Monday, December 23, 2013

Ten Days before Christmas

Cozy in our home, ten days before Christmas
I woke up at 2:30am last Monday morning smelling something funny. I jumped out of bed and let my extremely-sensitive-pregnant-lady nostrils lead the way around the house. The smell was strong, and it frightened me, but I couldn't find anything wrong.  I first ran to my older boy's room (they are sleeping in their own room now!) to make sure they were okay. I checked their chests to make sure they were still breathing, that we weren't all being slowly poisoned by carbon monoxide. They were fine. They were sleeping soundly.

Our heater was broken again this weekend and our rental agency had brought us some large electrical heaters to keep the house somewhat warm. We had one plugged in upstairs and two downstairs, so my immediate thought was that the heaters were getting too hot and letting off some rancid smells. I went around and unplugged the heaters one by one, even though I knew we would all wake up freezing cold.
I then went back to my bedroom and crawled back under the covers, hoping I had solved the problem. My husband and toddler were still fast asleep in our big bed. 
I didn't want to wake my husband up this time. He was tired. He had just returned late Saturday night from a school conference in Denver, and hadn't rested a wink since he got home. Our weekends are often far from restful as we hustle to meet the high-need demands of family life that can quickly fill our days--groceries, recreation, shopping, one-on-one time with the boys, church activities, and then the hustle and bustle of church meetings and callings on Sundays. The last thing I wanted to do was wake up my husband 3 hours before his alarm clock went off for work, only to tell him, "I smell something funny." After all,  my extremely sensitive pregnant lady nostrils could be playing tricks on me!

But the awful smell wouldn't go away. It was now 3am and I was still lying there smelling this horrible gassy/burning/electrical smell. Only I couldn't figure out what the heck it was! The house wasn't on fire, as far as I could tell. The CO2 alarm wasn't going off, the heaters were unplugged, the animals and children were all breathing....yet I still had this horrible, worrisome feeling in the pit of my stomach. After lying there another few minutes, I finally convinced myself that I was being paranoid and went back to sleep. Unfortunately, I was still very worried when I drifted off to sleep, so I prayed in my heart that God would watch over my family while I slept. It was all I could think to do.

At 6am my husband shook me awake. I knew immediately that something was wrong. 
"Sally, wake up." he said urgently. "Sally, I need you to stay calm and follow me." I jumped out of bed, alert and ready to face the worst of whatever  there could be ahead of me. He quietly led me to the hallway stairway and pointed upwards. From where I was standing I could see the open attic with wild, orange flames bursting from the ceiling to the top of the roof. Our house was on fire after all, and we needed to get out quickly.

I picked up our sleeping toddler from the bed, while my husband grabbed our 5 year old from his bed. Our seven year old was already upstairs in the living room watching cartoons, completely oblivious to the fact that he had walked underneath a flaming attic to get there. We took the children out of the house and put the two older ones in the car, while I dialed 911. While we waited for the rescue crews, my husband scurried through the house grabbing our most important things, such as purses, wallets, kitties, puppies, and computers filled with years and years of digital pictures. 

It was still dark, and freezing cold out. Snow and ice covered the ground. I didn't realize that I had run out of the house without my shoes or jacket on. I was shivering on the sidewalk, holding tightly onto my toddler, trying to dial my next door neighbors phone number with stiff, cold fingers. 
"Can we come over? Our house is on fire." I said as soon as she answered.
"Absolutely, get on over here." she replied.
I ushered our children out of the car and over to her house. They were still in a sleepy daze, unsure of what was actually happening. We cuddled up on her warm couches, and watched out the windows as police cars and fire trucks filled our driveway next door. 
I watched as the firemen clomped into our home with their heavy boots and big fire hoses; smoke and vapor shooting out from our rooftop. This was our very first house fire and it was pretty fascinating to watch. Soon our driveway was filled with concerned neighbors and friends. When the flames were finally cleared, and the fire trucks had driven away, we were greeted by the fire Marshall. He told us it was an electrical fire that had started in the attic. The smell I had smelled had been smoldering insulation from live wires that had caught flame. He then informed us that the electricity, the gas, and the water were all turned off. We'd need to alert our landlords immediately and find a new place to live. 

But it's ten days before Christmas, I thought miserably. And I'm pregnant, which means I'm tired.  And sick all the time. And where are we supposed to go? I don't want to move! I really love our house, and our neighbors, and our ward, and the park across the street!
I reasoned that maybe the house wasn't in such bad condition, after all. I'd just march in there and take a look and we'd find that everything could be fixed in just a couple days. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case.
Not only was the kitchen ceiling, the attic, and the greater part of the back of the house ruined, but the smell lingering in the house was horrible! My sensitive pregnant lady nose was freaking out, big time. Also, the water from the fire hoses had dripped through the ceiling down to the basement, flooding the bathrooms and soaking the carpets. There's no way we're staying here, I finally accepted. This place is over and done with.

Our rental agency put us up in a cheap motel for two nights. The first night we were there I was a train wreck of emotions. On one hand I was so extremely grateful that our family was safe and that the fire wasn't worse than it was, but on the other hand I was feeling nauseous, exhausted, and bitter from packing bags and moving our family to a tiny motel room across town. I had already been having a really rough week, emotionally and physically, and this was just adding insult to injury. I was feeling so annoyed at everything going on at this point, that nothing could make me feel better. I finally cried in a heap on the bed while my husband and kids tried their best to ignore console me. Utah sucks, I reasoned. I could be on a warm beach in Hawaii, eating lychee and shave ice and soaking up the sun, but instead I am freezing my butt off in this awful place! I'm cold, I'm sick, my house just caught on fire, and now we have nowhere to go. 
Sure, things could have been worse, but this was my breaking point. 
The first act of kindness came the next day when a friend from our church invited us over for dinner. I was delighted to accept, for I knew that going to her house would be 100x better than sitting in our motel room, watching cable,  and crying....again. 
Dinner was delicious and the company wonderful! It lifted our spirits and helped me feel more optimistic about the heavy work load ahead. This simple act of kindness would only mark the beginning of the long string of generosity and care bestowed upon our family at this time. 
I watched over the next few days as people came out of the woodwork to give love and support to our family. I also watched as my bitter, angry heart softened and melted at the kindness and love people showed us. 
I feel very grateful at this time for all the goodness that has been shown to our family. I wanted to try my best to explain how grateful I am, and how full my heart is at this time for all the kind deeds, so here I go:

 I'm extremely grateful right now to the Relief Society sisters who came over and helped me pack up our house into boxes. Some of them I didn't even know their names, yet they came and did what needed to be done. I am grateful for a loving Relief Society president who did my soaking-wet-fire-laundry and even mended the rips in my sheets. I am grateful for a loving  Bishop who is constantly checking on us and making certain we're comfortable.  For the lovely sisters in our ward who have served us meals, for the friends at Micah's work who gave our family money, and for the strong men who came to move all the heavy furniture to our new house. For a caring Visiting Teacher who spent her Saturday helping us move furniture and boxes. And for the wonderful neighbor who generously fed our moving crew on that chilly Saturday afternoon. I am also grateful for our special *Trike Fairy* for sending Santa money for the kids so that we could make Christmas extra special, and for a dear friend who watched my children two days in a row while I rejuvenated myself and tried to stay sane during this past week. 
I am grateful for all the wonderful neighbors from our ward who have brought us holiday cookies, food, and words of support to our doorstep. For a friend who went out of her way to brighten my day with goodies that I love! For an Aunt who called to make sure we were okay and touched my heart with her kindness. For a friend who helped us find a new place to live with wonderful new neighbors in our same ward boundaries (BONUS!). For an intuitive landlord who let us move in immediately without references or applications, because she "felt good about us." For a spontaneous pizza dinner from a caring family in our community. For all the kind words and messages we've received through phone calls, emails and facebook, as friends and family have showered us with  love and concern for our welfare. 

Most of all, I am so very, very grateful that I've been able to witness the love of Christ work through all these wonderful, generous people in our time of need. 
This has been a rough week, but one of the BEST as far as feeling the true meaning of Christmas! I found out through this experience that you just can't feel bitter or sad when the world is lifting you up!
 I also found out that I live in a beautiful community full of amazing people, and I furthermore learned that I belong here. 
In fact, I don't want to leave. 
Sure it might be freezing at times, and my house might even catch on fire forcing our family to move in the middle of the cold of winter and during the depth of a hard pregnancy, but in the end I know we will be fine. In fact, I know that we will be more than fine-- we'll be safe, happy, comfortable, grateful, and loved, all because our house caught on fire ten days before Christmas.

Merry Christmas everyone. 
May the goodness of the season come full circle as we keep paying it forward all year long!

1 comment:

arianne said...

Ah! Sally! I can't believe my eyes. You poor thing. I'm so glad others were there to help you. I wish I could have been. I can't imagine anything worse right before Christmas. I'm so sorry you've been going through this. I hope this year is much smoother and peaceful. Sheesh.