Beauty From Ashes

September 15, 2017 Updated: September 15, 2017

In the summer of 2010, I made one of the biggest decisions of my life. I was 23, and finally moving out of my parents’ house. Although we had a great relationship, I felt like it was time for me to spread my wings and fly. It was a perfect day in July, and I was overly excited to be making this huge step in exerting my independence. As the baby of five siblings, making a decision and having independence was not something that came easily or naturally. I was used to being taken care of, but I met a guy, who I was certain could and would take care of me and I thought for sure a trial of cohabitating would move us in the direction of wedding bells.

After 3 shorts months of living together, I quickly found myself regretting the decision to move out of my parents’ house. It was October and I remember calling my sister and crying about how miserable I was. I felt unloved, unappreciated, and lonely. I often called her to complain about my situation, reporting how I felt stuck and obligated to stay because of our financial situation. Though I was unhappy, I knew that without my half of the rent my boyfriend wouldn’t be able to maintain the apartment. And not only that, I wanted things to improve. I just didn’t know how to fix it. The more I complained to my boyfriend about his absence, lack of motivation, and my feelings of insecurity, the more distant we became. I wanted what most girls want, a loving partner, 2.5 children, and a house with a white picket fence… so why did that seem so impossible to obtain?

(Courtesy of Sandra Mills)
(Courtesy of Sandra Mills)

It was a Thursday night, just like any other night, and my boyfriend went to bed early and I stayed up late. While he was in bed, I made myself comfortable on the couch and preceded to watch TV. Shortly after, I heard a strange sound coming from the hall. I went in the bedroom and woke up my boyfriend and asked, “Do you hear that beeping? What is that?” The next thing I know someone is banging on our door, so I cautiously open it (because who would be banging on our door so late at night?) and the frantic person yells “Hurry up and get out! The building is on fire!!” My eyes shoot back to my boyfriend, we are both in our pajamas, tired emotionally and physically. My mind went completely blank. “Get out now!” I hear as I try to gather my thoughts. I started out the door before remembering to grab the dog. Barefoot, I ran out of the apartment building and into the parking lot where I see massive flames shooting up the back of the complex. My heart is racing and I burst into tears. My boyfriend was still inside. What is taking him so long? Seconds felt like hours as I stood there waiting with strangers, watching our home burn. There were no fire trucks on the scene yet. Finally, my boyfriend rushes toward me. He grabbed my car keys and cell phone. How could I forget my cell phone? How did he remember? I called my sister and asked her to hurry over.

For the next 3 hours, we stood there watching everything we had worked for fade away. A bystander brought me a blanket to cover up with shortly before my sister drove us back to my parents’ house for the night. I thought many times of this angel person who blessed me with a blue blanket with yellow stars on it, because in that moment it was the only comfort I felt.

(Courtesy of Sandra Mills)
(Courtesy of Sandra Mills)

The renters insurance only took a few weeks to come through. In the meantime, friends of friends were flooding my parents upstairs with gently used clothing and other things for me to shop through and many local businesses had donated gift cards to the victims. It took 2 months to get back on my feet. And even though I had few possessions to my name and was now single, I felt freer and more content than ever. I started going back to church and spending more time with my family. I had never known what it was like to lose anything before, and in a matter of a few months had lost many of the things I cared most about, the things that I felt gave me status and purpose.

In December of 2010, I met my husband. We dated for 4 years before he asked me to marry him. Oddly enough, we live down the street from my old, now rehabbed apartment building, which was a pile of rubble last time I saw it. Sometimes I pass by there and think, If I hadn’t lost everything, I wouldn’t be where I’m at now. This week we are listing our townhouse for sale, to move into a bigger house with a fenced in backyard, and who knows, I might paint it white one day, and our two beautiful children can play outside together. My life is better today than I could’ve ever dreamed of 7 years ago.  A literal Beauty from Ashes story.

Some nights, I snuggle up with my little girl in the blanket that an angel draped over my shoulders as I watched my life transition into a valley. I thank God for taking me out of that valley and setting me on a mountain top. My dreams have come true. And while many would look at this story as a sad report of loss, I am thankful for an experience which stripped away the bad and clothed me in blessings. Sometimes you have to lose what you’re holding on to, in order to gain what you’ve always dreamed of.