When something bad happens, you have two choices. First, you can get angry and throw a fit. The second choice, is to take a deep breath and realize that God has a plan, even in the mess. My goal is to choose the latter. It’s a lot easier to do so when you are surrounded by people shining God’s light and being His hands and feet. We have been blessed by the true church of God. We also learned a few things along the way. You can be a blessing to others too, and help them through the fire.
Fires come in all shapes and sizes. It might be a lost job or an illness. It might be an undisciplined child or jeans that fit a little too tight. Our fire, however, actually had orange flickering flames. Before I can tell you how to help someone through the fire, first let me tell you our story…
I woke up early the morning of September 26th, just a few minutes after 3am. It isn’t unusual for me to wake up in the middle of the night, groggy and fighting to get back to sleep. It was unusual for me to wake up instantly, without being tired, and get right out of bed. But, that’s what I did. (I attribute that to God! And I even got to say so on the news!) Straight out of bed, I went to check on my sleeping children. As I left their room, I noticed it was really bright in our living room, kind of an eerie brightness, not like when we accidentally leave on the lamp. As I walked in, I noticed it was yellow outside the back windows. I pulled the blinds apart and could only see a thick cloud of yellow-gray smoke. There were little flickers of yellow light just inches from my face.
I immediately began yelling, “John! Wake up! I think the house is on fire! Call 911! At the same time, I was running to the kids’ bedroom. I flipped the light on in their eyes and said, “Get up and put on your shoes. The house is on fire. Meet by the front door.” The kids were saints as they very quickly had their shoes on. I remember the panicked look on my littlest one’s face as she couldn’t find two shoes that matched. (That’s often a point of contingency in our non-emergency exits.) She looked surprised when I said, “Just grab two shoes. It doesn’t matter if they match.” It must have been a matter of seconds before the kids and I were outside.
Others Need Help
Our Neighbor Above
The kids and I walked out towards the parking lot of our apartment. I breathed a sigh of relief as they were safe, but, then we heard the screaming above us. A young college student was screaming, “Help! Help! I’m up here!” Just above our kitchen window, a man was hanging out the window. I yelled to him that my husband had called 911. “I think I should jump,” he screamed back. At that time, I looked up and saw flames that must have been 10 feet high shooting out of the roof just a few feet above him. “Yes! Jump!” was my encouragement. The kids and I stared in awe as he dangled from the second story window and let go into the prickly bushes below. He was safe, but skinned his arm. Then he began screaming, “My brother! My brother is up there!”
At that point, I realized everyone, all 4 apartments in our building needed to get out, including my husband who had yet to make an appearance. I ran to our door, which we had left open, and I could see him milling around inside. I used my “teacher” voice. “John. GET OUT! The house is on FIRE!” Visions of the 10 foot flames on the roof were shooting through my head.
Then I ran across the hall and started pounding on the door. It didn’t take long for a woman to come to the door and look at me groggily. “The apartment is on fire. You need to get out.” She looked confused and didn’t say anything, so I just repeated myself and went back to the kids. No one else was getting out quickly enough, including my husband.
The only way I could think to relay the urgency and make sure everyone knew was to start screaming, so I told the kids that we were going to start screaming, “Fire!” at the top of our lungs all together. “1-2-3…”Fire! Fire! Fire!” We were later told that this is what convinced someone that there was real danger and they needed to get out.
Finally my husband came to join us, as did the brother that had been upstairs. My husband later told me that he hadn’t realized the fire was that bad. He had thought it was a little flame and that it would be put out and we would be back in there in a few minutes. Meanwhile, he had been getting dressed and looking around to see if he should take anything with him.
Once he was with us, however, he realized the people in the other upstairs apartment hadn’t come out yet, so he went up to bang on their door. It felt like he was up there forever. He later told us that he could feel the heat and see the flames flickering across the breezeway. Then he heard our kids crying and screaming, “Daddy, come down! Come down, Daddy!” so he came down to us.
Here They Come
By this time, everyone in the building was making their way downstairs and away from the building. It seemed like several minutes before the fire engines arrived, though I’m sure it wasn’t really very long. Once they got there, it again seemed like forever before they started spraying water. The whole time the flames were rising and we were certain that it was all going to be a loss. I snapped a photo and put it on FaceBook because I knew that my Kentucky friends were an hour ahead of us and they would start rising soon, see the post, and pray for us. People can say what they want about FaceBook, but when you need prayer, it’s a great resource!
A Prayer and a Song
All we could do was stand there and watch the fire burn, be thankful that we were all okay, cry for a few seconds, sing “Jesus Loves Me” and “The ABCs,” and stop and pray together. We prayed for our belongings, knowing that they weren’t really that important, but at the same time, they were needed for normal life. We prayed for our sentimental objects, again knowing that we would be okay without them, but that if God would spare them, we would be grateful. I saw the prayers of others pouring in over FaceBook and I was comforted. We continued on like that, praying, crying, torn between standing and watching everything burn, and walking away so the kids couldn’t see, but the firemen came and asked us not to go too far because they would need to talk to us. Then the news reporters followed suit. Eventually the Red Cross did the same.
How Can You Help Someone Who Has Been Through a Fire?
When you go through an actual traumatic event, you realize that there are times in life when you simply are at God’s mercy. It is totally up to Him to get you what you need. That help may come in the shape of firemen, neighbors you have never met bringing blankets and water, or the Red Cross handing your kids stuffed animals. It also shows up mightily in the face of friends and loved ones who are willing to get in the trenches with you.
I know that I personally don’t always do enough, and sometimes don’t do anything, because I don’t know what to do or I think someone is probably taking care of it. I am SO grateful for friends and people in the community who didn’t feel this way! They jumped in with gusto and quite literally became the hands and feet of Christ. I want to say thanks to everyone who turned this crazy experience into a blessing. I also want to show others what they can do to help people in similar situations.
10 Ways To Be the Church After a Fire
In a way that only God can do, He turned what could have been a nightmare into a beautiful blessing. Our community pulled together and showed us that we were more loved than we had ever known. If it hadn’t been for the help of our Community Bible Study and local homeschool groups, we wouldn’t have gotten through it. I am so thankful that these people, along with some other individuals, stepped up to give of themselves and their possessions, to pull us back together. They truly showed us what “the church” looked like. Most weren’t part of our local church body, but they were fellow Christians. That is what the church really is!I was so blessed by the generosity of others, that I am challenged myself to be more generous. I thought that I was generous before, but I have been blown away by what others did for us. Click To Tweet
Were were so blessed by the generosity of others, that I am challenged myself to be more generous. I thought that I was generous before, but I have been blown away by what others did for us. That is very humbling and eye opening.
In all honesty, sometimes I stand back out of timidity and think someone else will step up to fill a need, but I realize that shouldn’t be the case. God has called us to boldly serve. If you are ever in the position to help someone who has been through a fire, I want to give you these ideas on how you may be able to help. I only know them because this is what people did for us! (Thank you to those people. You know who you are!)
1. Take Charge
Shell shock and inexperience with fires meant that I wasn’t sure what the next steps were. I didn’t know what we needed to do. Someone with more experience with fires and hurricanes called and told me what they had to do in similar circumstances. She also called her cousin who was a firefighter to get advice Not only did she tell me what we needed to do, but she offered to help organize it. If she hadn’t let us know that we needed to get in as soon as the fire marshal would let us and get everything we could out that day, we would literally have almost nothing. We didn’t realize how quickly our building would be boarded up or how quickly mold and mildew would set in. Thankfully someone did!
Similarly, someone took charge while we were cleaning out the apartment. She told people what to do and where to put things. We were so caught up in the moment and looking at what had been saved and lost, that we weren’t really in a position to lead. I’m so thankful for natural leaders! I’m challenged to be more like that.
2. Organize and Rally the Troops
If your gift is organization, organize people to come help! Many hands make light work! Those in need may be too humble or shell shocked to ask. They might not even know enough people willing and able to do the jobs that need to be done.
3. Babysit and Homeschool
Two sweet souls offered to watch the kids so that several of the moms we knew could come and work. This provided many extra hands for the work that had to be done!
After the initial clean-up was over, we had friends offer to babysit our kids so we could run errands or just have a moment to process and discuss things together. We even had friends who homeschooled our kids for a few days so we could focus on getting our lives back together while our kids were still learning and making progress in school.
4. Get Dirty
The people who put on old clothes and waded through the water and falling ceilings to help us pull out our salvageable belongings will get an extra jewel in their crowns! They got nasty and ruined clothes for us. Not only that, these people stayed for hours, until dark, to make sure we had as much stuff as we could get. They took our wet, smelly clothes and dirty dishes to wash and store for the weeks until we found a new place to live.
5. Let Your Kids Help
Bigger kids joined their parents in the work. We were so touched by my son’s older friends who came and picked through his things, making sure all his special possessions were saved if possible. Since the kids’ room was the worst, this was a major undertaking! (We didn’t have our kids involved in the clean-up because our oldest is just 10. We were afraid it would be too emotional for him.)
My kids have been blessed with great friends who gave their allowance and savings to replace some of the things they knew had been lost. When we let kids help, it makes them feel good. They know that they are doing something important. They will continue being generous as they get older.
6. Offer Storage
If there are things that are salvageable, there will have to be a place to store things–especially things that need to be climate controlled and can’t be put in a storage facility. Offer your space for pantry items and precious photos.
7. Bring Meals
Not worrying about what we would eat or having to take the time to fix it was a huge blessing. Not only that, but it was wonderful visiting with the folks who dropped the food off.
8. Offer A Temporary Home
We were very lucky to get to be on our own for the first few weeks after the fire so that we could process. We stayed at friends’ homes while they were out of town. This was much nicer (and cheaper!) than a hotel. We even had some friends who stayed with relatives in town so that we could stay at their place a few days longer. They will always have a special place in our hearts! At the end of our waiting journey, we lived with a couple of other families. Thanks to the people willing to share their lives and homes with us!
9. Give Resources
We Are So Thankful for All the Donations
We were blessed with many resources and so thankful for all of them. We appreciate all the thoughtfulness and time that went into getting them to us.. Our apartment complex was considerate enough to organize a place for community donations. They even organized clothing by size and sorted various other items so we wouldn’t have to.
Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes
While there were many thoughtful donations, I want to take a brief moment to address what could be a touchy subject. When people are in desperate circumstances, they are in need. Although the need can be great, take a moment to consider how you would feel if you were in that person’s shoes. If you were given the items that you are considering giving, would you actually be able to use them? Or would they be something that you needed to discard and donate elsewhere? Or, worse yet, would they be something you would just throw away because you knew no one could use it? Our apartment complex told us that we would be amazed at what some people brought–and not in a positive way. They told us that they discarded a lot of the items as they sorted them because no one would want them.
As we were there looking over some things people had dropped off and my son asked me, “Why are people giving us their crap, Mom?” Please don’t think of him as ungrateful and that he should be thankful for just anything. My son is a very polite boy and probably says “thanks” more than most. He wasn’t used to the best of the best. Many of his clothes before the fire had seen better days. But he was right. Some people were being generous and kind. Others just needed a place to drop off their junk.
We used to have a preacher that said, “We don’t want your trash, folks.” Though that phrase always got nervous laughter, it is very true. If you are giving something to Goodwill, we are not above looking at it and using it if it will work for us. We love to shop at thrift stores. If something, however, is full of holes and run down, or has another child’s name plastered all over it, we will just be discarding it ourselves. We had a friend that told people, “Don’t give them your Goodwill discards. Give them good stuff.” We are thankful for her! The truth is, we are fine with Goodwill discards. We just prefer the good Goodwill discards!
Donating Bigger Items
If you have bigger items to donate, like furniture, send a picture and description. You may have a great table, but someone else may have one too. Giving details will let the family make a choice about what will work best for them so that it will fit in their new space or match their other belongings.
10. Give Money
Money and gift cards are wonderful gifts because they gave us the freedom to replace what we needed, both in the short and the long term. Money can be spent anywhere, so it is especially helpful. If you do want to give a gift card, make sure it’s to a place that the family can access easily.
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’” Matthew 25:34-30 ESV
We are so incredibly grateful for all that everyone has done for us. In many ways we have come out better than we were before. My husband said that he keeps thinking about the verse about being refined by the fire. I would definitely say that we feel closer to our community than ever. God has shown us a true picture of His church and challenged us to step up our game as well.
I pray that you will be able to step in and be a blessing when you see a need as well. God has put us here to be His hands and feet. Let’s take our marching orders and get going!