Hope Through the Fire
By Susan Lugli
I awakened from a sound sleep as I was thrown across our motor home. Dishes crashed all around me. In an instant, a wall of flames separated me from my husband Rusty, who was driving, and our twenty-seven-year-old daughter, Nikki, in the passenger seat.
Intense heat chased me away from them. I pleaded with God to save us all or none of us. As I spotted a gash in the side of the aluminum wall of the motor home I kicked my way through. Even though I wasn’t on fire, I could see my skin melting. Blood ran down my forehead and into my eyes, blurring my vision as I tired to escape.
The grass in the gully where I landed was on fire. As I crawled away from the motor home, flames pursued me. I crawled to a wire fence and tried to climb it, but fell back because my feet were burned and raw. As I was racing from the menacing flames I was screaming, “Save my family! Save my family!” Billowing black smoke blinded me as our motor home incinerated.
I kept repeating over and over, Joshua 1:5 “God! You will never leave not forsake me.” I collapsed, sobbing, sure that Rusty and Nikki had burned alive since the seats where they had sat just moments before were consumed in the inferno. Through my blurring vision I could see two men running toward me to help. Screaming sirens from the ambulances and fire trucks were arriving, thank God.
Rusty, Nikki, and I had been heading north on I-5 near Corning, California, on our way to Washington that Saturday, August 28, 1993. Rusty had pulled off the road onto what looked like the shoulder but was really a gully hidden by tall grass. Our motor home careened into the gully, landing at a tilt. We didn’t know until later that the gas tank had been punctured.
As I was being lifted into the ambulance I was told that my family was alive. I do not know how long I lingered in a fog; it could have been several days or a week. When I was awakened I realized the enormity of the accident. I was told that I was 48% burned and that my back had been broken. Our daughter was thrown through the window away from the fire but received many broken bones. My dear husband was lying in a coma two rooms from my own in the burn unit. He had 15 fractures of his head and was 68% burned with a 9% chance of living.
Our lives had been altered forever. It was so hard to believe that this was really happening to our family. There were days I wanted to die. I watched the seasons change from summer to fall from my hospital bed, as I lay helpless. Everyone and everything seemed to be moving, but me. I was trapped inside a severely burned body and the pain was ferocious. I had in fact become a prisoner of my burned body, which shivered uncontrollably. Tears poured from my eyes but my burned arms and hands could not reach to wipe them away. At 47-years old, I was now facing the biggest challenge of my life and falling into the deepest pits of despair and depression.
This despair was best described by Georgia Shaffer in her book, A Gift of Mourning Glories. She writes, “Winter existed both on the inside and outside of me.”
Life became as routine as my care. Encased in bandages from head to toe, my first few weeks consisted of five skin grafts and one surgery to repair my broken back. My stomach, once a place for luscious meals had now become my donor site. Skin was harvested every three to five days, and it was stapled in place. I couldn’t move on those days, and because of the non-movement each muscle forgot how to move. I literally had to learn how to bend my fingers and through much rehabilitation learn to feed and take care of myself again. I had the nurses put on my praise and worship music and tried to concentrate on the words to get through this painful process.
The only thing I had left was a glimmer of hope that carried me through those days and thereafter though I knew my view of life would never be the same. I clung onto my faith like never before. Each time the therapist entered the room I repeated Phil 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And each time I repeated the line I got a little more hope, and that hope gave me the strength to recover more each day.
After two months I was finally able to leave the hospital. At that time, I had a breakthrough. I realized there was an even bigger plan for me; a purpose to touch and inspire people that anything is possible with faith, hope, and love. That hope and love is expressed from; the inside out, but it took something to happen on the outside to help me realize the power of my strength within.
I am what they call “A Hidden Burn.” You might never know I was burned. I can cover my arms, legs, and feet. But, each time I remove my clothes I flashback to that day which changed my life August 28, 1993. Little did I know then, life had something extraordinary in store.
By the grace of God, my husband and daughter survived. We’ve since made it our mission to share our success story with burn survivors and families all over the world, passing on glimmers of hope. It’s started a chain reaction, and over the years hundreds have been moved by this chain reaction.
In Jeremiah 29:11 God says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” I hope you too will find a spark of hope within the deep recesses of yourself to make it through life’s challenging moments, knowing whatever your challenge may be there is a greater plan.
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Susan Lugli is a Christian speaker and author. In 1998 she wrote “Out of the Fire,” published in Today’s Christian Woman magazine. That same year she was profiled in the Woman of Faith New Testament Bible. She also has many other stories published in three Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She is an active member of the American Burn Association and the Phoenix Society for burn survivors. Susan and Rusty Lugli live on a ranch with their family in California.
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