Bre Hanks

In 2009, my apartment burnt down. I stood there and watched it burn as I knew I was losing so many things I would never get back. As a sentimental person, this was harder for me than it might have been for others. That day felt like the longest day of my life. I immediately went into a depression. I cried all day and off and on for a couple days after. But I often just felt numb, because I didn't want to think about all the things I had lost. I felt desperate and hopeless. I was confused, I didn't understand why God let this happen to me. I knew He didn't make this happen, He simply allowed it. But even know that, it didn't help.

At the time, it felt like I would never get through this. It felt like this was just my life now and I would never feel better. Because when you're in it, when you're in the trail or the fire (for lack of a better word) you don't see an ending. But that's where faith comes in. Can we really say we rely on faith if we've never actually had to rely on faith alone?

No one was hurt in the fire, and that's what's most important. But when you're in the midst of hard times, its difficult to see the positive side of things. It's easier to focus on all that you've lost instead of all that you still have. But somehow, it only took 3 days for me to heal. After 3 days, I started feeling better. I still missed the things I lost, but I wasn't mourning them anymore. I was able to see that God can create beauty from ashes, and I believed that is what he would do for me. Quite literally. ;)

One of the verses that helped me get through this time is 2 Corinthians 6:10. It says, “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” “Having nothing, yet possessing everything,” those words would have meant nothing to me before the fire. Once I realized that I had family and friends that were constantly surrounding me, asking me if I needed anything, praying for me and that I still had faith in my God who never left me, that was all that I needed.

Even though I know how painful it was, I would go through it all again, over and over. That experience is what made me finally give up complete control of my life to God. That experience is what made my faith stronger than it ever was. That experience is what made me realize that God wants what’s best for me more than I want what’s best for me. It’s what me made trust God more than I trust myself. It’s what showed me that I could survive on my relationship with Him alone. It’s what’s made me never doubt Him again.

Part of what helped me heal was writing a poem about the experience. I've always enjoyed writing, it's like therapy to me. I wrote the first half of the poem when I was still hurting and broken and I wrote the second half after the healing had happened. I'll share it here with you!

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 hear 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

I wouldn't be a photographer if this hadn't happened. I bought a camera with my insurance money from the fire (instead of clothes and things I actually needed) and I planned to just take photos of my life. But I discovered a passion and a dream that I didn't even know I had and would have never had the opportunity to explore if it wasn't for this fire. It has changed my life. My photography career is the beauty that God created from the ashes.

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.” I didn’t want the fire to happen, I never would have wished it on myself, but it is what has made me the Christian, person and photographer that I am today. I didn’t want that scene, but God is the most brilliant author who turned that scene into a beautiful, intricate and redeeming story. And I love being able to brag about how God truly does give beauty for ashes. And that is what helped me heal.

Be kind to people. Put yourself in the perspective of others. Be compassionate and forgiving. Extend grace to others and yourself. There is beauty everywhere, if you'll take the time to look for it. And there is good than can be found in the bad, if you simply change your perspective.

-Leah Hope Mancuso


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