God, Friends, Sustained Us After the Fire

Posted on July 5, 2017


I loved the template reason on the shipping notice I received not too long ago. I forget if it came from Fedex or UPS, but it was just their normal way of inserting a reason for not delivering a package.

Our home was a charred wreck, destroyed by a fire on the morning of Jan. 9 — quite evident to anybody passing by — and, indeed, the “recipients” had “removed.” In fact, we are now living in an apartment, our temporary address for the next year or so.

I wrote about the fire in an earlier column. What I didn’t tell you is what helped bring my wife, Louise, and I through this ordeal: God and his amazing grace, his protecting hand on our lives.

All the obvious and tangible ingredients helped: a generous and quick-to-respond insurance company (USAA for you veterans); certainly, the firemen and first responders, who took care of us the morning of the fire, brought out one of our pets who died in the smoke and flames, and kept us safe and as comfortable as possible as I watched the flames destroy our home from the back of their ambulance.

Our friends and neighbors that first day were as shocked as we were.
Where were we going? A hotel? Who takes pets? What are we going to wear? Everything we had was in the smoking rubble.

We lost two other pets in the conflagration but managed to save our two big poodles, Dudley and Miller, by throwing them out of the second story window, which my wife Louise and I also jumped from.

Ashley Morrison called Louise and asked if they could get our RV and set it up at the barn.

By Monday evening, Bobby Jarrell, Ashley’s manager of her horse barn, Westminster Farm, had set up our 30-foot RV, hooked up all the connections, leveled it, and we opened the door to an old familiar place, our camper.

Inside we found mounds of new clothes, everything from heavy jackets to underwear, socks, and shoes — all we would need. Ashley, Reid Rickett, Louise’s trainer, and the kids at the barn had gone and bought what they knew we would need.

I was flabbergasted, as much as by their generosity — which I much appreciated — but also by the gesture of love and appreciation. Louise keeps her jumper horses at the barn and all the guys and girls know her. She is a role model for many of them and to see our home on fire that morning on the television and Facebook was horrifying.

Within a few hours, email and Facebook were alive with notes of care and prayer. Friends showed up at the camper that first night and for days following with food, clothes, cards, and flowers.

The love and support was unbelievable. Tuscaloosa is an amazing hometown.
Those notes and visits and gifts from everyone have made this transition in our lives not only supportable, but also given us new life.

We received many notes, not a few with gift cards and some even with cash, from everyone from our neighbors to one from one of my old students, Caitlin Tubbs. I have some nice new shirts, a belt, jeans, and khakis from Belk’s courtesy of her love.

Our neighbors in the Highlands started bringing us home-cooked meals once we moved to an apartment. If it isn’t already obvious, the prayers and love and sympathy and genuine good wishes from so many neighbors and friends, near and far, sustained us in the two months after the fire. As we slowly broke away from the shock and loss, our friends pulled us up and away from the flames that destroyed our home to a new home in the planning.

We take each day at a time, grateful for God’s work in our lives, for giving us life (literally during the first few minutes when we escaped from the fire), and for giving us hope and planting in us the promise of a new home. To all of you who shared with us your mercy and love, and prayed for us, we thank you with as big a hug as we can convey in writing.

And to those who cooked for us, you guys ought to write a “The Highlands Cook Book.” I guarantee it would compete with anything “Southern Living” can put out!

Published in The Tuscaloosa News Sunday March 20, 2017 as God, Friends, Sustained Us After the Fire