Nearly six years ago, Deb Lovett's family experienced a "night of terror" when their upscale rural home near Dayton went up in flames. At Saturday's Woman ACT Conference, Lovett spoke about how the personal disaster renewed her faith and helped her to move on with a new outlook on life.
Inspired by Psalm 91, the conference theme was "Under His Wings." Lovett read the passage to introduce her talk and said it helped her to overcome fear and find joy. She showed video filmed by the first responders who came to the scene. Lovett said they made four calls before firefighters arrived. Then, they ran out of water, even though the residence had a pool and a pond was nearby. Curious spectators stood in the family's horse pasture.
"People were watching my house burn like it was a drive-in movie," Lovett said.
PHOTO BY MARYANN KROMER
Deb Lovett gestures as she
displays a charred Bible retrieved from her house fire.
An explosion started the fire, but Lovett said the specific cause was not determined. When she saw how the flames were spreading, she started running toward the house to see whether she could save anything. Before she could get close, the gas tanks on the vehicles in the garage exploded, as well as ammunition from her husband's gun collection. Firefighters from more than a dozen departments spent 12 hours dousing the blaze.
On the plus side, Lovett, her husband, Tim, and their two children got out of the house with no physical injuries; however, Lovett said the emotional damage was overwhelming. They spent a sleepless night at her brother-in-law's home and returned to "the scene of the crime" the next day to see everything they owned in ashes.
While they were there, a couple stopped over and delivered a department store gift card for $1,000. The congregation at a neighboring church had collected the money for the card.
"That was the first speck of light that we could see God," Lovett said.
The family borrowed a car and went to the store to find shoes and some basic clothing. The cashier bagged each person's belongings separately and everyone carried his own bag. Lovett observed her family walking across the parking lot with "everything they owned in a little bag." It reminded her of a quote she had heard: "You'll never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul."
Next, they stopped at Verizon to get new cell phones. Over the next few days, the Lovetts took many calls to check on their well-being. The speaker laughed when some of the callers said they had left messages on the home phone. One call from an acquaintance named Katrina surprised Lovett by telling her, "God has left you something." Katrina thought Lovett needed to go back to the fire scene and look for it.
"I was angry ... I told her not to call again," Lovett said.
But Katrina did call two more times. Lovett reluctantly said she would go if Katrina picked her up. They would have to wear protective boots and gloves in their search. Back at the burned-out shell, Lovett was amazed her rose bushes had survived the fire. Feelings of anger, grief and shock welled up at the sight of the ruin she had expected to be a place of safety and contentment for her family.
"We went to the ash heap," Lovett said.
Before long, she decided the search was futile and returned to the car as Katrina continued to poke through the
mangled debris. Awhile later, Katrina emerged carrying something black in her hand. It was Lovett's Bible.
"It was completely charred on all sides. ... but every single page can be turned," Lovett said.
At that point, she pulled out the book and held it up for her audience to see. Inside was a greeting card from her husband that also survived. It read, "You are my love," and it was signed in his handwriting. Lovett said it "meant the world" to her after the ordeal. She also was reminded the word is God's love for believers.
"He left us his spiritual food in the midst of the ruins," Lovett said.
In addition, the find gave Lovett hope something else might lie hidden in the remains of the house. Before the crew came to haul away the remnants, she and her husband decided to do a final search. He brought out a white box that had been spared. Inside was a metal tray that said, "Give us this day our daily bread."
Lovett said the fire was a dramatic reminder she and her family needed to dwell in God and focus on the heavenly home promised in Scriptures. What humans may regard as a disaster can be a blessing in disguise, she said.
The Lovetts had to reframe their loss and look for the good that could come of it. She encouraged her audience to do the same for whatever challenges they face in their lives. Lovett said hardships can make us "better or bitter."
"We can move that mountain," she said. "How will we respond to God?"
Lovett said she was born on Easter Sunday, so the resurrection story holds special meaning for her. It describes how Jesus embraced his suffering in order to be raised in glory. Likewise, people must accept setbacks and "choose victory, not ashes."
For her, finding objects in the ashes was a new beginning, she said.
"God has come in and buried my sins ... and brought to life a new person. And he did it through that fire," Lovett said.