Starting at Zero


About an hour into my four hour journey home on Wednesday March 10, 2009, it occurred to me that the clothes on my back and the few things in my truck were what I had.  My thinking changed from “How bad is it?” to “What’s the recovery plan?” to “What did I have in that house?” More slowly than you might think an understanding of the situation crept up on me:  we were going to be starting at zero.

It began with the emergency call code from Angie to me.  [ NOTE:  If you don’t have one of these I recommend it.  When I’m in a meeting or otherwise unavailable at work  I press “ignore” when she calls which sends her call immediately to voicemail.  She then redials and I know to answer because it’s an emergency.]  During my Wednesday morning meeting in Austin I answered to hear that our house (in Merkel) was on fire.  Considering the situation she was surprisingly calm, frantic yes…but definitely not hysterical.  Once the front windows broke and flames with smoke rushed from the house we both knew it was best for Angie to go next door to her parent’s home and wait instead of watch.  As she was walking in I could hear through the phone the horns blowing for firefighters to evacuate and let it burn.

The fire department was on the scene within minutes of Angie’s call to 911.  We found out later someone passing the house had called earlier so they got a head start.  Even with the quick response there was nothing that could be done.  Our house burned from a mix of accidental ignition of a heat source warming the dogs and 35 mph (with gusts to 50) winds.  Even with seemingly initial success in controlling the blaze, the fire and wind created a blow torch effect that would require more water to extinguish than the two Merkel trucks and seven Abilene trucks could possibly pump.  The responders fought until exhausted and made the correct choice to retreat, there wasn’t one thing in the house worth even an injury.  Thank you to the Merkel VFD and Abilene FD for their efforts, you just can’t beat nature.

I have thanked God every day for Amie’s presence at our house on that day.  She only periodically helps Angie clean the house but without screaming for Angie to come downstairs when she saw the smoke, Angie would have been in the shower on the second floor and endangered at best.  I’m thankful Angie didn’t open the door to the back porch where the blaze was raging, the wind would have certainly blown the flames into her and Amie and I would be typing this from the hospital  She could have thought she could save the dogs (they got out anyway) or put the fire out with her kitchen extinguisher (too late for that) but she had the presence of mind under pressure to just evacuate.

The community of Merkel is phenomenal…I will certainly write more on this in the coming weeks, we would not be as strong right now without the hundreds of our friends and neighbors who showed up to help.

Service to community and help to fallen comrades are tenets so engrained in the ethos of the Texas Army National Guard that we were almost overwhelmed with support.  It took direct orders and a promise of future help to keep these Great Americans away.  I will always be grateful to God for the blessing of working with such a great organization.

So we find ourselves at zero.  Even with the donations of clothes and essentials from the community we still can fit our earthly possessions into the back of my truck.  We have always talked big talk that we don’t put any stock on earthly things but the talk falls flat when we actually lose everything.    An inventory runs in our minds of all the things we lost…

It’s not so much the loss of stuff that causes sadness but the loss of the memories connected to the stuff.  We are saddened to think of losing Angie’s wedding ring, wedding dress, childhood doll “Susie,” cookbook collection, and high school cheer uniforms (into which she still fit!); Chelsea’s impressive collection of books, cheer and dance gear, senior scrapbook, and American Girl dolls; Chera’s sports medals, cheer gear, scrapbooks, snow globe collection, and artwork; The Bible I carried through combatin Iraq and my Jeep (it’s a jeep thing you wouldn’t understand) [Note:  Monkey is safely secured at my parent’s house because my mother rightfully decided years ago I wasn’t responsible enough to have him yet] .

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust [and fire] destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust [and fire] do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Matthew 6:19-20 (NIV)

On Wednesday night we had a family meeting in our hotel room to discuss the importance of the day.  I believe that with every life changing event there WILL BE change.  It’s up to us to make it positive.  After a family hug we all confirmed that stuff didn’t matter and our memories will survive without the stuff.  More importantly, we had each other.

The GREAT thing is we are only at zero in terms of possessions.  We are blessed beyond description in so many other ways.

  • We still have treasures in heaven by the grace of God through Jesus Christ
  • Our family has never been closer and each are stronger
  • We live in the greatest community in the world
  • I work for an organization dedicated to service to others
  • Starting at zero gives us the unique opportunity to rebuild with focus on what’s REALLY important

We are thankful and at peace…Shalowm

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Greg Chaney

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By Greg Chaney

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