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Beauty from Ashes

Faith to Fire

I was a very prayerful little girl and was born and raised in the Catholic Faith. I grew up in a little town in New York state. You could see St. Mary’s church and its parish hall from our living room window. The parish priest came over for dinner often, and my family was immersed in the life of the church. My faith was deep, and I conversed with the Lord as though I had a direct phone line. I felt His presence in my life and knew He could move mountains.

But when I was six years old, about a week before Christmas, someone forgot to extinguish the candles on our Advent wreath, and our live Christmas tree caught on fire. I awoke to my dad screaming my name through the roaring flames. By that time, most of the house was already gone. There was so much black smoke that it was hard to see and breathe, but my dad carried me through the flames. Somehow I wasn’t burned.

He told me that I needed to go to the neighbor’s house to get help. As I ran outside into the freezing cold, I got to the corner of my property and turned around. I saw my house nearly gone and was torn between getting help from the neighbor or going back into the house to save my dad. He was trying to get to my 11-year-old sister Maria, but the enormous flames surrounded her doorway, blocking him from entering. I believe he would have died trying. I ran back into the burning house to get him, and he came out to the neighbor’s house with me to call the fire department. Ironically, the fire department was located on our small street less than a mile away! But the phone lines were down, and we couldn’t reach them at first. When they finally showed up, they couldn’t find my sister right away. Once they found her, she was alive but unconscious, and they rushed her by ambulance to the hospital.

I will never forget being in a hospital room with my father as we were both recovering from smoke inhalation and waiting to hear how Maria was doing. I was praying for God to save her, but my worst nightmare came true when the doctor came into the room to tell us that she had died. Although she was unburned, her heart and lungs had given out due to smoke inhalation.

My dad wailed and screamed as he hugged me. In that moment, my heart could feel his aching heart so deeply that I couldn’t even think of my own. To see a man, my father, in this excruciating interior pain — there are no words.

The Pain of Loss

The pain of losing my sister is indescribable. Our entire family was hurting so much. Life seemed purposeless, meaningless and hopeless. That night, I didn’t only lose my sister. I lost my mom to depression, my dad to alcoholism, my house, toys, clothes — everything and everyone I knew and loved.

I felt lost and alone, as if I didn’t exist anymore or have a reason to live. I had questions and no answers. Why did this happen? Where was God? Why was I saved and not my sister? Why did God leave me behind to a miserable life that felt like death anyway?

A few months later, on my seventh birthday, I was really missing my sister, and a thought occurred to me. I knew Scripture well, and that God had the power to raise the dead. I had a deep, childlike faith and came up with a plan! I put together all of my dolls to make a life-sized form that resembled my sister. Then prayed and asked God to bring her back. I asked Him to raise her, but nothing happened. I thought maybe He hadn’t heard me or I hadn’t prayed hard enough, so I tried again, but still nothing happened. I then tried a third time. When nothing happened, I was utterly devastated. I missed my sister so much! I knew God had the power to raise the dead, but I thought He must not love me enough, and I lost my trust and hope in Him.

I subconsciously disconnected my phone line from Him, and although I still prayed, I didn’t have the same faith. I still went to Mass with my family, but as years went on, my doubts grew greater and my spiritual life weakened.

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