79. Envelope of Hope

79. Envelope of Hope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

Envelope of Hope

If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome.

~Anne Bradstreet

I cried when I opened the envelope. It was from a man I’d never met. A check fell out, a very big check; and it was the first of many from people who had heard about our fire.

“You like to write,” said my friend, “You should write about your fire.”

“I write inspirational humor,” I told her. “There is nothing funny or uplifting about your business burning to the ground or about watching your lifelong dream, as well as your livelihood, go up in smoke.”

A forest fire had swept across our property, burning acres of land, killing hundreds of trees, damaging our home, and completely destroying my husband’s boat building business.

My friend said, “You have gone through tragedies before, and you found something positive to write about each circumstance — your son’s cancer, your blindness, a serious accident, a chronic illness. You’ve found humor and inspiring lessons in all those situations.”

“Not this one,” I answered. “It’s too much. We’ve been knocked down many times, but this time we won’t get back up. We are defeated.”

Our insurance coverage hadn’t been nearly enough. We had trusted our agent to know what we needed; and who really reads their insurance policies? We should have. We lost $300,000 in machinery, tools, and property, but we were reimbursed only a tiny fraction of that; and we had to hire a lawyer to get it. Much of what we were awarded went to the lawyer in payment.

“We’ve exhausted our life savings,” I told my friend. “We’re using credit cards to buy food and pay bills. We have no money to rebuild, I’m unable to work, and my husband is sixty years old. Who would hire him? How can we start over? Besides all that, we lost treasured family heirlooms in the blaze, a lifelong collection of antiques, and ten rare, antique wooden boats. So much of what is gone can never be replaced. No, there is nothing positive to be gained from this devastation. I will never see anything good come from it and I will never write about it.”

Then that check came, and it was the first of many. The second came from a grandmother three states away. Her home had burned thirty years ago and a stranger had given her $200. She wanted to pay it forward and help someone else. That someone was me. I cried again. And I have cried more times than I can count, as check after check has arrived this past year. There were checks from neighbors, previous employers, friends from grade school, our doctors, local businesses, long-lost relatives, and friends’ extended family members. Local churches gave us food and money, and even churches in other states sent us money. Friends told friends, and a magazine we had advertised the business in published a story on our loss. People who had read my book or had been helped by the charity I founded sent us help. We received donations, as well as words of encouragement, from nearly every state. I was shocked when I received a phone call from a stranger in Hawaii.

So many of our son’s musician friends volunteered to do benefit concerts that he had to turn most of them down. He organized two all-day fundraisers with music by ten bands, and our community came out to support us. More tears.

If we hadn’t received so much from so many, we would have filed for bankruptcy and given up. But hundreds of people eagerly helped us, believing that we could come back from this disaster. Their confidence inspired us. We began to believe we could rise from the ashes and start anew. We determined that we would do whatever was required to overcome this setback. It has taken a lot of hard work, seven days a week, sometimes fourteen-hour workdays for over a year. And we haven’t recovered totally yet, but we’re getting closer; and we’ve managed to avoid bankruptcy.

We may never have the lifestyle we had before. After all, it had taken most of our lives to build up to that point before the fire. But I must finally admit that there was a silver lining behind this dark cloud after all. We learned that there are many more good-hearted and generous people in this world than we had suspected. And we have a new compassion for fire victims and try to help them whenever we can.

We’ve come to believe that with determination and the help of good friends, and even strangers, anything is possible, and we strive to share this belief with others who may be discouraged.

The story of Thomas Edison rekindled our hope. At the age of sixty-seven, after investing every cent he had (as well as ten years of work) on a particular invention, Edison’s lab, records, and experiments were destroyed by fire. He was only insured for about ten percent of the value of what he lost. Yet, Edison looked at the ruins and said, “There is great value in disaster. All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

Three weeks after the fire, Edison managed to deliver the first phonograph. His life proves that good can come from bad situations, and anything is possible to those who believe.

~Marsha Mott Jordan

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