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. My heart goes out to you and your family over the loss of your home. However, as you said, no one died and we know that everything else is secondary. I have always thought the only thing I would be heartbroken about losing in a catastrople but be my pictures of my family – children, grandchildren, parents (both now passed on), oldest sister (also deceased), and the very few momentos I have allowed myself to keep from my past. I have seen friends and family be flooded out of their homes, but no major fires, thank God in all his goodness. I want to continue to read your blog and hope that all the love and prayers make this time a little easier for you all. If we lived closer I would cooke your supper and iron your clothes.

  2. Wow, wow, WOW!! I am so moved by this post. What strength you have, and what gracious neighbors. My prayers are with your family!

  3. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing. We have been thinking of you and your family. You are all amazing and a great strength to us all. Sending our love, hugs, prayers, best wishes, etc. Take care!

  4. Dear Erika and Family, My heart goes out to you. Thank goodness all of you dear hearts got out alive! I have been thinking about you since I first learned about your loss this weekend. Having known others who have lost a home, I can share with you this truth: the pain of the loss of your home really will diminish over time, little as it may seem so now. I am so glad you are a blogger: many of your favorite photos will be on the site, so you can begin to re-assemble a photo collection. Hopefully friends and family will be able to share, as well. Oddly enough, sometimes we find a large loss, as time goes by, has made us stronger somehow, and that we now have a better understanding of what in our lives is truly essential. I wish you an inspiring (and inspirational) recovery from this terrible event. You are in my prayers. My very best wishes, Vicki

  5. I heard your story thanks to the web of words and thoughts spun by your many devoted and loving friends. I wish strength and grace for you and your family.

  6. You and your family have been in my thoughts since I found out about the incident on Twitter. I’m glad you are all safe. Filipinos always say, “Ang mga bagay, pwedeng palitan. Ang pera, pwedeng kitain. Ang buhay hindi.” Although there are some things you can’t replace–old photos and keepsakes, the memories are there to keep, and there will be more good ones to come. And it seems like it already started, with the people who are there for you. I hope our donations could help you get back on your feet. The Internet is one great support system, and Twitter, a big family. Sending you good vibes and prayers.

  7. I only read about this today at Amy’s blog. I’m so sorry, yet so joyful that you all survived without injury. Thanking the Lord for that. And asking Him to comfort you and give you peace in all the chaos surrounding you now.

  8. Erika – I understand what you are going through. My sister’s house burnt down when her kids were young (9 & 10) back in 1993. Because they were with me in another town, the 10 year old refused to come to our house for a visit as it was a constant reminder of what happened that day and there was fear that it would happen again. Now 26 & 27, the pain is gone and my sister rebuilt a better house on another piece of her 33 acres – all is good. Sadly in 1997 my husband lost his best friend in a house fire and that pain took years to get over. Our youngest child is named after that friend and we still wonder today what kinda family he would have had and what he would be doing now. Thank God that you are safe – everything else can be replaced.

  9. OH those sweet little girls. And I cannot imagine how your son got his grandmother out of that house. You truly are blessed. Oh but I feel your sense of loss. Your life was in that house, but then again…not.

  10. We don’t know each other, and I just starting reading your blog last week but your story and your hope and strength has really touched my heart. You and your family are in my prayers.

  11. this is my first time visiting your blog- i am here via “the nester”…

    just wanted to send a huge hug to you and your family.

    my name is also Erika (with a k!) and I was in a terrible fire in June of 2000. I also lost everything material I had ever owned…my parents’ wedding rings, all my journals that I had kept over the course of my life, my prized cello, all my clothing…just everything.

    I walked away without a stitch of material possessions, but I had my LIFE still intact. And for that, I feel so blessed.

    The past ten years have been spent rebuilding. There are many “things” that are not replaceable, but at the end of the day they are just things.

    Be gentle with yourself. I had nightmares for a long time, and became terrified of fires (candles, etc.), and had a hard time coping with life for quite some time after the fire (fears, etc.)…

    As someone who has lived through a devastating fire, I just wanted to lend you a little support this morning.

    Many many hugs to you…


  12. Wow, reading your post brings back memories and reminds me how very fortunate I am. The apartment building I lived in burned…but I was on the opposite end of the main fire, and my apt was one of 3 that was hardly affected. I got all my stuff back. But I understand in small measure what it might be like…the night of the fire, I left once the police had my name and spend the night at a friend’s. In the morning, I didn’t know if anything would still be standing. I didn’t think I’d cry if everything was gone, but I knew I’d have no idea what to do next. I tried to make a list in my head of what I’d need to replace (all I had was 1 skirt, 1 night shirt, 1 jacket, and 1 pr underwear, no glasses, no carkeys, no wallet, no id). All I could think of was that I would need to replace my KitchenAid and the toilet paper! lol

    Thankfully, all my stuff was fine and no-one was hurt in the fire. But I still don’t like seeing a far-off glow at night, or the smell of fire, especially a wet fire. It really does affect your mind and your emotions in ways you can’t imagine because it’s not rational.

    I’m so glad you have a supportive community! The offers of help I had were overwhelming, literally. If I had taken everyone up on their offer of a place to stay, I would still be living out of suitcases!

    My wish for you, even though I don’t know you (I came here via URBs website) is that you find comfort in others’ love and care for you, and that you’re able to feel and react and grieve and do whatever you need to do…and that you heal. The love of those around you works like a healing salve!

  13. I just found your website tonight from Wow! My heart just sunk when I read “In an Instant.” And then this post…oh my, the tears are still flowing…don’t you just love the heart of children.

    God bless you and your family as you move forward from this tragedy. Praise God you all got out safely!

  14. There is something to that saying, “When life gives you lemons make lemonade.” My heart breaks for your loss but warms in the realization of all that you have–each other and a wonderful group of friends. We’re all here holding your hand and hoping to help you along the journey of recovery.

  15. I am so very sorry for the loss of your home but, at the same time, very relieved that everyone was safe after the ordeal. I will keep you and your family in my prayers and I hope insurance will have you on the way to recovery sooner than later.

    I cried when I read what your neighbour’s daughters are doing to try and help…bless them all.

  16. Continuing to pray for you and your family, thanking God you are all safe, praying for continuing health & peace as you move forward with all that your lives now entail in recovering from your loss.

  17. Yes you are fine! and what a way to make lemonade out of lemons!
    I am sorry I missed the post…!
    The things are just that, but I know the pain of loosing every single little thing…I helped my mom recover from her house fire.

    Things will be replaced (make a binder with sections for every single room that you can recall every single thing, it will help and hurt)…

    The new things will not be right or wrong…just different.

    Hugs to you and yours as you rebuild your lives.

  18. I came to your blog through Three Many Cooks, and I just wanted to say I have been praying for your family through this, and I am blessed and encouraged by your attitude through all of it. I have a small inkling of how you feel – my college was devastated by an EF-4 tornado 3 years ago, and many of my friends lost everything. I was fortunate and received many of my possessions back – and the world was amazed because in a campus of almost 2,000 resident students, not a SINGLE life was lost and only 6 had serious injuries – but it really brought home to me how impermanent and transitory these things of the earth are. Hang in there. God is bigger than any disaster!

  19. I was floored by the news of the fire and overjoyed you and your family got out alive. Material things can be replaces over time. I know though material things are more than substance and hold reminders to our memories. I hope you’ll find a new normal in time, Erika.



  20. Soy seguidora de tu web.Acabó de enterarme de tu desgracia. A pesar de la distancia que nos separa (vivo en las Islas Canarias)espero que llegue hasta tí la fuerza que te envio para tengas una enorme energía para salir de esta triste situación.

  21. We’re all put on this earth to live the best life we can. And part of the deal is helping out others when they need us, be they strangers, acquaintances, or friends. We grow as people when we are there for one another. Take care.

  22. I ache for you. We lost our home in a tornado six years ago. Its just stuff but its your stuff. It will be okay in the end and if its not…then its not the end. :) I still miss some things but you have each other which is all you need to start again….

  23. I found your site through PioneerWoman. A beautifully written post through the tragic circumstances. My heart goes out to you and your family. You’ll be in my prayers


  24. Hi Erika,

    I just heard about your blog through Shauna, a.k.a The Gluten-Free Girl today and I made my way over.

    First of all I just wanted to say how sorry I am for the recent loss of your home. It sounded like something out of a movie, just awful and triumphant at the same time. My thoughts and prayers will be with you and your family and as you rebuild your lives.

    Your recent post have really touched me and inspired me at the same time. You’re a formidable woman to carry on with such tremendous faith, trust and openness.


  25. I can understand what you are going through. I have lost everything twice due to fire. When I was just a kid our apartment burned due to an electrical issue. My Father was in the Army at the time and we lived in Germany so we had no family close by, just neighbors. They let us stay at their apartments till they had one ready for us and the Army loaned us furniture. The second was when I was grown and had an infant son and I lived with my parents, my husband left when we found out I was pregnant so my Parents talked me into moving back in with them so as not to be alone. My son wasn’t but 10 months old. Our heater blew up and the house was old so we lost everything but the cloths on our backs. But we were all safe and that was the most important thing. Lots of people we didn’t know helped and my Parents rebuild. So I know how you feel. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  26. I found your link through Alice at Savory Sweet Life. And I thought what pretty pictures, and then I kept going back and came across the posts about the fire. And my heart broke for you and your family as you had to endure such tragedy, and yet I praised God for protecting you all!

    And then this post with the four little girls at the lemonade stand just had me in tears! How beautiful and sweet are the hearts of young children. And I’m thankful the beautiful hearts of your community and family were there for you, too.

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