Our Home Was Ravaged By Bushfire – Sally’s Story
On Sunday 9th February 2014, our home was ravaged by bushfire. It was a time of devastation and darkness. Losing everything isolates and irrevocably changes you. Coming to terms with the fact that everything was gone, all but the dress I was wearing when I fled the fire was confronting and surreal. I remember the day I went back and sat in the ashes, alone, thinking, “If I sit here for long enough, I will be able to comprehend that this is real.” I discovered that in the midst of trauma your capacity to comprehend stuff is disabled; you live in a fog of confusion and vulnerability for quite some time.
The following is an excerpt from my journal, penned in the days immediately after the fire.
“Today that which is no longer, is more real to my senses than the reality that presents itself to me each day; a reality of loss, heartbreak, disbelief and denial. Each time I look at the dress I am wearing, the one I left in two Sundays ago, I am confronted by the fact that this is all I own. I no longer have a home, or possessions. Weird. I have the symbol of everything physical, inanimate, that I held dear, my house key. I can go back to where our home was; I own the land, but there is no house, no door to unlock, no safe place and no haven. Nothing. Nowhere. A startling reality for someone who has felt secure, comfortable, ensconced and surrounded by the blessing of God. Now I am uncomfortable, insecure and surrounded by loss, inhabited by confusion and fear and sleeplessness.”
Above: The view from our front door five days before the bushfire.
Figuring out where to sleep with our homeless family, and how to begin to get back on track again was daunting. Toothbrushes, a bar of soap, a hairbrush, all the familiar things we took for granted were no longer at our fingertips; we didn’t have the capacity to know how to get them. Friends, family, our church family, and strangers were spectacularly generous, kind and compassionate. Meals were brought to our temporary places of residence for weeks.
Shock and trauma had entered our lives, and sleep and sanity appeared to have abandoned us.
Lost photographs, jewelry, memorabilia, all the precious and sentimental things were gone. So much loss caused tremendous pain. Sifting through the ashes of the fire, my whole life reduced to the ash running through my fingertips, was so painful and overwhelming. Torrents of tears flowed so freely I didn’t think they would ever stop.
Our home 10 February 2014
My journal entry one week later:
“I did go back the day after the fire. Driving through the estate, when we came to the slight bend in the road where our house became visible, it was gone. I remember letting out an involuntary gasp, a cry of shock and disbelief. Instead of our beautiful home, I was confronted with a scene of utter devastation. Fire trucks were still present; CFA crew were scattered through the block, hosing down still burning embers. Police were there, as well as channels 7,9 and 10, all requesting interviews. A helicopter hovered loud and low overhead. A huge bulldozer was moving debris so that the fire fighters had access to the still-smoking ruins.
It was such a surreal experience. The air was still choked with the smell of smoke and ash, acrid with other chemical, plastic, unidentifiable smells. Masks were required and the ground was too hot to walk on, so we observed from as close a distance as we safely could. But nothing recognizable from our home remained; the structure was completely decimated; obliterated; destroyed. The only recognizable thing from where we stood, were the mangled remains of the tin roof.”
And yet, eighteen months down the track, we have moved into a new home, a beautiful home. So many miracles have happened for us to get to this point and I am so grateful to family, friends and strangers who have helped and inspired us along the way. I am grateful to God for being alive, when I so easily could have perished.
It’s been a journey of both heartbreak and hope.
One week after the fire, down at Lorne, my daughter, who had also lost everything, wrote this is in the sand,
‘I Have this Hope’
I didn’t see that she had taken the photo until many months later. When I found it in my phone, it made me smile. I marveled at the vibrant and tenacious faith she owned. Her journey back to wholeness appeared far more rapid than mine. God used her words, her strength, to steer me back to realizing that I still had a future, a destiny and a hope. She made a declaration of that hope by carving it into the sand for all who passed by to see. How humbling this was. I’m sure it’s the parent who is meant to be instilling hope into the child!
Two days after the fire, one of my daughters and her husband visited the site to see if they could retrieve anything from the remains; they came back with nothing, except for this photo:
It was as though God Himself were speaking to us from the ashes. They had photographed the remnant of a journal, with the words “beautiful name of Jesus…The Lord will do His purpose….” Moments after the photo was taken, a puff of wind came, and it disintegrated – they had been holding ash in their hands!
This photo will always remind me that where God is, there is always hope. That even in our darkest moments He never leaves or abandons us, but walks through the darkness with us.
I have realized that hope is the ingredient required to be able to leave difficult times behind. It does not erase them but it enables us to look toward the future. I have discovered that faith is a powerful thing in the midst of traumatic times. Faith doesn’t mean you understand why something has happened; it’s trust when you have no comprehension or understanding of your circumstance.
I have learned that love is powerful; love saved us, rescued us, and drew us out of the wilderness into a place of safety and provision. God has carried us when we were profoundly limited emotionally, spiritually and physically. His people have showered us with loving-kindness, shrouded us with prayer, and today, while there may still be scars, I believe we are stronger for what we have been through, ready to step into a new season of fruitfulness and influence.
“And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
1 Corinthians 13
To connect with Sally visit her blog at www.myhopeblog.com