The Watchman

The Watchman

Friday, July 30, 2010

A Quick Laugh

Last night some friends threw a NOT housewarming party for me. I can't remember what they decided to call it, but they did decide that my house had been warm enough this year. Needless to say, this sense of humor continued throughout the evening.

One sweet lady sent a bunch of CDs. It was a very eclectic assortment - from big band to classical and new age to gospel, with a little meditation music and yodeling songs thrown in. I was really enjoying it, because even though they may not have been the CDs I once owned, the variety reflected our collection. In one box there was a CD by Jim Nabors (Gomer Pyle from the Andy Griffith Show) singing inspirational songs. I commented to the group that I used to have a similar CD by Andy Griffith that I just loved and I didn't think I would be able to replace it. My mother-in-law also commented on how nice the Andy Griffith CD had been. Someone else commented that there was a second box and it might be in there.

Guess what - when I went through the second box, there it was. We all had a great laugh.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Yesterday was a milestone in our lives - one month since our home burned to the ground. It was marked by another home in the neighborhood catching on fire. While this home was not completely destroyed, it is currently unliveable for the family. Yesterday, I also found out from a friend in Montana, that a few days after our home burned down, a home where my son is serving his mission caught on fire. Again the home was not completely destroyed, but I understand from my friend that it really upset Hunter. I can't help but think how the fire yesterday would have upset the tenuous sense of security my family is regaining if we had rented the home next door to it instead of the home we are living in now. We felt strongly that we should rent our current home, even though it was smaller than the other one. I believe that this conviction that we needed to be here was the promptings of the Holy Spirit. I am glad we listened.

Today we received permission from the insurance company to clear the our lot of the remains of our former home. It should be a very emotional process. We have learned that the insurance adjustor will need to be there to determine that everything that is discarded is not salvageable. We are not sure exactly what this is going to entail, but it doesn't sound pleasant. At first I thought about just having Rick go and be there as an observer, but now I am reconsidering that decision and feel that I need to be there with him. I think he will need the emotional support, if not the comic relief.

It will be a relief to no longer have to look at the remnants of our previous life. I have had many friends tell me how hard it is for them to drive through town and look upon this pile. Because of the location of our home, it was a kind of landmark and was visible throughout many parts of the valley. We have also learned that the City of La Verkin has received complaints regarding the mess. Rest assured, if we could have cleared it sooner, it would be gone. We need to move on.

This milestone has also had me thinking about the other milestones we have had in our family since that day a month ago. I celebrated my 44th birthday; my youngest son, Jon, turned 16 and was ordained a priest in the Aaronic Priesthood of the LDS Church; Hunter reached the one year mark on his mission; and we have lived in La Verkin for six years. In the coming month, Lela will compete in her first swimming championship tournament; Lela will turn nine; my children will go back to school and Wil will start his senior year; my nephew will turn 18 and my parents will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.

As my family gathered together this weekend to celebrate Jon's milestones, with all the chaos and drama that go with large family gatherings, I thought of a plaque I have on my wall - "LIFE what lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us." The milestones we celebrate commemorate what is most important within us: Love for each other.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Finding "Normal" Through Gratitude of Service

During one of our daily trips to the store this week, Rick asked me how long I thought it would be before people stopped looking at us like we were strange or followed up with "Really?" when we answered that we are doing great. The next day, one of our sons asked me how long it would be until people stopped asking us how we were and expecting an answer, stopped dropping by to visit, or stopped bringing us things. He further explained that he was finding all the attention a bit embarassing.

My response to both of them came from two pointed lessons I learned in the first couple of hours after the fire and those two things have guided me through these last weeks.

LESSON NUMBER ONE - People need to help each other

Prior to this experience, our family has always been self-sufficient. We have had the resources not only to help ourselves, but to help others as well. Our faith teaches us that we should tithe 10% of our increase to the Lord, and my father taught me when I was a child that this also meant your time and resources. We were also taught that we should use anything we had been given to freely help others. This is a belief I soon learned when dating Rick that he shared and one of the reasons I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him.

Like my husband and my son, I have always been uncomfortable receiving service. A wise individual came to me at my mother-in-law's house that first night, put his arms around me and told me that there were many people who loved us and who would want to help us. He told me that we needed to not be too proud to accept that help, because we would not be able to get through this without it. I have since told him that I feel he was inspired to say those words to me at that time and how grateful I am that he did.

We have seen many people blessed through the service we have received. My parents were on vacation in Idaho when the fire occurred. The outpouring of help we received within the first 24 hours provided them with the comfort and reassurance that they needed as well. I have watched individuals step outside their comfort zone and put themselves out to organize fund-raising events in our behalf; from bake sales and barbecues to auctions and concerts in the park. These individuals have come away from these events with a feeling of accomplishment and great stories to tell.

I have also witnessed individuals who have received comfort through giving service to us. One neighbor told me that she had been troubled for a long time that she had never been able to repay us for the help we had given her family when they needed it. She told me how grateful she felt to finally be able to help us. I know of others who too have been comforted through helping us who have been struggling with loss in their own lives, but what they have shared, I don't feel I should post publicly. What their experiences have shown me yet again is that our lives our blessed when we help others.

I have been especially touched by the service we have received from the children. One family came to visit us with three generations - grandmother, mother and granddaughters. The granddaughters go to school with my girls. A week later, the grandmother shared with me how her granddaughters were still talking about how they were able to help and the happy feeling it brought them. I know the lessons I received in service at my parents knee have stayed with me throughout my life and are some of my strongest and happiest memories.

LESSON NUMBER TWO - It is okay to ask for help

The same individual I mentioned above realized I was in distress when he came to see me. I was so caught up in contacting my children who weren't there, contacting family, etc. that I did not even know I was having problems. I was loaded into their car and taken to the ambulance. There I sat on oxygen hooked up to monitors for blood pressure and oxygen levels and up walked my two bosses - my full-time boss and my-sometimes boss - the police and fire chiefs. I joked to the paramedics that I must really be in trouble if they were coming to talk to me together with such serious looks. After the "We're sorrys" and "Is everyone else okay" part of the conversation, they looked at me and asked me what the plan was.

I was dumbfounded. Plan! I didn't have a plan! My house had just burned down and I was sitting in an ambulance being told I needed to go to the ER for treatment for smoke inhalation. I knew my kids were at my mother-in-laws, but I wasn't even sure how we were going to sleep that night and they were asking me for a plan. They then went on to tell me that I was always the one with the plan and they wanted to help, they just needed me to tell them what to do. I jokingly told them to get back with me the next day. Then it clicked, people want to help, but they want to give you the help you need. For them to be able to do that, you must be willing to look at your needs and communicate them. By the time I got back from the doctor, there were airmattresses, bedding and pillows for us at the house.

The Monday after the fire, a friend called with a list of items she had sitting in her garage to take to Goodwill, but just hadn't got around to taking. One of them was a sectional sofa. I called her back and let her know I appreciated her offer. After we found a house to move into, I called and to let her know we would be coming to pick up the sofa and a couple of the other items. I figured we would be able to tow our flat trailer behind our van to transport the sofa. By the afternoon we were supposed to pick it up, our van was not yet repaired. I wasn't sure how we were going to move it. Then I remembered a call I had received from a new acquaintance. She had specifically mentioned a truck in her message. We called and she not only met us with the truck, but brought her teen-age son to help move the sofa. Afterward, she told us she was so excited that we had called and that she could help.

Since then, I have made lists for people of sizes of clothes, items for the kitchen, lists of movies and books my kids liked. There have also been times when I thought of something that I missed and the next thing I knew, someone brought it to my door. One example of this is a basket for fruit. We have always had a basket filled with fruit on our kitchen counter. Our kids know to go there when they want a snack. I decided one day that I really needed to get the fruit basket back on the counter, so I went to my mother-in-law's to borrow one for awhile. We had no sooner got home than two different friends showed up on our doorstep with gifts in baskets. Now I have one for fruit and one for bread on the holidays.

My family is here for the weekend. With all they brought with them, I know that they did not believe our reassurances that we were fine. Last night, after looking around, my youngest sister exclaimed that we live in an amazing, wonderful community. She couldn't believe that they could come to a place that looked and felt like our home. I know that we would not be where we are now if it wasn't for all the service we have received from family, friends and even strangers who have now become friends. We have been so blessed by the service of others. I will never be able to say thank you enough.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Finding "Normal" or How Many Shoes Does One Girl Need?

Ask yourself what does it take for your house to feel like home. When you travel, what do you take with you so you can sleep? When you walk in your front door at the end of the day, what is the first thing you look for? Close your eyes and imagine your house. Can you name what's in every cupboard? Every drawer? Where are your dishes kept? How about the spare bedding? Your deck of cards?

These are the things that make up the normal rhythm of life. Within just a few hours our "normal" rhythm being silenced for us, we were surrounded by friends, neighbors and even strangers who wanted to help us re-establish that rhythm. It was an amazing, humbling, awe-inspiring experience to be the recipient of the best of humanity.

Just as we would always unpack the children's rooms first when we moved, the children were the first that others thought of after the loss of our home. Clothing, books, toys, coloring books and blankets were among the many items that were brought for our kids. Emily, our youngest daughter, spent that first night holding a doll instead of her much loved blankie and Lela slept with a stuffed animal someone else had brought. A dear friend took me shopping that night to purchase pajamas, a outfit for the next day, shoes, shampoo, underwear, toothbrushes and swimsuits for each of my children. She understood that as a mother, I would need to know that my children were taken care of before I would take care of myself. It was obvious from the outpouring of kindness that the needs of the youngest (and I include teenagers in that) among us is the first thought of many.

The morning after the fire I was chatting online with another friend and co-worker. He told me how helpless he had felt watching our house burn and how he wished he could have done more. I let him know how much I appreciated him being there with Rick. I also told him that he could not underestimate the importance of clean underwear and clothes and thanks to him, Rick had both. Rick is a big boy and we had really been unable to find anything for him to wear. This friend had gone home and not only brought shirts for Rick, but three brand new pair of underwear. The psychological boost Rick received from being able to put on fresh undies upon returning from the fire was immeasurable.

The next days were spent by many trips to the store as we realized that there was something that we needed. Many times I caught myself thinking I have that in the...... Not anymore. Some of the other things that I found that helped re-establish normal in those first days - cell phones, a purse, wallets, driver's licenses, debit cards (access to our money) and our car back. The keys had been lost in the fire along with my purse and Rick's wallet. It took a locksmith three hours to make new keys from scratch.

It was interesting to see the things that people gave us. It was as if we were receiving insight into what others felt meant normal. We learned that many neighbors collect shampoo and soaps from hotels. I feel I can mention this, since I do the same thing. I had a whole basket under my bathroom sink filled with these items and now have a container full again. One individual brought us a flashlight, screwdriver and a pair of pliers. Since moving into our new home, we have actually used all three. The fact that we had them accessible when needed was found to be amazing. We also received a calendar and clocks.

One sweet person, whom I don't even know, sent me a picture of Christ for our home. It is a picture of Christ leaving the tomb that first Easter morning. How appropriate for our family! Another friend told us how her family had been discussing our experience. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints teaches us that when we leave this life, the only things we take with us are the knowledge we have gained and our families. This life is just one part of our eternal progression and our goal is to spend that eternity with our families. Her son had commented that not many people ever experience in life what it is like to leave everything behind as in death. It is our faith in Christ and His love and sacrifice for us that make eternal life possible. We know that things are just that - things; but our family is what is truly important.

We tried to get a feel for what would help our kids establish a sense of normalcy. Lela returned to participating with the swim team and both girls continued with swim lessons. Their room is decorated in pinks and purples, flowers and butterflies. There are stuffed animals on the dresser and clothes in the closet. Prior to the fire each girl owned two pair of tennis shoes, a pair of shoes for church, and depending on the season either snow boots or flip-flops. The news made a point in every article to state that we didn't even have shoes when we left our house. Now between the two of them, the girls have almost 40 pairs of shoes. Emily, whose favorite pasttime is trying shoes on in the store, now wears a different pair of shoes for every activity.

The boys are reconnected electronically - cell phones, MP3 players, handheld video games, internet, television and a Wii. The home we are renting is now furnished with beds, a sofa and loveseat and a dining table. We have pans to cook food and dishes to eat the food. Rick once again has his binnies to sort his recyclables. Our youngest son told me it about killed dad to throw away some aluminum cans. And I have pictures of my children and extended family hanging on my walls. While all these things are new to us, they remind us of what life was like before and what life will be like again.

We have also expanded our family again. My friend Linda, who is the Animal Control Officer, came to visit us the first Sunday we were in our new house. She commented on how quiet the house was. She then proceeded to mention that she had a parakeet at the shelter that needed a home. She is an evil genius, and Mr. Bubbles now resides in our living room. The night after he came home with me, Lela looked at me and said she now knew things were going to be okay cause we now had more than one pet again.

We are now starting to plan our new home. We have been asked many times if we are planning on rebuilding. I don't think that rebuilding is the right term. We can never restore what we had, but we can create something just as great for our family. Rick has said more than once that life will never be the same again, but different doesn't need to mean bad. Life was great before, it is good now, and it will be great again.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


From the moment a child is born, a blanket becomes a symbol of security. The feelings of warmth and comfort found in the mother's womb are now provded by the swaddling of a blanket. I had many blankets in my home. Some served not only functionally providing warmth, but to also providing decor in a room. Others were toys, covered a spot on the furnitue, or were kept to be used at picnics and parades. Some blankets had been purchased commercially, while others had been given to us by those we loved. It always felt as you wrapped yourself in one of these latter blankets, that you were wrapping yourself in the love of the person who so carefully crafted that blanket for you.

The morning after our house was destroyed by fire, my husband and I met with a friend who brought us a charger for a cell phone. He mentioned that he was going over to the remains of our home to visit with one of the firemen that was still on the scene. My husband asked him to look and see if anything could be salvaged from the wreckage. I especially felt compelled to ask if my cedar chest could be found. This simple request is how the miracle of the blankets began.

My great-aunt had left me her cedar chest when she died. Aunt Florence had been very special in my life as a child. She had never married and so looked on us as her surrogate grandchildren. She was always there for us in times of trouble and I have felt her presence since her death many times. She has continued to be a guardian angel in my life. The knowledge of her continued protection led me to believe that if anything could be salvaged, it would be the cedar chest.

Our friend did call to say that the chest had been able to be removed from the home. Its placement near the patio doors of my bedroom had allowed the firemen to pull it out with a pole. While the chest itself was severely damaged on the outside, the contents remained safe and secure, not even the smell of smoke. This chest contained my wedding dress, the outfits my children wore when they were blessed/christined and blankets made for them by my mother-in-law embroidered with their names. The comfort I received knowing that my children would have something from their childhood gave me the strength to face that first morning.

Our second experience in the miracle of the blankets was the recovery of Emily's blankie. Emily had received her blankie her first Christmas. When my children had been born, my grandmother had made them each a blanket. By the time Emily was born, my grandmother had passed away. Knowing how much a special blankie had meant to each of our other children, Rick's sister-in-law made Emily the purple blankie.

We moved to St. George two days after that Christmas. By the time we reached our new house, it was late and I couldn't find the bedding that held our bedding, but I could find our Christmas presents. After assembling the crib, I was able to fold the blanket in half (yes it is that large) to place in the crib and that is where Emily slept. She has slept with the purple blankie ever since. Even in 100+ degree temperatures, naps are not taken without the blankie.

The blankie was made by tying to pieces of fleece together. There was one particular tie that became stretched out as Emily would lay with her thumb in her mouth and tickling her nose with the end. Even after she stopped sucking her thumb, she would comfort herself by tickling her nose with the piece of the blankie. The night of the fire, there were many tears shed over the loss of the blankie. Luckily she had been brought a special doll that she held to sleep that first night.

When we went to reclaim the cedar chest, Rick walked around the outside of our home with the fire chief. When he looked through the broken window of what had been the girls' room, sitting on the bed was the purple blankie just as it been left. The fire chief was able to reach into the room and retrieve this precious item.

Emily was overjoyed. She monitored the washer through three wash cycles and was the first in the room when the dryer buzzed. Everything is right in Emily's world again.

Our son Wil has shut down after the fire. He was at work when it occurred and I had one of the officers I work with go and get him before he heard it from someone else. When he arrived at his grandma's house, he went and hid. This is what he used to do as a small child whenever he was afraid or couldn't handle a situation. The day after the fire he became very ill. The doctor diagnosed strep, but Wil did not seem to respond to the medication. He still refused to talk about anything related to his feelings. I couldn't help but feel that the illness he was experiencing was a physical manifestation of the turmoil inside that he was unwilling to express.

Finally several days later, after I will admit much pestering on my part, he finally said that the thing he was going to miss most was his comforter. He had won his comforter at a family reunion and loved it because it was unique. It was handmade and not store bought like everyone else's. He knew there was not another like it in the world, just as there is not another Wil in all the world. Out of all the things he could have said that he would miss the most, I was surprised to learn that it was this. At the time, I was unsure when I would ever be able to make him a new comforter. Later that afternoon, I received a call from a friend wanting to know the size of my children's beds. She told me that she felt that she should make comforters for all of them.

There are other blankets we have received over the week that have brought comfort to us. There is a piece of fleece that now covers the tears in a loveseat we were given; a soft brown blanket that decorates the back of our new sofa and perfectly matches the pillows I had purchased to decorate the living room. There is the afghan stitched by grandma, that always sat in her living room, that my sister felt impressed to bring to me and it matches the colors of our new bedroom.

Our oldest son, Hunter, is serving a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day in Montana. As I talked to him, I tried to imagine what would go through his mind as he realized that everything he had owned and trusted to us to store was gone as well. We reassured him that we were alright and that he needed to be where he was.

The Monday following the fire he wrote us two very powerful letters. Both letters were filled with hope and gratitude for our safety. He let us know that his heart had been filled with comfort and that he knew that the Lord had us on His watchlist. He ended with the following scripture from the LDS Doctrine and Covenants Section 31:

5 Therefore, thrust in your sickle with all your soul, and your sins are forgiven you, and you shall be laden with sheaves upon your back, for the laborer is worthy of his hire. Wherefore, your family shall live.
6 Behold, verily I say unto you, go from them only for a little time, and declare my word, and I will prepare a place for them.

He let us know that he knew he could continue to serve the people in Montana with his full heart, because he knew that the Lord would take care of us and prepare a place for us.

The morning following the receipt of this letter, we went to the remains of our house to meet with the insurance adjustor. Lying on the driveway was what appeared to be a comforter still enclosed in the plastic. My first thought was that one of the heavy comforters I had stored away in my closet for the summer had been saved. Instead it was Hunter's tiger blanket received for perfect attendance at Hurricane High School.

Of all the awards he had received during his high school career, this was the one most sought after. This blanket had been in his bedroom, stored with the rest of his items, in the part of the house unrecognizable due to the fire. Yet this blanket had survived without even the plasic being melted.

The Lord is watching out for us. Daily we are receiving blessings. He has wrapped us both figuratively and literally in His love and shown us His mercy through the blessing of blankets.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

From Ashes - Blessings

Today marks one week since our home burned to the ground. Finally I feel like we may be regaining some control and order in our life. My children's sense of security and stability have been truly shaken. And the restoration of that sense of security has been our number one priority over this last week as we have worked to recoup from the devastation that has become our life.

When I first thought about starting a blog, I wanted to write something profound. I have always enjoyed writing; whether it be stories, poetry or persuasive articles. Much of my career has focused on my ability to express myself - reaching out to others in a way that they can understand. I remember in high school as I read the "great" works of literature, I dreamed that one day students would sit in those same desks and discuss me. What was the author trying to impart? What literary tools did the author employ?....

Now I understand that the true legacy I can leave this world is not a body of literary work to be systematically dissected intellectually by individuals who use history and literary devices as a way to determine meaning. My legacy is my children - the strength and integrity with which they direct their lives; and my legacy is the impact the way I live my life will have on those that surround me.

As in most life alterating events, Saturday, June 26th, 2010, started out as nothing truly exceptional. There were no stars in the heavens, the ground didn't shake, we didn't hear the fanfare of trumpets proclaiming that life as we knew it would never be the same again. Instead, we cheered for my daughter at her swim meet, did some shopping, negotiated that same daughter would try to dress a little more like a girl and not raid her brothers' closet for her wardrobe, fussed around the house, etc. It was hot outside, too hot to work in the yard or even for running errands, so we retreated to our home to enjoy the comforts of central air.

At approximately five o'clock PM, the peace that was our home was shattered by our two little girls screaming that there was a fire outside. My husband and I went out the front door to see what was going on. We were met by a snake-like tongue of fire rounding the corner of our carport and rolling along the front of our home. We ran back inside calling to our children to get out the back. I grabbed a phone to dial 911 and somehow the dogs leashes appeared in my hands. Rick grabbed the girls, hollered to our son to get the hose on the back of the house and I tried to get the dogs.

Our home had a door leading to the outside from almost every room. This is probably what saved our lives, since within a matter of minutes our safe haven was filled with the most horrible, thick, black, acrid tasting smoke I have ever experienced.

I have experienced fires many times in my life. While I was growing up, our neighbor would routinely start the area between our homes on fire as a way to clear the dead and overgrown materials. I remember seeing a wall of flames heading towards my parents home, but everyone was there with hoses and water and the flames did not reach our fenceline. On another occasion, our washing machine started a small fire in the basement of our home, and while we did have to evacuate, the fire was easily put out with a fire extinguisher.

The monster that overtook our home on this Saturday evening was neither benign nor easily controlled. Its purpose was to destroy, and even though it had been innocently set free, it quickly showed all who was in control.

By the time I had dialed 911 and secured the leashes on the dogs; my husband had gotten our daughters and son out of our home. I tried to get the dogs to leave, but by now the fire had rounded the hillside and was approaching the rear of the home as well. Our 15-year old son stood valiantly with the garden hose trying to keep the flames back until we could all exit, but the sight of that wall of flames was too much for our dog Miley and she twisted out of her collar and ran back into the house. Someone, I don't know who, grabbed our other dog Dancer from me, and I turned to recatch Miley. She had run back into what had always been safety and security, a place of shelter; away from the invading monster of fire. I took just a few steps back into our former haven, but it took only a couple of breaths of that air burning my lungs to let me know that if I pursued our dog, I would not live. I called to her, but she refused to come and so I had to leave. I know I will always wonder what I could have done differently.

From the first call of fire from our girls to our evacuating our home, I don't believe that even five minutes passed. I've thought of checking with the dispatch logs to see how long between my first call reporting the fire and my subsequent call letting them know we were out. But I have decided that there really would be no purpose. All the time we had spent planning what to do in such an emergency worked in that we all made it out alive. We may only have had the clothes on our backs and no shoes on our feet, but we were alive and together.

It is a week later and our house is still burning. The fire department did an incredible job in protecting the surrounding homes, but we knew when we left that our home was gone. What was once a place of great joy and peace for us had to be torn to the ground in an effort to contain the monster, but the monster will not be silenced and still continues to show it is not easily tamed. Except for some odds and ends, everything we had spent twenty-two years working to build materially is gone, but our family is safe and we are together.

Most of all, we have experienced what few ever get to experience while alive - an overwhelming outpouring of love from our fellow human beings. There was a picture taken by our local paper that shows my husband sitting on the ground of our neighbors' yard with our home burning in the background. It has become symbolic to me of this journey we are now embarking on. It shows him surrounded by people who at times may not get along, who may not even know each other, but who love us. These are not our family by birth, but are our family through the human experience. We have watched people put aside their differences in order to help and support us. We watched our neighbors and acquaintances put aside concern for their appearance and the condition of their "best" clothes to help us escape and stop the fire from spreading. We have watched individuals step outside of their comfort zone in order to accomplish things on our behalf. While we would never have wished for this experience, we are overcome with the daily miracles we are witnessing in our behalf.

Within just a couple of hours of the fire, my mother-in-law's home was filled with clothing, bedding, toys for our children and lots and lots of hugs. We had offers of places to stay, use of vehicles and ideas for helping us rebuild our lives. The newspaper ran an article about the fire and quotes from those interviewed were like those usually heard in an eulogy. Our phones did not stop ringing.

A week later we are in house that we will turn into a home as we proceed to rebuild our life. We are surrounded with things that were given to us or purchased with money generously given as well. These are not the familiar things of a week ago, but they bring us comfort because we know that they come from love. Our life is now lists - it is helping to return order and security. As my husband said, " Our life before was great, we couldn't imagine it being better. Right now life is good, but it will be great again."