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Thursday, November 10, 2011

Rescued to Begin Again

November of 2005 was a very tough time for me.  I was newly divorced; still recovering from a series of botched back surgeries the year before which left me suffering from very painful disabilities; struggling to work despite back problems; and in addition to my two children, ages 9 and 5, I had custody of my 11 year old sister, and was keeping my two nephews, ages 1 and 4 several days a week.  Every day was a struggle, but we were managing.

I awoke Friday, November 11th, Veterans Day, and got the children ready and off to school.  My nephews were at my aunt’s that morning so it was only my children and my baby sister.  Not having to be at work for a couple more hours, I went back to bed.  A short while later I stirred, feeling disoriented thinking I was dreaming, hearing faint shouts “is anyone in there?”  As I opened my eyes, a ray of sunshine came through the room from the side of the window blinds and the air seemed to be swirling similar to a road horizon on a hot day.  I again heard what sounded like shouting in the distance and got up and walked to my closed bedroom door, still feeling hazy and unsure if I was awake or dreaming. 

When I opened the door, I realized I was not only awake, but in serious trouble.  As the door opened, scorching heat singed the hair on my face and arms, thick black smoke filled the room, making it impossible to see.  No longer disoriented, I frantically pushed to door to.  Coughing violently, eyes burning and watering, I dropped to my hands and knees searching for something to put over my face.  I couldn’t get out my bedroom door so I felt for the windows.  I’d only been in the house a short time and had never opened the windows in my bedroom.  It wasn’t until this moment, feeling blindly in the thick, black smoke, that I became aware that the windows were painted shut and I couldn’t get either window open.  On top of being painted shut, I knew the windows had metal framing through them.  Raw panic filled me. 

I again dropped to my knees and crawled to my bathroom, turning on the shower, telling myself I’d rather die from smoke inhalation than burning in flames.  It was getting very hot, and I was trapped.  I returned to the room, searching for something to break the window, when I heard shouting outside and began yelling and banging on a window.
The voices outside told me to get back while the window was being broke.  In what seemed like an instant, the window was broke and I was pulled from the window, landing on my feet outside the window, where I stood facing my neighbors, Bruce Moody and Chip Girndt.  It was as if I was completely weightless and my neighbors needed only guide me through the smoke and out the extremely high window; my feet naturally finding the ground upon my exit.  I believe God flew me out that window.

I was escorted to the road across the street from the house, wearing only a night shirt and panties…no shoes, no pants, no bra.  While neighbors dressed me on the streets, I watched as everything I owned was consumed by flames.  Bicycles under the carport caught fire and melted together like some type of abstract sculpture.  Flames escaped from every window and under the roof.  I realized at that moment, every picture of every memory was gone and that I no longer owned a single pair of shoes, or even one bra…everything I owned was being destroyed as I watched helplessly. When I looked to the window I’d been pulled out of only minutes before, I saw flames coming from it and realized how close I’d come to dying that day. Thankfully, the children were safe and I was alive!

My boss and his wife arrived and transported me to the hospital to be evaluated for smoke inhalation injury.  In those first few moments, fear and uncertainty were almost unbearable. I was a single mother with no home for my children, no bed for them to call their own.  Everything we owned was gone…their toys, pictures, trophies, awards, clothes…everything.  Then something started happening that changed what I was feeling from fear and panic, to gratitude and optimism, and which taught me a great deal about family and community.

As I sat in the emergency room, people began gathering.  My preacher, good friends, children’s father, aunt…then my office manager came with $1500.00 in gift certificates to a local clothing store which had been donated to my family.  I later went back to the house with my children to thank the my heroic neighbors.
Over the next few weeks, I received what can only be described as a miraculous outpouring of support from the community as a whole.  Within just a few short weeks, I had found a house, and had received enough donations to move in and begin again.  Wayne McMichael created a website for my family, where the community could track what I needed and what had been donated.  Citizens in the community could look at the website and see if they had any items I still needed they could donate such as beds, chairs, dressers, etc.  I might not have had the best of everything we had, but I had the basics of everything we needed. 
Over the next couple months a healing began, and I realized that in a strange way, I’d been given a clean slate…a fresh start.  Most of the material possessions I’d had carried memories of a life I no longer led or a dream that hadn’t come true.  What I now had carried memories of a generous and supportive community of family and friends who’d pulled together to help my children and I in our time of greatest need.  I realized how great God was during this time, how truly fortunate we were for each day we had together, and how every day was precious and deserved to be lived.  I learned how to love, trust, and laugh again.

When I think of this time in my life, a phrase always comes to mind; “You must first experience the deepest and darkest of valleys to fully appreciate the view from the highest of peaks.”  As I sat on the street owning nothing but the shirt on my back watching everything go up in flames, that was a truly deep and dark valley, but I’ve seen the view from many high peaks since that time.  I’m eternally grateful to my Vann Street Heroes who saved not only me, but my children’s mother, and for all the views we’ve had since that day.

Memories I would not have had without you guys: