Last week Walker, his mom, and I got emergency evacuated from our home in the night because our neighbor’s house caught fire. A really serious fire that left the house destroyed and needing to be demolished. 8 people ended up homeless, including a bunch of kids, and it was heartbreaking.
Before the firefighters arrived and the fire got put out, Walker and I were woken up by pounding at our front door and told that we had to get out. Now. There was no time to grab any of our most valuable possessions or process what was going on, there was just: Get out now!
It was crazy. We grabbed our puppy and ran out the door, seeing only vivid orange flames and thick smoke. We knew, or thought we knew, that when we got back we’d find our home hit and many of our possessions destroyed. This wouldn’t be the first time we lost nearly all our possessions…we already had to start over once before due to a horrific mold infestation, so honestly we were pretty chill about that aspect of things. Possessions were just possessions, what mattered most was that we were all safe. But losing an entire home? That would be rough. It was all so scary and intense at the same time.
When we ran out of the house, flames seeming to surround us. All I could do was pray that God would send an angel to protect our house from being harmed by the flames and that nobody would get hurt. Anything was possible.
Because it was so late and we didn’t know who we could call at that hour or where we could go, we planned on getting a hotel nearby so that my body wouldn’t experience any more stress than it had to. But I was feeling a little faint so we stopped for food first.
Well the drive-thru took FOREVER so by the time we got to the window to collect our food Walker’s mom called us saying the fire had been put out. Our neighbor’s house had been completely destroyed but our house, and our entire property, was safe. And not just safe but untouched.
It was such a strange, surreal feeling hearing that. How could our property have been untouched when we all SAW the flames entering our yard as we were leaving the house? Not even our side of the fence was burned…it just didn’t make any sense.
The only real effect of the fire that we could see on our property was my scorched garden. But even then it was still completely intact because it had only gotten damaged by the heat, not the actual flames.
Like I said, it really didn’t make any sense. It was the impossible, right before our eyes.
We got home in the middle of the night and got the HEPA filters running. I wore my smoke mask that I bought an extra of after the Napa fire-storms 2 years before and we kind of just sat in our house in awe. God protected us, and he protected every single one of our things. It was strange, and amazing, and humbling, and also difficult for me to process because I lost nothing while the two families who lived next door lost EVERYTHING they had, save each other. It just…I don’t know…it was just hard for me. It was this mixed flood of two very different emotions: gratitude for me and heartbreak for them, all at once. I almost felt guilty that I was spared the sorrow that my neighbors weren’t.
But I just had to put everything back into perspective. Feeling guilty wouldn’t make anything better for them, because none of this was my fault or had anything to do with me. But I let myself feel the sorrow I was feeling on behalf of my neighbors, because I’m a mercy and feeling other people’s pain like it’s my own is a gift –although an extremely difficult and painful one– that God decided to create me with. And I want that gift to move me to love more, pray more, and do more of whatever God has put me on this earth to do.
I used to try to stuff my empathy in a box so people would stop calling me weak. But I’ve since learned that my empathy is not weakness. It actually takes a whole lot more strength to feel everyone’s pain so strongly and not get hardened, than it does to harden yourself from being able to feel or get hurt. Trust me, I would know.
So with the tragedy and blessing of last week I’m letting myself feel both emotions fully. I’m letting myself be completely heartbroken for my neighbors every time I go outside and see their destroyed home, and I’m letting myself be in grateful awe for my own blessings, and for the blessing of firefighters, and most of all for the angel that I can’t help but truly believe God sent to protect our home and everything we have.