Life Is Mysterious…Trial by Fire states that a trial by fire is a test of one’s abilities to perform well under pressure. The following is a story about someone who did just that, not once, but twice.

I met Laine several years ago when she was in charge of coordinating an event that I was catering.  It was at the height of my catering career and I was receiving accolades from all over East Tennessee.  I even had one of the buffet tables I set for an event being considered for the cover of Southern Living Magazine.   I guess you could say I was riding high and Laine was just what I needed to knock me down a peg or two from my ever-expanding ego.  

catering food table with red checkered tablecloth, antique enamel ware, and flanked by sunflowers and antique watering cans
The catering table that Southern Living was looking at for their cover picture

Laine was a tough, no nonsense gal who had no problem expressing what she wanted, when she wanted it and how she wanted it.  In my opinion, she was a bit controlling and I took offense that she would question things I was doing for the event.  She even wanted me to send her pictures of the candy bowls I was going to use, for her approval.  I mean, how dare her!  Doesn’t she know that my work is being considered for the cover of a national magazine, I thought to myself. She was a strong woman on a mission.  She had one plan and that was to make sure the event she was in charge of would go off without a hitch.  She didn’t care if it meant stepping on my toes.  I think it goes without saying, but, I wasn’t sure I was going to like her.  

We did manage to get through the event without any scrapes or bruises and went on our way.  I would see Laine occasionally, socially, while out and about the town and we were cordial to each other. Truth be told, she probably thought I was a diva, too, and at the time she would have been right.

The years passed and, as fate would have it, Laine and I would come to work for the same organization.  She as a Strategic Planner in the executive offices and me as the Director of Hospitality.  The first thing I noticed is that Laine still had her no nonsense attitude toward work and the second thing I noticed was that she was nothing like that tough exterior.  She was warm and understanding and had the most inviting smile. She was funny and knew how to make others feel at ease. I simply fell in love with her. So much for first impressions, huh?

Laine was later promoted to Vice President of Human Resources, a job she well deserved. Despite the fact that she is an intensely private person, through the years Laine and I have grown closer. In fact, I consider her to be one of the friendliest and most honest and fair people I have ever known. I could easily write about how first impressions can be misleading but, that is not the story, although that is another good takeaway.

It was March of 2017 when Laine was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She only told those who worked closely around her and even then never really showed us how devastating that diagnosis was.  She underwent surgery, chemotherapy and radiation followed by more surgery and still not so much as a whimper from her.  When she lost all her hair she came to work with various hats and scarves and never once complained. Without her hair to distract us, you were left with her beautiful face and infectious smile.  Laine is stunningly beautiful and strong.

you are not alone Pinkbreast cancer sign

In a private conversation, I complimented her on her amazing attitude and confessed that I didn’t think I could have handled it as well as she has. She was a pillar of strength and I was in awe of her.  In my eyes, she was a living, breathing wonder woman and, despite the toll all the treatments took on her, she kept her beautiful smile and warm loving heart. I think her attitude is just as much responsible for her beating breast cancer as the treatments and surgery were. Nonetheless, her strength, which never left, is still there. Her hair has grown back and she can now proudly proclaim that she is a breast cancer survivor.  

I should also note that Laine was a newlywed when she was first diagnosed with cancer, married only one month. Together, Laine and her groom, Eddie Howells, went through a trial by fire. But this would not be the only challenge their new marriage would face.

It was the week before this Thanksgiving 2019 when the Howells’ home caught fire. This was not just any house. This was their dream home. One they had just moved into mere weeks earlier. All thoughts of decorating for the holidays were now up in smoke, as were most of their belongings.  

the two story home of the Howells with flames coming off the roof and flanked by fire trucks on the night of the home fire
The Howells house on the night of the fire

The following is Laine’s description of the event.

“They believe it started in the recessed light in the master bathroom’s stand-up shower. It was around 6:30 pm on Thursday, November 21st, so we were home and awake during that time. My son had walked upstairs to go to his bedroom and saw smoke bellowing out from under my bedroom door. He went to the door, opened it, saw the fire, shut the door and immediately called 911. At the same time he was calling 911, he was yelling for me. I ran upstairs, looked at my door and knew it was bad. So, at that point, we got out. Nothing else mattered. My son Morgan, who is 15, was amazing. I am so proud of him for the way he handled the situation. He didn’t panic and did exactly what he needed to do.

We had a smoke detector upstairs that was located in the hallway, but by the time the smoke reached it, the fire was too widespread in my bedroom and the attic. Until you experience it, you have no idea how quickly a fire can spread. I had walked upstairs to my daughter’s bedroom less than seven or eight minutes prior to hearing my son yell for me. Although I didn’t look toward my bedroom door when I went up, there was nothing to indicate anything was happening just beyond my door and in the attic. By the time we all made it out safely, there were massive flames coming from the roof.”

I instinctively knew I wanted to write about Laine and her trials by fire, but because she is such a private person, I had little hope that she would agree to it.  I was pleasantly surprised when she said yes.  However, she agreed with one caveat. I must spread these words…

“I pray that each of you will take an inventory of the smoke detectors throughout your home, making sure you have an adequate number placed strategically throughout. Also, make sure your batteries are good.”

As far as cancer goes Laine wants everyone to make sure they do self-exams and don’t put off getting cancer screenings.  After all, it was a breast self-exam along with a quick follow up with her doctor that saved her life.  

She also left me with one other thought.  “You don’t have to go through cancer alone.  Even if you are alone, find someone.  There are so many resources available. Just don’t try to go through it alone.”  These are meaningful words coming from someone as private as Laine.    

I have no idea why Laine and her family have had not one, but two life changing events take place in a short period of time. In fact, I have no idea why anyone has to go through hardships, yet we all will have our own trials by fire.

As for why Laine has had to endure so much, all I know is that back when I shared with her my feelings about how strong she was, when she was going through cancer treatments, she teared up and denied it, saying, “Everyone would do the same.”  Well, I disagree.  Laine is an inspiration and now maybe after having gone through a literal trial by fire, she can see that for herself.

I know one thing and that is that real heroes are everyday people who not only survive hardships but inspire others to do the same.  Everything else will remain a mystery. After all, life is mysterious.

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