This is a post about loss and riches. About tears despite immense gratitude. And about the kind of love for neighbor that binds us all together.

But first, let me tell you a story of how four little girls made a grown woman cry. It was two days after the fire, and Tom and I were on the way to the house—or what’s left of our house—to pick up our mail. On our way there, we passed our neighbor’s house, and his daughters had a cute little lemonade stand in front of their house.

The Ivory Hut: Family

I had heard about this lemonade stand from Tom the day before, and he told me he was too choked up then to do more than wave to them as he drove by. Feeling strong and in control, I said I would step out and talk to them. I wasn’t prepared for the impact of the simple sign they had in front of their stand.

The Ivory Hut: Family

I burst into tears, and with a shaky voice, I thanked them, asked to give each of them a hug, and then took their picture. I only had my cell phone camera on me, but this is one of those times when capturing the image is more important than worrying about depth of field and bokeh. I asked them for their names and made sure I spelled each one correctly. Arli, Jenna, Lauren, and Brittany, what you did touched me so deeply that until now, I can’t tell this story without my voice breaking.

There are so many emotions that go through me when I think about what happened and when I see the pile of rubble where our house used to be. Every time I remember the panic in Tom’s voice as he was screaming that Tim was still inside, unable to do anything because he was on crutches, it breaks my heart. I’ve never seen my husband look so desperately helpless.

The other day, Tim had asked if he could spend a few hours with some friends and just hang out a bit. Of course, we said yes. Then Tom asked him if he could please just not be out late and get back to the hotel early. When he said, “It’s just that right now, I feel uncomfortable when I don’t know where everybody is,” I realized that this fire has affected him in ways that I may never fully understand.

The Ivory Hut: Family

I know we’re fine. And I know that things will eventually get better, maybe even better than before. But sometimes, I still find myself tearing up for the smallest reasons. Like going to the grocery and then realizing I don’t even have my Shop-Rite card on me. Or wanting to log on to some silly online account and then remembering that I don’t have the post-it near my desk that had all my passwords. Or just seeing something that I want to photograph, or thinking I finally have time to play with a recipe I’ve been wanting to try out, except it was in a piece of paper stashed inside my binder of recipes. Or craving some of the mango ice cream that I just made two days before the fire. Simple things that I took for granted. Things that have little monetary value, but whose absence is a painful reminder of just how complete the loss is, and that “back to normal” is going to be easier said than done. By a long shot.

The Ivory Hut: Family

But still, in all this, we’re just immensely thankful that we’re not planning a funeral this week. Today at our Sunday worship, a dear friend who belongs to a neighboring congregation—not even our own—came up to us, gave each of us a big hug, and said: “Now. You will see just how big your family is.”

And then I have this amazing online community. Unbeknownst to me, my dear friends almost immediately put up their own online lemonade stand, and people, many of whom I didn’t even know, rallied to our aid with a speed that seemingly defies natural laws, and with a generosity that appears to have no bounds. All the heartfelt expressions of sympathy and comfort mean so much to us. I wish I could respond to every single one right now, but it will take some time. I hope you understand and know that, despite that delay, you have our deepest gratitude.

My family is safe. And my family is huge. It consists of my brothers and sisters in faith, countless people from my neighborhood, and it stretches around the world to all those who have opened up their hearts and have given us their support and prayers. And so even though we lost our home, I feel like in its place, we gained the largest circle of friends and family that anyone could ever imagine.


81 thoughts on “Family”

  1. I learned about your story via Joy the Baker’s twitter. I feel humbled. I moved yesterday from a 5 bedroom house with a basement and detached garage into a 3 bedroom house with nothing but attic storage. I have been complaining for days that we have entirely too much stuff.

    You have made me realize I have been taking my life and belongings for granted. That they will be there when I get home. That they are permanent. I have plans to weed out the things in my home that I no long use or need. I will donate them in honor of your family to the local Salvation Army, my church donation center, and to my friends.

    I will think of your family as I unpack my life, and be grateful for all that I have.

    My thoughts and prayers are with you.


  2. I’m so touched reading this. I really am. Realizing what is most important in life- something more important than all our fancy cameras and our pretty baking tins- it’s about the community. It’s about serving and loving one another. You and your family are in my prayers.

  3. My heart goes out to you and your family… I can’t even imagine. I’m amazed at how strong you are, and how you are seeing the positive in such a horrible tragedy. You are an example to us all. You have been in my thoughts since I saw the first tweet, and you will stay in my thoughts and prayers. Much love to you all.

  4. What a beautiful post, despite the tragic circumstances you are writing it in. I am glad you are all ok, glad you have each other and you know, we’re all here for you too. Even those of us who don’t know you in real life and barely know you online. Much love and hugs to you and your family.

  5. Loosing your home is like no other loss. It has a bazaar way of putting what is important into perspective. We lost our family home of almost 20 years when we were out of town. My father was home and had left to take care of business and when he came back the house was burning and totally in ruins. I think of items that I miss such as a picture of my mom when she was 20 and how beautiful she was. Thank god for memories. She still has an iron skillet that she restored and somehow the family china survived. All I can say about this event is that after every storm, the sun still comes out and that in my opinion is a beautiful thing.

  6. I’ve not had the chance to read your blog for ages, and I’ve just seen this post, knowing nothing about what’s happened. My heart goes out to you, and the girls’ lemonade stand and kindness made me cry. I’m so grateful your family are all ok. You all are in my thoughts.

  7. Erika & Family,

    I send you HUGS! Thank you for letting us know how you are doing. These four young girls are little angels. I’m tearful as I read your story…and so happy for you that you have so many around to comfort you and your family.


  8. Erika, those photos are so heartbreaking. Know that you have a giant community around you, lifting you up and supporting you. Sometimes the hardest times produce the greatest results. I am sure this is one of those times for you. Big hugs.

  9. You are loved by so many, Erika! May the good Lord keep on strengthening you during these trying times. Will be praying for you and your family.

  10. The loss of your husband’s prosthetic leg really struck a cord with me. As a child I lived in tornado alley and any time the tornado sirens went off all four kids had been assigned to grab a pair of my dad’s artificial hands or hooks to take with us to the basement. They were the most precious things besides us in the house! Keep up your positive attitude there are lots of people out there pulling for you! Julie

  11. I just wanted to let you know that I feel for you. I understand how it is to look for something and remember that it isn’t there anymore.. I lost everything in Hurricane Rita in ’05. All my belongings were sitting in the water so long that none was salvagable. It does get better, but hearing your story just makes it seem all too real again. I pray that all goes well for you. I’m thankful that no one was hurt and that ya’ll are all together still. I love seeing your positive attitude! God bless you, in Jesus name…

  12. The first night after reading about your loss, I couldn’t sleep, thinking of my girls all the way on the other side of the house. What would happen if there was a fire? Would I be able to get to them in time? Our home is on the larger side, but for the first time since we bought it I was wishing I could downsize…to one big room where we are always together.

    I haven’t been able to stop thinking about you and what’s happened to you and your family. I can’t begin to imagine what you’ve been going through, and I admire your ability to put into words a loss that seems indescribable.

    Sending thoughts and prayers to you and your family.

  13. Through tears in my eyes, I want to take a moment to tell you that your positive and insightful voice (…as well as your food and photography skills!) has always been inspiring. Even in the face of such a difficult time such as what you’re going through now… you continue to inspire me.

    I wish you continued strength and optimism every day, Erika.

  14. I hope you don’t mind me leaving a comment. I found this article through The Pioneer Woman’s tweets. I am so sorry for you and your family and what you are going through right now. My heart, my hopes, my thoughts, and my prayers are yours. You need them. I am so thankful (as are you) that everyone in that house made it out alive. I really can’t think of anything else to say. Nothing I say will take the pain, hurt and loss away. ((HUGS))

  15. I found this through Pioneer Woman… Just want to let you know that “normal” will come back. We survived a house fire seven years ago… the hurt never goes away, but it does fade. You will find out so many things about yourself and your community in the days ahead. You will see how much your family means to those around you, as your church and neighborhood and school community surround you. People you’ve never met will drop off dinners and new clothes. People you’ve known forever will find it hard to look you in the eye without starting to tear up. You will find a strength within yourself that you never knew you had. And years from now you will look back at this time and realize that you are strong and can do anything.

    My heart and prayers go out to you and your family!!!
    Leigh Ann in KS

  16. My heart goes out to you and your family. What an overwhelming test of strength and courage you’ve been tossed into. Sounds like you’re in as good a mindset as you can be in at the moment. Sending you hugs and strength and patience as you all get through this together.

  17. What a beautiful post. I have been praying for you since I heard about what happened. We’ve never met, I’ve never even read your blog until last week, but I feel connected through this amazing online community, and I will continue to pray.

  18. One day at a time…right?
    At the end of the day just like you said, your family is safe and you know that there are a lot of good people in the world…we are all thinking of you and yours. {hug}

  19. Hello Erika. Thinking of you and your family every day. You are such a strong woman and will make it though these bad times. What the girls are doing for you is just amazing. God Bless.

  20. Oh goodness, I am reading this at work and I am about to burst into tears. You are such an amazing woman. Your faith has no bounds and to me you are such an inspiration. Hang in there girlie!

  21. What a beautiful update, and a heartbreaking one at the same time. It’s wonderful to hear that all of you are doing well, and that so many people have come to your aide. I read this quote a few weeks ago and reading this post makes me think of it:

    “I’m grateful that God allows tragedies and trials to occur in our lives – not because they’re easy or because they’re desired – but because they help us love.”

    I love your incredible attitude and outpouring of love that your feeling right It truly shows what an beautiful heart you have.

    You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. :)

  22. Prayers and blessings continue for you and your family. We who have read your story…who have followed the updates of your friends…who reach out with virtual hugs, money, words of encouragement… we do this because we have also been blessed through this seemingly tragic event – blessed with community spirit, blessed with the reminders of hope.

  23. E, we don’t know each other, but I want you to know that you are being prayed for! God is good, and I’m so thankful you and your family are okay. Keep sharing the love of Christ with the blogging community through your transparency and reliance upon him. He is good.

  24. I can’t even remember now how I stumbled upon your story but it was enough to make this grown man cry. “If God is on our side, who can be against us. If God is on our side, we won’t be afraid. Though the mountains may fall and the sky will crumble, they’re ain’t nothin’ gonna stand in our way.” (C. Tomlin)… God Bless you and your family.

  25. Your story has truly touched my heart. My faith in
    man-kind has been renewed. It is amazing that so many people near and far have reached out in whatever way they can. Blessings to you and your family for the strength to recover from this experience and more important the strength to move forward.

  26. I’m not surprised by this post from what I’ve heard and read about you over the last few days. A beautifully written post showing strength and fraility at the same time. I have no doubt that your family will emerge even more united than before.

  27. came here via link from elsewhere. Your talk of finding out how big your family is reminds me of another woman I talked to as I was standing in the midst of the ashes that were her home – and she said, “I’m kind of glad we didn’t have fire insurance. It give me a chance to see how God provides.”

Leave a Reply