The Day Our House Burned Down
By Rahnella Adsit, REBOOT Recovery International Coordinator
I was seated on a plane flying home from a conference in Colorado when I saw black billowing smoke in the vicinity of our home. We live outside of town and the only thought I had when I saw it was to wonder who was burning tires in our neighborhood. Our girls, who were 12 & 5 years old, were staying with my parents on the Oregon coast, meanwhile our 3 year old twin boys were staying with a family who was living with us at the time.
The mother, who was 8 months pregnant, loaded up her three children and our two boys and left our home to pick me up at the airport. It was during that space of time that the fire broke out in our home. Thank God – no one was hurt! As we drove home we could see the plume of smoke, and as we got closer we could see it was in our neighborhood, but it wasn’t till we turned on our street and saw the tanker trucks, fire engines and hoses going up our long driveway that I realized it was our house! Even then, I thought it was probably one of our barns or our workshop that was on fire. It wasn’t till I parked the car and ran through the woods that I saw our home was totally engulfed in flames.
Shock and Disbelief
Initially, I felt stunned, disoriented, and I just couldn’t wrap my head around it. My husband Chris had stayed in Colorado to attend another conference and couldn’t immediately get home. I remember the first night, my children and I were crammed into one little bedroom at my parents’ home next door. All four kids clung to me all night long. As I laid there I could hear the crackling of the fire and fire trucks’ diesel engines as they continued to work at putting out the fire so that it would not spread to the forest around us.
Over the next few weeks I felt like a walking zombie. Occasionally I would just shake my head in disbelief. Any feelings I did have were bottled up in order to protect others around me and so that I could focus on taking care of my family’s needs. But beneath my stunned exterior were profound feelings of loss and heartbreak over loosing treasured family photographs, keepsakes, heirlooms, and personal items that can’t be replaced.
I share my story hoping that you who have had similar experiences will understand that I have been where you are, and can assure you from personal experience there is indeed hope after disaster.
Responding to Disaster
Disasters are typically unexpected, sudden and can be overwhelming. This year, the news media is regularly filled with stories of tragedy including hurricanes, tornadoes and wild fires. Understanding some of the responses you may experience can help you cope effectively with your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors, and help you along the path to recovery.
Common Reactions to Disaster
- At first, there is disbelief and shock.
- You may experience intense feelings or mood swings including: irritability or anger; sadness and depression; apathy and emotional numbing.
- You may find that you have a hard time controlling some of your behavior and thoughts, you may experience: fear and anxiety about the future; have recurring, vivid memories of the disaster which are often triggered by images, sounds or smells; you may also have difficulty concentrating or even have a hard time making decisions.
- Your relationship with your family can be tested: we all grieve in different ways and sometimes that can lead to misunderstandings.
- It is common to experience physical symptoms in response to stress such as: loss of appetite or overeating; headaches, back pains and stomach problems; difficulty sleeping or falling asleep; increased use alcohol and drugs.
- If you believe in God, disasters can challenge your faith.
Tips for Coping
- Give yourself time to adjust.
- Ask for help when you need it. For many of us, this is the hardest thing to do, so tell one friend who can get the word out about your needs.
- Take one day at a time – one urgent task at a time.
- Establish or reestablish routines.
- Communicate your experience – talking to someone or writing about it can help your process what you have experienced.
- Don’t forget to take care of yourself – engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with stress.
- Honor your experience- build a memorial i.e. put together scrap book of pictures, plant a tree or flowers, make a memorial stone for your garden or put up a plaque with a Bible verse that was a promise given to you during this event in your life.
The Rest of the Story
The firefighters saved a few of our photo albums, so I sat in our home office (which is a detached building from our house) and pulled out pictures and slid them between pieces of paper in order to dry them. Suddenly a firefighter ran in saying “please come, you’ve got to see this!” He led me to our front door and there, in the midst of the fire, was a cross. This was a vivid reminder to me that God was with us, even in this disaster.
He will also be there for you. You see, no matter what trial we are going through we can cling to this incredible promise in Isaiah 43:2 which says,
“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.”Isaiah 43:2 NIV
Notice that God doesn’t say if we will pass through water or fire, but when we do. It is inevitable. No matter what we go through God Himself said He will be there with us. He will be there to support us through those trials and give us strength to move beyond them.
Hope in the Midst of Disaster
When we first bought our little house in the woods we only had one child and we thought that was all we could have. But then, miraculously, God gave us three more children making our home very small indeed. So my husband sent out a prayer request asking our friends to pray with us about what our next steps to obtain a bigger home should be. We were thinking in terms of winning the lottery or an unexpected payout from an inheritance from some lost uncle; instead God sent in a heavenly demolition crew and allowed our home to be burned to the ground.
God’s mercy may seem severe at times but it is mercy nonetheless. You see, God had something better in mind. For us, He gave us a beautiful, new home, big enough for all of us and the future ministry He envisaged for our family. As you grieve over your losses, look for God in your circumstances, and God will give you “a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61:3 NIV
Rahnella Adsit is the International Coordinator at REBOOT Recovery. She is also a Speaker and Author/Co-author of When War Comes Home, Combat Trauma Healing Manual, First Responder Healing Manual & the REBOOT First Responders Field Guide.
Mental Health America. Coping With Disaster. Retrieved from https://mhanational.org/copin-disater.
John A. Call . Common Reactions to Disasters and Ways to Cope With Them. Psychology Today (2008). Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/topics/recovering-disasters.