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The House Fire: One year later

One year ago today, my dad and I were outside unpacking my car of things I didn’t need so that I could fit my luggage and merchandise in that I was taking with me to North Carolina where I had a speaking engagement. All of the sudden my mom (who had just gotten out of the hospital from having both of her diseased kidneys removed) wobbled to the door, barely able to stand, telling us she could hear an alarm but couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. As Dad hurried inside he could hear the faint alarm and followed it’s sound, but didn’t realize what it was until he reached the door to the stairwell that went up to my room. He opened the door and now the alarm was blaring and black smoke filled the air and rushed downstairs. He ran up the stairs through the smoke to see what was happening and found my entire room full of thick, black smoke and my bed engulfed in flames! He ran back down the stairs yelling to mom that our house was on fire to get outside. I was still in the driveway, not having a clue what was going on and I heard my parents calling for our dog and my mom yelled, “Mandy call 911! The house is on fire!” I was in shock...I didn't know what to do and was in disbelief and wondered if I heard her correctly. She yelled it again! Mandy, call 911 our house is on fire!

I told her my phone was inside and she yelled to dad to grab a phone and they ran out the door (well she wobbled). While mom called 911, Dad told me that it was my room that was on fire and my bed was in flames. Still in shock and disbelief, I turned to look at the side of the house where my bedroom window was and smoke was pouring out of the air conditioning unit. The fire department arrived very quickly, but it felt like it took forever. We were standing in our driveway, mostly in shock, not knowing what to do when one of the firemen yelled, “is everyone out of the house?” We shouted yes! Another said to mom, “mam your house is burning, it’s not safe here, please go across the street.” Dad and I helped her and Bailey, our 16 year old dog, across the street and then dad moved our cars.

We waited outside for hours as they put the fire out and checked for hot spots. There were 5 fire trucks, the fire chief’s car and 4 police cars from what I remember. As neighbors and friends heard what was happening, many came to our side.

I paced our neighbor’s drive way thinking, how did this happen? What did I lose? Could anything be saved? How was I going to get to NC to speak for the two events I had booked for the next day? Do I cancel or do I go? Thoughts were racing through my mind. Five hours passed and finally after standing out in the Georgia heat and humidity in early August, with mosquitoes eating me alive, the fire chief came to talk to us. After he realized it was my room where the fire started, he wanted to discuss the possibilities of what could have started it with me. He asked me numerous questions like where was I when it started and if I had started smoking and caused the fire it was time to confess, crazy stuff like that! I said, sir I don’t smoke, I was outside and I haven’t been upstairs all day and he left.

As the firemen came out they began to take off their suits and helmets and that’s when I realized I knew one of them. I rushed across the street to him and asked, “how bad is it?" He turned to look at me and I could tell he was surprised I was there and said "Mandy, was that your room?" I shook my head yes and his face dropped. He shook his head and said, “Mandy, it doesn't look good". My stomach sank.

Soon after the rescue teams left and gave us the ok, mom, dad and I entered the house to see the damage. It smelled as though someone was burning food on 5 charcoal grills and the smoke was trapped inside. We soon found out that while the fire didn’t reach downstairs, the smoke got into the heating and air system and spread throughout the house and water was pouring out of ceilings and some had fallen in. The stairs leading up to my room were sopping wet and the walls were covered in black soot with water streaks from the fire hose. As I reached the top of my stairs, I turned to see that my entire room looked the exact same as the stairwell. Night was starting to fall and the room was dark since there was no electricity but from what I could see pictures were blown from one side of the room to the other, the far right corner of my room was burned from where the fire started and everything in its way had melted or disappeared. My suitcase that was lying underneath the window and was filled with clothes for my speaking events was destroyed along with everything inside. Both closets that once held my clothes were now filled with empty wire hangers, ashes and threads of their remains. My bed, my beautiful, most comfortable bed in the world, was gone. I looked around and realized, it was all gone. The only possessions I had left was the navy blue sun dress I had on and my flip flop. Later I remembered that thankfully my purse and phone were downstairs, but everything else I owned was gone.

I walked back downstairs and told my parents I needed to book a flight to NC for early the next morning and two of my girlfriends who were still at the house loaded me into a car and we went on a shopping frenzy for essentials and a few select pieces of clothing so I could still go on my trip. At this point I think I was still in shock and running on pure adrenaline. I kept thinking if I stay here there is nothing I can do...but if I go to NC I can work for God and let Him tell my story; that's where He needs me to be tomorrow. My parents thought it was important that I go too, so the plans were laid.

I remember being in Target, I grabbed two dresses, a pair of pajamas, a suitcase, a shoe and then I would be like okay girls I'm done. Then one would say "ummm Mandy don't you need underwear?" I would be like, "OH yeah I'm gonna need that! Okay now I'm done." Then the other would say, “Ummm Mandy don't you need a hair dryer? Shampoo? Soap? And I'd be like " OOOH yeah I'm gonna need that too!" I really don't know what I would have done without my girlfriends that night and them being my brain. With their help I was able to get everything I needed. We came back to the "fire house" and they helped me pack and book my flight. That night I stayed with friends who offered to take me to the airport early the next morning. My parents were able to reach our insurance agent, who happened to be on vacation, and he guided them as to what to do. They checked into a hotel.

The entire night I texted with my mom while lying on my friend’s couch. I couldn't sleep and neither could she. Thoughts flooded my brain and kept me awake, plus I was scared I was going to oversleep and miss my flight, so I think I got an hour of sleep the entire night.

While I was out of town, I got a picture text of a pink bible from a friend and she asked me if it was mine. I told her it was. She said that a guy working at our house that she is friends with had taken a picture and posted it on Facebook. He also described how my room looked, how everything was a complete loss until he walked over to my now burned desk and sitting on top of the ash, soot and water, completely unharmed, dry and undisturbed, was my Bible. Hanging right above the desk I had a large, wrought iron cross. In his picture, the cross itself was not there (it landed 10 feet away during the fire) but instead was an imprint of the cross created by smoke and soot on the wall. I still get chills thinking about it. And that's when it hit me. God's got His hands ALL over this - so I can't be mad. I can't be upset about it when I know God's at work.

After a couple of days of investigating, it was discovered that a faulty IPhone charger (the Apple cord that came with my phone) that was bent, not broken, not frayed or showing wires, just bent, caused the fire. It sparked and a spark hit my pillow on my bed, which caught on fire and the rest is history. And this is where I beg you……If you have a bent or frayed charging cord, PLEASE get rid of it! If you have tape keeping it together, that’s dangerous too! Please throw it away! It's worth the cost for a new one! I do not want you to have to go through what we have. My mom asked the fire investigator if he had ever seen this before and he said they get calls every single day for the same thing! Please learn from this – if your cord is questionable, throw it away!

I'm not going share all of the past 11 ½ months. Yes - we were out of our home for 11 ½ months! Honestly, so much happened, it's simply too much for one post! Let me just say this…we were told in the first week of the aftermath of the fire, this would be a 4 to 8 week job and we would be back in our home. It took 11 ½ months for us to move back in and it still isn't finished! My parents have worked themselves like crazy completing work the contractors were paid to do. And in the last month, we have had to hire an inspector, a contractor, an electrician, and a plumber to come out and finish or correct issues caused by the restoration company we hired. So please, check out your contractor completely. Ask for references, licenses, permits, etc.! Although our contractor came highly recommended, he disappointed many people. The damage done to our property, the work left undone, the bad quality of workmanship, is crazy – but I really can’t say anything more due to some potential legal issues. But I will say this, what has gotten us through this experience is our faith in God and a whole LOT of prayers!

That’s enough about the bad, let me tell you some good things that have happened! The hotel that my parents went to that first night, became our home (which I call the home-tel) for the next 11 ½ months. The question we are asked the most is why didn't you get an apartment or a rental house during those months. And the answer is, when the fire happened my mom had just gotten home from the hospital from having major surgery and my parents asked the insurance rep if we could stay in the hotel for a few days to regroup and get a time frame on the reconstruction. Those few days turned into a few weeks at which point we were told it would only be a few more weeks to possibly a month and we would be home and my parents couldn’t see finding an apartment, renting furniture, etc. for a few weeks. So we stayed. And every few weeks the same thing happened. You’ll be in by Thanksgiving! By Christmas! By the first of the year! By the 3rd week of January! And on and on!

At some point we stopped thinking about leaving and made the hotel our home. The staff became part of the family. We treated our rooms like our home. I’m sure you’re thinking of course you didn’t want to leave you had daily housekeeping. But to tell you the truth it was our home so we cleaned our own rooms , cleaned our bathrooms, changed our sheets and did our own laundry. So I’m pretty sure we were housekeepings favorite guests!

And during the months we spent there we continued living our lives! Alex and I put together a Lovin Life 5k, we celebrated Alex and Chad's 30th birthdays, celebrated mom’s, dad’s, my two nieces and my birthdays, we went to Disney World (thanks to a kind friend ), decorated our hotel rooms for Christmas, I was an extra on the TV show The Originals, worked as a hostess on the KLOVE cruise, I took classes and became a volunteer with the Make-A-Wish foundation, , I traveled to some pretty cool places sharing my life’s story and testimony, flew to VA to see Natasha Bure be crowned the Apple Blossom Queen and met some amazing people, got a whole round of acid shots for my knee, I had a pink stripe put in my hair (twice), Alex had emergency surgery, I flew to Washington DC and was in the hospital for 3 days, I went on an awesome girls getaway with some blogging friends , mom was in the hospital twice, we took a family beach trip, we reunited with old friends and made new ones and the list goes on and on. You see what I did there? I could have gone to an angry, bitter place because talking about the process of the rebuild takes me down an ugly road. Instead I chose to look at all the fun and awesome things that came out of the last year while we weren't in our house. And too, what good would it have done for us to be bitter, complain, or wish for something different? We know that everything is in God’s timing and for His purpose – we are simply here to watch His plan unfold!

I will be posting pictures soon of my new room and all the changes that my parents did downstairs too! It's really coming together nicely and I can't wait to show you. My family and I are going to have an open house/house warming to let those who have been on this journey with us to come and see the house. Which means that I won't be posting pictures until after the reveal - sorry!

Thank you for your love, caring, thoughts, cards, calls, visits, gifts, help and prayers over the last year. Thank you just doesn’t seem big enough! We are still in the depths of putting the house together, paper work and negotiations. So if I could ask, please keep us in your prayers! Thank you for going along this journey with us, we couldn't have gotten through it without you



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