Exactly one month ago, a little before midnight, on the night of our wedding anniversary, a tree came crashing through the roof of our home. The tree destroyed most of the second floor of the house, a majority of our things, and has upended our life for the last four weeks. But the tree spared the most important things. My wife and our four children all walked out of the house, mostly untouched from the destruction. The frame of the house was dismantled, but the foundation of our faith and our belief in the goodness of people has been forever strengthened.
The last month has been rough. Beyond the occasional social media posts, it has taken me a few weeks to garner the courage to write about it. I talked with Emily about what, if anything, we wanted to put on a blog about something that has included sacred, special and miraculous moments in our life. But I feel prompted to express gratitude for five phrases that this experience has taught our little family.
There is barely enough paper in the world to write all the thank you notes I want to/need to write. The last month has been an avalanche of service and blessings and kindnesses from people in our community. One night I even lay awake thinking I should go find that tree and turn it into pulp for paper to write the list of letters that I want to send so that people know how much we appreciate them. I am afraid that moment has passed, and other priorities have taken precedent over something so crafty or clever. But I do hope that this blog can serve as a temporary “thank you” for the thousands of expressions that have given us shelter, even when we were missing a roof.
These are some of the heartfelt and beautiful phrases that have taught me, along with that tree, what really matters in life. There is a countless list of more, but I start with these as a way to get the gratitude going:
—“If you don’t let others help you, the Tree wins.” This was the phrase texted to me from a friend just a few short days after the tree fell. This good man, a true friend in every way, reminded me to let down my guard and just let others help us out in a time of need. It is so easy to let pride get in the way in a moment of emergency. You don’t want others to think you don’t “have it all together.” Over the past month, we definitely were coming apart at the seams. But this friends text was a reminder that this experience had something to teach us, and being able to serve and be served was part of it. Vulnerability can be beautiful when it is matched with the kindness of others who are ready to help.
—“What time can I come over to get your laundry?” While we were sitting in a hotel room, trying to figure out what to do with our lives, a wonderful woman in our life called up, not to ask IF she could do our laundry for us, but what time she could arrive and pick it up. We were dumbfounded, but indeed it was one of the first micro-crises to show-up after the tree fell. The kids had fewer clothes than ever before, but as any family knows, laundry piles up. This kind of tactical charity warmed our hearts and reminded us what it truly means to be a brother and sister in love. That clean laundry, including the bed sheets and linens that hadn’t been punctured by the tree branches or roof beams, has been a powerful symbol of kindness in a time of need.
—“Your Wife is doing fine. But get home. You need to be together right now.” At first when I got this note, I was taken aback. It was sent from a dear friend from our church congregation, who was there right from the beginning of that horrific night. I was away on a business trip, 9 time zones away in Dubai, when this happened. There are few feelings worse than knowing that the people you love are far away, taking shelter in a neighbor’s house after escaping a tragedy. But this dear friend had the insight, and courage, to text me to let me know that she had been with Emily, helping her get some things in the rubble of the bedrooms, and that she was amazing. I knew this. There are few people who can do what Emily did with the stamina and strength that she has. But this friend also had the courage to tell me to get myself home. It is that kind of candor that reminds you who is on your “home team,” who is ready to help, and who wants you to be the best that you can be as a family or team. Indeed, we needed to be together at that moment. She was right. And she put my heart at ease, and my feet in motion, both at the same time.
—“We’ve got this. You’ve got this. Do your thing. We’ll take care of the rest.” This string of phrases has become one of my favorites. There is not much that is poetic about these words, but together they represent a poetry of friendship. From the minute the tree came down, people have been ready to take on work projects, church assignments, tasks at home and tasks far away, so that we could focus on family. There is nothing more calming than hearing the words of friends who want to express confidence in you. There is nothing sweeter than the charity involved in a phrase that says people are ready to step in for you. A work colleague did not miss a beat the moment the news got out about the tree. These were the words that arrived in my in-box a few seconds later. It was echoed by so many others in our life. They mean that we are part of a great team, not just at work or at church, but in life.
—“We are praying for you.” This is a phrase that has new meaning in my life. Emily and I have always been praying people, and we come from homes of prayer. We have tried our best to establish a home of faith and prayer. We have seen the power of prayer in the lives of countless people in our lives. We are people who believe in faith. But the phrase, “We are praying for you” has renewed power for us. A friend had said a prayer of safety for our family the very weekend this event took place. He prayed that our family would be protected. Now, not every situation ends as ours did. And sometimes they end in tragedy. But the comfort that comes from people who pray for others is one of the greatest treasures in life. I know that it is real. And I want to be the kind of person who indeed prays for the comfort and protection of others. My prayers may not be able to stop trees — or diseases or wars or accidents — but they are real. And I know that a loving God listens to them. All of them.
I could add hundreds of treasured phrases to this list. And a few short days after the tree fell on our home, I learned that a tree feel through the home of a friend’s parents in nearby Baltimore. I knew instantly that, beyond the questions of “Where will we live? What will we do? How do we explain it to the kids? How can we afford this? How can we get it all done?” etc., the most important questions ever to enter the conversations in our home that week were the phrases like, “What time can we come around with a pizza?”
People are amazing. Friends are blessings. Trees can destroy roofs and can even take lives. But in this case the tree reminded us that we are all in each other’s life to be able to lift up, reach out, and help. In this sense, the Tree most definitely did NOT win. Nor will it. We are now the kind of people who want to be on the other end of these phrases to help clean, move, lift, wash, cook, love, laugh and cry with the friends in our life.
Exactly four weeks later, I find myself again in Dubai, on a work trip. I am writing this post with a grateful heart as I think about all that has taken place in a month. Our family is living in a temporary home, lovingly moved by a brigade of friends and elbow grease and faith. We are relishing every moment together as a family. We are still shaken, and a LOT is still in disarray in our life, but we are safe, and covered in kindness that inspires us to be better. These phrases ring loudly in our ears as examples of how to be friends to others.
Thank you, to so many, for these phrases. And thank you for how loudly your friendship speaks of love to the Sherinian Family.
So, this phrase seems appropriate: “Take that, Tree. Love wins.”