“I get so busy with life, I have to make myself stop and enjoy where I am. God provides this beautiful peace for us, but we run at such a fast pace and miss it. I believe we are all here to give to other people. I am learning to live right now and let go of the good and bad decisions and difficulties of the past. I was seven when my older brother was murdered. He was 14 and missing for a month before we found his body. It was hard to watch my parents go through that. It took 30 years to find out what happened. A neighbor kid who was 16 wanted my brother’s watch and hit him in the head to get it. It killed my brother instantly. He hid the body. My parents were strong and had faith in God. The became very overprotective of my sister and me, understandably. It taught me the value of life. I also let my kids have a little more freedom.
My life also changed when we lost our home in the fire in Gatlinburg in 2017. It was shocking to go through the fire. Our home on the mountain was pretty rustic. We were secluded without much phone service. We were making spaghetti and there was smoke inside the house. We knew there was a fire somewhere, but couldn’t see how close it was. I stood by the big picture window and saw an ash fly by and got worried, but my husband said it must have been the glare from my phone. I read Psalms 91, holding on to the protection of God because my husband said we weren’t leaving. Another ember flew past. That was it. I went upstairs and did an arm sweep of the medications on our vanity, grabbed my pillow, my purse, and my dog and headed out the door. I told him I was leaving and he went with me. He didn’t grab anything of his because he thought nothing was going to happen. We didn’t know that very soon everything we had would be in the backseat of our car.
There were two ways down the mountain. One was blocked by a tree, the other was surrounded by fire. A car drove past us and the driver was panicking that we were all going to die. It didn’t feel like we were going to die. We were driving down the mountain with smoke, fire, and it was so hot. There were a lot of tourists on the mountain for Thanksgiving and they didn’t know the roads. The five cars in front of us were stopped. People were screaming from the windows. We passed them and then they followed us off the mountain and we all made it safely. Sometimes I have to pinch myself that really happened. It took time to digest that we only had the clothes on our back. My husband later said it was good that I forced him out or he wouldn’t be here today. Some of our neighbors couldn’t get out and passed away. When we pulled up to our house, it was ashes. I wasn’t going to go through the ashes, but the Gideons were there to help and forced me to go through them because it was part of closure. Strangers and teenagers were also there to help. We lost everything but a box of my mother-in-law’s angels. I never unpacked them because I didn’t want to break them. The guy who found them held one up and said, there is God. It was not a why God moment, but a how God moment. How are we going to get through this? I was confused and a little lost, but never in despair. Losing everything changes you in so many ways. I am no longer materialistic. I know what I don’t need. It is the memories around the heirlooms, not the heirlooms that are important. Then you make new memories.
It was humbling to learn how to accept help when you are used to helping others. It makes you so grateful. After the fire, people gave us money to help. At least we had a place to stay so we passed it on to someone who needed it more. God is in the struggles and the generosity. We moved here because my parents live here and that seemed like the right thing to do. God is here in our new beginning.”