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.