In an instant

Last night, my head was preoccupied with last-minute work on a special project and putting the finishing touches on a post. My husband Tom and I had also been discussing the logistics of possibly attending BlogHer Food 2010 in San Francisco. These were the things that weighed on my mind.

A mere hour or so later—an instant, really—we were outside, in our shirts and shorts, watching our house crumble as it was engulfed in flames. I’ll never forget that hissing and crackling noise as my husband’s home of almost 30 years practically disintegrated before our eyes.

But we were safe. All of us. Our son Tim, without hesitation, ran back inside when he realized his grandmother was sleeping upstairs. By the time he got to her, it was too late to try and exit the house the same way he came in. Fortunately, Tom had devised a fire escape plan years ago, and Tim was able to bodily carry his feeble 82-year-old grandmother out the window, onto the roof, and eventually down on the deck. The sight of this brave son of mine carrying his grandmother as he ran down the lawn and away from the house is one I will never forget.

Obviously, none of us slept last night. We are fortunate to belong to a congregation that is as close to us as family, and one of our dear friends drove to our house last night to pick us up and take us to her home, which is where I sit right now, typing this.

The magnitude of the loss is almost too much to comprehend in its entirety. So last night, I mentally walked through all the rooms in the house, taking stock of what was valuable in that room, and then systematically making peace with the loss. I said goodbye to my new MacBook Pro, my 500GB drive of photographs, another 500GB drive of music files. My purse, with all my identification cards, and all the car keys—car keys that are useless anyway, since the flames have likely taken our cars too. Our passports and birth certificates. My husband’s prosthetic leg, without which he is unable to freely move around. Our shoes, all our clothes, and our musical equipment. My engagement ring and my wedding ring, and a gold bracelet passed on to me by my mother on my wedding day.

My baby pictures, which are the only remaining proof that once upon a time, I was actually cute. My iPod Touch, the value of which is immeasurable because it held all my half-finished songs, poems, and writings.

But when I weigh it all against the value of being able to hold my husband’s hand and my son’s hand last night as we said a family prayer of thanks for our survival, as well as a petition for strength to deal with the days to come, and the fact that this morning, I woke up to a day with both of them still with me, then I still think I got the better end of the deal.

Oh, and I’m sorry that’s an old photo I used in this post. You see, my beloved Canon 5D and all those lenses I had? They’re gone too.

Which stings, I’ll admit. But all I have to do is throw a glance my family’s way and yes, I’m still blessed.


229 thoughts on “In an instant”

  1. Reading your post I felt tears well up in my eyes-and stunned ‘OMG’ in my mind. Yet at the same time your outlook is so wholly inspirational. Our things often anchor us, for better or for worse, and the magnitude of a home fire is a free fall; it’s so big I can hardly imagine, yet I’m touched by your gratitude and perspective. My condolences on your loss and my admiration for your inner strength.
    Blessings, Cynthia Bailey MD

  2. My heart is breaking over here in Seattle. I received a DM from someone from BSP about what happened. My heart is aching, my eyes filled with tears, and although you are all alive, I know the loss of this scale must be incomprehensible. There are no words I can offer you to make any of this seem better. But or go away. What I can do, I will. I join you in your petition of prayer and will continue to intercede on your behalf. Sisters stay together and I’m here for you. Please please do not hesitate to ask for anything. Let me know if there is anything I can do. I’m so sorry Erika for your loss.


  3. I have never read your blog before but someone linked me here. I am so sorry for your loss, but am so happy that no one was injured. I am praying for you and your family.

  4. I am so sorry you have had to go through this.
    We lost our home (and business) back in January of 1990 and it still hurts. I still search for things and then remember that those things were lost.
    I understand your feelings of pain when you think about the baby pics etc. and my heart goes out to you!
    I had a lump in my throat and a tear in my I as I read your article.
    I am so happy you all made it out alive. What a hero your son is!
    I wish you all well.
    Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you.

  5. My heart is heavy and I am in tears learning of this news this morning, Erika. I am so terribly sorry but am so thankful that you and your loved ones are safe and together.
    Your son is a true hero…wow. What courage that took.
    You are alive and together and I know in the end that is what will get you through.

    You have personally touched the lives of so many in the blogging world as well as real life. You will be taken care of, which I know doesn’t replace the pictures and heirlooms you have lost, but I hope you know you are loved by many :)

  6. Erika:

    I am speechless. I don’t know what to say. I am so very thankful that you and your family are OK. Please let me know what I can do–seriously. I am keeping you in my thoughts. Take care and hold each other.

  7. OMG, I went through a fire when I was a young girl. My mom is still receiving photo’s and old keep sakes from family and friends to replace the ones we lost 25 years ago. I will pray for you and your family. Things can always be replaced! Thank God you didn’t lose your family in this tragic event.

  8. Wow. I am speechless. First things, my family and my thoughts are with you at this most pressing of times. What you have gone through is absolutely my biggest fear in life and I cannot even imagine going through it.

    The only thing I can say is that you have your family and that IS the most important thing. Home, literally, is where the heart is and you have yours.

    I am keeping you in my thoughts!

  9. Erika, I can’t begin to understand the tremendous loss you’ve been through. You are an amazing woman and I am so glad that you and your family are safe. Although we don’t know each other much, you are one of those people that I have always liked and looked up to. You are in my prayers. Your family is in my prayers. Please let me know if there is ANYTHING that I can do to help.
    Lots of love, Emily

  10. Wow. How unbelievable. Your perspective is priceless, and you have my prayers (along with many others, from the looks of it!). SO thankful to hear that everyone is safe!

  11. 1 But now, this is what the LORD says—
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
    “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

    2 When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
    and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
    When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

    3 For I am the LORD, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

    In tears and prayers for your family, Isaiah 43 came to mind. Thankful for the faces around you. The Lord is still so good.

  12. 1 But now, this is what the LORD says—
    he who created you, O Jacob,
    he who formed you, O Israel:
    “Fear not, for I have redeemed you;
    I have summoned you by name; you are mine.

    2 When you pass through the waters,
    I will be with you;
    and when you pass through the rivers,
    they will not sweep over you.
    When you walk through the fire,
    you will not be burned;
    the flames will not set you ablaze.

    3 For I am the LORD, your God,
    the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;

    In tears and prayers for your family, Isaiah 43 came to mind. Thankful for the faces around you. The Lord is still so good.

  13. Oh my friend, I wish I could give you a real hug. But all I can do is include you in my prayers and be thankful that you and your family are safe and that you have good people surrounding you that can do for you what I can’t. Your post is so beautifully written–what a reminder of what is important in life. (((HUGS)))

  14. Erika, I don’t know you, but I learned of your tragedy just moments ago from mutual blogging friends. I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I cannot imagine losing all your material goods & memories in an instant. My thoughts, prayers and blessings go out to you and your family, although those seem like such small things right now. The bravery and strength you and your family have already shown is uplifting and reminds us what is truly important, especially in times of hardship & stress. If there’s anything I can do to help, please just let me know. Again, words seem so unimportant right now…but my best to you & your family. Sending a huge hug from Kansas City!

  15. Erika – I am so sorry to hear of your loss. I cannot even begin to imagine what you must be going through. Know that you and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers. I know that we cannot begin to make up for your loss, but you have so many friends who are willing to help, so if there is anything you need, please don’t hesitate to ask.

  16. Erika, I’m just numb after reading that, and I am so thankful you are alive and well and surrounded by your family. My thoughts are with you as you start the process of rebuilding.

  17. I’m sitting here crying. I am so, so sorry for your loss. I’ve seen a few homes burn and it it traumatizing beyond words. I can’t even imagine if all my belongings were inside.

    What a blessing to have an extended church family to help carry you through this time. Our thoughts and prayers will be with you during this time.

  18. How absolutely horrible :( There are no words to describe that type of loss.. My prayers are with you and your family and it is truly amazing that all of you made it out alive. It takes a very strong woman to go through all of that and still feel blessed.

  19. I am new to following your blog, I came to find you on Twitter, and read what happened…I wanted to stop by to say I am truly sorry for your loss, and your family will definitely be in our families prayers, God Bless:)

  20. Such a reminder that everything can change, as you say, in an instant. I’m so sorry this happened to you and your family, but thank goodness everyone is okay. Your perspective is beautiful and inspiring. I wish you and your family the best.

  21. Erika~ We are so sorry for your loss!! The substance of who you are and what you value shines through in your writing and in your blog and that is beautiful. Our hearts and prayers are with you!! ~Chris Ann & Kristin

  22. I’m so sorry, but so glad to know that you and your family are okay. And thinking about your brave son… my heart wells up.

  23. newbie to your blog, happened to see a post on twitter and I wanted to say how very sorry I am for the loss of your home. Reading your story (combined with a house in my neighborhood burning down the night before last) is the exact motivation I need to purchase an escape ladder for our home. We have a door and a balcony on the second floor, but no way to get off the smallish balcony… I have often thought that I need to get a plan, and purchase a rope ladder…but of course I never did it.

    you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers today

  24. Devastating. If you can handle what is a great fear for many and an ultimate intrinsic loss that you will bear as a family forever with such grace & dignity, you truly are a remarkable woman. I am so sorry for your loss, but thankful you managed to hold onto the greatest possession- family- and distill your reaction so calmly despite it still being so raw.

  25. My heart hurts as I read this. I am so thankful that you have a savior that not only brought you and your safely through last night but will hold you close as you move forward from this. If there is any way we can send things to help, please let us know.

  26. I am so very sorry for such a sudden and horrible loss. I will keep your family in my prayers! (Reading what your son did was amazing!)

  27. We will be praying for you but God will replace everything in abundance for you. Maybe not some of the personal memories, which will be hard.. but you are right that the memory of standing with your family in thanks is worth more than those memories.

  28. oh my gosh! what? I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. I don’t know you at all. I stumbled upon your blog through pw and happy to find a filipina blogger. I’ve just started reading you and I glad to know you and your loved ones are ok.

  29. Erika
    My heart breaks for your loss and sings for the blessings of your family all being well and together. Your family is in our prayers and please know we are here for you.

    Love and prayers.


  30. Erika I am so sorry for your great loss and praying that God will supply ALL that you need in the middle of this most terrible tragedy. The mental picture of you and your husband and son holding hands and sacrificially giving thanks for God’s sparing your lives brings tears to my eyes. May grace and the peace that passes all understanding fill your heart in the days to come.

  31. I am so moved by your beautiful perspective and amazing attitude. Thank you for reminding me this morning what really matters in life.

  32. Oh Erika! Still keeping up with you! I am so sorry to hear about your home and belongings. But soooo soooo glad to read you all escaped safely. I dont know the full picture of your emotions last night, today or the days to come, but do know you are already feeling the love, support and strength of the congregation for you and your family. What a blessing to have!! Also the love and concern of your blogging community. I will keep you in my prayers. Please take care. Thank you for sharing this tribulation of yours with us and looking forward to hearing good news for you all. If there is anything we can do (seriously) we’re here! Much love to you, your family and the friends.

  33. I am so sorry for the lost of your home and treasures but you have the ones that mean the most with you to carry on; your family.You and your family will be in my thoughts and prayers… And may god bless you all with the strength to carry on.

  34. God bless you and your family…and an extra special blessing to your brave son! Just remember…you made it out with the only things that can’t be replaced!!!

  35. I am coming to your story from across the internet, and although I do not know you and you do not know me we are now forever connected as I will always keep you and your family in my prayers. Praise God you are all alive, and may you all stay safe and strong. Hugs to you from a new friend.

  36. This is my first visit to your blog and I am so sad about what happened to you. But I am glad that you all are safe. Hope you recover from this soon and you inspire us again. Hugs.

  37. This is my first visit to your blog and I am so sad about what happened to you. But I am glad that you all are safe. Hope you recover from this soon. Hugs.

  38. Oh no! Praying for you! Dealing with housefires is difficult: the shock of the loss, taking stock of what is gone. My husband’s family (parents, grandparents, aunt/uncle) went through this in June when they lost their 4 unit townhome to lightning fire. May God give you strength in the weeks ahead!

  39. Sorry this sort of thing happened to you or for anyone in that matter but you need to focus on the bigger picture and that is your family is safe. In this sort of event you really should not care that your ipod, macbook, camera and other useless things were destroyed and thank God that a life was not taken. You seem to be complaining about the little replaceable things a little too much.

  40. I saw a tweet from Amy this morning and learned about what happened. It’s just awful. I can’t imagine.

    I’m not sure where you live, but if it’s in N. California let me know. We own a custom/furniture store and have a storage unit full of household items we would gladly donate to you.

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