Guest writer: Michelle Phinizy, member of the Family of the Apostles of the Interior Life
On January 26, 2019 at approximately 6:30 p.m., a fire started in the garage of our rural ranch house as we sat in our kitchen eating dinner. We lived 16 miles from our local Volunteer Fire Department and 25 miles from a larger fire department better equipped to deal with the fire that would eventually destroy our home and most of our possessions. You might ask yourself what you would do if this happened to you? Up to this time, we had considered what might happen if we had a fire, but certainly we never dreamed it would happen.
When we realized the garage was completely filled with smoke, we called 911. I grabbed a household extinguisher and went out the front door to see if anything could be done. My husband, Will, aimed a water hose at the garage, but the heat was so intense the water never reached the fire. Then the fuse box was consumed, and we lost all power, including to our water pump. We accepted the futility of it and called our parents. First Will’s parents, who lived on the ranch about half a mile to our south and would certainly see the fire and smoke. We assured them we were safe and out of the house. I then called my mom who lives five hours away in San Antonio. I assured her we were safe but requested that she notify our immediate family and begin to pray.
Within 30 minutes, the fire trucks began to show up. First, our Volunteer Fire Department in Borden County and then the Big Spring Fire Department. Then the neighbors, friends, family, and concerned members of our community came to assist in any way possible. The courageous firemen held the fire to the end of the house for quite a while as people streamed into and out of our burning, smoky home to help retrieve our belongings. Some time later, we were told that they were unable to contain the fire and we needed to get out anything we wanted to try to save; they would have to let the house burn to the ground. We sat in our vehicle, watching to make sure the surrounding pasture did not catch fire from an ember, and waited for the last wall to fall at about 4 a.m. So much loss, so much destruction, so all-consuming.
But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.”1 Peter 4:13
The next morning, as soon as the sun rose, help began to arrive. Friends and family came with cleaning supplies, plastic boxes, paper to wrap saved items, food, water, snacks and support. We were overwhelmed from the first moment to this day by how God used the visible body of Christ to serve and minister to us. We spent the first day wrapping and boxing up items that had been carried out of the house. There was a shocking number of treasured, spiritual items that lay amongst our personal belongings. The small stacks of spiritual reading books that were scattered about our home, personal prayer journals we use daily, our bibles, images of Mary and Jesus, and small statues of the saints, rosaries, saints’ medals and crucifixes seemed to be tucked everywhere throughout our scattered and soot-stained belongings. What tremendous consolation the sight of these items became in the days and weeks to follow. They spoke to us of the intentionality, even if it had been subconscious, we have had in surrounding ourselves with the treasures of our faith. They also became a source of great consolation as we discovered a living and present Christ in what seemed to be endless and wanton destruction.
In the days that followed, we were given clothes, toiletries, a place to stay, furniture to use, monetary assistance and countless other gifts to help make our situation less traumatic and help us get back on our feet. What overwhelmed and humbled us the most were the prayers. People called, texted, emailed and wrote letters for months. No one who contacted us failed to give praise and thanksgiving to God for our safety, the safety of all the firemen and those who helped during the fire, and for the things that we were able to retrieve from our home. We reconnected with countless friends and met many new people God placed in our path. We immediately committed to praying daily for everyone who helped us in any way, and we knew without a doubt that the prayers of so many were carrying us through each day. We had so much peace and even joy in being part of God’s great outpouring of love and provision. But being on the receiving end was new and different and often uncomfortable. We realized that when you give, you have a sense of being in control. When you receive, you are vulnerable, and you almost feel exposed. It is a human tendency to tell yourself you’ll be okay and turn away help. There can be pride in this and we began to realize that God wanted us to be humble and let Him work through His people to be a blessing to us.
Three months after the fire, we lost Will’s mom to a short battle with cancer that had been diagnosed the previous November. The timing of these two tremendous losses is difficult to understand. As we let go of his mom, and sifted through the ashes of our home, we questioned our vocation at times. Were we doing what God had wanted of us? Were we using His gifts according to His plan for us? There were moments of deep fear and confusion about where and how God had brought us to that point in our lives. And certainly, huge doubts and uncertainty about where we were to go from there.
We don’t claim that the answers came immediately, or even all at once. Perhaps there was an immediate infusion of grace that came through our Spiritual Directors who have journeyed many years with us. But the sustained grace came, and continues to come, through daily prayer and meditation, regular spiritual direction, and counsel from wise and holy friends and family. The community of the Apostles of the Interior Life, both religious and laity, have nurtured us and fed us, listened to us and cried with us, prayed, given and sacrificed for us.
We are slowly planning to rebuild on the same site at the ranch. We are open to God’s redirection at any point. We have grown in our confidence that the surest way to know God’s plan is to look around and see where He’s got you that day. We try to worry less about the future, knowing that God is our provider and protector, but that may look different from one day to the next. What matters most is that we keep our eyes on Him. He is sufficient. He will provide for all our needs.
Fr. Mirco, AVI Priest, went to celebrate Mass on the land where Michelle and Will’s house once stood along with Carolyn Leatherman, member of the AVI Family.