Exploding Furnaces and Faith

Nothing shakes a parent’s faith like when her kids’ school blows up.

Okay, maybe “blow up” is a little bit of an exaggeration...but not much. Really.

Shortly before Christmas, I got a phone call at noon from Daniel’s teacher. The ancient furnace in the school was smoking oil and sending fumes throughout the school, so all the students had to be out of the building in 15 minutes. I was napping, having been up most of the night before, so I leapt out of bed, tied a scarf around my head, and went to get them.

That was Thursday. Friday, school was cancelled while they replaced the pump on the furnace.

Late Saturday, the furnace exploded. That’s how the school blew up.

Neighbors reported hearing a blast, and authorities came and found the wreckage. The windows had been blown out, and particles from the furnace had blown through the ventilation system, contaminating every single object in the school. No one could enter the building unless they were in full haz-mat gear. It was bad. Needless to say, the school was closed and the kids were “temporarily” sent to other locations.

All that is pretty bad, but in most school districts the furnace would be replaced, the damage repaired, and students would eventually be allowed back in. It would be inconvenient, but not awful. But this is Morrisville school district, land of the Board Who Won’t Spend Money On Anything and who Put Money Before Children.

The current school board got in on the sole platform of reducing school taxes. I mean that literally: it was the ONLY reason they ran. Those of them who have kids, sent them to private school, and they have disdain for the public school. Improving school quality isn’t a priority, just making sure they don’t have to pay much for them. After they got elected in 2007, they went through the already bare-bones budget and cut it more. New textbooks? Overrated. Contingency fund? Who needs it?

Well, you need a contingency fund if your school blows up.

So, what happened is this: They decided to close the school rather than spend money in fixing it. First and second grade were shoved into closets and library and gym in the high school. Daniel’s class went to the YMCA. None of the teachers had anything. All their materials were contaminated in the old building. The school board could have had them cleaned over Christmas break, but the insurance company hadn’t said if they would pay or not yet, so they didn’t want to spend any money on it. So the kids watched movies and did endless worksheets in desks built for teenagers. Emily started saying, “I don’t want to go to school. I miss M.R. Reiter. I want to go back.” She hated going to the high school. I hated taking her there.

Remember 5 posts ago, my glowing tribute to Morrisville and how God had directed us to stay here? The peace and trust I described having? Well, that all went out the window.

“What are we going to do?” I asked Tim. “We can’t stay here. This is horrible. The school board doesn’t care at all about taking care of the kids. It’s only going to get worse and worse. We have to get out of here!” I panicked, because we can’t afford to buy a house anywhere else in Bucks County, and even if we could, I doubt we could sell our house now. We can’t afford private school. I felt like we were stuck here. We started looking into homeschooling options, but that had drawbacks of its own. I felt scared, and worried, and angry at the stupid school board and desperate to get my kids OUT of here.

Slowly, I became aware of a voice at the back of my mind. (not a scary losing-my-mind voice but a figurative one.) I ignored it for a while because I knew what it was going to say, but eventually, I began to listen. This is what I heard.

“Who is Lord of the heavens and the earth? Who are you trusting? Why are you running scared when you know that I directed you to stay put? Do you think this is all a surprise to me? It’s not. Trust, and stop your worrying. You shame the name of Christ by your attitude of anger and worry and fear. Trust me.”

Chastened, there was only one way to reply. Okay, Lord. I trust you. Show me how to serve in my circumstances.

It’s amazing how quickly something we are CONVINCED about can be shaken to the core to the point that we want to throw it away. How easily my peace and contentment were abandoned. What does that say about my faith? I suppose it says that I am just like everyone else: I can hear the voice of God in my life, but sometimes I let my life circumstances speak louder. Sometimes, I let fear rule my choices and attitude rather than what I know to be true. How wonderful it is that we have a God who doesn’t leave us there in our muck of self-reliance and fear, but comes after us and picks up and sets us right again. How wonderful that God is faithful in the face of our faithlessness.

Noting has really changed. Modular units for 8 classrooms were ordered through the insurance company and will be placed at the other elementary school. The 5th grade will move up to the middle/senior high school. Daniel will stay at the YMCA. Daniel’s class has all their stuff - the superintendent made their class a priority. The other teachers are starting to get their supplies. Emily said today that they’ve resumed having reading groups. So, things are less dire - but the school board still doesn’t care that there are old, decaying buildings and not enough room for the students and no realistic long term plan. The bottom line is still the only line for them. The school board is still the school board.

I’m glad I remembered that God is still God.

The furnace room windows at the elementary school

The elementary school, soon to be closed. Looks okay from the outside, but is full of problems on the inside as a result of money not being spent for maintenance over the decades.

Emily, doing her homework.