How Do You Survive?

Today marks the second anniversary of our house fire. The first question most people ask us when they hear we had a total loss house fire is, “how do you survive such a tragic event?” The first answer in the forefront of my mind is, “do I have a choice? What else can I do?” The truth of the matter is I only have a choice in how I handle the situation. My choices are 1) I can get bitter about it or 2) determine to become better through my circumstances.

Truly, the real answer of how to survive ‘the valley of the shadow of death’ is my faith in God. Ah, the old adage ‘my belief in God gets me through it’. Truthfully, it’s not saying those words but actually believing them by acting on them with my whole heart and soul, that determines how true my belief is. This means my actions follow suit with what my mouth says.

I have been pondering what that means. What does my faith in action look like? How do I get my actions to reflect what my mouth is saying?

One way I am able to put my faith in action is to tell myself the truth. How many times have you heard someone say ‘if God is a good God, why do bad things happen to good people?’ Theologians have argued that very thing for centuries. I had always asked myself the same question. It was one reason I went to #phoenixseminary which was to get answers to my questions. Quite honestly, when I left Seminary I had more questions than answers. I don’t have all the answers. What I do know is that God is a loving father. When my head starts to think ‘you’re being punished because …’ I immediately stop and tell myself the truth. As a parent, I would never ever want tragedy for my children. I am sure God is weeping with us as we navigate this journey in life. Shit happens. If God intervened in every situation we wouldn’t be humans with free will. We would be puppets with a master puppeteer. Through this trying time God is showing me the light on my pathway to the future. God is a good good father. When questions come to you that make you question that- stop and think about how much you love your own child. (Or if you don’t have kids- how about a pet?). Would you ever want harm to come to them? Our love is imperfect and we love that deeply. How much more does He love me?

Another way I am able to put my faith into action is to focus on what I have gained and not on what I have lost. Yes, we lost our home- but we have been able to build a new beautiful home that we will hopefully be moving into in a few weeks. Yes, we lost our beloved pets, Esther and Ella – but now we have the opportunity to enjoy and love our new fur babies, Millie and Lulu. Yes, our marriage was strong but now our marriage is stronger because we chose to fight the battle of tragedy together.

What do I do when I am weak and I don’t feel like putting my faith into action? I take time to rest, rejuvenate and focus on the truth. I have discovered that for me rejuvenation means creating something. Art, quilts, recovering a chair, making anything old useful again… We are all created in God’s image. Stop and take a moment to look around you at His creation. Giraffes, zebras, frogs, butterflies, trees, cactus… I could go on and on. What thing do you do that gives you energy and when you’re done it feels like no time has passed at all? Take time to do THAT thing more. Especially when you’re feeling defeated.

Finally, putting my faith in action means remembering I am who I am today because of the journey I have been on. Every painful event, every momentous occasion, every nitty gritty thing in my life has molded me into the person I am today. I like who I am today I wouldn’t go back and change a thing because if I did, I wouldn’t be the same person I am today. Sure, there’s a lot of room for improvement but progress is the goal, not perfection. Embrace who you are today because of all of your yesterdays.

When you find yourself in the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ stop and ask yourself

  • Am I telling myself the truth? The truth about God and who He is, the truth about my circumstances or the truth about myself? Are you focusing on what you have lost or what you have gained? When I lost my brother when he was 25 all I could focus on was the time we weren’t going to have together rather than the time we did have together.
  • Are you taking time to rest, rejuvenate and focus on the truth? What is it that God has created you to do that brings you joy?’ Are you able to stop what you are doing and do that thing to help stop that overwhelming shadow. Then ask, -‘what is causing me to be overwhelmed? What about the big picture am I missing right now?’ Then, I remind myself that God wants what is best for me- sometimes circumstances of life aren’t what I want but I know there’s always a learning opportunity through it all. Losing every physical thing we owned was not a circumstance I wanted in my life-but I will tell you this, I have learned more in the last two years than I have in the last 20 years of my life. I loved our home and how I had family heirlooms around to create a safe space for my family. If I focus on all the things we lost, I miss the big picture that because we lost everything we are in a place to build a house that we’ve always dreamed of having. I can buy furniture of my choosing, not furniture handed down to me.
  • Are you remembering ‘I am who I am today because of all my yesterdays’? Life’s experience is our teacher. We reflect what we have learned through the years and what life has brought us. Embrace who you are today because of the journey you have traversed.

Grief and tragedy are arduous. It makes you weary and exhausted. If we can focus on telling ourselves the truth, resting and rejuvenating and then focus with anticipation on coming out stronger on the other side of the journey, the road may be a tad bit less bumpy. It is a bitter-sweet place to be…but remember, I don’t want to be bitter, I want to get better.

A year ago today….

A year ago today our lives were irrevocably changed forever. The morning of May 21, 2021 we woke up and went about our routine as usual. Friday mornings I enjoy thrift store shopping and hitting the garage sales. I left the house around 9:20 am —as I was perusing the items that morning I was so happy thinking about how much I had enjoyed the visit with my aunt and uncle the last few days. I had just gotten home from a visit to Illinois to see them. I was counting my blessings, grateful for all we had and the season of life we were living. Life is good was all I was thinking. I called Tim and asked if he wanted to meet up for lunch. I had been out of town so I needed to do some grocery shopping. While we were waiting for our lunch to be served we received a phone call at 12:10pm that changed everything.

That afternoon we watched our house burn down to the stem walls for over three hours. We knew our cat Esther wouldn’t have survived the oxygen deprivation. Logic told us she was gone. We frantically looked and called for Ella, our chocolate lab that had recently had her first birthday, and had been outside on the deck attached to her dog run. I told Tim, “if we loose Ella too I won’t be able to survive this.” When we were told the fire fighters had found her body on the deck I collapsed in grief. Everything was gone. EVERYTHING. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. The only thing I wanted was to be with our kids and granddaughter.

Fast forward a year later…. I have learned many many things. Here are a few things that I have learned I would like to share with you about life, loss and traumatic events in life.

Life isn’t fair. The Bible tells us the whole earth is groaning for the day the world is made right again. The earth isn’t happy about all that is going on around us which led me to think, why should I be happy about all that is going on around me? One day all will be made right and until then things are out of sync and we are all groaning for the day God will make things right like they were at the beginning of creation. If the world is not happy, why should I expect there’s any possibility I would be happy here on earth? We aren’t called to be happy, we are called to be content with our circumstances. Which leads me to the next thing I’ve learned.

Expectations. When I have expectations things should happen a certain way I am going to be disappointed when they don’t happen the way I imagine they should be. The other day I got a call out of the blue about some information regarding our new house build. I was so grateful for the information because I wasn’t expecting it. If I had been brooding over the contractor calling to tell me what is going on and they didn’t call I would still be very unhappy about them not meeting my expectation. I am taking time now to take a step back and realize the earth does not revolve around me and that other people have stuff going on in their lives too. Which leads me to the next thing I have learned.

I am not the only one going through it right now. Everyone has something they are going through right now. It may not be catastrophic from my perspective but it very well could be catastrophic from their perspective. There are times I am talking to people and they are talking about all that is going on in their lives and they don’t stop to ask what is going on in mine. If I am being honest I can be a little butt hurt they haven’t asked me about what is going on in my life. I am trying to take a step back and realize we all are focused on what is most important to us right now in the moment. It’s not that people don’t care what is going on in your life it’s more likely they are consumed by what is currently going on in their own lives. It’s not personal. It’s a fact of life. Which leads me to the next thing I learned when my little brother died but have been continually reminded of the last year…

It’s not all about me. People are there for you for the first part of your tragedy…then life moves on for them while you are still stuck in the aftermath of your nightmare. Again, it’s not that they don’t care it’s more likely they are consumed with their own life. Why would they be thinking about your life and tragedy still? It makes me think of what happens when you see other peoples children all grown up when you haven’t seen them in years and you’re surprised. Yet, my children are grown up now, why wouldn’t I envision theirs grown up too? I guess that is not how our brains work.

Finally, something I have always believed but have continually been reminded of the last year….

Everything happens for a reason. For me this is not just a saying, a mantra or cliche. It is truth. I’ll end my ramblings by sharing a “6 Degrees of Kevin Bacon” type incident. The *house we will be renting the next year while our house is being built needs a new deck (*River house). The couple that owns it lives part time in Montana. They met a man in Montana who lives down the street from their River house in Payson, he also happens to be a contractor and will now be building the new deck. When we met him a few weeks ago we learned it was his daughter’s house that burnt down in Payson Friday, May 13th. The family had been at the funeral of her best friend at the time the house fire started. The best friend was a good friend of our African Grey’s breeder, as well as our new neighbors where we are building our new house. I won’t bore you with all the details (and there are many many other strange coincidences …except I don’t believe in those) but the circle of events is allowing us to share our story and faith with others. The days I wonder why God would allow our house to burn down I remind myself that everything, and I mean everything, happens for a reason.

Quick update on our house rebuilding project….

We have footers and they are starting stem walls next week.

We are still dealing with the insurance company regarding our personal property loss claim. (If you have not already done it, please go through your house and video tape EVERYTHING- open every closet, every drawer, video every nook and cranny. Put it on a thumb drive and store it somewhere other than your house. Also, take some time to review your insurance policy and make sure it’s up to date with current inflation numbers)

We will be moving to our next rental house on Friday. (Our current rental house was sold and therefore we weren’t able to stay). We are hoping to move into our new house next spring but all will depend on the economy, availability of materials etc…

Today I choose to be grateful. Today I choose to be fair when life isn’t fair. Today I choose to keep my expectations in check when it is easier to keep them high. Today I choose to remember I am not the only one going through the bumpy roads of life. Today I choose to remember everything happens for a reason.

What is Life Like Nine Months After a House Fire?

Nine months post fire I still lay my head down at night and think through the events of that day. May 21, 2021. Did I leave something on in the kitchen that started the fire? The fire burned so hot they never were able to figure out what started it. I think about Ella and Esther and how frightening it must have been for them. I begin to cry and remind myself that if I cry, my nose is going to get stuffed up and then I won’t be able to breathe through it which makes falling asleep difficult. I whisper to them both asking for forgiveness for not being there to protect and save them and then I desperately try to think of other things. Anything else. Most nights it takes me 2-3 hours to fall asleep.

Scott and Zoe’s Wedding Reception Jan. 2022

Nine months post fire we are still dealing with the insurance company. Typically, the insurance company allows a twelve month period for you to rebuild or find new housing. Unfortunately, because of the economic climate things are taking much longer than “normal”. We have a new insurance adjuster and are happy with his attentiveness to our case. We have requested an extension for our housing and hoping we will be able to extend our lease where we are currently renting. We are also waiting on the IRS to send us our tax documents we requested June 2021; they cashed our $80 check and we haven’t seen the documents or heard from them. Did you know if you call the number for the IRS on their website the automated system will send you in circles like a dog chasing its tail? We need our tax documents in order to secure the construction loan, and the bank has been waiting so long for our documents they may have to restart the loan process if the documents needed don’t arrive soon. Just one more hurdle to jump in this process.

Nine months post fire I still struggle to get out of bed some days. There’s so much to do and I have very little energy and motivation to do the things I need to do. There are lists that need to be created of house inventory items that need to be purchased for our new house. There are so many items in homes we don’t think about. I went to make Valentine cookies the other day and realized I no longer have my heart cookie cutter. I have also been working on collecting all my favorite recipes. Thankfully many I shared with others and have been able to get copies of ones I wanted. Project after project that needs to be done… I keep reminding myself it will all get done in due time. I remind myself to be patient with myself. Some days are easier than others to do this.

Nine months post fire we were finally able to submit our plans to the Town of Payson for permitting this morning. Building a house in itself is a stressful event– so many decisions that need to be made. Paint colors, type of shingles, flooring, cabinets… on and on. I am grateful for a young lady that has been helping me with many of the kitchen layout decisions. Bouncing ideas off her has been a huge blessing to me.

Nine months post fire I am continuing to learn to focus on the things that matter most in life to me. Facetime calls from our granddaughter, Abigail, where she says, ‘Yaya, I come to you house to paint. I want to paint with you.’ or ‘Yaya, you go airport, get on plane, go HIGH up in air and come to my house’ or my recent favorite, ‘goodbye Yaya! I love you for always!’ when we are hanging up. I miss her dearly being several States away now. I miss having the kids all show up for a few days to hang out and play games for hours on end, as well as yelling at my sons in law to ‘get out of my kitchen’ because they love to cook, too. I am grateful that once our house is built we will be able to have these times together again. I am grateful for time spent with Tim putting together a ridiculous 3000 piece puzzle because it is something we always did together before the fire. We had a special table in the family room where a puzzle was set up. Essie would knock pieces on the floor and Ella would chew them up. It always made finishing the puzzle an adventure. The kitchen table at our rental is currently our puzzle table which makes meal time interesting, but it has made things feel a little more normal here in a place that is not our own. I am grateful for our Millie and how she seems to know when I need her to curl up next to me and just be still. I am grateful we will be picking up a new kitten the first weekend in April. Now, we need to come up with a name for our new little fluff ball girl. I’ve never struggled with naming our pets and believe you me we have had our share of them!! For some reason this time it’s been difficult for me to choose a name. I am not quite sure why that is. I am so very grateful for the art class I am taking this semester. It has really helped me through the rough days. I am learning a lot and mainly, Tim teases, that it assures I shower and get dressed at least twice a week when I have class. (It’s a good thing he is around because he makes sure I eat too! I can get lost in my projects if I am not paying attention).

Our little girl- due to come home in April
A sculpture I made for my sister in law of her dog–except I haven’t master the art of making molds yet…so it didn’t survive
Millie at Frisbee Club- She is doing phenomenal!

Finally, nine months post fire I am counting our blessings. We have friends and family that are struggling with health issues or the loss of a loved one and we are alive and well. There are those struggling financially and we are able to pay our bills and have a roof over our heads. One thing that I have learned the past few months is that everyone at some point is going through the valley’s of life. It’s inevitable. None of us escape it. It’s not a competition about who’s struggle is more arduous. I see it as an opportunity to stop and ask myself how I would want someone to respond to me if I were in their shoes as well as to ask myself if there is anything I can or need to do to help. Sometimes the answer is ‘Samantha, you have enough on your plate right now. Perhaps finding someone else that can help them would be best.’ I hope this week when I encounter someone that is snarky that I would take a moment to take a step back and remind myself that it’s probably not about me but about the circumstances they’re going through.

Thanksgiving During Times of Tragedy

Thanksgiving. Typically a time in our lives to reflect on our lives and what we have to be thankful for.  This year, I found myself wrestling with the task. Yes—this year it was a task. A chore. Something negative at first. I found myself weepy.  Contemplating losses that occurred this year. Which led me down the road to dwelling on other losses over the years.  Then I was in a full fledged meltdown over tragedies over the last 50 years of my life.  Yes, it spiraled pretty quickly and became quite the dramatic event. 

We are using our daughter and son in law’s tree-I was able to find some ornaments at a thrift store, the wool character’s at Home Goods and surprisingly, the Precious Moments plates survived falling through the attic ceiling in a Rubbermaid container.
YES, the tree is above the kitchen cabinets out of Millie’s ‘puppy wants to destroy everything reach!’

Fast forward a few weeks later. What did I do to dig out of the pit? I started to think about our pastors message a few weeks ago. He read the following verse—

This God, His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord proves true;

He is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him. Psalm 18:30

I have to admit when the teaching started I had a cynical attitude. The message was about how when we follow God’s way we don’t suffer the same outcome or consequences as when we go our own way. Okay, I understand consequences to decisions I make that are contrary to God’s way, but what about the part where God is a shield for all those who take refuge in Him? I literally asked God point blank, “if You are a shield to those who take refuge in you then WHY did we lose everything? Why did we lose Ella and Esther? Why did we lose all the family heirlooms I have manically cared for over the past years? Weren’t you supposed to be a shield to protect us?” I heard God whisper to me, “I did protect you. You weren’t home when the fire took everything.”  I stopped in my tracks. Wow. Perspective. God is right.

I had just gotten home from a four day visit to my aunt and uncle’s home. Typically for me once I am home from a long trip there’s no way I am leaving the house until I have mentally and physically recovered from the trip. Yet that morning I was up, dressed and out the door to do stuff by 9:15am. Ella resisted me putting her out in the dog run and gave me that brown eyes so so sad look.  I held Ella’s face in my hand and said, “I know girl, I just got home but I promise I’ll be right back and spend the rest of the day with you!”  I didn’t get to keep my promise to her. By 12:15pm, a mere 3 hours later, we received the call the house was fully engulfed. Our next door neighbor, our neighbor across the street and neighbor behind us were all home and NO one knew our house was on fire until someone driving by saw that it was completely involved.  Who knows if I was home what would have happened. God was a shield to us and protected us.

May 21, 2021

I continually remind myself of this truth when I am overwhelmed of the loss we have endured. Two years ago I went all out and put a Christmas tree in each room of our house and decorated each with a theme. Today, Christmas decorations are being set up all around us and I am reminded of ornaments collected for 50+ years are now ash. Handmade Christmas gifts given to my uncle over the years that I had no idea he had even kept until we discovered them after he passed away, are now gone. Every ornament meticulously chosen for our youngest daughter over her lifetime were in the attic and hadn’t been transferred to their new home and now never be moved.  The quilt of our oldest daughters Minnie Mouse t-shirts lovingly assembled for our granddaughter to be given to her as a gift this year is gone.  So, what do I do with all this grief that bubbles up each month as my hormones try to adjust to middle age?  I have to continue to remind myself the truth. God was and is our shield.  

Truth in hand I decided to start writing down the ways that God has helped us navigate the journey we are on.  Things to truly be thankful this year. 

  1. We were able to hire an architect to draw plans for our house when most architects have wait lists over a year.
  2. We were able to sell the Marissa lot as is and walk away from having to deal with the devastation it caused us.
  3. We were able to purchase a lot in the same neighborhood from a neighbor that wasn’t planning on selling the property but did so for us.
  4. We FINALLY received a check from the mortgage company for our payoff overage. (Yes, that was a very frustrating 3 months of the process!!)
  5. We discovered those in our lives that have our backs and were there for us when the shit hit the fan. These are the most important relationships to us now.

When I look at the terrible things that have happened- I have decided there HAS to be a positive about it. So…. Here are my thoughts.

  1. Our daughter, son in law, and granddaughter moved over three thousand miles away this summer. I miss them terribly. But, if I am being honest…the timing of them moving and all the chaos in our lives has shown me it would have been impossible for me to continue driving to Tucson every other week to help watch our granddaughter for a couple days. (But knowing me I would have tried to do it and then who knows where I would be mentally)
  2. We lost everything in the fire. But we gained a new perspective not many ever receive. Watching the fire fighters and police do their jobs gave me a great appreciation of all they go through daily on their jobs. The trauma and grief they witness is overwhelming to me personally.
  3. We lost our sweet Ella… but if not for losing Ella, we would never have added Millie to our family. Millie is another 80/20 dog.  She is the best dog 80% of the time and the other 20% we ask ourselves why we have a dog.  Oh, that puppy exuberance is exhausting.
  4. The family heirlooms in our house that I treasured were a way for me to connect to those I loved and are no longer here to physically hug me.  I looked at a photo of my grandparents dining room set and thought, “you know, it’s not the ‘model’ I would have picked. Now I have the opportunity to buy items that I love because they bring joy to me somehow – not because they were handed down to me.
  5. We lost our home of the last 13 years that was perfect for our family of four but now we get to design a home that is more suited to an aging couple with a growing extended family that visits.
Minnie Mouse quilt top for our granddaughter

I will continue to press on. I will continue to tell myself the truth. I will continue to find things to be thankful for when I don’t always ‘feel’ thankful. 

What will you do when you feel like there’s nothing to really be thankful for?

Weary But Not Defeated

For the first time in 5 months I made it until 3:00pm before I realized it was the anniversary of the fire. We were in Hawaii so it was 6pm in Arizona…does that mean I made it even longer? No matter what time is was technically I am grateful to have had the distraction of our daughters wedding to keep me from being as weepy. We had one moment yesterday where we saw a photo of Esther that popped up in a photo memory and it was pretty melancholy mood for us both for the next hour or so.

I thought I would do a quick update as to what is going on in our lives 5 months post house fire.

We turned our personal property list into the insurance company a few weeks ago. It took nearly four months to compile a 3500 line spreadsheet of items we could remember were in the house. There are a few more things we have thought of since we turned in the list but for the most part we have decided the other things that have been forgotten are not worth the stress they create by trying to remember them.

Right after the fire we were combing the ashes for Esther’s remains and I ended up falling through the damaged floor. The jarring to my body set off inflammation already in my back called spinal stenosis; a condition my father also had it. I will be undergoing a laminectomy of two vertebrae on Tuesday, Oct. 26th. The length of my recovery will depend on me. They’re saying anywhere between 6-12 weeks.

American Family Insurance has been very good to us so far. They sent our payoff to us for the mortgage company, which we endorsed and Mr. Copper/Nationwide received it August 11th and we didn’t hear anything….a week went by…finally, Tim called. After two hours of being transferred to different agents Tim was told “the check did not have two signatures so we shred it.” (This is where Tim turns red and blows a gasket. Those of you that know him well know that Tim RARELY, if ever, blows a gasket.) Tim calls the insurance company, they hustle to get a second check cut and at the same time Tim finds out that the mortgage company did not shred the check because there were indeed two signatures and were going to deposit it and the insurance company says, “well now we need to stop payment on that check too.” Are you dizzy yet? Here we are the end of October, the mortgage company has a third check and we are hoping for our equity money to arrive any day now. In the meantime, we finally worked out a way to financially buy a new piece of property to build on around the corner from where we were before and are having house plans drafted as of this week. The builder who built our Marissa house for us is buying the property back from us and going to rebuild a different style house. I’m so grateful that I will not have to drive by it on a daily basis and be reminded of our loss. Lord willing we will be in by next Christmas.

As we navigate this arduous season of life we are doing our best to not add anything that isn’t necessary. We are trying to rest and be prepared for the task that lies before us (building a new house and replenishing our household goods. In the meantime I am taking an Acrylics Art Class at the college. It’s very therapeutic for me and I am loving it. Unfortunately I am going to need to take a little break from class for surgery.

Vibrant Fall

I found this double walled glass in the rubble of our home. It didn’t have a crack on it. It was filthy, of course, but still okay. I feel like I look like that glass. I’m filthy on the outside, not unscathed by the results of the fire, but I am still usable, not destroyed. I only FEEL destroyed. The same goes for our Dragon Tree. For several reasons it had to be dug out of the ground. I was crushed. I took a piece with roots and transplanted it and it was doing very well, for awhile. So…I pruned it back a little for the winter. I think it was too much and I killed it. Unfortunately we won’t know for sure until the spring time. I feel a bit like that too. That I really don’t know how this is all going to turn out until later. I’m not a big fan of not knowing what is going to happen on down the road.

Needless to say, we are weary but not defeated. We are leaning on each other for strength through the valley. We are blessed to be spending the week with our daughters and their husbands. I am terrified of the surgery but know in the long run it will mean life changing mobility for me. I’m too young to walk like an 80 year old when it’s cold and damp outside. I want to walk our dog without having to walk carefully as not to set off my sciatic. (Some of my issues are my own fault for not taking better care of myself and the other is genetics. Either way- I’m still mad I have to ride this train to the station.)

No matter what our circumstances are in life it is up to me and me alone how I RESPOND to the hand I am dealt. I refuse to let circumstances to take anything from me. I refuse to let circumstances dictate my mood or attitude. I CHOOSE to be joyful and calm in the moment (I’m still waiting for my heart and brain to come together on this one). I CHOOSE to have a good attitude (again…waiting for the heart and brain…come on guys). My admitting this is not for people to feel bad but rather gain a perspective in life from someone that’s been there. Many times we jump to conclusions about someone’s situation not fully comprehending their circumstances. It’s times like these I try to take a step back and admit I may not have all the information needed to make an informed judgment. Better yet- let’s not make a judgment at all.

I hope this day you too will choose what is best for you.

Three Months…I need to stop counting…

August 21st….Three months   If you would have asked me if so much change could occur in our lives in three months I would have told you there is absolutely no way. We aren’t “that” crazy. But sometimes change comes without your permission. Your home burns down. Your kids move to another state…and take your only grandchild with them!! You are forced to react or respond in a way that will shape your future. Your circumstances, relationships and general path in life are all effected by how you respond to the changes. 

The last week I have been consumed with sorting and digging through the rubble at the Marissa house as the demolition began. Our adopted daughter, Jordan, has tirelessly been by my side for hours on end helping me look for Esther’s remains. We found a few treasures. (The photo is of me with my great grandma Julie’s rosary and cross necklace.  How on earth it survived is a God thing.  We also found a few old photos of my great grandparents wedding day that may be able to be restored. But we didn’t find Esther.

Jordan was down in the crawl space where the kitchen fell and found one piece of my great grandmothers china—the creamer pitcher where the handle is broken off- but its a little piece of history and my past. I remember my little brother, Nathan, and I making my parents dinner one night when I was probably in 6th or 7th grade.  We designed menu’s with roses drawn on the front.  I had those menu’s in the attic—but now I have the memory in my heart to hold. But Jordan didn’t find Esther.

We were looking through rubble in the master bedroom and managed to find Annabelle’s ashes and the dog bowl, albeit in pieces, that was her memorial. The plastic that contained her ashes and the metal tag from the crematorium had some how survived. But we didn’t find Esther.

Jordan and I found other things, too, but what I wanted to find most was Esther’s remains.  I feel like she deserves to be laid to rest somewhere other than the dump. I had to stop and ask myself if I am being reasonable. I am currently being treated for a bulging disc that quite frankly is not happy with all the digging and lifting I am doing. It made me think of when my brother died my parents were so sad and I thought to myself, “what about me? I am still alive. Doesn’t it matter that I am still here on earth for you?”  The memory made me think of an adorable little puppy that was at home alone. I told Jordan that I really should probably stop worrying about my deceased pet and focus on the one I do have that needs my attention and love at the moment. Although a very rational decision, my heart was still breaking that we still hadn’t found Esther. We decided to take some feathers from her favorite pillow (my Iris painted on silk pillow) along with some ash from the area where she was that morning when I left. It’s not her but I have to let it go (I kind of feel like I keep saying this and something keeps drawing me back there to look for her.)

The more time I spent at the Marissa house this week the more discouraged I became. I had just taken a photo of our dragon tree before the demo began and you could barely see the charred trunks for all the greenery and new growth. The gentleman who is operating the backhoe pulled some of the roots from the ground for me in hopes that we can transplant it to the new home site. Honestly—I feel like the “after photo” of the dragon tree after this week. Wilted, defeated, drained…. Just sad.  I suppose that is the natural order of grief. As I think about grief and how people react to those who are grieving I considered the demo of our house.  From the backside of the house all looks the same. But when you go around to the front you see the destruction. Depending on your relationship with the one who is grieving you may get one perspective or the other…if they trust you, you will get to see the front view and all the destruction. If they don’t feel you are a safe person to share with, you will only see the back side of the destruction.  The same goes when you look at the dragon tree. Depending on your perspective you see all the green growth and all the good that is coming from the tragedy. The other perspective, when you look closely, is a peek at the charred tree trunk which tells a very different story. When you interact with the people in your life that are going through a tough time, stop and try to see the whole picture. Will you be a safe person for that individual so that you can help them through their grief? 

Update on what happens next for us.

We have sold the Marissa lot and do not plan to rebuild there. We are currently looking at a lot to build on and have a builder selected. I just have to sit down and design the house for the architect so he can get the plans drawn up.  God has shown us over and over how His hand is guiding and protecting us. I am still human and still get miffed with God daily and have to continue to work through my anger and pain. Logically, I know He loves me and wants what is best for me— He and I don’t always see eye to eye on what that is. I continue to wrestle through how to respond to my circumstances rather than react. What will my perspective or focus be? The things we have lost or what we have gained through our experience?


How Deep Do Your Roots Go?

Twelve years ago very good friends of ours gave us a transplant sprout from their Paulowania tree. When it matures, it has beautiful purple flowers when it blooms. Whenever people would come to our home the first question was usually asking what kind of tree was in our yard. The leaves got so big they looked like elephant ears.

We have gone back and forth from the house to see if there were things we could gather and save. Unfortunately, if the fire didn’t damage the item, more than likely the water and smoke damaged it. Every time we went to the house I noticed my plants in the yard and specifically the Dragon tree were all thriving. It really perplexed me! They had just been through this horrific trauma of heat and fire for two-three hours and they are growing like mad! I began to think about what was going on behind the scenes here. My mind kept going to the verse in Colossians 2 about being deeply rooted in Christ. The plants at our house had been there for over tens years. They were certainly deeply grounded here in the yard. It was a great illustration of what Paul meant when he wrote,

“let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you with overflow with thankfulness.”

Colossians 2:7 NLT

Paulownia Tree AKA Dragon Tree

For the last few weeks I have watched our tree and I have thought about if my roots are firmly rooted in my faith. I found myself getting irritated with people around me. Irritated with our new puppy. Aggravated with life. Maybe my faith isn’t as firmly rooted as it needs to be, or as deeply as I thought it was? Yesterday was the 2 month anniversary of the fire. I’m tired. I’m worn. I want to go home to our house but it’s not there anymore. I want a safe place to be and our home was that place for me. How do I make my way through this journey without my safe place? I think about Cori ten Boom and how she found safety and peace within the walls of the Concentration Camp she was held captive within. Samantha, dig deeper. You can do this. I went back to check on my tree…

Look at all that growth!!! As I shared about the tree with a good friend last night I told her…”look at all that growth!! But I am here to tell you it is painful growth. It’s beautiful and one day the ugliness around it will be gone.” Sometimes the pain in the world is ugly from one perspective but from another advantage point, beautiful things are happening. We don’t always know why ugly things in the world happen. And in reality, would we want to know the why? Could we actually handle the why? Does is matter if we can’t change the circumstances of the why? This is not easy to let go of. I am a control freak naturally. I don’t understand why. I don’t want to be in this nightmare, but I also have no choice. The choice I do have is to remain deeply rooted in my faith. I may not be thankful right away-but I do believe that I will eventually get there.

As far as an update on where things are at– The investigation has officially been closed by the insurance company. They were unable to determine what started the fire. I will be meeting with the company that will begin debris removal later today. Having the house come completely down I think will bring some closure. Kind of like a funeral after the loss of a loved one. I am still heartbroken we did not find Esther’s body but I know she is with us in spirit and will always be with us. Please continue to pray for us. There is still so much to do. I am overwhelmed with all I have to do- many ask what they can do to help and unfortunately I don’t think there’s really anything people can help with. We still have copious amounts of items to write down for the insurance company of items that were in our home. Paperwork that was lost–car titles, passports, etc… all need to be replaced and we have to file for those items. Tim and I still have not found a good system for writing things down and getting them into the computer into the spreadsheet the insurance company gave us. I don’t know how people do this and still have hair on their heads when they’re done. In the meantime, I am going to try and rest my weary body and do what I can do day to day knowing its okay to not be 100% okay right now.

Taking Every Thought Captive

Several weeks ago I agreed to go with our daughter to North Carolina to help her look for housing for when her family moves later this summer.  After the fire happened I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to leave Tim. I didn’t want to leave Payson. I’m not sure why. For some reason you just want to stay put. I have been trying to analyze why that is. Maybe I thought I would have some control over what happens to me if I stayed in Payson.  There are still so many unknowns for us with the insurance company. Will we be allowed to sift through more of the ash to see if anything else survived or will they declare the site unsafe and bulldoze it all and take to the dump. It was our home. There are still belongings buried deep in the ash longing to be saved. At least that is how I view it. Going through the house one more time would also allow me to take photos of items to put on this notebook sized list we have started for the insurance company of the contents of our home. 

Fast forward a few days now into my trip. I am thankful I went. I have been able to enjoy time with our daughter I would not otherwise had a chance to have. I was able to watch her ‘adult’, make decisions, interact with her husband communicating about decisions that needed to be made and be proud of all she and her family are doing.  We pray our kids will grow up to be productive members of society and when they do it’s such a joy to watch!! Also- be Bonus- the Costco in Charlotte had the jeans in my size none of the other Costco’s in Arizona or online had. Happy happy Samantha. It may seem trivial to find a certain pair of jeans in your size but when you’re as picky as I am it takes me awhile to find clothing and shoes I really like. Once I find something I like- I typically buy one in every color.    

What I have learned the last week is that no matter where you are physically you cannot control your circumstances. I could have stayed on Payson this week but I still would have had absolutely no control over what happens with our house. We can act like we have control over our situations, even tell ourselves we do, but truly none of us do. I’m trying to remain calm. I’m trying to focus on positive things. There’s a reason the Bible tells us to take every thought captive. If I think about them bulldozing our house before I have a chance to look for Essie’s body I panic. If I think about how horrific it was for our fur babies to die in a fire I fall apart. Thinking about those things won’t change what happened. Dwelling on those things won’t bring Ella and Essie back. I must take those thoughts captive and focus on what I know to be true. God wept as we wept at the loss of our home and pets. He hurts as we hurt grappling at what we need to do next. God is a good good father that loves and cares deeply about what happens to us. He knows my heart and what is going on in this scared confused brain of mine. I will continue to rest in Him. 

Highway to Hell

This morning at 5:30 am I was jarred from my peaceful sleep to the sound of AC/DC’s song Highway to Hell. Our windows were open, and it was LOUD. I thought about how appropriate the song was considering today is the three-week mark of losing our fur babies and our house burning down. I laid in bed for 30 minutes wondering when security was going to inform the Club of the blunder and put my pillow over my head. I decided that instead of complaining about the situation (even though I have to get up tomorrow at 3am to make my 6:00am flight) that I would try to think about the positive things going on in our lives.

It wasn’t easy to shift gears. I was cranky. Snarky even. All I could think of is that I don’t want to leave right now. I know I will enjoy the time with our daughter. Part of me wants to curl up in bed and just forget the world now. But I didn’t want to let our daughter down. So, I got my rear end out of bed and got dressed. (It is still difficult for me to eat and sleep—please continue to pray for me in that area).

As I headed out the door the UPS man arrived with a few boxes for us. It reminded me that there are people out there praying for us and sending gifts to help replenish items we lost in the fire.

I ran a few errands and Jordan met me at the rental to pick up all the photos we found in the house yesterday. She has done an extraordinary job saving our photos for us. It is an immense labor of love and it reminded me that I do have so much to be thankful.

I met Tim for lunch and could hardly stomach the thought of eating. Once we talked about a few “insurance business” items I started to feel less anxious about life. We have an arduous task before us in trying to list all the items in our house for the insurance company, but I know we can do it.  It may take awhile but we will get it done.  (I would suggest to anyone who would like to avoid this nightmare to take photos of everything in your home. Inside of cabinets and drawers. EVERYTHING)

This afternoon I packed for my trip, unpacked a few items at our rental house and pondered where we were 3 weeks ago today. I had told Tim when we first got on the scene that I knew we had lost Essie for sure in the fire—but that I couldn’t lose both she and Ella. I told him I couldn’t survive it. And yet, here I am. I am alive. By the grace of God, He has given me everything I need to get through this tragedy. Life will slowly get back to normal, whatever normal is. We will take each day moment by moment. I can’t think about the big picture right now. It’s too much. And that is okay. I only need to have the strength for this moment. God will take care of the rest.

Heartbroken and Homesick

Imagine with me for a moment that you have left your home to go on a few errands.  You have left your home and when you return things will never be the same.  May 21, 2021 will be forever ingrained in my mind as a day of weeping. The day did not begin that way, but it certainly ended that way.

I had just returned from a trip to Illinois to visit my aunt with my mom. The night before I had unloaded my luggage and travel carry on from my car. When I woke up Friday morning, I decided to run a few errands.  I called our year-old lab puppy to come to the door to go outside.  She dropped her head—she did not want to go out.  I thought briefly about taking her with me, but her crate wasn’t in my car because I had been out of town. I knelt down and cupped her face in my hands, kissed her and said, “I know I just got home baby.  I have a couple quick errands and I’ll be right back.”  I opened the door, put her outside on our deck, closed and locked the door never realizing it would be the very last time I would kiss her sweet face.  Our cat was asleep on her chair in our bedroom.  I didn’t want to disturb her nap, so I left without saying goodbye.

Fast forward 90 minutes.  My husband and I are sitting chit chatting after ordering lunch when his cellphone rings.  He declines the call because we are having lunch together.  Twenty seconds later my cellphone rings and it’s the same caller. It’s our friend who is a sergeant with the Payson Police Department.  He’s calling to let us know our house is currently on fire. I immediately jumped up from the table and ran to my car. I kept begging our friend to please save our pets. I thought Ella would be fine because she was outside on our deck and had access to the side yard. We had no idea how involved the fire was by the time the fire department arrived on the scene.

Thirty-one years of marriage. Two children. One granddaughter. Not just a house but a home full of memories. Gone in the blink of an eye. We stood and watched as everything we had worked for over the years, the sweat equity put into the house, the family collectibles we had that I treasured—all gone. Every time we built a new house in order to help pay down our house payment, I would joke with God that the house was His but everything inside was mine.  As we watched it all burn, I had to ask myself, “What do we really have in life that is our own?” We come into this world with nothing, and we leave it with nothing. The only thing that will last is that which is eternal.

Nearly three weeks later, what does day to day life look like for someone who has lost their home to a fire?  Thankfully, at this point, you have acquired more than one set of clothing. You might have two pairs of shoes now.  If you have found a new place to live you are now compiling a list of items you need for the new place.  Dish soap, towels, dishes, silverware, cookware, sheets, bath towels, etc..  Take a look around your home now. When someone has a total loss fire they have nothing when all is said and done.  I do have a few pairs of shoes that survived, a jacket or two- but the insurance company hasn’t gone through the house yet to see what is salvageable, so you are hoping they’ll survive but you just don’t know.  Should you replace it or hold out hope? Last month when I woke up in the morning, I had a routine. I knew what I was going to be doing. Today it depends on a plethora of factors none of which I have control over. If I was having a tough day, I knew I could always go into my craft room to create something that would always help me feel better.  I am not writing all of this for people to feel sorry for us. I am writing to help people have a better understand or get a glimpse of what it is like to lose everything.

The hardest part for me today is that I am still not feeling well. When you are not feeling well you just want to be home and in your own bed with your favorite comfy jammies (that no longer exist) cuddled up with your fur babies (that are no longer with you, as well.)

Things that I am choosing to do to help with the heartbreak. 

  • Thanking God Tim and I are both still alive. The more we discuss what happened that morning the more I realize what a blessing it was I wasn’t home. (this is still very difficult on a gut level because I tell myself if I would have been home maybe I could have stopped the fire from spreading and/or saved Ella and Essie.)
  • I am focusing on building a new home for us. What are the little things we did have that made our house a home?
  • Journaling about how much this sucks.
  • Taking outdoor plants that did survive the fire and transplanting them at the house we will be living at for the next year.
  • Focusing on what we do have and not what we do not have.
  • Focusing on rebuilding my craft room- collecting things that will be part of my new journey in fiber arts.
  • Remembering the great times we had with Ella and Esther and not focusing on the years we lost. (Picture Esther in a kayak with us on Lake Powell. She was such a trooper)

This list is not complete but are some of the things I am doing to cope right now.  We are so appreciative of the thoughts and prayers of our community. Family and friends have been amazing. We will receive a package in the mail, and I have to ask our girls “who is so and so?”  to which one usually replies, ‘Oh, they’re our friends.’  The outpouring of love has been unfathomable to me. Please continue to pray that I heal from the bronchitis I have developed. Pray for wisdom for Tim as he deals with the fires and evacuations in southern Gila County and how they are affecting the court system. Thursday will be the electrical inspection at the house to see if they can determine the cause of the fire.  Friday the 18th the rental furniture will be delivered, and we can start getting settled in our new place.  Please pray for our landlord who has a long recovery ahead of him. We have developed quite a fond affection for him and his daughter.