When Hope Rises From the Ashes

“This is what it means to be loved by someone who will never, ever let go. This is what it means to have a good, good Father.”

In the bitter cold of early morning, just as light began to peek over the hills behind us, we watched the remaining walls of our home crack and fall. I knew that nothing would ever be the same, that this day would overshadow every other day, that we would always see life through the filter of this horrific loss. The euphoria of our family’s miraculous survival was slowly giving way to the reality of what we had lost.

I spent most of the day on my neighbor’s sofa surrounded by my mom, Sister, Todd, and a host of family and friends who came by to show their love and support. Steve had been checked out by a physician friend of ours and, after a clear chest X-ray, was given some inhalers to help his breathing. It was only three days until Christmas, so Sister sat beside me with her computer, ordering Christmas gifts for our kids and having them overnight-ed. When she asked which American Girl dolls our girls wanted, I said without thinking, “Don’t get Kit; we already have her and her bed.”

“No, you don’t, Sissy,” Sister replied gently. “The girls don’t have any dolls anymore.” That slap of reality went on for months, when I would inadvertently be looking for some-thing, only to realize it was gone.

By late afternoon, when I felt like I was suffocating from it all, I walked outside to see the house. I wanted to see it, but I was afraid to look, so I kept my eyes averted until I got right in front of it. My knees nearly buckled when I saw the chimney swaying in the wind over the charred patio stairs that were partially dangling in the air. Nearly everything else had caved in on itself, the top floors now lying in an ash heap in what once was the basement.

For more than twelve hours, the firefighters had tried to contain the damage, but it was for naught. Only a couple of partial outer walls and the chimney were still standing. My sister braced me against the cold wind as we stood there looking at what surely was a bad dream. Both of us were devastated.

Why? Why us? Why now? kept running through my mind.

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But today wasn’t the day when answers would come. It was a day for doubt and despair and constant nagging questions of how to reconcile the evidence we saw in front of us with what we believed to be true about God—that He loved us with an everlasting love despite everything else and that the evidence of that love was Christ’s death on the cross, not the amount of money in our bank account or the beauty and comfort of our former home. I kept reminding myself of that when my face would go hot and I would wonder if somehow this was all my fault, my punishment for so many awful decisions.

I woke up the next morning disoriented in a strange bed and felt like my insides were on fire. The room looked cloudy, as if it was filled with smoke, and I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I kept blinking my eyes over and over again to clear the haze. My heart raced. Sitting on the side of the bed in panic, I shook Steve awake.

“The room looks cloudy. Do you smell smoke?” I said, still straining to clear my eyes.

He sat up and looked around. “No, I don’t see smoke. I think you may be dreaming,” he said, now too startled and awake to try to go back to sleep again.

Yesterday’s crying had taken its toll, and my eyes were so puffy I could barely open them. There was no smoke, no fire—only the most hollow feeling I’d ever had, like wak-ing up at Mamaw’s after the trailer fire, but worse this time. Because now I was an adult and was responsible for trying to make this okay somehow for my kids.

Everything we loved was gone. The Christmas gifts we’d bought the kids, their toys and artwork, the sweater I’d spent two years knitting for Caiti, the handmade scrapbooks, my grandmother’s ring, thousands of photographs, thousands of words filling the pages of journals, every last handmade quilt, all the diplomas, all the art, my brand-new kitch-en—all gone.

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“The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,” kept run-ning through my mind, words that might at one time have brought me comfort. In fact, when our pastor had said them three days ago, I wholeheartedly believed them and nodded my head in agreement. Yes, God was trustworthy and good and always had our best interests at heart. Those words had seemed fine until now.

The rest of that day is a blur to me. Steve went to work because that’s what he knew how to do. My family stayed to help me and the kids settle into a nearby summer house of-fered by a good friend. They told us to stay as long as we needed. The house happened to be right across the cove from where ours still smoldered.

The second morning after the fire, I woke up feeling physically ill. I stood for the longest time looking out the window across the lake, wondering how all this would ever be okay again. It felt strange to see the world from that perspective, to realize that the way we saw things was only the way they looked to us. How different this must all have looked to God. If Daddy could look down on us from heaven, how would he see it?