
    When I received my slap from God, I relied on Vinata’s words and these from Albert Camus: “In the midst of my darkest winter I found within, an indestructible summer.”
    I wish you and your family indestructible summers in your hearts and your lives – and the new house, wow, so beautiful. Already the gifts are coming. You’re paying attention, that’s all He wanted 😉

  3. Lancia Smith on June 29, 2017 at 7:29 pm

    Thank you for sharing such grace out of so much pain. Your vulnerability is a blessing. May God give you truly Beauty for Ashes, and restore to you always more than you have lost.

  4. Lael Arrington on June 29, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    What a hard journey, Chris. Thank you for putting it into such poignant, expressive words and images. Such destruction. Tar. Such hope. House plans. May God truly heal your heart and give you “a future and a hope.”

  5. Gillian McLaren on June 30, 2017 at 11:32 am

    Thanks for sharing this, Chris

  6. Joy Jordan-Lake on June 30, 2017 at 12:27 pm

    What a beautiful and profound reflection on what matters…and what doesn’t. I am grateful for the way you have let beauty rise from the ashes of this tragedy, and the way you have shared this beauty with the rest of us!

  7. Cheryl Pratz on June 30, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    I have heard the term “thin places” before, but never heard it described so well. I have been lucky enough to experience it myself. I wish you peace and comfort through this difficult and challenging time.

  8. Cathi Deal on July 6, 2017 at 10:29 am

    Hi, Chris, I was just checking up on how things are going– don’t ever question, but I’m here and will listen! If there is anything you need, I’m here. What size is Issa? I’m getting set to make a summery outfit for a friend and it’s easy to do two. Favorite color? Favorite animal? If there’s anything I can help you with, call. My number is 832-289-4490. Take care! BTW, spray Grannick’s Bitter Apple on anything you don’t want the puppy to chew on. If it doesn’t work, brush hot sauce on them, being cautious.that it will stain. Our Golden, Josh, loved metal and discovered that he could chew on the cooling lines for the central air. One day, he literally knocked on our back door. I couldn’t figure out why they were there, but when I saw Joshie standing there, downspout in his mouth I had to laugh . I went to Ed and told him that a little boy was at the back door and I thought he wanted to play! He learned to paint hot sauce on that line the moment rain stopped! Have a great day,

    Cathi Deal