Reflecting on the fire 35 years ago today.
“We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” – Maya Angelou
Birthdays, anniversaries and holidays are obvious dates to celebrate. Bake a cake, light the candles, sing a song, gather together, toast to life. But what do we do with the dates that remind us not of what we have, but of all we lost? How should we treat those anniversaries?
For my family and me, one such date is January 17th.
On that date 35 years ago, I was burned on 100% of my body.
In total, I’d spend the following five months in hospital and endure surgeries and therapy for an additional year afterwards. The fire forced me to walk through life with scars covering my entire body, with fingers amputated, and with physical pain that remains and the emotional trauma of all that was endured.
And I wasn’t the only one negatively impacted. The fire profoundly challenged my family, too. My parents were forced to navigate an impossibly difficult time. Our family home was destroyed, my siblings’ lives deeply disrupted, the life we’d formerly known permanently gone.
I was the one burned, but we all received scars.
All because of a date: January 17, 1987.
And yet, as time passed and we reflected on it, that tragic moment produced unexpected blessings.
Much of what is beautiful and enriching in my life today was born through the tragedy of those flames.
Through the painful ashes of recovery as a child, our family grew in character, audacity, compassion, faithfulness, and drive. It galvanized a clear perspective on what things matter enough to fight for and what things to simply let go of. Because of the fire, we don’t take things for granted, are grateful for each day and remain certain that the best is yet to come.
The fire provided an opportunity for our entire community to come together and work as one. Friends literally opened their houses for my family to reside and they opened their hearts for my family to heal. Friends offered support, strangers offered prayer, and visitors offered encouragement.
In time, that date guided the decisions on where I went to high school and to university, which led to a fortuitous meeting with a beautiful lady named Beth. Together, we have been blessed with four children, loads of laughter, plenty of challenges, and lots of love.
In other words, an awesome, imperfect, blessed life…all born out of a tragic date.
Now, do I have scars? You bet. They cover my entire body.
Did I lose my fingers? Yes.
Was it devastating for my family? Undoubtedly.
But we did overcome and not only does it no longer negatively define us, we’re actually significantly better because of it.
My friends, we all face fires in life; we all get burned.
Ultimately whether our life story is an epic to celebrate or a tragedy to mourn has surprisingly little to do with the events within our lives and far more to do with the manner in which we respond to those events.
It is a choice. A choice to not only delight in the beauty of the butterfly. But also, to celebrate the painful changes required to achieve that beauty.
35 years ago today our family endured an unexpected, unwanted agonizing tragedy.
Today, we celebrate the beautiful transformation that came from it.
Know this, in the midst of all the profound challenges we face societally and endure privately, remain confident that your life is a gift, you’re not done being formed, the foundation is firm and the best is yet to come.
This is your day. Live Inspired.