[we only had so much spare change for copies of our Christmas letter and stamps…some of you got this in the mail. if you didn’t, that doesn’t mean we don’t love you, it means we ran out of quarters. but we still want to share our story with anyone who wants to listen. what follows are reflections on the year. and what a year it’s been!]
In the midst of the shock and horror of September 11th, I remember hearing about something called a blackberry for the first time. People were using them to get messages to their friends and families as they struggled through the rubble. I recall stunned reporters reading text messages (which seemed to me like some new way of emailing) as the reality of what happened unfolded. Sometimes the messages were things like ‘trying to get to the lower floors’ or ‘made it out’ but most often they were simple declarations or requests like ‘I love you’ or ‘give the kids a kiss for me.’ It is amazing how the shock of tragedy makes things really clear. And while the lesson of that day is that evil and suffering are real, it is also that God is good and that people will surprise you with their kindness and courage and love and grace.
On August 13, 2010 (and the days that followed), my family experienced devastation, God’s protection, and the surprising kindness of countless people. It happened in a way we would never have chosen but God is using it for good. A few days ago, I came across the text I sent to family and a few friends around 6 that evening: “House just burned. Everyone ok. Pls pray. Will call when I can.” I’m definitely not saying that what my family went through compares with the horrors of the attacks of 2001 but I do believe there are some lessons that they have in common.
Our fire started on the lowest level of our deck. It was around 100 degrees outside and hadn’t rained in weeks. By the time the fire worked its way up to the house where we could see it from inside it was an unstoppable blaze. I was getting dressed to go out to dinner with Kyle’s parents who had arrived for a visit just a few hours earlier. When I came out of my room, flames covered the kitchen window that was already cracking from the heat and I saw sparks and smoke raining into the study at the top of the stairs. Dark and choking smoke poured into the kitchen and living room. I had time to grab my purse and Barnes and get out with Carolyn and Billy. We had no chance to grab photo albums, quilts, books, anything. Carolyn and I were both struggling to dial 911 with shaking fingers. My family is unspeakably grateful that Kyle still has a mom and dad who are alive and well.
And even as precious things began to be consumed by the flames, God started doing amazing things. As we tumbled out the front door (Billy and I without shoes), a friend of Torey’s from her high school youth group was walking up to the house. Devin and a friend were driving past and happened to glance over from the highway and see the fire—probably before we did. I am very thankful he stopped and amazed at God’s kindness in having him pass at just the right moment. He called 911 as his friend grabbed my keys and got my jeep and the McDaniel’s minivan away from the blaze. A police officer who also saw the fire from the highway drove up at that point and made sure the fire department was on its way and that we were safe. As we made our way up the driveway, I remember asking Devin to pray—my mind couldn’t seem to form any coherent words—as I squinted into the sun and held onto our dog Barnes for dear life. The Harter’s (our neighbors) came out to make sure we were ok, cried with us, hugged us, and watched in horror along with us.
The firefighters arrived quickly but had trouble getting water pressure. I know from news reports that water trucks had to be called in. It didn’t make a lot of difference. With the high winds and extreme heat, by the time they were actually able to start putting out the fire, it was too late to save much. If you Google ‘oliver circle fire,’ you can actually watch the news story and the home video of neighbors from across the street who gave us cold water and a place to sit while we waited for the fire to be extinguished. It’s a little surreal. Not exactly the mark we hoped to leave on our community.
The story of the next several days and weeks is of God’s faithfulness to comfort. Our family received an outpouring of love and service like nothing I have ever seen. Before the flames were out, people were coming to help with whatever we needed. Fellow retreat counselors drove Torey to the Sherman’s where we were. Her boyfriend Craig and closest friend Meghan dropped everything and came to be with her. The next morning when we arrived at Oliver Circle to meet the insurance adjuster, people began showing up in work clothes carrying coolers of water and soda and breakfast tacos. By the end of the day, hundreds had come.
My amazing parents would have come the night before but I urged them to wait until the next day. They are such wonderful servants. When they hung up with us, their first thought was to start cooking so they’d have food to bring—they didn’t want us or anyone helping us to have to worry about meals. My sisters and family who live in Austin came to help and Lauren and Michael, who were due to start the school year as teachers more than five hours away the next day, drove all that way to help and just to be with us.
… [the second half of the letter coming tomorrow]…