Burning down the house: A chapter in our life that lead to big changes including PTSD, faith, and babies

August 2000

“What is that noise?!” We both woke up at the same time, groggy and irritated and yet also startled by the very loud and obnoxious sound of the smoke detector going off. Scrambling awkwardly out of the water bed, we suddenly became aware of the burning smell. Instinct took over. My first reaction to any crisis is to become very calm. His first reaction is to get in motion and get loud. He headed to the hallway from our bedroom with me on his heels. A quick glance into the open living area revealed no fire, but we knew it was somewhere. Looking up at the hall ceiling, he reached for the cord for the attic stairs. Pulling it down slightly, the truth was revealed as he saw the flames and smoke.

“Get the kids out!”, my husband shouted at me as I stood watching. No longer able to be calm, I rushed to their bedrooms. My 2 year old son was sleeping soundly in his crib, unaware of any danger. I grabbed him with one arm, hoisting him onto my hip. My 4 and 8 year old sons were sleeping in their wooden bunk beds with matching Hot Wheels comforters. I shook them urgently and said, wake up , wake up! The house is on fire! I’m not joking! Surprised and confused, they woke up and we rushed together down the hall to the front door, me grabbing my purse and for some reason, the cordless phone,  and outside to safety.

It happened at night time, maybe midnight or so. This was the beginning of a series of events that would eventually lead to a new life, but it would be a very difficult journey.

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I’ve lost the photos from that time, but I recently came across this printout and it inspired me to write about our experiences.

Life before the fire

My husband has worked since I’ve known him as a mechanic for a classic car repair and restoration business, mostly on cars from the ’50s and ’60s.  When we met at a Halloween party in  1990 he was only working part-time because he was still recovering from nearly being killed in a motorcycle accident and spending a year having his leg rebuilt and relearning how to walk.  We hit it off immediately, probably both a little desperate for love, wasted no time getting married in May 1991, bought and moved into this house and had our first son in November 1991. Our second son was born in 1995 and third in 1998.  Before we met I had a small business, but I sold it after my son was born and became a stay at home mom . We lived in a fairly quiet neighborhood of patio homes in far West Houston before the big migration into that area. We had some good friends, mostly bikers,  and good times, lots of hanging out in ice houses and riding motorcycles. But little did we know how much things were about to change.

In 1997 his boss decided to move out of the Houston area so we started looking for a house in small towns and rural areas near the new shop. We couldn’t find anything we could afford  so my husband decided to open his own shop in Houston. Although he worked full-time, we were barely making it. We had gradually spent all the insurance settlement he had received from his motorcycle accident. But we got pregnant with son number three anyway. I was thrilled. I was obsessed with having a big family. But I was also stressed constantly about money. I was babysitting other people’s children in my home for extra income, which I liked doing, but it had it’s share of difficulties. We were getting deeper and deeper in credit card debt and I really had no idea how we were going to make it if those bills got any bigger. It was at this time that the fire happened. In hindsight , I see that God used it as a blessing, but at the time, it was chaos and stress.

Please check your smoke detector batteries

The night of the fire we ran  to my neighbors’ house to call the fire department. They were good friends who readily got out of bed to comfort and assist us with our children. The local Volunteer Firemen fought valiantly to put out the fire and even took the time to bring out many of our family portraits, photo albums and my husband’s guitar. The fire had started in the attic, according to the insurance investigators, most likely a mouse had eaten through some wires. If it weren’t for the smoke detector waking us up,  we all would have died of smoke inhalation. Please make sure you have a working smoke detector.

Eventually, the details are fuzzy, the fire was out and things were safe enough for the fireman to leave and we went to my parents’ house , about 10 miles away. We were in shock. Thank God for my parents who took us in and gave us guidance. I’m not sure but I think we stayed in their guest room for a few nights or maybe  more. And thank God for Farmers Insurance. They took care of our immediate needs with a check even before they sent out fire investigators. God was so obviously taking care of us, but at the time , we were still feeling very vulnerable and wondering what was going to happen to us. The anxiety and feeling of  loss of control was overwhelming.

Fast forward a bit. We  found a home in the same neighborhood that was for rent. ONE. There was only ONE house available. This was the first of many blessings.  Wonderful friends from our biker community and even  people we didn’t know came out of the woodwork donating furniture,clothing,toys, household goods and cash. We didn’t lack for any material goods, only peace of mind over the future. In fact, I  donated a bunch of extra stuff to charity. 18 years later we still have the same dining table that someone gave us. And my mom contacted someone from the bedding company who provided my kids with replacement Hot Wheels comforters, sheets and curtains! I only recently have finally relinquished those memory-filled bedding sets. All of our material needs were taken care of. We almost felt guilty about that.  Why were people being so good to us? We didn’t feel like we deserved so much compassion and generosity.  Even now I feel like I haven’t done enough to repay or pass on the kindness. I hope God will help me do that.

We made the decision to demolish what was left the house and build a house on the same slab. It was completely destroyed from the roof collapsing. The insurance company considered it a total loss.  However, we were able to go in after things cooled down and discovered quite a lot of personal items, toys,  and clothing and even some larger items that were salvageable.  This was a very emotional process. The chimney had fallen onto our bed where we had sleeping, a shocking reminder of how God had saved us from death. Some of our belongings were just smoky, others were in worse condition but still worth saving, especially a filing cabinet with important papers. I still have a folder with the blackened edges and it still smells like smoke after all these years. The insurance company wanted an ‘itemized’ list of everything we’d lost, so I made a very detailed list. Turned out later I really didn’t need to be so detailed, but it did give me a task to focus on during a time when I felt so out of control. We were fully reimbursed and able to replace our belongings. God did not miss a thing.

Rebuilding our lives was not a fast process. Oh, did I mention that I was pregnant at the time of the fire?  Yes, five months pregnant with my daughter.  During all the time of dealing with a contractor and construction delays and taking care of three little boys, homeschooling the oldest one, and our dog having puppies and my husband missing time at his business, I was growing a baby and going to prenatal appointments. Two of my sons had birthdays during this time. Thankfully one of my good friends was nearby and she helped me with a party and keeping my kids busy. Our marriage was under a ton of stress. Pregnancy alone can do that, but all this other stuff was just more than most people can handle. We didn’t always handle it well, we took it out on each other,  but somehow God kept us together. We also made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas.  My baby girl was born in January 2001 while we were still living in the rent house.

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My youngest at the time of the fire.

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The boys in a donated chair in a rent house.

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Grace in the new house

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After quite a few delays, in April 2001 we finally moved back into our old/new house. It was really beautiful! We had chosen all of the paint, tile, wallpaper, and had new furniture. But according to my husband, I really can’t remember why, I was the one who had  the idea that we should sell it and try to move to the country. I vaguely recall thinking we should sell it at that time since it was so new and nice. This had to be God’s doing because there is no way we could afford the house we now live in if we hadn’t bought it back then. It’s worth much more now due to rising land values. Buying and selling brought many stressful hours including learning that we didn’t exactly OWN the house we were living in due to the type of contract we had with the people we bought it from. Thankfully they were honest people and didn’t try to cheat us and we were able to get things done.  One particularly scary time was when we needed a paper signed by the owner who was at that time out on a drilling rig! Somehow God worked it out with modern technology. Then at the last minute before closing on the deal,  a huge windstorm with straight-line windows, similar to a tornado, came through our neighborhood and all through West Houston, knocking down fences, trees, and garage doors, but we were spared! A nice, very unique, couple paid cash for our house. Being the cheapskates we are, not willing to pay for movers,  we loaded up our vehicles and trailers and the trucks of friends and moved to the country in a caravan in January 2003.

 

Several other very difficult things happened during this period.

One, my infant daughter was not developing normally and we began to go through the process of finding out what was wrong. This was not a quick or straightforward thing. Eventually, after some not so good doctors had dismissed my concerns, we were cleared for genetic testing and in August 2001 we were given one of the worst possible diagnoses you can get for a child, Lissencephaly, smooth brain, Miller-Dieker syndrome.  Thus began a hard time of shock, grieving, appointments, therapy, and learning how to do life with a very special baby who we learned would never sit up, walk, talk, or even feed herself or play and would have seizures and possibly be blind. Thankfully she was able to breastfeed which helped her and me. However as soon as I weaned her , at 11 months, and tried to give her a bottle, she got aspiration pneumonia because she could no longer suck and swallow normally. She got her feeding tube after that. She also began having seizures which meant a long period of trying to gain seizure control after our first fear-filled trip to the Emergency room.

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Daddy’s girl

Two, the terrorists attacked the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, the same day my daughter was scheduled for her first MRI, which was cancelled along with everything else in the country. I will never forget that day as long as I live. We were in shock and frightened and just waiting for more attacks. This attack affected the world in many ways. One of them was that it hurt my husband’s business.

And, three, my wonderful father, only 62 years old , passed away suddenly in March 2002 from colon cancer that we didn’t know he had. He went to the doctor for some tests and was admitted and never left the hospital. My mother was in disbelief, devastated and life changed instantly for her and my younger sister. Thankfully I can report that they are doing well now. My mom is an amazing person.

 

The last big event,  I discovered that I was pregnant with my fourth son the week that we moved into our country place.

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The kids in 2004. 

 

Now it is 2018. We have been blessed with five sons and one daughter. I think God knew that was all we could handle because the stress really hasn’t stopped since moving to the country. But God has always been faithful to provide for us and also give us hope through the trials. My husband ended up having to shut down his business and go to work for other people. This was very hard on him.  My health got pretty bad and I gained weight and my thyroid was a mess. We have both suffered through clinical depression needing medication,  both still have anxiety and I had panic attacks. I think we both have  PTSD. And there were some tough times with my daughter being in the hospital for pneumonia and me being away from the home for weeks at a time. Thankfully my health is better since I removed gluten from my diet and starting running, and my daughter has improved after some years as far as her seizure control and immune system. She has beaten the lifespan prognosis by many years. My oldest three sons are now working and two are financially self-supporting. I’m still homeschooling the two youngest who were born after moving out of Houston. God lead me in 2011 through my church’s 5k race  to the first serious hobby/sport that I’ve ever had, running, and that has become a very important part of my life, to state it mildly, and very therapeutic.

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Before and after going gluten free, soy free and discovering running.

Everyone has a story and this one is not very terrible in the big picture. In fact, it’s a picture of God’s love and grace and mercy. He has carried us through these painful events day by day and lifted us up. He has not let us be destroyed. Our church friends that we met when we left Houston and our family and other friends were also there praying and helping with tangible help  in the early years of our move.   I hope you, too, will trust that God loves you even when evidence seems to say otherwise, and remember his words.

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. 

Matthew 6:31-34 ESV

 

 

 

 

 

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