Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. ~Frederick Buechner

This is not the next post I expected to write, and it’s certainly not the post I want to write. But you dear readers have followed my journey here in sunshine and in shade, and I feel the need to bring you into the latest development of our story.

Let me begin by saying that Philip and I are well and safe. But over Memorial Day weekend we experienced a devastating house fire. Even typing the words sends a thrill of panic over my heart, like a nightmare I long to wake up from. But the sad truth is that our beloved home, our farmhouse, our place on earth, has been ravaged. My kitchen is a charred ruin; the beautiful bookcase in the den that Philip built with his own hands is gashed with the horrible scars of flame; a hole gapes in the second floor, and the destruction throughout the house is astronomical. Thank goodness the fire was contained to a few rooms, but there’s not a single item in my home that’s untouched by smoke or water. Each time I walk through the rubble there are more losses to grieve, more mangled remnants of the life we’ve built together. Honestly, if Philip had not acted with speed and presence of mind, our house would not be standing at all. As it is, for the foreseeable future, we’re essentially homeless. I now know what displacement means; I now have a small window into the horror and darkness of what it must feel like to be a refugee.

I really don’t know how to begin to describe what happened that night, or what’s happened since—and I realize I don’t have to. But even the effort is cathartic, and though my brain is utterly rattled and my attention span is close to zero, I know I need to make that effort here, howsoever feebly. The fact is, for the rest of my life I will never un-see the image of my home in flames. I will never get over the horror of realizing that all five of my cats were inside (thank God Philip grabbed me as I was trying to run in for them), or that, while I knew our Australian Shepherd Bonnie was safe, I also knew that Flora, my darling Great Pyrenees, had bolted in panic. When a woman from Animal Control showed up an hour later with Flora’s collar in her hand, I nearly collapsed with the grief of it all—it was just Too Much. Someone had hit her—and left her—on the four-lane near our home. With my house still on fire, my kitties unaccounted for, and my husband on the way to the hospital with burns, I felt like I was being torn in four.

It was, without a doubt, the worst moment of my life. But I want to use this space to witness to the fact that in that moment, as I stood alone in the predawn hours, watching my house burn, with dozens of firemen and paramedics swarming about, a single thought burned white-hot into my shocked senses: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. I knew, as well as I was standing there, that God had not abandoned us, and that He was not going to let us walk through this literal and metaphorical fire all by ourselves.

And here’s another thing I know—I know that He’s not going to waste an opportunity to make something beautiful out of brokenness and ruin. I’m not talking about looking for silver linings, or “blessings in disguise.” I’m talking about beauty for ashes, which is something only God can do.

“Keep some of the ashes,” a precious friend urged the other day. “Remember, the ashes of the fronds that are burned from Palm Sunday are the very ones that are used to bless on Ash Wednesday.”

I will.

And I will likewise keep a heart-full of mercies, moments which, for all the trauma of their setting, I never want to forget. Like the fireman tenderly administering oxygen to my beloved kitties Josephine and Balliol, who had succumbed to smoke inhalation. Like Wemmick, and then Lucy, creeping soaked and sooty out of the ruin and into my arms after the fire trucks had left. Like walking through the house the next day and seeing my favorite little bird vase a beloved friend brought me from England, sitting there unharmed in a charred and shattered cabinet.

I’ve always called this piece the ‘heart’ of our home. It was made by the son of the man who built our house in 1851. It will bear its scars, but we’re determined to restore it.

It is an absolute miracle that all of my cats survived. But we had to have Flora put to sleep—there was nothing they could do. I got the call from the vet in the burn unit of the hospital, and I just stood there sobbing, telling God over and over again, “I can’t do this—I just can’t do this. And I can’t do it alone.”

Philip texted from his hospital room where he was being treated for his burns (he’s really all right—he was only admitted for a few hours, and he’s healing nicely) that his brother was on the way to meet me at the vet. And, friends, I’m telling you, there is absolutely no greater gift that one soul can give another than presence. I knew then that God meant what He said to me—we really were not alone. Kneeling together, weeping together, as my brother-in-law and I said goodbye to Flora was one of the most beautiful and excruciating things I have ever experienced. Flora had placed her paw in my hand as soon as she saw me; the moment she was gone, I knew it. (And I think you all know what I believe about animals and eternity…) To have someone beside me in that moment who not only understood but entered into my sorrow was an unspeakable gift.

That afternoon, darling friends helped me smuggle five cats and a dog into a two-pet hotel room. And that night, other dear ones knocked on our door with overflowing baskets: homemade soup, fresh cherries, olives and nuts and cured meats, Bordeaux and the mixings for gin and tonics.

Covert Cat Op

“I don’t know how to be me away from my place,” I said, gazing around at my friends. “I feel so lost—like everything that made my life my life is gone.”

Our supremely eloquent friend Luke lifted a glass to Philip and me, to our place, and to the new thing God would make of this terrible mess. I wish I could remember exactly what he said, but his words rang true, and they settled deep into my heart. And as I sipped my drink and looked around that room, I thought, This is my life. These are my people. And, as Jayber Crow would say, it’s good, good, good, good, good.

For the past year, the theme that’s been igniting my heart is the essential sacredness of our physical spaces—not only for what they point to, but for what they are in a very practical sense. I believe that houses can have callings just as people do, and I’ve always felt my home’s vocation to be intensely, deeply maternal. For 165 years, our old farmhouse has sheltered, nurtured, beautified the lives of its inhabitants. This house has mothered me, shaping me in ways that another place could not have done. And as we embark on the long journey of restoration and rebuilding, we realize that we—and our house—will never be the same. In a way, that’s yet another grief, partly because we’re not sure what that means. But this story isn’t ours to write. As a beloved friend and mentor reminded me yesterday, it’s not about where we’re going—it’s who we’re going with.

Jesus and each other. And our dear, dear people. We could not have better traveling companions. And when the way gets dark and bewildering and terrifying, you know that Who you’re with is all that matters.

Over the bookcase in the den I painted a motto years ago, my life verse, the story of my walk with God summed up in seven words:

The Wilderness Shall Blossom as the Rose.

Gazing up at it the other day, smoke-dimmed but blazingly intact, I blinked over a burning rush of tears. I wanted to stamp my feet, rail at God, ask why. I was tempted to wonder how that could still be true. When God gave me that promise years ago, I never dreamed that it meant barrenness, bereavement, and ashes.

But it also meant roses—where roses ought not to be. It’s meant weddings in my backyard; Christmas feasts crowded with people I love; house concerts and answered prayers and wonderful neighbors. Fruit, redemption, abundant life. I believe in those roses, friends, because I’ve seen them with my own eyes. And in them I’ve had a flashing glimpse at things too good not to be true.

Roses in the desert. Beauty from ashes. And a God of Impossible Things.

When I went to the house the day after the fire, I noticed that a wren had started working on a nest under the eaves of the porch. Such a powerful symbol to me.

I intend to keep you updated on this new chapter as it unfolds. I don’t have many coherent words right now. I certainly don’t have any answers, or even any expectations. But I do want you to know that God is with us, and that He is holding us in an entirely unprecedented way. We’re overwhelmed and we’re brokenhearted—but those are two conditions in which He promises to be near. And even though I can’t really see it, or even feel it right now, I’ve known Him long enough to know that He’s as good as His word.

Two quick things in closing:

  1. Firefighters are SUPERHEROS. Next time you see one, give them a salute. Or kiss their feet.
  2. If you ever find yourself on the lam in a hotel room with five cats and a dog, bring your own vacuum cleaner.
Four of my five miracle kitties. (Balliol is hiding under the bed.) They all have smoke inhalation issues, from pneumonia to actual burns, but they’re all going to be all right, thank God.





  1. No words. Prayers on your behalf now and in the hours to come. So much sadness. So much displacement. This world is NOT our home. ♥

  2. Dear Lanier,
    I saw your post and responded on Facebook that I’m praying for you guys, and I am. Reading through this has been helpful, too, to know better how to pray. I know personally your realization and revelation in the midst of the burning that God was right there with you. The day our daughter Keren died, as I followed the ambulance not knowing if it was her end or not, I suddenly knew God was right there and felt Him holding me, Keren, our family right in His hand. I think back on that moment any time I *don’t* feel Him, as I’m sure you will.

  3. Dear Lanier, we are so terribly sorry. We will be remembering you in our prayers. –Jodi Lenz & family

  4. I am also reading and crying with you too. Thank you so much for sharing and still showing that our God is a God of wonders. I always find so much beauty in what you write — again, I am so sorry.

  5. I am so sorry for you, Philip and your sweet animals. I can’t help but believe that it agrees with the character of God that our beloved pets will also live after death. I am grateful that you two and the kitties are well,more or less. And yes, the greatest comfort is to know that He is with you always in presence and as He also grieves for you as a good, good friend would.

  6. I came across your eloquently-written blog via a friend. And while your words about the levels of loss were seared with emotion, they also contained the strong sense that all is/will be well. I was also reminded of a wonderful Haiku written by Mizuta Masahide, a 17th century Japanese poet and samurai: “Barn’s burnt down–now I can see the moon.”

  7. oh dear. I am so so so very sorry to hear this. I know that you will restore your home but yes, it’s never the same, but we pray that it will blossom. My husband when he heard of your devastating news his first thought was insurance (hoping you have it) and the second was ‘is their Georgian tea pot set OK’? I am so so very sorry also for the loss of your beloved dog, the poor thing. But you were with her and she knew it, I am so glad your brother-in-law was with you. I am so glad you have such friends to help you. I am so very sorry for this loss; I too am a devoted homemaker and can only imagine how painful this is. Please do keep us posted. We will pray for you. I know how suddenly life can change in tragic ways and I am glad that you and your husband are safe and your kitties too. But the loss of your beloved dog and the damage to your home is heartbreaking. I am so very sorry. A (hug) to you…

  8. Dear Lanier – I know how your house was more to you than just a home, and how your possessions were more than just things. I am so sorry for the losses, for the trauma, for the stress. I know that ultimately you will find the beauty God will leave in your ashes but even so this must be so painful. Praying for you xxx

  9. Oh how sad I am for you and Philip in this tremendous loss. I cried reading your beautiful words. And though I have not been in the house since I was a teenager, I am grieving with you. Even as a child I knew it was a special place always filled with special people. Praying for you both.

  10. Lanier – I am so glad and happy that you and Philip are OK. Thank you dear Lord. And it was a special gift from God that your dear Flora had you there by her side to say good bye. Having experienced some similar losses (though nothing on the level of what you are experiencing now), one thing that helped me was to realize that so much of the shock and pain I felt was due to the sheer ugliness and unfamiliarity of what were once familiar and beloved surroundings. Once the cleanup begins in earnest and you have the satisfaction of creating and restoring the beauty again, you will find comfort and healing. It will happen, I promise you. In the meantime, my prayers and blessings for you both.

  11. So sorry. ?. Thinking of you and your family as you restore and recover. As you continue to hurt from your personal losses, may you continue to see beautiful roses that will grow through this experience. Hugs. ?

  12. This is the second house fire experience I have read about today- and it grieves me deeply. I so admire your blog and writing, and I have tried to incorporate so many of your beautiful ideas into my home life, too. I will remember you and you husband in prayer as you grieve, heal, and rebuild.

  13. Dear Lanier, my heart aches to see those photos of the house, and to hear about Flora. I’m so sorry. But *yes* indeed, He is the God of beauty from ashes, and the fullness of life out of the shadows of loss. I’ve been thinking lately about Russ Ramsey’s response in the emergency room (“I felt that I was at the beginning of a great adventure—one I instinctively did not want to miss.”), and about what you’ve said here before — that God is better than we dare to dream — and I’m keeping those truths in mind as I pray for you and look for your updates. So very thankful that you and Philip are safe.

  14. Lanier & Phillip, I’m so sorry to hear the sad news. You have a wonderful attitude. I know that pleases God. I’ll be praying for y’all.

  15. I am so very sorry. Thank you for sharing with us. Thank you for sharing how God was with you through this all and the hope of roses in the desert. One of my biggest fears has always been a house fire. I am reminded by you that God will walk us through whatever does come into our life. Blessings on you all.

  16. You are living an experience that has often visited me in nightmares. I have no words, only that I am so very sorry. I will be praying and hoping along with you as you share this story. May God continue to be near.

  17. Just popping back to say I asked my blog readers to pray for you. Also I am praying that deeply meaningful things will be found unharmed. My Aunt and Uncle lost their house a few years back (they have a new one built now) and one of the things that was saved was the cross stitch my Opa (my Aunt’s father) did of the Martinitoren in Holland (it’s a well known church; it means Martin’s tower) … he had made one for each of his 8 children + one for his wife… I pray that things like this will happen, that beauty from ashes will continue to be revealed. Be valiant dear Lanier and do not give up on your dreams, your calling or your vocation. How I wish I could just ship you beauty, books and consolation. As I cannot, I will be praying for it for you.

  18. I am a long time reader of your blog, I love reading the way you string sentences together, the beauty that you see, the beauty that you share. I am so sorry to read this. I cannot imagine losing so much. Praying for you and your sweet husband as you begin to put the pieces back together. Sunshine

  19. Flora! Oh, Lanier!!! This news is so tragic and I am so, so sorry. You are an incredibly strong woman and your life verse is so apt. Sending love and prayers your way and to Philip too.

  20. I am so sorry for the loss of your home and things that were so precious to you, and for the loss of Flora.

    Blessings to you,

  21. Oh Lanier. My heart aches for you today. I am so sorry to hear about your deep loss- about your beloved Flora’s passing, about your beautiful farmhouse being burned, about your sanctuary being laid waste. I am so so sorry.
    Josh, the girls, and I will be praying for you. Is there anything we can send to you?

  22. Holding out a hand of love across the miles….and many prayers for you and Philip. I’m so sorry that all of this has come into your life and for the grief it has brought. Praying God’s grace will uphold you in the days ahead….and that you may live each future moment Under the Mercy. Much love and blessings to you, Lanier!

  23. So,so sorry for all you have lost. Your grace and strength inspire, as always. Prayers for you and Philip.

  24. Oh, Lanier. I am so so sorry. Words aren’t enough.I’m praying that Jesus continues to meet you with comfort and hope in tangible ways.

  25. Oh, Lanier! It is beyond imagining. I am so, so sorry. Sending hugs and love, and joining you in FAITH that God’s mercies will continue on, new every morning. Much love.

  26. Lanier, my heart goes out to you… thank you for telling us about your traumatic loss so that we may pray for you and yours.

    I know that our REDEEMER lives and is ever making intercession for you… I know that YOU know that too and will take comfort knowing His eye is upon you and that you are not alone as you walk THROUGH the fire. The stench of smoky charred remains will not meet the Lord’s nostrils but it is the sacrifice of your sweet surrendered spirit that is wafting a rich and pleasant fragrance unto His holy name.

    Take COMFORT!

  27. Great battles. Great Champions. Loss. Of those we love, things we love. A sorrowful mourning. But joy WILL come in the morning. He’s preparing our Mansions in Heaven. It will be EXACTLY all those things we love most including our beloved pets awaiting us there. In this earthly walk, we continue to attempt to prepare those mansions here on earth as it is in heaven. Recreating the Garden of Eden to surround us. Us looking more like our Father every day. Rejoice in the Lord always! I say it again! Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything. Pray about everything. Present all your prayers and petitions to God. And the peace that passes all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Love you sweet Lanier o mine! I pray God’s shalom love and blessings surround you as a shield! xo

  28. praying for you and Phillip. continue to fight the good fight. may the Lord continue to be your fortress and your comforter. i am so, so sorry for this…

  29. A house fire is one of the terrors that has lurked in the back of my mind as a possibility–we’ve always had wood fires. The sense of home-place is very strong for many of us, the elusive ‘something’ that makes a dwelling so much beyond ‘four walls.’ Losing Flora along with treasured family belongings is indeed, over-whelming. I’m sure that there will be renewed moments of tears and loss as you undertake clean-up and restoration–the books–pictures, special things damaged or lost–and yet, God is there in the midst of this–already sending good and loving people to help. My prayers will be on-going for you and Phillip.

  30. I am so sorry. I was so shocked when I read about your fire. I love my home too, and I know what I would be feeling. I was so sad about Flora, also.

    Praying that you see the beauty through the ashes.

  31. Dear Lanier,

    What excruciating loss. I am so very sorry.

    I haven’t yet got words. Perhaps this hymn which carried me through the waves of grief that threatened to overwhelm in the days my own unimaginable loss a year ago, will be a source of comfort.

    I will try to send an email message via the Contact page tomorrow.

  32. Even if I know your beautiful home only from your blog, reading this and seeing those photos is utterly disturbing. I am so sorry for everything you lost, especially Flora. I have no words for this.
    Once again, I admire your inner strength and your attitude.
    And please know: you are never alone.

  33. What devastation, what loss. I am glad you and your husband are safe, as well as you kitties and dog. So sorry about Flora,and all you lost. May you find all the strength and calm you need to get through this.

  34. My own tears are flowing in solidarity with you. My heart feels your heart aches. You encourage me with your steadfast hope; yes, this is devastating, but God is our hope. I hear an undercurrent of steel in your voice: “I *will* trust!” Know that many prayers are going up for you, your husband, and the wee ones you hold so dear. ((hugs))

  35. Chère Lanier,
    En ce jour de Pentecôte, je prie pour vous et pour votre mari en partageant votre désarroi. Que l’Esprit de compassion et d’amour descende sur vous et guérisse vos blessures, tant physiques que spirituelles.
    Merci pour votre témoignage de foi dans l’épreuve. Les pompiers sont en effet de véritables héros. Mais vous en êtes d’autres!
    J’ai beaucoup pensé à vous la semaine dernière, me trouvant à Oxford pour fêter les 40 ans de mon mari. Sachez que votre présence habite et illumine ces lieux que vous aimez, comme elle continue d’habiter et d’illuminer votre maison.
    Je remercie Philip de vous traduire ce commentaire. Pardonnez-moi, je suis trop émue pour vous écrire autrement que dans ma langue maternelle.
    Je vous embrasse chère Lanier et vous dis toute mon amitié.

  36. Asking the Lord and Knowing He will Himself be your peace…minute by minute. Himself…He Himself…what a grand reunion between your father and Flora…So grateful you are writing about this for all of us, thank you…

  37. Oh, Lanier. I am so sorry. I will be praying for you. God does bring beauty out of the ashes. All things work together for good to them that love God. All shall be well.

  38. Lanier,

    My heart aches for you. I remember attending your wedding at that house!! We are out of town right now, but please don’t hesitate if you need anything at all. We are praying for you!!

  39. Dear Lanier,
    I am so sorry for your losses – and so glad that you have been given grace to count your blessings even deep in the midst of such sorrow. Please accept my deepest sympathy on the loss of your beautiful, beautiful dog – and the myriad other losses too. As our minister reminded us in his sermon this morning, the Prince of Peace is also the Prince of the broken pieces. He is acquainted with grief and will walk this journey with you. May you know that crazy peace that only He can bring.
    Sending you love and hugs and prayers from Ireland,

  40. Oh Lanier! That is awful! Many Prayers going up for you. I am so sorry… 🙁

  41. Oh Lanier, I am so sorry. We don’t know each other, but I’ve read your blog for awhile and was telling a friend of mine the other day about you, and your love for your home and animals, and how I’m always encouraged when I read your writing. I am praying for you, that you will be comforted and held and strengthened throughout all of this.


  42. I cried over Flora. When my kitty in fifth grade had kittens for the first time, in her pain she put out her paw to me, as well. Those were deep words about the gift of presence; surely your own presence was also a great gift to your cat.

    Love, Esther

  43. Thankful that with His strength and by His grace, all that now seems so dark will be renewed. And thankful (with you, I’m sure) that God’s pattern for His precious kids is ALWAYS death AND resurrection.

  44. How terrible. I am so sorry. Your home has always been such a beautiful and comforting presence in your writing on this blog. You all will be in my prayers.

  45. I’m so sorry Lanier. I can’t imagine the horror of watching your house burn. But I thank you for sharing your words and life with us. Two weeks ago my husband was diagnosed with aggressive brain cancer. He is only 40 and I expected to grow old with him. But God has walked with us and given us a peace these last weeks that I would not have dreamed possible. I hate this wilderness experience but already I’m finding roses. The reminders in this post are soul sustaining. Thank you.

  46. I am praying for you, dear Lanier. God bless you. He is already working abundant miracles of new life in my heart through the witness of grace he has given you in this. Much love.

  47. WOW OH WOW! Yes, no matter what, God is GREAT! This too shall pass but you will survive. My thoughts, prayers and very best wishes going out to you and yours.

  48. OH, I am so sorry about your loss. So Tragic. May God fill you with courage as you move ahead. As a confirmed book lover I have enjoyed reading your blogs over the years.

  49. I am so sorry for your losses. I wanted you to know that I am praying for you, in particular that God’s grace will be sufficient for you, “for his power is made perfect in weakness.” (2nd Cor. 12:9) Thank you for sharing your heart; by your transparency you have encouraged me in my faith greatly.

  50. Dear Lanier, We are so sorry and will keep you and Philip in our prayers. My husband experienced his home being burned when he was 15. He was able to rescue some of his board games. Those games came with him into our marriage. He had the pieces, but not the board of a game called Camelot. Last year, thanks to Amazon, I was able to purchase the missing board and directions for his birthday. Please do not lose heart; your blog is very important for many of us in our daily walk with God. Under His Mercy always, Doris

  51. I was in tears for you after reading this. May you know the comfort of God and His people as you rebuild your home together. Thank you for sharing so we can pray for you during this time.

  52. Heartbreaker. But, so uplifting at the same time. I will keep you in my prayers. What a blessing for you to be with Flora. You have a lot of work ahead of you, but I know in my heart you can handle it with grace and thanksgiving. God bless.

  53. Oh Lanier-there really are no words to say other than I am deeply soulfully grieved for you and Philip. And that I will join my prayers to others and be praying like mad…???

  54. I am so sorry to hear this news. May God continue to give you and your husband daily strength.

  55. Oh Lanier,

    It has taken about four tries in the last week for me to get through your post, because I was so grieved upon reading the opening lines. You and Philip have been in my thoughts and prayers often. I am so sorrowed for and with you. The Lord truly does give Beauty for ashes, friend.

    <3 Jody

  56. I’m so very, very sorry. May God bless and keep you and your family. I firmly believe that we will once again be with all our beloved pets who have gone before us. All that love simply cannot vanish.

  57. As for you ‘not wanting’ to ever have to write this post, I can hardly believe what I have just read! Yes, I was expecting to read a post about the natural passing of a beloved friend, but alas, not so! Nothing seems so heart rending than to have to sift through once pristine tokens of endearment which have now been reduced to rubble.
    May God bless you with grace as you walk through this valley to emerge somehow purely golden on the other side.

  58. Lanier, my heart hurts so much for you. I can’t imagine the shock of losing part of your home. I’m so glad the Lord will be your comfort and transform this season into one of beauty. Thank you for sharing your life with us.

  59. Oh Lanier and Phillip! I am so, so sorry for everything you have gone through. I will hold you both and your menagerie up in prayer and if there is ANYTHING I can do, do not hesitate to ask. Your writing has blessed me for many years now and I would welcome any opportunity to bless you in your time of need.

  60. I’m so, so sorry. Just reading this now. Praying for healing for you, your husband, your pets and your house. Your house always seems like the kind of house that was in those beautiful drawings in the Little Women book, the big one with the line illustrations.

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