Jennifer Tatem

Rising From The Ashes

It was a normal day. Wake up, shower, get the kids off to school, go to work. Nothing out of the ordinary, nothing special about this day. Little did we know when we woke up that morning however, that later that afternoon, our lives would be changed forever.

On a cold afternoon in January, while our two daughters (ages 10 and 14) were home alone after school (I was on my way to my son’s high school basketball game, and my husband Paul was at work), a fire broke out in our home. This fire was angry. It rolled through the house at an alarming speed, destroying everything in its path. From the first spark, to the entire home being fully engulfed in flames, was 4 minutes.

By the grace of God, both girls and our dog escaped the home just in time. According to the fire Marshall, had they remained in the home for another 30 seconds, they would have been trapped, and would have lost their lives. I still tear up when I think of that reality, and when I think about how God protected them that day.

We lost everything. Everything. We had the clothes on our back, and that was it. The girls didn’t even have a coat, due to having to leave in such a hurry.

For the first few weeks after the fire, we stayed in a local hotel. Hotels are great when you are on vacation, but not so fun when you are there because you are literally homeless.

We had so many questions. What now? Where will we live? What do we do? We need everything- underwear, toothbrushes, socks, pants, shampoo…. where do we even start?

As a mom, it is my job and responsibility to keep my family safe, strong, together, and happy. It is also my job, alongside my husband, to teach about God’s faithfulness, love, and protection and provision. It was my job to be COURAGEOUS- even though I felt anything but. I cried. A lot. We prayed. A lot. I can honestly say that God gave me the strength to get through each day. God gave me the courage I needed to keep going. I HAD to be courageous, and God knew it. So, he walked beside me, leading the way, each and every day. I am not kidding when I say that every single thing was difficult in those early days, and we continue to have challenges to this day, a year later. I remember walking through our home a few weeks after the fire. My husband Paul had a very difficult time with this. He literally could only last about 10 minutes in the house before having to leave, as it was just too much for him to take in. The sheer magnitude of loss was incomprehensible. Wedding photos, kid’s photos, family pictures, even my wedding ring set (It was on the table at home, as I was planning on getting it resized) was gone. The smell inside the home was horrendous. The house looked like something out of a horror movie.

We have moved 7 times within the past year. We have had to find short term furnished rentals, that will also allow us to have our dog with us. It was very scary, not knowing where we would be living at the start of a new month. But again, the courage that God gave me kept me looking and looking until he opened up a door for us.

Through this season in our lives, we have grown as a family, as a couple, and I personally have had tremendous growth as an individual. The Lord has humbled me so much. I was always the type of person who would help anyone, anytime, with anything. If you have a need, I am there for you! But I was also strong enough to not need anyone to help ME (or so I thought). When this first happened, we had people offering us money, clothing, meals, school supplies and so on. I would say “Oh thank you so much, but we are okay!” But the truth is, we were not okay. We had nothing. I didn’t even have a job anymore, because I ran my own business out of our home! Even so, I was too proud to accept help. A good friend of mine kept wanting to start a fundraising campaign for us. I said no. Now, it doesn’t sound very courageous to accept help from others. But for me, it was. It meant letting my guard down, and admitting that we need help. God helped me to let my guard down, and accept help.

I have been told again and again that I smile a lot, even as I tell our story. I’ve been told that it has been an encouragement to others, simply by smiling. My response to that is simply that, at the end of the day, we can build up material possessions again, but what we can’t replace is people. And God spared every one of our family that day. We have each other, and for that I am so incredibly thankful. He gave our girls courage to get out of the house, and he has given us the courage we need to navigate these waters each day. God has given me the courage and strength to face each day.

I encourage you today. Whatever fire you are facing in your own life, have the courage to leave it in the Lords hands. He WILL lead you, guide you, protect you, and love you. There is nothing you can’t handle without God by your side!

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