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.”

Smoke was still rising from the ruins, coming mostly from the chimney side of the house and mixing with the frigid air into a thick white cloud. Steve’s clinic was closed, so we loaded the girls up and drove over to see the remains, finding a swath of yellow caution tape outlining the perimeter. The girls walked gingerly around the tape, peeking into the hole where our house once stood. I kept watching them for signs of distress, but they looked more shocked than anything. It reminded me of when Aunt Glenda took Jamie and me to dig through the ruins of the trailer fire.

“Where was our room, Mommy?” Emme asked, trying to get her bearings, her long braided ponytail whipping in the wind.

“It was just above where that turquoise chair is sitting,” I said, pulling her hood up over her ears and patting her back.

I was fine until I saw the garage. It looked like the house was vomiting out of the garage door, the metal skeletons of the stove and the washing machine visible in the ash heap, the stove turned on its side from falling through the floor. Then I saw a Land’s End bag, fully preserved, the orange W monogram on the outside not even blackened.

But it was the way the sun illuminated the turquoise Adirondack chair that stopped me in my tracks. It was made of wood. How had it not been burned? It was still sitting right side up, its bright color such a stark contrast to the sea of charcoal gray that lay before us. That chair became a sign to me—the color of hope and life, a reminder of the promise that all is not lost; redemption will have its say.

For the next few days, we were flooded with love. My mom and sister stayed by my side nearly every hour. My friend Jeannie brought a fully decorated Christmas tree and a carload of gifts; my book club friends completely replenished my C. S. Lewis collection. My friend Patti coordinated meals and showed up every day with more cards and gifts that she had collected from people who loved us but didn’t want to be a burden. My friend Myquillyn sent me a bust of David, my favorite Bible hero, to decorate our tem-porary home, knowing what comfort it would bring to the long days ahead.

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I walked around mostly like a zombie. It looked like I was functioning on the outside, but I was an empty shell. I was eating but not tasting. I was breathing but not living. I did the bare necessities. But every time I closed my eyes, I went to a lonely, helpless place.

Christmas Day came, and I was as broken as I’d ever been. Sister and Mama had gone back home for their own Christmas celebrations. I snuck off to my borrowed bedroom to call Sister, and when I heard her voice, I knelt in the corner of the room, feeling like the blood was draining from my body as I collapsed onto the floor, leaning hard into Sister’s hope and strength. She tried her best to comfort me, but I wondered, How can Christmas come to us now? How can it come when we’re so far from hope? What does it mean for the incarnate God to become one of us? And why does He feel so very far from us?

Constant prayer was the only way I stayed upright most days. I knew it would take time to recover. And in my best moments, I trusted in God’s provision. Steve and I frequently gathered around the neighbors’ fireplace after dinner, talking about how all of life could be distilled to two things—trusting that we are loved by God and finding tangible ways to give that love away to others. Too often we had complicated His simple plan when our hearts had fallen for anything else but Him. The clarity that tragedy brings is a gift—a gift that comes alongside the despair to enlighten and teach us. Some days we truly be-lieved all those things. And some days we chose to wallow in the confusion that was always quick to settle over us.

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In those first weeks, everything felt heavy. I didn’t want to be alone, but I didn’t want to be in a crowd. It was the most helpless few months I’ve ever experienced, and I was able to live through it only by regular Communion, regularly hearing the gospel, and the love of our family and friends, who became the hands and feet of Christ for us.