2021 is gone and we all can’t be more thrilled.
Happy New Year!
I have not been able to post on here in quite some time but what better way to start 2022 than with reviving this blog… especially with the fact that in just “3 wake ups”, as I tell the kids, we’re headed back to Disney World for our first time as a family since December 2019!
Now this is the part of the blog where I would then promise what is coming next on my blog, but after the last two years, I’m not doing that again. Like the many other people that I have spoken to over these last two years, I have faced some stressful times, but nothing could prepare me for what happened just a few short days after my last blog post.
As I have shared in the past, I work at my father’s church as the administrator of the church itself, as well as the private school. I took this position at the start of the pandemic and have been working 6-7 days per week facing ever-changing COVID rules and regulations for both the operation of the church itself, but also the private school. I don’t think I have to explain to any parent, at least, what the last two years have been like for me trying to keep a school operating SUCCESSFULLY in the midst of this global pandemic with the constantly changing mandates and regulations that we’ve faced here in NY.
If that wasn’t stressful enough, on Memorial Day weekend 2021, I was awoken to one of the most scary events of my life.
As a church staff member, I have the awesome blessing of living in one of the homes owned by the church. Our home was the one closet to the church building itself of the four homes owned by the church, only about 30 feet from the church building itself. I say "was" because we have since moved, which brought its own additional stresses to add to the growing list of 2021’s utter chaos. I digress.
It was Saturday night just after I returned home from Mystic and I had headed to bed leaving my husband, Matt, in the living room watching TV. About two hours after I went to bed I woke to a sound I have never heard before and never want to hear again. It was the sound of a woman banging on our door screaming, followed by the sound of Matt screaming for me in sheer panic. I had never head Matt's tone of voice like that before so I feared the worst. I flew out of bed only to then hear him scream, “Leese!!! The church is on fire!!!”.
The church that my dad has pastored for the last 27 years, and counting. The church that I grew up in, attended middle and high school in, worked in, worshiped in, celebrated my wedding, baby showers, & birthdays in, and so much more was on fire.
At the time, my parents were away on vacation so while stumbling trying to get myself dressed in the dark, I called my parents and just said, “The church is on fire, I’ll call you back!” and then ran to meet Matt and my neighbor outside.
As I walked out the door all I could see was flames coming out of the building. Being it was 12:30am it was eerily quiet except for the sound of crackling flames. It was unreal. I met Matt outside first as he was running back towards me. We were a mess. He assured me he called 911 and then disappeared. It's still a fog on where he went. Then I found our neighbor, Kim, a member of our church, on the church’s front lawn. We just stood there together watching the flames, in shock. It felt like hours that went by when it was actually only minutes. Emergency responders still hadn’t arrived so I asked Kim again if she had called, knowing she told me she did & Matt too but I just felt so helpless. She assured me she had called, but I told her to call again. It felt like a lifetime, and while I absolutely adore our first responders, because they are all volunteers, it typically takes 20 minutes for the fire department or ambulance to come.
Finally, a NY State Trooper arrived. It felt like 30 minutes later, it was only 5 minutes from the time I first made it outside. God love them, like the true hero’s that they are, he asked me if anyone was inside and I assured him there wasn’t but that wasn’t enough for him. He was taking no chances, and ran into the burning building to make sure no one was inside.
After checking the building the State Trooper returned to me and told me to get my children out of our home as he was just at another fire where the flames jumped well past the distance of my home and tool out a whole block.
Somehow in the midst of the chaos I thought to post on Facebook. Some would say that posting to social media is an over-share, or would question how could I think to be Facebooking in a time like that, but my friends list consists of tons of praying people and what we needed more than anything in the moment were prayers. So I had, at some point in the chaos, posted, “If you’re up, please pray, the church is on fire!”. With just that post, not only did I have tons of people praying (don’t you guys sleep?!) but I also had multiple church members offering me their home for my children to go. Is that not the epitome of what a church family is? I so love my church family. Not only were they praying and offering any help they could, but they also started showing up to help in any way they could and ended up just standing there with me as moral support until after 4am! I am blessed.
Thankfully, my parents also live in one of the homes on property, but we’re away in Florida, so Matt ran and carried the kids and our two dogs over to my parents’ house for safety and then Matt and I tried, with racing minds, to think of what was most important to get out of our home.
*Public service announcement* Take time to think and plan about what items you would want to take in the middle of an emergency cause your mind will not work properly in the moment and all you’ll think of is the laptop and the small document safe. 😏 There was so much more we could have grabbed, but our brains were just not working. We were so focused on the church still being in flames with now only two State Troops just standing with us watching it burn that we couldn't even think about anything else.
Talk about a helpless feeling.
Not long after, though it felt like a lifetime, we heard our first fire truck coming... and then they kept coming...and coming...and coming. When it was all said and done we had 11 different fire companies from surrounding towns come to help. Eleven! The fire department later said that with these large comercial buildings, they can engulf quick. Our building is really large so it made sense.
Right away they got to work… in their own way. They didn’t start how you would have expected. You’d expect them to get water on the flames right away but I learned that night that fighting fires is much more complex. They feared that if they hit the flames directly it would just push the flames back further into the church’s attic doing more damage than good. It was confusing to watch, but one of the firefighters that was assisting the fire chief ended up standing near me the rest of the night and just walked me through what was happening and answered any questions I had. I’ll tell you, I’ve always respected and appreciated first responders but after that night, I have a whole new love and respect for them. The caring way they spoke to me and also joked with me to lighten the mood the nearly 5 hours we were out there was touching.
After 20 minutes the fire was out. All the while I had so many different officers, fire fighters, power company people, building inspectors, etc. coming to me for the keys to this door, or information where the power panel is, and so many other questions it was nonstop. In between all the questions, I started having different firefighters coming up to me telling me how lucky we were, and to go out and play the lottery because we should have lost the entire building. I just kept telling them, ”It’s not luck, it’s God.”
You see, not only did we have praying church family but we also had another miracle. Kim, our neighbor was not the first to actually notice the flames. She was actually asleep in bed. While she was sleeping her German Sheppard, Bear, who was laying in his dog bed in Kim’s bedroom, let out an alarming bark that she hadn’t ever heard. It woke her up and she immediately looked out the window after seeing flickering lights and had assumed it was the police. There had been vandalism in our neighborhood two nights before so she just assumed it was more of the same. It wasn’t vandals Bear was alerting her to though, but the smell of smoke or the sound of the fire. We’ll never know which but where he was laying he couldn’t have seen it. We are forever grateful to that good boy, Bear!
Firefighters were in awe of how “lucky”we were because they said only 5-10 minutes later we would have lost it all. We originally thought the fire started in the church attic and the flames were coming out of the building from first sight of it, but it was actually the opposite. The fire had started on our exterior, backlit cross and then spread into the attic. The firefighters put out the flames just before the fire hit the main electrical wiring and components for our sanctuary. Had the flames gone on another 5-10 minutes more, and those electrical components would have been hit, the fire would have spread to the entire building. That’s why every firefighter would stop and tell us how lucky we were and how typically church fires never end well.
After fighting the flames and hours of doing all the follow up work though the night, these amazing volunteer firefighters stayed longer to tarp our roof since it had started to rain and we were left with a large hole in our roof. Later on when I spoke with our insurance adjuster he said, “In all my years, I’ve never seen the fire department tarp someone’s roof before leaving. They really took care of you.“ They sure did!
Thankfully, our home was unaffected and we were able to get the kids back to bed. The last of the firefighters didn’t leave until close to 5am. It was the most exhausting and emotional night. Buildings can be replaced, but people cannot, so we are so grateful that everyone was safe as it could have ended much worse. Many were quick to point out that we have insurance for this very reason, but for me, watching a building that means so much to my family and I in flames was so emotional. Not to mention, after having just weathered such difficult times keeping our doors open and bills paid through the pandemic, in NY where we’re still facing hardships from this pandemic, it was tough. Until you’ve been in an emergency situation like that you won’t realize just how much it’ll affect you. Matt and I both struggled for some time afterwards, and still at times even today, having difficulty not getting emotional when speaking about it. We cannot imagine how much more difficult it must be for those who truly lose everything in a fire, let alone a loved one. We were so blessed.
When it was all said and done, it took us the last 8 months to get the church back to normal and finished with the insurance. I’ll tell you, I don’t wish on my worst enemy the headache of dealing with an insurance company after a fire. Between the hurdles the insurance company made us face and the difficulty of getting a contractor to work with us, it was so stressful, especially already being short-staffed in the office due to the pandemic. The fire was so well contained at first sight that they estimated it’d only cost us around $50,000. Not even close. $250,000 later and our building is back to what it was and the smell of smoke is finally gone. Thankfully, it was a fight, but we were able to get the insurance to pay every dime of it.
Clearly after that kind of event, there was no motivation, energy, or better yet, TIME, to even think of my blog. I am grateful for what I learned through that experience… if you need help with an insurance claim or how to handle contractors, I’m your gal! I’m also happy for our church. When churches all across the country are closing due to dwindling numbers from the Covid shutdown, our church not only survived Covid, but also a fire.
After the trials 2021 brought, our church family is closer than it has ever been, and we built such a bond throughout it. From the men coming together giving up their Saturday to put up a tent for us to use all summer while our building repairs were underway, to the countless volunteers that came to help setup for church every Sunday and stayed to tear down, to the tons of church family that helped us honor all of our first responders by bombarding them with letters, gift baskets, lunches, and the donations for not just our construction workers but also dog treat donations for our hero, Bear, we’ve been blown away.
To paraphrase an unbelievably fitting scripture in Genesis, “….what the enemy meant for destruction, God turned for good…”
I am so grateful for 2021 but I am all the more grateful it is behind me! And I can say that I am SO EXCITED to get back to Disney and have some fun with my family… mocking Matt all along the way. 😉
Finally, make sure you like and follow my travel agent Facebook page, Pixie Travel by Lisa Wain, where I’ll be live posting during our trip. I plan to also blog this trip on here, but that won’t happen near as often throughout the trip as my Facebook posts will. Full disclosure though, I’m still terrible with Facebook stories which seem to be all the rage these days. I’m hoping to get better with it this trip. Maybe I should ask my 7 year old, I bet he’s more social media educated than me. 😏
I pray that, if like me, 2021 brought you too many hard times to even list, you were able to lean on God and His perfect peace to get you through. I know I couldn’t have done it without His grace, peace, strength, and wisdom all along the way.
See you guys soon… barring no other fire or disaster in the next 3 days, that is! 🤦🏻♀️