Today I will take on Part 2 of What the Fire Gave Us. If you missed part 1, you can click here to read what you missed.
It took a few days after the fire to finally get an insurance adjuster out to our house. The ice storm had overwhelmed the system. Everything was a mystery until they could see it and tell us what to do. Only nine months before the fire, our agent came to the house to update our information. He told us that because we now had eight people living there, double what we had moved in with, we should double our coverage. My husband agreed and that decision made all the difference. Our previous coverage would not have been enough. I was so relieved to finally walk with our adjuster through the house and hear him talk about how they were going to take care of things. He told me to find a place to rent and they would take care of that too. A crash course in insurance is not fun but it was comforting to see it kick in. The relief I felt after that meeting was a lot like joy.
But before our insurance company could get to us, the love of our friends came pouring in. Money, gift cards, and a crib for our youngest to sleep in. Oh and the food! Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten came for us during this time. The employees of a trucking company that learned of our situation, gathered a truck load of clothes, toys, furniture and appliances for us. All these donations meant that the insurance money would go that much further. One friend set up a call for me with a couple who had a fire few years earlier. Their advice was invaluable. I wrote page after page of names and donations for thank you cards. It was staggering to see it all written in one place. The love we experienced was more comforting that I could ever explain.
Only one week later and just in time for Christmas, we found the place that would be our home for the next eleven months. It was a beautiful rental that had just been restored. It had a great yard and the perfect driveway for bikes and scooters. The neighbors had farm animals that we got to enjoy with out the work of caring for them. The memories my kids have of that house are some of the best from their childhoods. God placed us where we could be happy, even amid terrible circumstances.
When you have a house fire, you have to write down everything you lost. And when you got it. And how much you paid for it. And how much it will cost to replace it. I don’t know how people did this before the internet but thank God for it! We had a 6-inch stack of papers, with 17 items on each one, when we were finally through with that project. It was all-consuming work that lasted until February. Between doing this and shopping for every single thing people need to live, it was full-time. My husband was self-employed at the time and I have always stayed at home. Inventory is all we did, all day every day. I don’t know how people who have to go to work would get all this done. Hopefully, there is an app for this now.
Okay, that’s not all we did. We also fought hard to make sure no one messed up our house while they were restoring it. Three powers are at work in this process; the insurance company that wants to hold on to every penny possible, the restoration company who wants to hire the lowest bidder and make a great profit, and the family who wants to live in a house that is as good or better than it was. After the inventory, the daily job was making sure our house was okay and our choices were installed. We spent a lot of times at Lowe’s writing down tiny item numbers off sinks, appliances, switch plates, stain colors and so much more. The struggle between all the interested parties got so intense that I started kneeling down in my bathroom by the toilet to pray before meetings with the adjuster I had been so happy to see only months before.
I tell all that in an attempt to convey that all this was not fun. It was the hardest year of my life. At the same time, it was the best thing that ever happened to us. I would not want to complain, only to be honest about what the experience was like. God clearly used this time for our good. We had an old house that needed lots of improvements, not just cosmetic ones. Because of the fire, the house was brought up to code with new electrical, plumbing, heating system and insulation – all things we could not have afforded to upgrade. For the first time, I was able to pick colors and styles by what I liked! Within reason, I could choose new fixtures and details I had only considered by price before.
This was also true of our new belongings. After years of hand-me-down and cast off furniture, I got to go to a furniture store and pick what I liked! I found out I didn’t even know what I liked. My sister gave me great advice that I still use – “buy what you like and it will all go together.” I didn’t believe it, but it worked. Shopping was fun at first but for the first time in my life, I got tired of buying new things. I took off so many tags and stickers….all those things we bought one thing at a time over the span of years, I bought nearly all at once. We found out our bank was looking out for us too. Turns out you can’t suddenly start spending hundreds of dollars a day without the bank shutting down your card, even at Christmas time. Good to know.
The Red Cross, great people and so helpful, gave us $111 for each family member. That means we got a voucher for $888, with one odd condition. Only Kmart accepted the vouchers and we had to spend it all at one time on only clothes and shoes. Have you seen the old episodes of sitcoms where you win the contest to keep all you can gather in one minute? That is about what it was like. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work. That about sums up the whole year.
When we were finally able to move back home, we felt like strangers there. It was our house, but it wasn’t. Another blessing from the fire was getting to turn the garage into a 4th bedroom, something we had dreamed of for one day had happened. All the projects we had dreamed of doing were all done and we were stunned. I am still stunned when I think of God’s works and His ways through it all. I doubted Him and questioned Him and He still used me and my family to show off, to show how all things can work together for good. How it is all confusing but all true.
One of my favorite memories from right after the fire really sums up what I was feeling and how I feel about the fire now. When we were still at my mother’s house, I was trying to put my cranky, sleepy, 3-year-old boy down for a nap in a bed that wasn’t his and he didn’t like it. He was crying and saying, “I can’t like it, I can’t like it.” I can so clearly remember his sweaty little face and his curling hair as I started to rub his forehead and sing him his sleeping song. He was still saying, “I can’t like it” only he was losing his passion and relaxing. Suddenly the words changed to “I like it, I like it, I like it.” He could no longer deny that what I did for him was for the best, in spite of his initial protest. I wish I could say I surrendered that easily.
Now our family dates everything by asking, “was that before the fire or after?” For almost a year, I would go to look for things where I kept them before the fire or I would look for things I no longer owned. It was disorienting to be in the same house but with so many changes. Not only had the house changed, but we had too. We had been warned about the high rate of divorce after house fires, but we had become closer by the grace of God. Our children had to grow up fast that year and take on a lot of responsibilities. Our family had the great privilege to feel the love of so many friends and even strangers. Even all our old pictures were miraculously unharmed by the fire. With everyone safe and our memories still tidy in their boxes, what more could we ask for? I am still stunned when I look around me and see all that the fire gave us.