My apartment burnt down 5 years ago from today. You’re probably wondering what that has to do with me becoming a photographer, and I will be telling you about that! But first, I’d like to tell you about the fire and how it changed my life! :)
I remember the day so clearly. I could tell you every detail that happened, but this post would be far too long for anyone to continue to read. I’ll try to sum it up the best I can and spend more time talking about the most important part, the positive effects it had on my life afterwards. April 7th, 2009… I was driving to my apartment when I heard the fire trucks. I prayed for whoever those fire trucks were going towards, it wasn’t long after that I found out they were going to my own apartment. By the way, this is when I was living in Dallas and was part of a discipleship training program. I lived in an apartment with 3 other girls in the program! I tried to pull into my apartment complex but all the entrances were blocked off, I saw the smoke and starting breathing heavily praying it wasn’t my apartment. While I was driving around trying to get in, I got a phone call from a leader in the program I was in, and I instantly knew it was my apartment, which is what he soon verified on the phone. I parked on the street and walked up to my apartment building. I stood there crying as news camera recorded the whole thing and spoke about it with no emotion as if it didn’t happen to actual human beings. People consoled me, asked me if I needed anything and asked what they could do. People actually continued to do that for weeks after the fire even. I just had to stand there, watching the fire burn, watching 9 fire trucks with firemen trying to put it out while thinking about all the things in there I would lose forever. Thankfully, no one in the apartment unit, 8 apartments, got hurt. But in the moment, it’s hard to think about the positive side of things, you tend to focus on everything you’re losing rather than everything you still have. I quickly went into a depression. For 3 days I didn’t laugh, rarely smiled, I just went through my days feeling like I was in a dream. I was always crying, unable to sleep and I didn’t see an end. I was confused, I questioned God and I didn’t understand why this “had” to happen.
I was able to go into my burnt apartment the next day to see if I could salvage anything and I’m so thankful that I could. Most things were burnt and if it wasn’t burnt, it was ruined from water damage. I had my car and my laptop in my car, other than that, my only possessions were the clothes on my back. You know how people ask questions like “If your house was burning down, what would you grab?” I lived that. I didn’t go in while it was burning down, but I went in after and knew EXACTLY what I wanted to save. My poetry book, my safe with my journals and my blankey. Yes, I said my blankey. Somehow, I was able to save all of those things most important to me! Sure, I had to lift up half of the wall to get under my pillow to grab my soaking, ashy blankey. And yes, my poetry book was wet with ink that was slightly bleeding but still readable. And my safe was melted into the carpet. I actually wasn’t even able to get the safe with my journals myself, the fire marshall said I could only have a couple minutes inside. I grabbed my blankey, my poetry book and a few half burnt things out of my memory drawer but I couldn’t get the safe. I couldn’t find it and when I did find it, I wasn’t strong enough to tear it from the melted carpet. He escorted me out while I was crying hysterically and I asked him to please try to get my safe. I waited downstairs with a constant flow of tears. It felt like a movie, just waiting for him to walk down those stairs with that safe in his hands… and then he did. And everything else I lost suddenly didn’t matter because I was able to save the things that my heart needed most, which felt like my soul, because it was my writings, my own words. I still missed everything else… but I was so grateful for the little that I did have, that it didn’t seem so little at the time.
After 3 days of no laughter, 3 days of tears and confusion, I was no longer depressed. God showed me all the good things that could come from this. I eventually saw the fire as a blessing, as a life changing experience that taught me so much more than it took away from me. There is a quote I love by Kurt Bruner that says “Often the scenes we desire the least, are the most important to the story being told.” That isn’t always the case of course… but for me, this scene of the fire was something I never thought would happen to me. Ever. And when it did, I didn’t want it, but after the storm calmed, and I realized how much it has taught me, I accepted that it is an important part of my story and I am thankful for it! :) I feel like I’ve written so much and yet still have so much to tell, but instead, I will show you some photos.
Here are some photos of my apartment the day after the fire.
I was able to grab my apartment # that fell off the door after it happened! So glad I grabbed it!
This is the safe that had my journals in it. I’m so thankful that I was able to keep this! I kept my journals in here for privacy reasons, but it also turned out to be handy in the fire! Haha. :)
Inside was a little wrecked from water and ash that seeped in, but my journals are still readable and still here, so I am grateful! :)
These are a few things from my memory drawer that I was able to save. I’m a keeper, I keep EVERYTHING for sentimental reasons. Even though I lost so many “memories” in that apartment, I was able to save a few!
Ah, one of my favorite possessions! Haha. I met Corbin Bleu after my senior year, he was pretty much my favorite person at the time, haha. He signed an album for me that reads “To Leah (My one true love) Thank you for being so wonderful, you’ve made this marriage a fun one.” Because I may have been calling him my husband, and he was nice enough to play along, haha. Sure, it’s slightly destroyed, but I still have it, and now it has another great story to go with it! :)
Okay, okay! Now you want to know what this all could possibly have to do with me becoming a photographer… and I’ll tell you! After the fire, I was able to use my parent’s home owners insurance for myself. I listed everything I lost and after a large deductible, I was sent a check. The amount of money didn’t come close to paying for everything I lost after the deductible, but I had never had so much money at one time in my account, so naturally I spent it all. Haha. Instead of buying clothes, shoes, and things that were lost in the fire that I actually needed, I used it to buy a Canon Rebel T1i and a Macbook! I had my eye on a friend’s Canon Rebel before the fire and thought it’d be fun to have one, simply because I wanted to document my life with better quality photos, but I didn’t think I’d be getting one anytime soon because I didn’t have that kind of money. I knew nothing about cameras or where to buy them, I simply walked into Best Buy with all my insurance money in my account and said “I want THAT one!” haha. I used my camera for about a year just to document life, then in 2010 I started asking people if I could practice on them to possibly make money from it someday, with no expectations of having a business in the future. In 2011 I did 5 shoots the entire year, they were all for my close friends and family. I upgraded my camera towards the end of 2012 and I believe that’s when my business actually started, because that’s when people started asking ME to take their photos instead of ME asking THEM! Haha. I genuinely do not know if I would be a photographer today if my apartment didn’t burn down 5 years ago. Photography was never my dream, it’s stemmed from a hasty decision to buy a camera with my insurance money. But now I know it was a dream that I never even knew I had. It is a passion that I hadn’t yet discovered. There are SO many reasons that I now view the fire as a blessing, and my photography career is one of them! :)
“Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” – 2 Corinthians 6:10
If you care to read about how God specifically changed my life through this, I want to share a poem with you. I wrote this poem 5 years ago. I wrote the first half of it the day after the fire happened. And I wrote the second half of it about a week later, after God healed me. :)
God, I pray this healing process won’t take long
My faith was shaken but I’m still standing strong
I started to question and I started to doubt
I was trying so hard to figure everything out
Why did this happen to me and why did this happen now
I felt I did something wrong like this was punishment somehow
I want to know when the pain will stop and when my heart will heal
I need someone to wake me up because this doesn’t feel real
How can I turn this around for better instead of worse
How do I look at this as positive instead of just a curse
I can’t tell if this is a lesson or a blessing in disguise
I miss laughing all the time and I hate these tears in my eyes
I’m trying to stay positive but all I see is what’s wrong
Like the things I’ll never get back, the things I had for so long
It’s so hard to have faith when everything is broken
And it’s so hard to hear Your voice when so many words are being spoken
Everyday that I live feels so much longer
But I’m coming out of this even stronger
I say I lost everything but I still have what means most
My family, my friends and a faith that I’ll boast
I know this isn’t normal for people to go through
But since it happened to me, I’ll tell my story praising you
I lost everything I owned but gained more wisdom than I had
I gained experience and knowledge for the good and the bad
Ever since the fire, I view life with brand new eyes
I’d never take it back, I wouldn’t even want to try
Complaining all the sudden, is not worth my time
Cause life’s not about where you are, it’s all about the climb
I worship with more passion and pray with such belief
I never feel stress and live life with pure relief
The simple things mean more than they ever did before
I found out that it’s true, that less really is more
So when I can’t see where I’m going, it’s You that pulls me through
And still when I have nothing, I have it all cause I have You