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.

This Too Shall Pass

Tragedy is a mysterious thing. Every morning you wake up is different. Some days you wake up and the elephant is sitting on your chest. You’re numb and have to decide to conquer the demons and make it through the day. Some days you are weepy and tears come easily. Other times the tears won’t come because you’re just too tired to cry. Last week I had taken my mom to Illinois to visit her sister who has her own battle she’s fighting at the moment. I made her the quilt pictured – and had added her motto ‘this too shall pass’. We all have things in our lives we wish would go away If we focus on what is irritating us or causing us pain we will miss the things that bring us joy. I can focus on all that we have lost but what good will that do me? They are just things (although those that know me well know I’m about the most sentimental person alive on the planet!) Our attic and house was filled with items from my great grandparents, grandparents, bins filled with all the girls artwork, stuffed animals and fabric clothing from when they were young. My little brothers stuffed dog ‘Fred’ didn’t survive the fire but the scrapbook I had made when he died of all the cards people sent survived with our photos!! Tim’s rocking chair from when he was a toddler along with Shoshanah’s are gone but we have the amazing memory and photos of our granddaughter sitting in the chairs rocking away. Every time I think of something we’ve lost I try to immediately think of a positive from it. It’s the only way I can cope with what has happened. Humor is another coping mechanism of mine. The stuff in the house is temporary. It wouldn’t have lasted forever. And quite honestly- the stuff was important to me— when I am dead and gone who would have wanted to inherit the ‘creepy’ baby doll from the 1920’s that my girls always wanted tucked away in the closet when they came to visit? What to do with family heirlooms after we are gone has now been decided for us. We are eternal. Things are not. I am going to try and focus on that today. Please continue to pray we find a long term rental until we can build a new home.

75Winona Lipp, Mandy Getz and 73 others25 CommentsLikeCommentShare

Refiner’s Fire

As she watched the silversmith, he held a piece of silver over the fire and let it heat up. He explained that in refining silver, one needed to hold the silver in the middle of the fire where the flames were hottest as to burn away all the impurities. The woman thought about God holding us in such a hot spot; then she thought again about the verse that says: ‘He sits as a refiner and purifier of silver.’ (Malachi 3:3) She asked the silversmith if it was true that he had to sit there in front of the fire the whole time the silver was being refined. The man answered that yes, he not only had to sit there holding the silver, but he had to keep his eyes on the silver the entire time it was in the fire. If the silver was left a moment too long in the flames, it would be destroyed. The woman was silent for a moment. Then she asked the silversmith, ‘How do you know when the silver is fully refined?’ He smiled at her and answered, ‘Oh, that’s easy — when I see my image in it. I have always loved this story. When my brother died it comforted me. Now- it comforts me again. Every other piece of artwork in our house was destroyed. Even in the outlying areas where a few things survived- this metal piece was hanging in the great room where the fire was the hottest. Another sign to us that the word of God stands forever. Amen!

Momma’s Mottos: #1 Be Kind To One Another

It has been years since I have written a blog post. I have really missed it and a still small voice has been encouraging me to start writing again.  Rather than struggle over what I have written, making sure the punctuation is perfect and everything sounds cohesive, I have decided to simply write and ask for forgiveness for the rawness of each post. I hope you enjoy the read…

Be Kind To One Another. Okay, this is not my original saying. It’s Ellen’s. But it is a very good mantra to live by. It is a life lesson that one of our daughters inadvertently taught me one fall.

Our girls were on a cheer squad when they were younger; first and fourth grade respectively. After school they would meet at the park for cheer practice and belt their cheers out for what seemed like an eternity, but it was just until supper time.  As football season rolled into autumn the fall weather came along with it. One of the mottos at our house is ‘better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.’ But more on that one in another chapter.

True to our motto, the girls would take a jacket with them to practice even though they didn’t need it for the beginning of practice. One early evening as I picked up the girls from cheer practice, I noticed our older daughter was wearing the shell of her The North Face jacket, but the insert was missing. When I asked her where it was, she said she lent it to one of the other cheerleaders that didn’t have a jacket and was cold. (insert angry emoji and steam coming out of mom’s ears) You what??  The thoughts that were going through my head and then came out of my mouth went something like this… ‘you know we are never going to see that jacket again, right?’ ‘Do you know how much we paid for the jacket and we need your younger sister to be able to wear it someday, as well!’ ‘Why should her lack of planning bringing a jacket mean you have to sacrifice yours?’ I could continue but I don’t want to embarrass myself further. My poor daughter. All of her life we have been telling her to be kind. Encouraging her to share with others. To live the Golden Rule, do to others what you would want done to you. She was doing exactly what we had taught her. Was this an exception?  Should she not share when it means it’s an expensive jacket or something else of value? What I have learned over the years is that when you give to others it comes back to you in one form or another.

I apologized to my daughter for my selfishness. I wasn’t practicing living out what I had been teaching her to do all of her life. It was still really hard to think about the possibility of not getting the insert for the jacket returned to us, but I resolved to let it go. She wasn’t going to freeze to death this winter. Our daughters act of kindness was far more important than any amount of money. Oh, and by the way. A few days later the girl remembered to bring the jacket back to practice and returned it to our daughter.