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My House Burned Up. Three Days Before Christmas. What It Taught Me.

“The root of suffering is attachment.” — Buddha

Her Voice

Some things, you will always remember, just like it was yesterday. So is the case for me when it comes to early Wednesday afternoon, December 22, 2021. I got up, got dressed, and went to my eyebrow waxing appointment. Then I followed that up by picking up some expensive ass bras. Then I went to get some lamb chops that I planned on searing on my stove when I got home. As Ice Cube once said, “It was a good day.” Only, as I was a literal mile out from my house, I received a text from one of my landlords that simply said, “There’s been a fire in your unit call me back as soon as you can.”


I wish I could tell you that I went into immediate panic mode. I mean, that’s what most people would do, right? Nope. Instead, I called, asked him what was going on and he replied by asking me where I was. Then he said to be careful because “a few firetrucks were on my street.” Chile, when I turned onto my road, there were a whopping eight of them, neighbors were all over the place and several firemen were standing on the roof of my townhouse and literally cutting into it. It was an amazing sight to see.

And still, from me, emotionally, nothing.

Shellie R. Warren

“I just want to know what caused it,” is what I said to my landlord and the firemen who were asking me questions; some that I remember and some that I don’t. All of them replied with some variation of waiting for the fire marshal to make the call. What I knew is I didn’t have breakfast that morning and I didn’t iron either, so…what was up? As I walked around the back of my home and I saw the men pointing up at my HVAC unit, I wasn’t shocked in the least. Even my other landlord — who to this day, hasn’t said, “I’m sorry this happened to you” and actually chuckled a laugh of whiteness when he went through the property that night and, when I said it wasn’t funny and I could’ve died, he responded with, “Yeah…well” — stated that the unit was “as old as I was” (units are supposed to be replaced every 10-15 years by the way and they hadn’t even changed my air filters in over a year).

Yeah, I’ll let y’all read between the lines on my thoughts about that. Right now, I’ll just say, “He’s an idiot for coming at me like he did." Whiteness usually doesn’t think stuff like this through, though.

And that night, in the dark, as I saw that about 90 percent of what I own, in every single category of my life, was gone from the fire and/or water and/or the foam of the fire extinguishers and/or the hatchet jobs that they did to get into my place — still, emotionally, from me, nothing. Well, I take that back, peace. The “peace that passes all understanding” (Philippians 4:6-7) that the Bible speaks of that I wasn’t sure I’ve ever fully had before. Oh, but chile, I get what it is now. And yes, it has become a part of me.

And so now, as I’m not even a month out from that life-changing experience, I wanted to share some of the immediate takeaways that I got from it. Mostly because, if you live life for a little while, you realize that sometimes, you aren’t being “punished,” it isn’t “karma” and you aren’t a bad person (nor is God not looking out for you; Psalm 121:4). Sometimes, life is just life and it’s when it decides to show all the way out, you get to see who you really and truly are — or have become.

As far as who I now am, here are my six takeaways.

1.Be Careful What You Ask For…

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Between my townhouse and the place that I lived before that, I had been in that neighborhood for close to 12 years. The location was relatively quiet (aside from my annoying as literal hell neighbor), you just couldn’t beat it. Only, for most of 2021, I had been mentioning to my tribe (more on them in a bit) that I was “lightly” looking for a place to live. I wasn’t being too aggressive with it because real estate in Nashville has become MIND-FREAKING-BLOWING. Still, I kind of felt ready for a change if the opportunity presented itself.

Not only that but there was someone in my world who wouldn’t know how to respect a boundary if the boundary beat the life out of them. I wanted the “exhale” of them no longer knowing where I lived after they so rudely and presumptuously popped up at my house one day and then tried to demand how I act in the place where I pay rent. Also, a man from my past, who casually mentions from time to time that he drives past my place…yeah, it’s time for him to not know how to “find” me either.

Welp. We see that those two issues are no longer issues, don’t we (LOL)? For me, it’s a reminder to be very careful and intentional about what you put into the universe. Sometimes, we’re so busy saying words that we don’t respect the power that’s behind them. So yeah, whether I realize it or not, things lined up with what I actually “requested.” Clearly, life took me literally. And handled it. Thoroughly so. Next point.

2.God Always Warns Us. Beforehand.

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I am a firm believer that when we’re in tune spiritually and when we choose to pay attention to signs and flags, very rarely, if ever, are we fully blindsided. At the beginning of 2021, one of my closest friends died and God had been giving me a heads up that their health wasn’t in the best condition for two years prior to that. My friend received a diagnosis three weeks before they left this earth. Still, I had been forewarned. My house? Yeah, that’s a trip. After letting my rental insurance lapse (don’t EVER do that), I got a nudge in my spirit to re-up last spring and I said, “Eh, I’ll get around to it.” Chile. CHILE. Not only that but for the past month or so, the lead quote for this article? It kept circling around me. I mean, literally everywhere, I would see messages about how attachment is unhealthy — that, as a wise person once said, “If it comes, let it. If it leaves, let it.”

Without realizing it, I was emotionally detaching from my things in preparation for having to do so in the physical realm.

And so, while I can’t tell you that I thought that my place would go up in flames, what I do know is my mind, body, and spirit had received some indications that I needed to make preparations for something and that if I “married myself” to outcomes, it could prove to be close to devastating for me. Again, God loves us enough to prepare us. We have to meditate, pray and get quiet and still enough to hear him, though. He tends to not be as loud and forceful as humans tend to be.

Next point.

3.Self-Care Saved My Life

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Throughout 2020 and 2021, something that I’ve been focused on is self-care and, then adding tax. And so literally, as I’ve been processing December 22, something that I’ve been sharing with folks is that literally and with no exaggeration, SELF-CARE SAVED MY LIFE. I know this because, as the fire marshal said, had I been asleep (I dig naps, so that is a huge possibility) or had I been in the shower (folks like to be clean, right?), “things probably wouldn’t have gone very well for you.” That’s because the fire actually started inside of the walls and then spread outwards. And my kitchen? The pic that you see up top is that. Forget about it. Probably only in my living room, would I have been spared to the point of being relatively unscathed because I would’ve been able to run out of the front door.

And so, in hearing those words from him and after looking around for about 20 minutes, I then looked at my phone, noticed the time, remembered that I had a pedicure appointment, and announced that was where I was going. My landlord said, “She’s in shock” and I said, “No, I like my feet to be done and my place is going to be burned down when I get back, so I’m going to take care of my feet.” While riding to the salon, I kept trying to “take my own temperature,” just to make sure that I really was good. I was. I called some of the closest people to me and honestly, they were all in more shock than I was. Anyway, as I sat in my chair and put my feet in the warm water while breaking what happened to my nail tech, I was like, “Self-care really did save my life.”

To this day, I think that is what has had me “shook” most of all. That, and the fact that self-care, is another way that I was getting myself prepared for what happened that day. Yep, without my even knowing it.

4.Tough Times Reveal Who Your Tribe TRULY Is

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Let me tell you how “You’ve got to be kidding me” my landlords are. About a week later, one of them texted me to tell me that he and his wife had been praying for me and wanted to give me something. Guess what it was, chile. My security deposit (which they owed; it’s the law) and five $20 bills to — and I literally quote — “to help get me on my feet.” What the hell is $100 gonna do but basically replace the lamb chops that I lost because they didn’t have a home because I didn’t either? Whew, whiteness. Even one of my white friends was like, “That damn near sounds racist. Look at how little they thought of you.” Listen. SMDH.

My tribe, though? MY TRIBE? You never know, really and truly who your people are until you go through something of this magnitude. One friend immediately put me into a hotel for a few days. Two others replaced the laptop that I lost (I lost several) because they both knew that was how I made a living. Of the two, one got me the one that I had just bought for my birthday that I adore (and am typing on now); the other copped me one that was double its price. Some showed up with gift cards. Others had cash in hand. Cash Apps were coming from numerous directions. Calls were around the clock. Not one person in my intimate world said that I couldn’t indefinitely stay with them (and that they would fly me to them if need be).

And when I found a place, thanks to Craigslist, remarkably in five days (that site has ALWAYS been “the truth” for me when it comes to finding places to live), and I was scraping up first and last month’s rent (which was a minor miracle), another paid what I was lacking and said, “Forget about it, Shellie. It’s an honor.” And don’t get me on the friend who sent me a nice sum, told me to get some clothes and then shared how “insulted” (jokingly so) they were that I didn’t want any of theirs (because again, when I tell you that a sistah lost everything? EVERYTHING). Even a woman who I barely know gave me $500 because, as I was sharing the situation in her presence, she said she was “moved by my grace” in it all. Talk about cream rising to the top.

Then there were those who kind of Kanye — or Elmo — shrugged the situation. One person said, “I will call you right back” and that was two weeks ago. Another actually asked me for some money when — HELLO — I lost everything. Some others were being so selfish about petty stuff that I knew it was time to shift them into another space. And all of this let me know where to put these folks in my life, in this season of my life, as well (check out “Always Remember That Friendships Have ‘Levels’ To Them”). Honestly, I’m grateful for that too because, most of us know what Maya Angelou once said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

As I say often (especially these days), there is a lot of space between “friend” and “enemy.” When folks reveal who they are and “friend” isn’t it, that doesn’t mean that they have to become your nemesis. It means that you learn what they should be privileged to and…what they shouldn’t. I know who my hold-me-downs are. I also know who are just “extras” in my life movie. I’m OK with both…being both. This moment in time has revealed that as well.

5.Wax On. Wax Off.

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I used to own a hoodie that said, “wax on, wax off” on it. I gave it to a houseless person who was really cold one day. What I like about that part of the movie The Karate Kid is that when Mr. Miyagi was trying to teach Daniel things like how to wash a car and paint a fence, he was really preparing him for battle. Life does the same thing for us in many ways and you know what? When one of my friends said to me on the phone, “Shellie, you still sound like…Shellie. If you didn’t say that your house burned down, I would never know it,” when a client said, “Wait. You don’t have a place to live right now and you’re still doing sessions with people?!”, and my godchildren’s mother (one of the absolute closest people to me) emailed me on New Year’s Eve and said, “You, my friend, are the epitome of grace under fire. I marvel at how you are moving in this season” — I knew that some situations and disappointments that had happened earlier in the year had been my own “wax on, wax off” moments; ones that got me ready for December 22 and the week that followed (including some service staff stealing what little I had left from my first hotel room…chile. CHILE). Throughout all of this, not one tear. Not one sleepless night. Not one fit. My soul is well.

Not that crying, tossing, and turning or losing it for five minutes would’ve been “wrong.” Of course not. It’s just…not in me. And there is a part of me that is so grateful for that because when you lose at the magnitude that I have just lost and I couldn’t “rock my peace” if I tried — it feels like graduating at life on a whole ‘nother level. Wax on. Wax off.

Final point.

6.Stay in the Moment. Rinse and Repeat.

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Another verse in Scripture that has proven itself to be very true — “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:34 — NKJV) Christ is documented as speaking these words once upon a time. Peep how it’s not a suggestion or recommendation; it is a command. A command not to worry about what isn’t right before you, because today? Today your plate is already full. And that is my final takeaway from my lil’ test from December 22.

Each day since December 22, there have been a billion things to figure out but you know what? I’ve been intentional about putting no more than five things on my to-do list (as it relates to the fire) and that’s it. I’ll deal with more tomorrow. This resolve has kept me calm. This resolve has helped me spend the resources I have wisely. This resolve has kept me centered enough to still do my job(s). This resolve helped me to get my place (an all-inclusive spot in my absolutely favorite area of Nashville). This resolve has earned the respect of people I love…including myself (some of y’all will catch that later). This resolve has helped me to keep trusting that God has a plan, whether I totally “get it” or not. This resolve also has me excited to see my eyebrow waxer in just a few hours, so that I can tell her all of what I just shared with you.

By no means am I trying to say that just because I’m calm that this was comfortable. Chile, please. What I do hope you get from all of this, though, is being mindful, living in the moment, and resolving to only control what you can control can make getting through this life, oh so much richer in the good times and oh so much easier in the trying ones.

A lot of y’all know that I’m not a holiday person (check out “So, What If You Don't Observe Holidays?”) and that I actually observe Rosh Hashanah as my new year — real talk, both of these things probably prepared me too because your entire world going up in smoke, three days before Christmas is, really something. And again, while I'm still connecting the dots of what’s going on beyond my human level of processing, what I do know is I’m in a stable, solid, and secure place and December 22 helped to get and keep me there.

Beauty for ashes, for real, y’all. I am grateful — and to say that after all that has just happened? That is true evolution. For something. That’s coming. I know. Without question. And I’m ready. I am really and truly ready. I learned and graduated from this lesson — and I’m excited about that. “Unattached” and hopeful. Selah and amen.

Featured image by Getty Images

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