This story is adapted and quoted from Anne Lamott’s book “Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope and Repair.”
Fifteen years ago, there was a devastating fire on a ridge above a coastal town. Four teenage boys from town had camped on the mountain overnight, and ille¬gally built a campfire. The next morning they buried it under dirt when they left, but it caused a blaze that destroyed 12,000 acres of wilderness area, nearly 50 homes, and unimaginable loss of wildlife. The kids who'd accidentally started the fire turned themselves in early on, with their parents beside them. Then a firefighter wrote a letter to the local paper, about how carefully the boys had tried to put out the fire. The flames had been extinguished, but embers were still burning under¬ground. The boys hadn't known this could be a fire danger when they left. After that, an amazing thing happened, as the townspeople shared their loss and pain, they also told stories of their worst teenage mistakes and trans-gressions. A picnic was held to honor the firefighters, and the whole town turned out. The president of the board of firefighters gave a speech, but at the very end he digressed and talked about how in ancient times, people who did damage to a town were sent to live outside its walls, beyond community, beyond inclusion, and beyond protection. He men¬tioned that he heard that the families of the four young men who had started the fire were think¬ing of moving away. His opinion was that the town should make it clear to the families that they should stay, that they were wanted, that they were needed. There was sustained ap¬plause. People whose houses had burned down came up to say they agreed with this plan. The town wanted these young men inside the ring of protection. Anne Lamott noted, “When you see a community com¬ing together after a catastrophe, the round-the-clock efforts to save what¬ever can be saved, you realize the se¬cret of life is patch, patch, patch. Thread your needle, make a knot, and find one place on the other piece of torn cloth where you can make one stitch that will hold. And do it again. And again. And again!”
Several things came to mind as I read this story:
First, the courage of the young men to admit their mistakes, tells me something about their character. Far too often we hide or cover up our mistakes and sins, but these young men took responsibility for their actions. What a rare quality today- actually admitting their mistake.
Second, this story reveals aspects of forgiveness, where we allow people who hurt us to still be part of our lives. When someone fails, they shouldn’t be cast out beyond the walls of our church. Forgiveness brings reconciliation and restoration to broken, hurting, sinful people. If we cast every sinner out of our life or the church-no one would be left!
Third, this story reveals the importance of community. We need people, and people need us. The church is an amazing place where different people come together to worship their God, care for one another, share with one another, and meet the needs of those who are hurting.
Fourth, this story reveals that our life is filled with patches. Since we are imperfect people, we all have our history of mistakes. When you see a hole in the wall of a house or a tear in some fabric- you patch it. If not, you will always notice the hole or tear. Likewise, in life there are many holes and tears that left alone will constantly haunt you. By God’s grace, they can be patched with confession, forgiveness, restitution, and love. The scars are real, but so is hope that you can be healed and go on.
Finally, this story reveals love and acceptance. We all can think of a time when we felt embarrassed and ashamed, because of some foolish or sinful situation. It would be easy to think about moving away and starting over. When tragedy strikes, this is when the body should step up and show grace and; not push people away in shame. Biblical love is moving beyond the barriers, and loving others as Christ loved us.
-Pastor Mike Kotrla