Thursday, October 21, 2010

Burned Out: 1 Year Later

It has been a year today since our house fire and four days from the anniversary of my sister Susan’s untimely death. It has been a year of loss, upheaval, grief, tears, cold and pain. It has been a year of generosity and God's deliverance and miraculous answered prayer. It has been a year of God reaching down for us, parting the Red Sea for us, leading us to a new season even as we grieve over the season that was ripped from our hands.
I don't think I've cried as much in my whole life as I've cried this year. I've been so cold, so often, hot showers, hot tea and 3 quilts don't warm me. I've been discouraged, depressed, and sad beyond belief, questioning the decisions and choices we've made, angry at the time, energy and money we've expended only to throw resources, books and tools in the trash. And, at the same time, overwhelmed by the transformation that has taken place, both in our house and in our lives.

I have been worn thin and worn out at the hard work that this year has demanded. We cleaned out the house and threw literally tons of possessions away, too smoke and fire damaged to be restored. We sorted again and cleaned what was left. We created a line-item inventory of every item that was lost, it's cost, how long we'd owned it, manufacturing number and a couple of other details I’ve blocked from memory; an inventory that included tens and tens of sheets with 30 lines and totals on a page. Oh, that was grievous, inventorying 90% of the possessions of our lives. It was an up close and personal look at what we've invested in, how we've managed, what we did well and had left un-done. If the judgment seat is anything like it I thank God that Jesus Christ will advocate on my behalf because I would surely be un-done by the moral inventory of my life!  And then sorting through bids and making decisions about whether to restore or bulldoze our home. And finally, as we moved from the hotel to a leased house we gathered items as mundane as measuring cups and socks, and gratefully accepted gifts of clothes and furniture and books and curriculum and pictures and gift cards and meals and more. Making decisions about the house, tending to each other and the kids whose stress worked it self out in many different ways, and to my husband who has suffered through more rounds of pneumonia and bronchitis and antibiotics than I hope we ever see again.
 We continue to re-build and build-up, which is a far more comforting place to be than tearing down amidst the choking smoke and devastation. But still the heavy demands and amount of work to be done have created overwhelming days and situations. I have been worn and weary from the hard work, emotionally and physically. I have taken more Tylenol this year for aches and pains than I have, literally, taken over the course of the rest of my life. I have also spent more time awake at night, more time anxious and fretful and afraid about how things will work out, if we've made the right decisions, if we are on the right path, worried about my kids and my husband and feeling that my life has unraveled before my very eyes. The number and enormity of the decisions that have had to be made, along with so many opinions and demands from so many fronts at once, have taxed us to the limit.

Through it all I am grateful. Grateful that this old house is being, parts of it done, restored. It is a simple 4 x 4 farmhouse, but it is on a sweet piece of property, statuesque in its own grand way and full of memories of the west being settled and the history of farming in our country, and most importantly to me, my family. God has brought to fruition many of the dreams we had when we first moved here 7 years ago; fitting because 7 is the number of completion: new windows and HVAC and wiring and plumbing, remodeled bathrooms and kitchen and finished fir floors, completed basement and attic, refinished woodwork and even a new sidewalk and shrubs.

Because of the events of the past year I know I will never be the same. Some of the ways I've changed this year are obvious to me already. I am more tentative, more wary, more disbelieving and I feel tender and raw, like a burn victim with new skin so much of the time. Unsure of what will hurt but anxious that most everything will. I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not. I am more aware, acutely aware, of how tentative life is, how tenuous people and relationships are, how fragile the composition of this thing we call "our lives" really is. Who are we really, when we’ve been stripped of place and possessions?

I have always been a praying person, but as I shared in Bible Study this week, prayer no longer bubbles forth, at the ready for people or situations, spoken, shared or whispered privately. I still pray but the heart-felt and easy adoration I have for the Lord has been hidden or lost somewhere. I am more likely to cry than to raise my hands or face in adoration and I wonder, perhaps cynically, at those who easily say or sing words like, “What ever you want, Lord, take from me. All I have is yours” I wonder at those who give from the extras instead of from the need or the desperate want. Do they really mean it? Would they so easily say those words if their choices were wrested from them or if their money didn’t matter? Would they be who they think they really are if their wardrobe or car or jewelry or haircut or house or money or fertility or career or freedoms were gone? I don’t sing those words as easily any more. Because as much as I have been barely o.k. with my stuff being taken, as old and decrepit and shoddy as some of it was, I’ll tell you quite honestly that I don’t hold my kids or my husband or my family or my friends, or, if we’re going to be honest, my stuff and hopes and plans and dreams and big ideas in my hands as lightly as I think I do. I don’t want them taken or sacrificed or gone before their time. I don’t want to sing, glibly, that all I have is someone else’s, even when that someone is the Master of the Universe. And the reason is selfish; what if He makes good on what I say and takes what is His after all?

I’ve considered my response to so many, “It could have been worse.” And it certainly could have been. No one died; well, no one died in the fire at least. The house is becoming beautiful, we’ve learned new skills, survived the ordeal, hopefully grown stronger. But in the overall scheme of my life, this fire has been in the top 5 disrupting and paradigm shifting events of my life, down on the list from committing my life to Jesus Christ, my mom dying and moving to CA and surviving my husband’s graduate program.

I have held these competing thoughts and emotions in my head and my heart all year, loss and gain; death and life; despair and hope; bondage and victory; defeat and success. I’m not good at ambiguity or complexity and I’ve dropped a lot of balls, missed things, lost items and contacts and hopes along the way. And I’m not making excuses, but many days it was all I could do to just do what I was confronted with, nothing more. Even now, I feel confronted, in the New York in your face sense, by demands that are dictated by the season and timing I can’t change and I have lost my kids homework assignments and friendships and a dream or two along the way. I find myself embarrassed, ashamed really, and sad about that too. I wonder if I will ever move beyond the ocean of tears and wracking sadness that has welled up within and overflowed way too often. I know I will. I know that God’s healing and sovereignty will usher in a new season soon enough. Even now I no longer cry in the car when I think of Sue, or in bed in the middle of the night suffocated by tears as I did in December and January and February, wondering in angst if homeschooling and mothering and investing in our family so purposefully has been worth it. The healing has been slow but it is there, sure and steadily growing.

My wise friend Mary shared a story with me just weeks ago. About a group of nuns that had prayed that their service might bring about the end of the reign of Terror in France. For some horrific reason they were slated to die by the guillotine. As they were escorted to their execution, they sang a hymn of praise. One by one they died, though the remaining nuns continued to sing praise to the Almighty. And as their voices thinned, those who had come to watch and heckle the execution joined in. By the end, the audience, rather than jeering and jesting, were moved to praise. And because of the bravery of these courageous nuns the people saw the unjust horror of the Reign of Terror and it was overturned, in part due to the humility and prayerfulness of these nameless women.

I am healed and encouraged by this account. Not that I consider a house fire and the loss of a family member the same as being martyred. But it assures me that there is a story before and behind and beyond the story that I see. My small part to play is just that but there is a bigger drama going on, a drama of intrigue and fascination and healing and restoration. Perhaps my heartache this year will be worth more than just a house re-build. Perhaps it will go further than we know, bringing about in some small way His kingdom or His healing or His purpose. In that I find rest and even joy.

From my friend Janell's blog. Aren't they lovely?


Lisa said...

Wow, very moving. I wish you a coming year of peace.

Kelly Mine said...

i am touched by your honesty. really, we have no idea what it is like to walk in another's shoes, but listening can cause us to take careful inventory of our own hearts.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post, very moving to me.

I had a house fire when my twins were 4 and my youngest son was a baby. I think that if you haven't experienced a house fire, you can't really know what it is like. We loss everything in our living room, dining room, kitchen, and the kid's rooms. It was devastating. Two weeks later my son was hospitalized for rotavirus and nearly died. He was in the hospital for a week. The two events were nearly too much for me, and I thought I would never get through the year.

I did though, as did my kids, but it was incredibly difficult. After seven years the twins and I still think about the fire, and the twins are very fearful of fire. I think it will always be with us, but it did make us stronger and so appreciative of all we have.

Mandy in TN said...

Thank you for that heartrending directness. It was incredibly moving and gives insight to your strength of character!

3G=Growing Godly Girlz said...

I am so touched by your story-I just had to leave you a comment. I am praying for your family! God's continuous blessings for you all!

Sydni said...

What an emotional post. It has given me some things to think about. You have suffered much this last year. I pray the coming year will be a little easier.

Sharon said...

I so enjoy reading your blog. You're a beautiful and gifted writer... your words reach down so deep. I could never express myself the way you do.
Love you Lisa.

LaughingLioness said...

Thank-you, friends! It is always intimidating to put what I really feel "out there." Your comments mean so much to me!!

Brittney said...

I don't even know what to say. You laid your heart out, bare. You shared with us an inner most part of you and I am grateful. Your words are real. Your emotion is real. Your faith is real. What you wrote in paragraph 6 really spoke to me. I have never been one to say, “What ever you want, Lord, take from me. All I have is yours” because, frankly, I am afraid He will. Those are my own issues, and I am working through that, but your final paragraph really gave me something to meditate on. Just thought you should know. Thanks.

Jennifer @ Conversion Diary said...

Thank you so much for directing me to this post. I can't believe how many tragedies you suffered in such a short time. Your thoughts on "white martyrdom" that you mentioned in your comment at my place are so helpful to me as I go through my own small difficulties. Thank you for sharing. You'll be in my prayers.

LaughingLioness said...

Jen, Thank-you for your prayers. We know that we have been lifted up continually and our faith strengthend through prayer. White matrydom was such an important concept to me as well. Blessings!