Related collections and offers
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Oh my God! The house is on fire!
* * *
At the crack of dawn on March 7, 1999, something goes terribly wrong. I awake to explosions, smoke, and darkness. Oh, my God! The house is on fire.
Our family is jolted from our peaceful bliss and thrown into chaos in a home totally engulfed with flames. The sound of appliances exploding is deafening. The heat and stench throw us into confusion and shock.
My husband, James, begins frantically jumping in and out of windows, desperate to save me and our young children. The three oldest boys grab their younger autistic brother and wait at a pre-designated point for their father.
I am the first to be dropped from a window, but I am hysterical. I reenter the inferno, determined to reach my twenty-two-month-old twin boys. I am pinned by a large, burning, oak bookshelf that falls on me. I am trapped, burning, and unable to speak above a whisper. My husband sees me under the bookshelf and shoves me out our bedroom window again.
I crawl from the window to the front lawn, leaving pieces of burned flesh as I go. My hands are so badly injured that I can no longer use them to support myself. I shout from the edge of the street where a neighbor is steadying me by pressing her head to mine.
"I have six sons! Get my babies!"
But the count of sons who made it out never reaches six.
The house collapses before my husband is able to get our son Amos out. He dies in the fire.
Amos's twin, Benjamin, and I are severely injured.
I drift in and out of oblivion. The paramedics try their best to rouse me. "Breathe," one of them says. "Please breathe, baby!"
Tears are falling down his face. That can't be good, I think. I hear panic in his voice.
Then I hear another voice, an unearthly voice, the cry of a fearful, wild animal. But it is Benjamin's voice.
I cannot bear the thought of Benjamin feeling the horrific pain I am experiencing.
I pass out, succumbing to utter darkness.
* * *
What a difference a day can make. The day before, I woke up bright and early, even before the twins were stirring. Our church was having a Saturday morning breakfast, and the teenagers were our appointed chefs. I was one of the chaperones for the event. I snatched up the seven, blue, "Heaven Scent" aprons I had made to surprise the girls, kissed my husband good-bye, and scurried out with "see you later" hanging between us.
By the time the church members arrived, the church was filled with an assortment of enticing aromas: crisp bacon, juicy sausage, crunchy hash browns, fluffy pancakes, and every fruit and juice you can imagine. The fellowship was as refreshing as the food. I was a true busy bee that day.
My husband oversaw the boys for me. I particularly remember him holding Amos for the greater portion of the day. I thought it odd but never got around to asking him why. The day ended with me taking a trip to the mall with my pastor's wife and two other ladies. The last thing I remember her saying to me when I got out of the car was, "I love you."
I staggered into the house and sat on the first seat I saw. It was our green Queen Anne wingback chair, which I had every intention of reupholstering but never got around to doing. I was exhausted. I let everything drop to the ground.
James came to the front room and smiled a mischievous smile. "Tired, dear?" he asked, teasing me. I rolled my eyes. He kissed me on the forehead and laughed. "I put the kids down for you. Your work is over for tonight."
The relief was instantaneous. Thank God for my husband. My custom was to iron seven pants, seven shirts, and one dress the night before church. I managed a grateful thank you to my husband and told him I would iron in the morning. By some act of divine intervention, I got dressed for bed. I was beyond tired.
When I knelt on my knees to pray, I remember praying the shortest and strangest prayer in my life: "Lord, have mercy." Those three words were all I could manage to say. With that, I snuggled next to my husband and welcomed slumber, anticipating another great Sunday morning.
Early that Sunday morning, however, my husband found himself at the Memorial Hermann Hospital Burn Unit with two elder sons in shock and two other sons with serious first-and second-degree burns. His wife and toddler son were in surgery, fighting for their lives, and he was missing a twin baby boy, the son he had held in his arms so tenderly just hours before. Catastrophe had hit the Page family head-on. We had suffered a vicious impact, and we never saw it coming. In the blink of an eye, life as we knew it was no more. There was no more home, no clothes, food, toys, books, or pictures. The most painful reality could hardly be absorbed: there was no more Amos. Our family had stepped into a new, chaotic existence where stability had vanished.
I had never in my life experienced tragedy on this level. The closest I had ever come to misfortune was an event during my seventh grade year of junior high school. I was on the Southeast Community Center tumbling team, the Aero Dynamics. I loved that group. We wore gray and powder blue warm up suits with shiny, silver lettering. I felt so honored to be on the team. When we did tumbling routines, the silver would look magical, like streaks of lightning flashing. We had an opportunity to do a halftime performance for the Kansas City Kings basketball team at Kemper Arena.
My excitement was over the top. I can still feel the thrill of hearing the announcer introduce us: "And now, for your halftime entertainment, the Aero Dynamics." The crowd went ballistic. The cheers and roars were deafening. It was an adrenaline rush like none other. Every performance ended with the top seven tumblers showcasing their skills. I was not the number one performer, but I was in that elite group. It was my turn to shine. When performing, you are taught not to stray too far from your experience and training. I was doing a series of backflips, getting faster and more confident as I went. The crowd was egging me on. The shouts and the cheers and my pride persuaded me to ignore the inner bell that told me I was way past my normal limit.
The momentum was building, and I was not letting go of the moment. That is, until my arms gave out on me, and I fell to the floor with a loud thud. A collective gasp sounded from the crowd. Then complete silence filled the arena, followed by my shrill cry from the pain. I had dislocated my elbow and broken my arm in several places. The crowd graciously applauded me as the stretcher took me away. My pride was seriously wounded. I went to school and never bothered to share with anyone the reason I had a cast on my arm. For a middle school student, dislocating an elbow and breaking an arm in the middle of Kemper Arena was a top-notch tragedy, particularly for an independent child like myself. I had to depend on others to carry my book bag, a major offense. My little heart traversed through many of the same stages I would revisit as an adult: loss of control, fear, loss, anger, pain, and guilt. However, this small mishap in no way prepared me for the devastation to come.
I never really talked to anyone who could give me advice; there were no volunteers on the floor, just doctors and nurses. I walked the halls to see and talk to other burn patients to see how well off I was. Time is a good healer, and after you get out of the hospital, the real work begins. It's time for rehab. I just knew I had to cope and adapt to what was to come. You must get your head to acknowledge what has happened and get your heart into it and accept it — then things really start to fall into place.
— Gary Alley, burn survivor and Amos House of Faith volunteer
After the fire, many of our out-of-state friends and relatives came to support us. Unfortunately, I was in a coma too long to acknowledge their presence. It was still comforting to know they came. That they cared enough to pack up and come several states away and make themselves available to help meant so much. King Solomon encouraged us in the book of Ecclesiastes to "cast thy bread upon the waters" (11:1). It is a good rule to live by. If you touch someone's life with kindness, that kindness will reach back and touch you. Life is uncertain. We never know what a day may bring. In the day that tragedy takes over, you never know who will be there to help.
As a stay-at-home mom with six sons, I had no choice but to be creative in guiding my household. I would create games like "Where's the Toys?" to keep toys off the floor and out of my kitchen after playtime. We would play "Who Remembered?" to make sure baths were done properly.
My twins had come as a complete surprise. I had a midwife with that pregnancy and was so confident that I was going to have a girl that I did not want an ultrasound. I figured, who would have another boy after having four boys in a row? Two weeks prior to my delivery, the babies changed positions and disclosed themselves. I did go ahead and get that ultrasound, secretly thanking God for giving me twin girls. You know the end of the story.
After the twins were born, I came up with an ingenious game called "That's My Baby." I had assigned my two oldest sons, Jonathon and Joseph, a twin each. They each wanted to make sure that his baby was safe, his bottle was clean, his blanket or toy provided. For a mother of six, this game was fun.
Jonathon's baby was Amos, and Joseph's baby was Benjamin. They took this responsibility seriously. The fire showed this game to be detrimental. Jonathon had to be held down by three adults to keep him from rushing toward the burning house to get Amos. The door exploded thirty seconds after they tackled him. He was determined to make sure his baby was safe.
Because of the emotional load I was pulling following the fire, I never considered the trauma Jonathon was dealing with. I regret that omission to this day. The fact that he didn't bear the outward burn scars, like Benjamin and me, deceived me. Our entire family shared almost all of the inward wounds: faith crisis, anger, survivor's guilt, loss, and so forth. But Jonathon had also lost his baby. In his nine-year-old mind, he had failed in his responsibility. I never acknowledged his pain and regret. The bad choices and the rebellion that followed were the repercussions. My children were the silent sufferers.
About four years after the fire, the boys and I were sitting in the living room, doing various activities and enjoying each other's company. Out of the blue, Joseph blurted out, "I am a coward." I was astonished. "What did you say?" I asked.
He held his head down low as he removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. Then he said something that pains me to this day.
"Remember the fire? I only saved myself."
Remember the fire? In that moment, I saw my mistake. He had not been adequately included in this crisis. Physically, he had suffered the least and felt the guilt of that distinction.
For the first time, I realized clearly that this was not my crisis alone. This was a family crisis. My children had problems. My husband had problems. Everybody was suffering. Joseph had done exactly what he or any other eight-year-old was supposed to do, yet he had apparently spent four years tormented by inappropriate feelings.
Before the fire, I had homeschooled my sons, an important privilege in my eyes. After the fire, grief made homeschooling difficult, so I chose to enroll the boys in public school a year after I was released from the hospital. I tried my best to be there for my kids. I became the PTO president for the elementary school and the PTO secretary at the middle school. Most of the kids knew me, spoke to me, and treated me with respect.
As was my custom, one day after school, I asked Caleb about his day. This day I did not see that enormous grin I had become accustomed to seeing. He was silent. His gaze was pointed, and I knew he had something serious to say.
"Can I tell you something, Mom, something that you don't know?" he said slowly.
"Sure." I had no know idea what to expect.
"The kids are nice when you are around, but when you leave, they talk about you and tease me. I hate school." He held back the tears that were threatening to expose themselves.
You could have bought me for a penny. I was lost for words. I had no idea that elementary children were that skilled in the art of deception.CHAPTER 2
"Lord," I said within my heart, "if something terrible were ever to happen, would I be able to remain faithful?"
* * *
My husband and I had the fortunate experience to fall in love for the first time with each other. Our first apartment was in an offcampus apartment complex called the A Frames. It was a studio apartment that had windows from the floor to the ceiling, shaped in an actual A. On the top level was our desk for studying; the middle floor was our bedroom; and the bottom level held the living room, dining room, bathroom, and kitchen. The sunshine would often wake me before the alarm. I would lie in his arms, thinking how blessed I was to have this wonderful man as my husband.
Two years after we were married, our family began to grow. The first touch that each son felt at birth was the hands of his father. Life in a household of males, my six little princes and King James, as I affectionately called them, was very entertaining. We were a busy lot. My whole world seemed to revolve around field trips, lunch dates with Dad, vacations, and birthday parties.
One of our favorite sunshiny moments was the time my husband had to travel to Washington, DC, to install a unit for a customer of his company. The timeframe for the completion of the job was six weeks. Since I was a homeschool mom, the boys and I joined him and made an extended vacation out of it. Every morning when my husband set off for work, we would pack lunches, load up the double stroller, and set off for an adventure. We would visit parks, museums, the zoo, and monuments. The sun was bright, the cool breeze comforting, and each moment perfect. Life for our family, in general, was full of laughter, fun, and contentment.
In February of 1999, I had been happily married for eleven years. We were only three months shy of our twelfth wedding anniversary. The fruit of the union was six beautiful baby boys: four single births and one set of twins. My husband was a senior electrical engineer for High Tech, a Holland-based engineering firm. I was a Sunday school teacher and homeschool mom who ran a science lab for Houston homeschoolers. Life was good, peaceful, fulfilling; life was perfect. And then, I asked God a question.
"Lord", I said within my heart, "since I have given my life to you, nothing terrible has ever happened to me. If something terrible were ever to happen, would I be able to remain faithful?" Some questions are rhetorical, but I didn't know the honest answer. More importantly, I really wanted to know what kind of stuff I was made of in the deep recesses of my heart. I suppose a simple yes or no would not have satisfied me. My personality type demanded that I be shown.
My deepest fears were often put under subjection through denial. I had an innate defense mechanism that shielded me from the terror of my misfortune. Faith was the instrument that allowed me to live peacefully, despite the myriad of tragedies happening all around me. Without faith, fear would have had dominion over my peace. It is easy to accept the reality of tragedies when you assume it will not happen to you.
King Solomon said in the book of Ecclesiastes, "The race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all" (9:11). The operative word here is chance. Chance is scary because there are no indicators to track it. The great challenge is avoiding fear while acknowledging chance.
Acknowledging chance while refusing to be shaken by uncertainty is a delicate balance. It is the happy medium between optimism and pessimism. My good friend Lori and I often had discussions about our "what ifs." We would ask each other, "What would you think or do if this or that were to happen?"
One day during our theoretical discussions, Sister Lori posed the following question: "If you heard a fire truck in the distance, would your first instinct be that it is coming to your house or to the neighbor's?"
I shocked her and myself. My answer was instantaneous: my house. My response did not seem to fit my personality. I had faith to believe the sun could be made to stand still. Somehow, though, I instinctively understood something about chance. While I never sat around in fear of something happening to me, I just couldn't rule it out. The question I couldn't answer was this: if the fire truck is coming, why would it be the neighbor's house instead of mine?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Circle of Fire"
Copyright © 2016 Justina Page.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
Chapter 1: Inferno
Chapter 2: Sunshine
Chapter 3: Crisis
Chapter 4: Loss of Control
Chapter 5: Fear and Anxiety
Chapter 6: Realization of Loss
Chapter 7: Anger
Chapter 8: The Problem of Pain
Chapter 9: Depths of Despair
Chapter 10: Faith Crisis
Chapter 11: Guilt
Chapter 12: The Grieving Process
Chapter 13: Forgiveness
Chapter 14: Relationship Dynamics
Chapter 15: Acceptance Issues
Chapter 16: Hope
Chapter 17: Social Re-entry
Chapter 18: Purpose
Chapter 19: Triumph
Chapter 20: The Real You Unveiled
Chapter 21: Sunshine Returns
Chapter 22: Our Sons
About the Author