Last week my company sent me to a home about an hour north of Charlotte to visit with a couple whose home had recently caught on fire. Apparently the fire began in the garage, quickly spread to the kitchen and traveled through the attic before it was able to be contained. By the time I arrived on the scene, 3 days later, the flames were extinguished, the smoke had subsided and the homeowner was left with the task of figuring out what could be saved.
My specific job is to meet with the homeowner, work alongside the insurance adjusters and contractors and try to see what fabric-related items can be salvaged. Traveling through 6 South-Eastern states, I am in fire-damaged homes every week. To date, this one was by far the worst. True, the fire was indeed a bad one. Most of their furniture and possessions were destroyed. But what complicated this one even more was one added element. By anyone’s standard, this couple would be defined as HOARDERS.
It’s bad enough to be in a hoarder’s home on a normal day. It’s truly an eye-opening experience to see a hoarding home damaged by fire. To say it was a mess, would be an understatement. There was a pile of clothes (about 4 feet high) in front of the bedroom closet. In fact, every closet was jammed packed with hanging clothes. Over 2,000 clothes hangers were found strewn in various rooms. Dozens (think 15) of empty shoe boxes littered the home. Even a piano was discovered in another room under another pile of clothes. (Yes, a piano!) I understand that many ladies have a thing for shoes. This hoarding woman is your leader. We discovered over 600 pairs of shoes from this 1400 square foot home. From what I could see, she only had two feet.
Being in the home and interacting with this couple was – at the same time – both disturbing and fascinating. It was a train wreck that I could not stop looking at. It made me realize why we are intrigued by the various reality TV shows. As the couple sat outside their home, a half dozen of us men were in the house doing what we could to help. Two men were focused on structural issues. Two examined the furniture. A fifth man, the insurance adjuster, was there to see what could be claimed. I was interested in the fabric. (There is a sentence I have never said before!) Regardless of why our various companies had sent us, we all were there for one primary reason:
We all were interested in helping this family restore what had been lost.
Walking around their home was overwhelming. Every room desperately needed to be restored. Between the fire, smoke, water and filth, there was literally a gaping black hole of need everywhere we looked. Privately, we joked that the fire department should have just let it burn. The project was so daunting, even the trained professionals weren’t exactly sure how to get started. And honestly, as we looked around – we didn’t see much worth restoring. The clothes were not particularly nice. The furniture was not particularly expensive. Their taste in art work, carpet, and other household items were tacky, at best. No one thought what they had left was worth saving. Fortunately for them, none of us “experts” had a vote as to whether we should try to restore their items. In these situations, value is determined by the homeowner and validated by the insurance company. Our job was not to place value. Our task was simply to restore.
Unsure of what they valued, we brought them bag after bag of clothes from inside the house. Blouse after painstaking blouse, pant after pant, shoe after shoe – Mrs. Hoarder would tell us (one by one) what she was willing to give away and what she still wanted to keep. To be fair, she did surprisingly well – willing to give away over 65 bags of clothing. Sadly, she was not able to part with over 250 bags of clothes – still maintaining her status as a hoarder. As I looked around, I saw a house full of trash. The hoarders clearly saw treasure. I saw a room full of old clothes. They saw a closet full of “Sunday best.” In fact, many of the things they wanted to save – I would have thrown away years ago. Such is the difference of opinion on worth. On this particular day, I learned a lesson about value and who establishes it.
As I have thought about this family over the last week or so, it seems that we often look at others’ personal lives in the same way. We tend to stare at their mess in disbelief. We are shocked to see how they have kept the closet of their heart. We marvel at their once hidden depravity and ponder at the number of sinful “shoes” they have accumulated over the years. How did it get that bad? How did they keep it from others for so long? As we walk through the rooms of their lives, we are overwhelmed with their black hole of need. As we gaze into their moral basement, we are left with two burning questions. The first is asked in a moment of compassion, “How can I help them?” The second question, if we’re honest, is a bit more transparent, “Do I even want to?” For many of us, we are not sure we even want to get involved. I mean, helping a moral hoarder can’t be done from the front lawn. They don’t need money or prayer as much as they need an investment of sweat. At some point, you are going to have to walk in, walk around and begin touching the mess yourself – if you truly want to help. And sadly, for too many of us, we just don’t want that kind of contact with those who are morally messier than us. We begin ignoring phone calls. We stop reaching out. We stop asking dangerous questions like, “How are you?” We quit giving a hand or our shoulder or our ear or our money in hopes that maybe someone else will get involved. We abandon those who need us, not because God released us from the relationship – but simply because we got tired of being in the hoarder’s heart. Let’s face it, it’s just not a comfortable place to dwell. We prefer easy and those who need to be restored are far from it.
As I read the Bible, I see the thread of restoration running through every page.
- Adam & Eve: Before our First Parents were even out of the Garden of Eden, God had restoration on His mind. As He was doling out the consequences for their idolatry, He was also paving the road of restoration back to Himself.
- Israel: As a nation, they abandoned God and as a result were led into a 400+ year bondage at the hands of Pharaoh’s Egypt. God never forgot His chosen people and raised up His rod of restoration, the servant of Moses.
- Jonah: The prophet of God who would rather have died than follow God’s plan for his life. From the “stomach of the fish” and from the “depth of hell,” Jonah “cried for help” and God “answered” him. Why? God could have easily raised up someone else for the task. But that’s not how God works. God doesn’t throw away people or His relationships. We run, God pursues. We ruin. God restores. While we are swimming in our moral abyss, God is preparing our mansion.
- The madman: In Luke 8, we are told that Jesus crossed the Sea of Galilee with His disciples. His men probably assumed they were on another field trip with their Leader. Jesus was actually on a restoration mission and not even a raging storm could stop Him. Waiting on the other side was a man known throughout history as the “demoniac.” If there was any man not “worth the effort,” it would have been him. By all human accounts, he was beyond “saving,” just ask the townspeople who lived near him. In fact, Scripture paints a pretty dim moral portrait describing him as demon-possessed, naked, chained, under guard and living in the tombs. Literally, his home was the community cemetery. Within moments of landing ashore, Jesus rolls up His sleeves and gets to work. With one question, Jesus began the restoration process. Others treated him like an animal. Jesus wanted to know his name. Seconds later, he is a new creation – “sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind.” Such is the effect of a messed up life in the path of a restoring God.
I think about restoration a lot these days. For starters, I’m in need of it. I’m a man who understands what it’s like to cling to the bottom knot of a moral rope… and then let go. Again and again. Foolishly, I have spent time with “bad company” and like the Bible predicted, it corrupted “good character.” (I Corinthians 15:33) Like a negligent captain, I have run my moral ship aground and have, as a result, lost my most precious cargo. The lyrics to the song “In the Light” by DC Talk resonate with me:
I keep trying to find a life
On my own, apart from You
I am the king of excuses
I’ve got one for every selfish thing I do
The disease of self runs through my blood
It’s a cancer fatal to my soul
Every attempt on my behalf has failed
To bring this sickness under control
What’s going on inside of me?
I despise my own behavior
This only serves to confirm my suspicions
That I’m still a man in need of a Savior
Ironically, I drive a company vehicle with the word “restoration” on it. Every day I am in a home that has experienced tremendous loss. Every day I interact with people who know what it’s like to lose something precious to them. A few have lost loved ones. All have lost possessions. Some have lost hope. Whether it was fire damage from a stove, smoke damage from an appliance, soot damage from a chimney or water damage from a busted pipe, my entire focus all day, every day is restoration. As I walk through devastating home after devastating home, the one question that permeates my work is “What can be restored here?” I find myself asking the same question in life; for me and others.
How fitting, I thought. I was struck with the irony. Yes, it is the name of a franchise business. But it’s also the name of my God. This company restores furniture, my God restores lives. The business does it for money, God does it for glory. And this company operates their business just as God operates His, one person at a time.
Whether you live in the cemetery, struggle with an addiction, wrestle with your tongue or your temper or battle a bitter spirit, restoration is on the heart and agenda of God. And if it’s on His mind and schedule, it should be on ours too.
“This is all that restoration requires most of the time, that one person not give up.” - Anne Lamott
“Then I will make up to you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten.” (Joel 2:25)