It’s been less than two weeks since the fire, but it feels much longer. Our days are spent trying to take care of the most important tasks, like replacing our identification documents, purchasing the essentials, and coordinating with our insurance agent and the State Farm adjuster so that we can continue moving forward. They gave us a few addresses to check out, places we could move into for the 10-12 months it might take to rebuild our house.

We’ve also started looking for one or two good used cars to replace the three that we lost. That part is a teeny bit easier because I’m a Honda girl, which really helps narrow down the search.

To say that the process has been trying—and tiring—is an understatement. When you lose all your documents, it’s easy to get stuck in an endless loop of non-identity. You can’t get a replacement license without 6 points of ID. But you can’t get the important points without a government-issued ID. Your car insurance company won’t release payment until they get the titles to the cars. Which you can’t get without your license. And even though you have car rental coverage on your cars, no rental agency will let you have a car without a license.

But this is not a griping post, and I’m not writing to complain. I want to write about the highlights of the week, and hope it gives encouragement to those who are sometimes understandably exasperated with red tape and too-stringent rules and regulations, or just plain feeling blue.

Highlight #1: We finally got our licenses.

After multiple attempts and visits to different Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) offices, a security expert at one office finally took pity on us. Perhaps it was the sight of this family, with the husband in crutches and the wife dejectedly close to tears, that moved this kind man to walk over to us and ask us to tell him the story once more. Then he took everything we had—the police report, every document we had managed to scrape up the past few days, like bank statements printed by our bank manager and our bank cards—and appealed to the manager on our behalf.

Finally, we were called to the counter to collect our licenses and pay for them. They called Tim first, then they called me. As I stood there, the MVC employee across the counter looked at me and told me that she overheard what had happened to us and that she felt horrible, that she couldn’t imagine something like that ever happening to anyone. Then she reached out to take my hand, in a gesture of comforting. I reached out as well, and when she held my hand, she put something in it. I protested and told her it wasn’t necessary, but with tears in her eyes, she told me that her only wish is that she had more cash in her purse to give to us.

Tell me, how many of you have gone to a DMV or MVC and had the person behind the counter empty out her purse and give you everything that she had that day? For all the frustration that we’d gone through in order to get our licenses, what we will remember about the ordeal is the kindness of that man who saw our desperate need and helped us, and the compassion of Terry, the lady who gave no thought to handing a stranger all the cash that she had on her.

I am so glad that we finally have our licenses and I’m thankful that they didn’t have to take my photo again. Because if they asked me to stand in front of the camera for a new license photo, that might have been the final push that’d make me burst into tears.

Highlight #2: Stinkin’ cute kids.

Our friend Wayne visited us in our hotel room the other day. He brought along his youngest daughter, a 4-year-old cutie pie who can charm anyone’s socks off. She has the brightest dimpled smile and every time I held my arms out, she ran to me and gave me a hug. I made her popcorn and helped her go potty. It may sound like a small thing, but gosh. Kids are always a highlight.

Highlight #3: Our congregation.

From individuals just stopping by our hotel offering to drive us around, the long list of friends who can’t wait to start taking turns providing meals for us, my dear friend who gave me a key to her house and gave me blanket permission to enter her house whenever we needed anything, and the ready hands waiting in the wings to help us with the daunting task of cleaning up and the painful process of going through the ashes to hopefully find remnants of what we once had, they’ve given us no opportunity to feel like we’re alone in this. Material help and prayers and hugs have been abundant, and we thank God for friends like these.

Highlight #4: Shooting again.

A beautiful blogger based in California sent me her spare camera and lens as a loaner until I get my own equipment. Her spare camera and lens is the exact setup I used to shoot with. It was comforting to hold it in my hands, the familiar feel of the camera grip, the way my fingers instinctively know where to go to adjust the ISO or change the metering mode. It almost feels like I’m holding a piece of my old home in my hand. What a wonderful feeling it is to reach for it and, for a brief moment, let the tactile memory triggered by my fingers make me feel like things haven’t changed at all.

Highlight #5: YOU.

What you’ve all done for us is simply incredible. I wish I had my dad’s vocabulary (when he was a young, single officer in the Philippine military, he memorized the dictionary—don’t ask) so I can adequately express the depth of my gratitude. My friends Alice of Savory Sweet Life and Maggy of Three Many Cooks, along with so many other people, continue to amaze me. Your kindness and generosity has help us stay grounded, the light of so much love and support erasing the darkness of our loss. I won’t try to list every single person because I know I’ll miss some names, but I want you all to know that anything and everything you’ve done, from writing about it, tweeting, telling your friends, sending us words of encouragement, your donations at a time when the economy is shaky, and your prayers—they are all precious to us.

Despite the horrific things we see in the news around the globe, I am thankful that this world still has many good people. What a blessing it has been to have “met” many of you these past ten days.

Thank you.

Thank you.

Thank you.


45 thoughts on “Thankful”

  1. You are so welcome. I have been deeply moved by the coming together of the blogging community to rally around one of our own. It’s very special. Glad to hear you are getting back on track and moving towards “normality” (whatever that may be in this time of change and uncertainly). Please know that you are not alone and even those of us who have never met you have you and your family in our thoughts.

  2. Dear Erika ~ God writes straight with crooked lines and it is in the smallest of things where hope shines the brightest.

    Many will be with you and your family on this journey of rebuilding.

  3. I’m so moved by your blog today & it brought me to tears. I love the story about the gal at the DMV. Thank you for sharing!

    I felt so helpless as I read your blog about the fire…& was so glad that Alice & Maggy set up a way that I could contribute in a small way b/c I really wanted your family to know you weren’t alone.

    Sending all my best thoughts & prayers!

  4. I’ve never commented before, but I just wanted to share this favorite little quote of mine with you:

    “The ground below is bare and burned at the places I have learned to trust You.”

  5. You are a ray of light and warmth my friend. What a beautiful post. Despite the horrible circumstances, I’ve loved seeing that our community of food bloggers really is a community. You and your family continue to be in our thoughts and prayers. (((HUGS)))

  6. I can’t even beging to fathom what you and your family are going through and for that I feel that my thoughts and prayers of comfort, peace and of better days are quite insufficient. But they are heartfelt. I’ll keep on sending good vibes your way.

  7. Your faith and hope despite these awful circumstances is such an inspiration – what a blessing you are to your family and to us as well! I’m so glad to hear that things are finally moving along, albeit slowly. I know that it will take a long time to rebuild, but know that we are all still here for you. Sending lots of love and hugs!

  8. Wow. Just… the lady at the DMV… the security officer… Wow. God places people where we need them at the exact time we need them. I am so amazed by your strength and courage, and your ability to find the positive in the horrible circumstances that have surrounded you. You are an absolute inspiration, and I thank you for sharing your life in such an open and honest way.

  9. The story of the lady in the DMV brought tears to my eyes. I love to hear about goodness like that.

    I am also so very grateful that you have a camera. You without your camera is unimaginable to me, especially when you need the comfort of something consistent.

    Hugs to you!

  10. Your post highlights how many things we can easily take for granted. The fact that our very identity can be tied to these small pieces of laminated paper can be disturbing. I’m glad you finally got some of that back in place and that you found kindness in the face of strangers. It gives me hope!

    PS. I think I would have been moved to the point of tears at the request of another DMV photo too!

  11. I can so relate to what you are going through after your devastating loss. We suffered the same loss in 1997, and had many of the same frustrations as well as the moments of thankfulness. Our community, co-workers, church members and people we didn’t even know rallied around us and just like your case, made us feel that we were not alone in our time of sorrow. One thing that I wanted to mention: we continued to search through the ashes of our home, too, and found many items that we could save. Did you know that photos, if you find them, can be washed in luke warm water and then layed out to dry. You can save precious memories… Many of the photos had to be torn away from their album pages and the burned edges trimmed away. Also VCR tapes can be saved. I chipped away the melted cases and transferred the tape that wasn’t damaged to cases bought at yard sales or thrift shops. We were so excited to see some of our precious grandbabies on these saved tapes. Hope that you can also find and save some of your precious memories.

  12. I needed a few tissues to get through this post. The random acts of kindness from strangers truly touches the heart. I hope that having your licences now will help to make things a little easier although it is sad that our identities are tied to little cards nowadays. It’s kinda like a Catch 22, you need one to get the other but if you have neither, you’re kinda screwed. :(

    It sounds like you have a wonderful support network which is such a blessing.

    Keeping you in my prayers,

  13. As always, you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. May God bless you all as you start to rebuild and recover. Sending you lots of love and lots of hugs. :)

  14. Please know that I am sending abundant white light to you and your family from here in Alberta, Canada. The story of the lady at the DMV literally moved me to tears. I love hearing of those kindnesses.
    God bless.

  15. I’m so sorry about the fire. My parents lost their home of 25 years to a fire in 1996. My dad was late with the insurance payment. They didn’t cover it. We watched it burn along with neighbors. They lost everything except a mahogany oriental chest that my mom had our photographs in. Thankfully no one was hurt.

    They rebuilt in the same spot. It was a difficult time, but seems like forever ago.

    My heart goes out to you.

  16. Your story brought tears to my eyes and reminded me of the goodness that is inside of all of us. Sometimes we must pull it out and share it. Thank you! I hope you continue to march forward with your return to “normalcy”.

  17. Your courage and strength within this post has brought me to tears. While you have a long road ahead, know that you are not alone, and we will not disappear. In my last blog post, I asked people to help, and it seems that people not even “food related” did just that. It’s been so incredible to see the goodness that people truly do have in times such as these. God Bless you and your family ;)

  18. Thank you for sharing your story. I can’t contain my tears and can hardly see to type. Thank you for sharing the positive things that you are seeing out of this horrible situation! You have no idea how that has amazed me to see such strength in a very difficult circumstance. I may not know you, but I can pray for you and I will!
    I have been moved by your story and your reaction is a witness to anyone who can hear your story! May the Lord bless you for your humility and many prayers are lifted up on your behalf while you start this new chapter in your life! Praying for you!

  19. I can’t help but cry every time I read your posts. You’re family is amazing! I become more and more grateful for what I have. You’re strength inspires us all.
    Hugs, love, and prayer,

  20. I just found your blog through the Pioneer Woman and wanted to let you know I’m sorry to hear about your fire. I will keep you and yours in my prayers! I hope that from the ashes you arise stronger and don’t let it get you down. Try to remember that God doesn’t give us what we can handle, God helps us handle what we are given. Lots of love from up North :) Amanda :)

  21. Erika,

    And you are more than welcome to homecooked meals in my home in Brooklyn as well as any opportunity you may need to get out with your family and enjoy the life ahead. Please call me anytime. I’m here for you through this process of rebuilding and would love to help in any way I can.

    Thinking of you so much,

  22. Wow, Erika. I’ve been away and just found out about your tremendous loss… and all you still have. I’ve been a lurker for some time, but had to let you know I’m praying for you and your family, and thanking God for your congregation and the kindnesses coming your way from strangers.

  23. Sending continued thoughts to you and the family.

    Lovely and touching to hear about the camera loaner, I can only imagine how it must be to have so few things that can remind you of the past like that.

  24. We have never met but I have been thinking about you and your family a lot. You are so positive and so inspirational at a time that has caused you so much stress and heartache. Keep staying positive. I hope the rebuilding effort goes smoothly and faster than you hope.

  25. It is amazing to experience the kindness of family and friends and complete strangers. It makes us realize that most people out there are good people. Willing to jump in at the drop of a hat.
    So glad that you are able to get back to taking your pictures. I find it a very healing thing to be able to get out with my camera even if I am not feeling so good.

  26. This is my first time to your website. I saw this post and read of your tragedy. First and foremost, allow me to send thoughts and prayers your way. I also wanted to let you know that after reading this post, and the post about the fire, I began to browse your site. Through a series of clicks, I found myself reading about your Auntie Lou. The last lines of that post struck me as something that could be useful to you now.

    “…people who still have the strength to smile, to give of themselves to help others, and who, secure in the thought that things will eventually get better, simply roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of cleaning up and moving on.
    Things are ultimately replaceable. Not people, and not their spirit. Calamity may cause destruction, but in the long run, the things it destroys are overshadowed by the strength that it builds.”

  27. I just found your blog and I’ve been moved to tears. I’m so sorry for your loss, yet amazed by your spirit and strength. Your loss hit a personal spot for me as I found out just a week ago that my sister and her family lost everything to a house fire. I can’t begin to explain how it feels to know someone you love is going through such an ordeal–and to know that I can’t be there to help (we live on the other side of the world). But like you, she has family and friends who have rallied behind them, a kind woman at WalMart (earning minimum wage) who gave them all the money in her pocket, and thankfully insurance to help rebuild their home. It is a long process regardless, and I wish you much love and encouragement as you make your way back to ‘normal.’

  28. When I met you, you just stepped up out of the blur that was Blogher and helped me and my broken lens. I was scared, uncertain what to do, and you just knew exactly what to do. You didn’t stop to introduce yourself, you didn’t meander around the issue at hand, you just stepped up to help a person in need.

    You were–as far as I was concerned, The Angel of Blogher. Now here I am, finally able to put all the pieces together of who you are, where your food blogging home is, and what you’ve been through. And honestly I’m floored, humbled, and truly in awe of you. Erika, you’re still my angel. Just with much bigger wings.

    I lost my family home in 2001 and know the absolute emptiness and fullness (in being alive) that losing everything brings. Thank you for your love, kindness, and generosity, even after losing your home.

    Hugs and kisses to you,
    the broken lens girl

Leave a Reply