I realized when I looked back at my posts, that I haven't written here in almost a year! Time goes by incredibly fast when you're having a baby and your house burns down.
I have enough people stop by the old house or call and ask what happened that night. So I thought I would tell you the story right here.
The night of December 22nd we had been invited to some friends house for their Christmas tree lighting ceremony. It was so special and they let each of my many family members choose a Christmas song that was sung by everyone in the room. We came home that night to our beautifully decorated home complete with crackling fireplace, lights twinkling, and home made cookies and candies sitting on the card table that had the game the girls and I were in the middle of.
After we got all the babies put to bed and threw a few logs on the new wood-burning fireplace (we had always used it as a gas fireplace but it was originally built to be wood-burning), Jonny and I went to bed excited for the next few days of Christmas celebration. That night around 1:45 I woke up and thought I could smell smoke. I got up and went downstairs to check the fireplace but all looked fine. I figured I was just not use to the smell of woodsmoke since we had just installed the new fireplace a few days before. I woke Jonny up and he wandered around the house to check on things as well. We both laid back down and drifted off to sleep. Exactly forty-five minutes later, without the sound of a smoke alarm, we were both awakened at the same second.
Neither of us could figure out what woke us up we just knew that for some reason, we were both terrified. We would later discover that it was God himself that woke us up and just in the nick of time too. I grabbed Jonny's arm and whispered "What is it?". He jumped out of the bed and ran downstairs. I knew that there was smoke in the house and ran into the boys room to open the window. Seconds later I heard a pop and a loud hissing sound. All I could think was "Where on earth did he find a fire extinguisher?" I figured that a log had rolled out of the fireplace and he was putting out the fire. I called down to him "Should I get the kids out?" Now understand that Jonny absolutely never reacts. Often I have wished that he would panic more like I do, but he is always calm and never freaks out. So when he ran to the bottom of the stairs and yelled out me "Get 'em out!" I didn't dawdle. I hollered to the girls who were out of the bed in less than a split second. We each grabbed a boy and Molly had woken up during the commotion. I later discovered that Meghan didn't even wake up until she realized she was carrying Charlie and was halfway down the stairs.
I grabbed two blankets and we had all six kids out the door in less than ten seconds. Jonny had the presence of mind to tell me to get the car keys and the girls and I put all the babies in the car. I ran to the next door neighbor, banging on the door begging them to help us. Then I saw Jonny coming out the front door running to the car. We jumped in and he pulled us out into the cul-de-sac. He kept screaming "Do you have them all?" Then I heard him say really low "Oh my goodness" I looked in and the fireplace and Molly's room were engulfed in flames. Jonny saw the mantle blow off the fireplace and fly across the room. It was like a horror scene as we watched our stockings catch on fire and the table of Christmas goodies burn to the ground. Seeing the flames pour out of Molly's room realizing that if we had been five minutes later, she would've been burned to a crisp, was a little more than I could take. I began to lose it. I was not behaving like a calm, put together mother. I was crying and mostly freaking out. I jumped out the of the car and ran to the back neighbors who came running out in a panic. Shirley (my neighbor) grabbed me in a fierce hug and kept asking if I had all the babies. Jonny wouldn't let me bring the kids into their house until I settled down, so I'm telling you that in the space of exactly 1/4 of a second, I pulled myself together.
We hustled little crying people into their house, the girls in a state of silent shock, the boys wailing in complete terror. It seems forever before the firemen arrived. The only funny spot in that nightmare was that when the firemen pulled up, it stopped being scary for the boys and became the most fun thing they had ever witnessed. They loved seeing all the lights and Jonny and I were in a constant state of panic every time we lost one boy behind the curtain, that they had run out to the house. The rest of that hour was like a dream as Mom and Dad pulled up both crying and trying to comfort all of us. As we tried to figure out what to do, how to get to Mom and Dad's without Jimmy's carseat, without the little kids blankets and stuffed animals that they've slept with since I can remember.
Mom and Dad went to Walmart to get us formula, bottles, shoes, underwear, and something for breakfast. We had grabbed absolutely nothing. Jonny took us to Mom and Dad's and helped me tuck scared, confused little people into bed. As I laid Molly down and kissed her goodnight, I almost choked over the smell of smoke that overwhelmed her little body. She had been laying right beside the fireplace that we later discovered was where the fire started.
Jonny and Dad left to go make sure that no one tried to vandalize our home and I laid down in the recliner and tried to sleep. I remember thinking that I needed rest but knowing that it was a hopeless cause. I began to pray. All I could think of was "Lord we need help. Send someone to help us. We can't do this on our own."
As soon as I saw the first rays of light, I pulled on the clothes Mom and found for me and headed for the house, preparing myself as best as I could for the worst, which Jonny had called and told me was what I should expect. I let go of some tears on the way as well, thinking in my ignorance that I just needed a couple of minutes to cry. Later I would discover that I would need a lot more than that. When I pulled up to the house, I was surprised. It barely looked damaged at all. I began to hope that things weren't as bleak as they seemed. One of my neighbors was standing in the yard talking to Jonny. When I pulled up she ran to me crying and gave me a check. It was for $1000. We were shocked. This lady is not a wealthy lady. This was simply the first of many hundreds of people that would be the Lord's tool in answering my prayer for help.
I walked in the front door and burst into tears. The house was ruined. The downstairs living room was burned to a crisp along with everything in it. The Christmas tree that was covered in all of our pre-school ornaments, our Silver Dollar City ornaments, our carefully gathered favorite ornaments that I had been collecting for nearly sixteen years were laying on the ground in a melted, charred mass. I walked through the house as if in a nightmare. Nothing seemed salvageable. What hadn't been burned by the fire, was totally black from smoke. Not the kind of smoke that you could wipe off with a rag, but had been permanently plastered to every surface. I felt totally hopeless. We had nothing except the pajamas that we escaped in.
As I was walking down the stairs, I got a call on my cell phone that Jonny had found under my pillow. It was from a friend from High Street. She told me through her tears, that a group of people had gotten together and wanted to help my family however they could. She listened as I tried my hardest to figure out what we needed most at that moment then told me to call if I thought of anything else. As I was hanging up from her, the phone rang again. More people asking what we needed. I walked outside and discovered that people had been pulling up to the house and calling Jonny's phone. People that we hadn't seen in years, people that we had never even met. Friends, family, neighbors, strangers. More people than we could ever possibly count were stepping in to take care of our family. People that I knew for a fact had nothing and were sacrificing for our family. We were offered places to live, money, clothing, toiletries, food, and more. That evening, my friends from High Street showed up with bags and bags of wrapped gifts, diapers, and most importantly, new blankets for the twins and Molly.
That night my sister-in-law drove up all the way from Arkansas to bring things that she knew our family needed. My in-laws showed up the next morning with a car load of gifts from friends and strangers from Arkansas. Jonny's dad dressed up as Santa and surprised the kids.
The people from our church came with meals,baby items, money, support, encouragement, time, and love. My family did nothing but cry from gratitude for days. Jonny would walk up to me with tears in his eyes and his hands full of money. I would get calls for some weeks from perfect strangers giving us furniture, money, handmade quilts, toys, clothing, food, etc.
I had people take my children shopping for special clothes for Christmas Eve. Friends invited us to come have Christmas lunch with them.
Let me back up enough to describe Christmas Eve day and evening to you. Jonny and I spent that day trying to take care of things the best we could. He spent a lot of the day at the house and I began organizing the treasures we were being brought almost by the minute. That night the stress of trying to find coats, tights, clothes, shoes, and a diaper bag for the Christmas Eve service began to wear on me. It dawned on me that we didn't know what we were doing for Christmas dinner. I called Cracker Barrel to see if they were open Christmas Eve. They were not. I began to despair. Christmas has always been my favorite time of year and it has always been a nightmare of mine that it would come and I would not be ready for it. My nightmare was being lived out in the most horrible way I had ever imagined. There was no Christmas tree, no Christmas feast, no Christmas candy, no Christmas music. Jonny helped me load the kids up in the car and we headed to our Christmas Eve service. I was fighting tears the entire way. Depression was beginning to loom over me. We got to church where I was surrounded by arms of love and words of encouragement. A family showed up during the service and motioned for me to come into the foyer. The man proceeded to tell me that their house had burned down exactly one year ago. He told me that even though it didn't seem so at that moment, we WOULD get through this. Then they handed me a huge stack of restaraunt gift cards. I cried some more.
As we were leaving the service, I had a genius idea. We would stop at Walmart and let the kids get whatever feast foods they wanted. We would have an appetizer dinner! I was so proud of myself. We went across the street to Walmart and Jonny and Ally jumped out. We were all beginning to smile a little. Two minutes later, they walked back to the car and Ally was crying. They were closing their doors and wouldn't let anyone else in. I would find out later that Ally had actually resorted to begging them to let her in. She cried to him that her house had just burned down and her family needed Christmas dinner. If any of you know Ally, then you know that this is TOTALLY unlike her. She was heartbroken.
I was heartbroken for her. It looked like it would cold sandwiches for Christmas Eve. We were driving down Battlefield when Jonny had an idea. Dinner at Oceans Zen. He called to ask their hours and they informed us that they were about to close but that they would go ahead and get a table ready for us, my parents, and Nate and Steph (my brother and sister-in-law) and their kids. We had the best time! Dinner was amazing. They waited on us hand and foot and treated us like royalty.
We went to Mom and Dad's and read the Christmas story, then set out the gifts that people had showered us with. Sadly enough, I can't remember one thing about Christmas Day except that night once the kids were in bed. I have always had a hard time saying goodbye to Christmas. I always get a little down Christmas night after the gifts are all opened and the day is over. This year was excruciatingly difficult. I walked back to the back of the house and started reading all my Facebook messages. One story stood out to me the most. It was a story on the news of a lady who had lost her house that morning to a fire. She like me, had lost everything she owned, but there was something more. Her three little girls and her parents had been in that house when it burned. They were all killed and she was alone.
I walked back to the bedroom where my three boys were sleeping peacefully. All tucked in with their new blankets, snug and secure and happy. I sat on the floor and watched their faces and began to cry. Thanking God for saving my babies. Thanking God that things can be replaced but people can never be.
This has been a very difficult several months, but God has taught me more lessons than I can describe. Jonny and I have both admitted to each other that we would be willing to walk through it all again if God asked us to. We have never felt so loved and taken care of as we have in the past five months. There is nothing that we need that we do not have. No one that we love that is not here. I am so grateful for the lessons that have been learned through this fire. I can truly say "Thank you Lord for sending this fire."