Sunday, December 10, 2017

The beginning of my "Jesus year"

 I turned 33 on November 25, 2017.  It was a good day.  A relatively normal day.  I had celebrated with the girls the night before, Chris had to work and the kids were in our local Christmas parade.  Otherwise, we spent the day at home together relaxing which was perfect and just what I wanted. 

 When everyone was home and tucked in, I ended the day with a post on instagram saying, 
"Today was a sweet, normal day (which is just perfect.)  I took an hour long walk alone in the sunshine, the kids were in the Christmas parade, I baked cookies (ate the dough) and now am under a new blanket gifted to me by one of my very best friends, watching Netflix and drinking a Vanilla Pepsi.  You know, just 33 and living my best life."

Five minutes later, my mom called me (which is unusual for this time of night.  It was nearly 9 pm and though we text late, we almost never call).  I answered.  I could barely understand her through her bloodcurdling screams.  It was other-worldy.
"Ramee!  The house is on fire!  The whole house is burning down.  You have to come.  Get everyone and come!"

And all within an instant, everything changed.  My childhood home and the home that still holds my brother and my mother-up in flames?  I couldn't reckon it and didn't understand the severity of it even in that moment.  I calmly told the kids to get clothes on and warm coats so that we could go.  Nora cried the entire 5 miles to my mom's house.  For the first time in her life, I saw a normal response to trauma as the tears flowed freely.  She was afraid, pained and visibly altered.  I feared in that moment that she had a better idea of what this meant than even what I was able to process.  And I remember comforting her, thinking that exact thing. 
Before we left, I woke Chris to tell him what was happening but I didn't have enough details to know if the entire house was actually burning down or if it was something that would be put out and salvaged.  He had worked 13 hours and was due to be back up in a few to do the same.  I left him sleeping. 

As the kids and I pulled down the highway, we could see smoke pouring from under the viaduct.  Every fire department around our small town had managed to show up, only minutes before we did, from what I hear.  
The scene was horrifying for me and obviously for the kids.  We knew my mom was safe and I had an idea that Jake hadn't been home (thanks to snapchat) but everything else was really chaotic in those first few moments. 
 Thankfully, my Pawpy lives right next door to my mom.  If you recall, Nora and I lived with him in the 'basement apartment' of his home while her dad was away on deployment and we brought Braden home to Pawpy's house when he was born before transitioning into our own home as a family.  
Right next door to my mom. 
 Thank God.
 So we found my mom, traumatized and really inconsolable right inside of Pawpy's house.  It turns out, her pup Maggie had managed to bark and scratch enough to wake her from a deep sleep and literally helped save her life.  Mom made it out the door after she woke and realized what was happening, with both Maggie and Jake's dog Winston, but realized she forgot her car keys so ran back in to get them.  Winston followed her inside and as she made her way back out, he would not follow.  She called and called for him but she couldn't breathe and the 911 dispatcher begged her not to go back in.  It took everything in her, but she finally drove to Pawpy's.  
She doesn't even remember calling me.  
About 45 minutes after being there I realized I hadn't asked her if she had called Jeni.  She said that no one had.
Jake had just gotten there a few minutes before and asked about Winston. All of his fire fighter friends had been with him that evening except for one, who was actually over at our house trying to save Winston probably during this exact time.  

 My vantage point from the night is really painful.  
Total sadness.  Such destruction.  Severe pain.  
It was like something I could never imagine.  But it wasn't a dream as if it felt.  It was happening. 
I called Jeni.  She was calm and said she was coming.  She came.  By then, they had found Winston, tried to save him and weren't successful.  They brought him to Jake, wrapped in a blanket with a toy and we got to see him.  Just too much smoke inhalation.  He looked beautiful otherwise.  The firefighters were there for hours and the house is a total loss.  

I watched as they pulled old photos and other things from the smoke and flames.  The next day all of Jake's friends, Jeni, Chris, the kids and I got to go inside and see for ourselves what was left.  
Our house.  His house.  Their nanny's house.  Mom and dad's house.
 It feels like a death.
I know it's only been 2 weeks but some days I still wake up and feel like vomiting and some days I wake up with tears already formed in my eyes.  
People move houses all the time.  But my parents had not.  They had lived in this home since they were married when my mom was 19 years old  All of our memories were inside it's walls.  All of our adventures were played out here.  All of our Christmas mornings with grandparents and celebrations of Mabel's life were carried out in the yard that held this home. 
 People say "things are just things" and that is very true but sometimes things hold value and complete our memories.  They are sentimental and irreplaceable like the lock of Mabel's hair that my mom kept in her drawer, for instance.  
Things are just things and they don't compare to the lives that were save, of course, but going through those things in the bitter cold the following day felt like going through the ashes of a life that has been destroyed slowly, slowly and then suddenly-all at once. 


  I've seen the debris from homes that have been destroyed by fire before but only in photographs.  My brother, on the other hand, fights fires in his free time as a volunteer firefighter.  He has been up close and personal to this kind of destruction many times before.  The irony in that has made me physically sick on so many occasions over the last couple of weeks. My heart is broken for him.

There is nothing in the world that can prepare you for facing this kind of devastation.  There is nothing at all like the smell of a home destroyed by fire.  I could have never imagined how wet it all would be.
By day 3, Jeni and I couldn't even make ourselves go inside.  It just made us both too ill to even try.  
The physical smell and sight, yes.  But the emotional burden was just too heavy.  
 A home was never just a house to us.  
My mom worked really hard our whole lives to keep our home clean, and decorated.  It always smelled good.  It felt safe.
Our dad worked hard all of these years to ensure that we had a place to come when life outside of those walls was too heavy to bear.  We got to go home.

Growing up, so many of our friends practically lived with us at different times.  The door was always open-to anyone.  Even as Jeni and I left home (me at 18, she...much older), Jake and his friends still occupied that little house with all their big bodies and muddy boots.  In fact, after the fire as we all stood in what was left of the living room, one of Jake's best friends walked through the 'front door' and they all laughed and joked that they weren't aloud to use the front door!  Suzy said they couldn't! 
   After some investigation, we believe the fire may have started on the front porch.  
Which is really kind of irrelevant.  The point is just that it started at all.  
On my birthday.  And it's horrifying. 

A few months ago, in the middle of the summer heat, all of my friends and their children gathered here at my mom's house to make prayer flags in honor of Mabel's birthday.  We released balloons and sang and the next day my mom strung those flags together and hung them beautifully from this front porch.  The porch where my mom, Mabel's Nanny, would swing her on Easter Sunday year after year so that I could enjoy Nora and Braden looking for eggs.  The front porch where Jeni and I spent hours roller skating as little girls and would watch the storms roll in with my dad on many summer nights.  The front porch that I worked really hard at painting the summer that Mabel died, with worship playing through the valley and the sun beating down on me; it's heat like flames upon my back. 
 I mean they say that a house is just a house and that home is where your heart is.  
And those things are true.  But they are also platitudes of comfort in the midst of something awful when people don't know what else to say.  There are moments when those things feel like such an injustice to hear after you've already endured so much heartache.  
This home is where our heart is.  Of course the memories are about the people who we shared this home with and who joined us in it time and time again, but also-these walls were sacred and important.  

And I'm grieving them deeply right now, among many, many other complex things.
  I'm also rejoicing, of course.  
That my mom is alive.  That August is alive!  That Maggie is alive.
But the juxtaposition of it all is actually heart wrenching.
My sister and Matt were able to bring August home just a few days before the fire.  He was able to spend his first Thanksgiving at our new house with us!  It was all so beautiful and profound and miraculous and as a family, we were (and are) thanking God so relentlessly for His mercies and miracles.  For saving His life!  For taking Mabel so that she could have life eternal!
  For redemption in so many, many ways.  

And then I watched the flames consume our home and I physically trembled from the cold but felt absolutely nothing but shock in those moments, only able to think:
Watching this feels like a physical representation of the emotional pain we've all endured for so, so long.  

I watched and I watched and I wanted to just keep watching.  Because nothing in the world could ever compare to the pain my heart has felt except possibly the bright orange flames against the dark black sky that night.

You see, when you have held death in your arms, nothing else feels quite so scary.  Nothing else provides such relief.  Nothing else touches the kind of suffering and sacrifice and surrender that you experience while cradling death.
And I have done that.  Held life and death, almost simultaneously as she breathed and then stopped breathing...

But watching the ashes rise and the water pour into the home of my youth, I couldn't help but feel all the things that have been buried inside of me for quite some time now.
Things that I really needed to let myself feel.  
3 days after the fire, it was my mom's birthday.   
We celebrated her life with cake and dinner and singing, all together.  
And I have never felt more grateful because this year, it all could have looked so much different and instead, she is still here with me.  With us. 
 The day after her birthday while the kids were in school, I finally made the trip to the cemetery to decorate Mabel's grave and also the grave of my Nanny and my Uncle Bo (my mom's brother.)  They're all buried together at a little country cemetery that is beautiful, peaceful and perfect.
Again, ironic because the three of them all endured lives that were less than any of those things.

That day at the cemetery alone, I did the physical work and looked down at my hands, bloody from the evergreen and wires and laughed hysterically in the wind and cold.  The mad laughs eventually turned to wicked tears and the release of it all came like I knew it would.
Sweet release.  All alone.  
 Life is but a vapor, this I know.
As another platitude demands:  tomorrow is not promised.  

And that is actually correct.  It is not.  
Not even the next breath is ours to feel confident in.  
I feel so grateful that I have really embraced both grief and life, death and birth, love and heartache.  I realized sometime this year that I no longer ask "why" to our good God who knows.
Maybe there isn't a 'why' to any of it, rather a:

What will you do now, in the midst of trial?
What will you do in the face of grief?
What will you do in the shadow of destruction?
What will you do in the wake of a miracle?
What will you search for in the ashes?
Or maybe it's a 'who?'

Who will you call on to save you?
Who will you trust to see you through?
Who will you give all the glory for all of it?
Who will you turn from?
Who will you seek?
Who will defend and protect you?
Who is your God?

 I know my who and I know my what.  
I might even know the why and feel total peace about it.

I know, though, that it isn't easy to find it or feel it and I don't even think that God expects that from any of us. You may not feel like He is good, or kind, or fair.
 And all of that is ok.
Just know that even still, He is there. 
He doesn't leave because you don't feel Him.  In fact, He never leaves.  

In the vapor of the smoke or the air or the loss or the joy or the despair or the fulfillment or the miracle or the total let down...
He is there. 
As I look now at the debris of our home, and the lives of some of the sweetest people I ever loved in the ground beneath me, I realize more than ever before that life here IS but a vapor and I want to live it fully.

Loving fully.  Feeling fully.  Grieving fully.  Surrendering fully.
These earthly things really will all pass away.
But what will I have to show for it when I stand before the King one day?
Hopefully, most importantly, a life lived with truth and conviction-honoring Him in it all. 

1 comment:

Paige said...

I'm so sorry :-( My heart hurt so badly for you as I was reading this