May 12th, 2012. It was a day that started like many Saturdays in the Hiner House. My husband was working in the garage, and I was taking my oldest daughter to try out for Junior Guards. After try-outs we had a picnic with some friends down by Trestles Beach. It’s customary for our family to do a little “rock hunting” when we’re at the beach, and that day was no different. We found tumbled quartz with a green vein, a blue piece of sea glass, a few rocks with beautiful patterns and, the coup de grace, a small piece of what I was sure was amber.
A few hours later we were home and I was chatting with my husband when, suddenly, I felt an acute pain mid-thigh. I associated it with a magnifying glass radiating its heat on my leg, but my brain overrode that notion and logically concluded I was being bitten by a BIG bug. So there, in the middle of our kitchen, in mid-sentence, I whacked my leg as hard as I could to kill whatever was biting me so hard. What I saw next would send me into shock and disbelief, and hurtle my family and our lives into chaos. A white-hot flame was shooting out of the side pocket of my cargo shorts. “My pants are on fire! Get it out!” I yelled, then repeated myself when my husband looked at me in disbelief and said, “What?!”
Thus began a long journey I will not waste words decompressing. Oddly, if you type in “Lyn Hiner” on a search engine today, you will still get pages and pages of this story that were repeated internationally for weeks following the event. We gave one interview live from the hospital with Good Morning America. We also did one with the Orange County Register which did a great job recounting the story.
I’m sitting here shaking my head replaying the craziness in those first days of what became a public affliction for me and my family: ten days at the Grossman Burn Unit at Western Medical Center undergoing two grafting surgeries, the media getting wind of the incident and clamoring outside the hospital for the story, the kitchen and other parts of our home being severely damaged by burns caused by the white phosphorus, my family being displaced from our home for months to repair the damage, a year of intense occupational therapy and four more minor surgeries to relieve scar-tissue damage.
I could go on and on about these details and circumstances, but (a) that’s not what this post is about, and (b) I now have some perspective on this season of affliction, and I wanted to share some of what God has taught me through it.
I can personally testify to the fact you genuinely never know when your life is going to be turned upside down. You just don’t. So how you respond to a crisis is a reflection of where your heart is at the moment the affliction hits. I praise God, often, that I was in a really good place with Him at the time this went down. I honestly thank God that in the midst of a really bad situation, all the best scenarios played out: That little piece of what I thought was amber turned out to be white phosphorus. I didn't know it then, but white phosphorous can start burning spontaneously when exposed to oxygen, even at room temperature. That it didn’t ignite in my shorts until I was home, nor at the chlorine–filled pool, or in the car driving home or, especially, in my girls' possession was truly God protecting all of us, including other people in the vicinity.
Rob was with me when it happened and acted quickly. Thankfully our neighbor, a commander in the OC Lifeguards, was home and immediately came to help. The first responder from 911 was a sheriff my father-in-law had just met a week before, who was thoughtful enough to get my purse and our phone chargers. When you're in shock like that, would you ever think to grab those things for yourself in that kind of situation? How about this? Instead of taking me to a poorly-equipped facility that was closer, the fire and paramedic chose to drive me to a world-renowned burn unit that was farther away, but which saved precious time in the long-run in handling the severity of my burns. I am still so tearfully grateful.
God never said that our lives would be void of any difficulty, my friends. That statement is true for Christians and non-Christians alike. In fact, it states clearly in the book of James that, “whenever you face trials of many kinds …” That’s not an ‘if’ statement, but a ‘when’. We don’t get a pass for being a “good person.” Junky stuff happens to every single one of us. If you know that to be true, then it’s a little bit easier to navigate an affliction when it lands in your lap.
Don’t get me wrong. I didn’t sing happy songs every day without a care in the world when I was in the hospital, or for the many months that followed. On the contrary, I cried a LOT through the first two years of the journey. I cried from the shock, I cried from the pain. I cried grieving the loss of my body no longer looking the same, I cried through the occupational therapy on my hand, fighting the scar tissue that was twisting my finger, I cried for the fear one of my girls had of going to the beach, I cried for how people who didn’t even know me, would judge me and my actions. It was not all sunshine and roses.
I wasn’t the only one who was affected, either. My husband not only suffered through burns of his own, but a sort of survivors-guilt that would propel him on his own journey. My kids had to adjust to a month of other people being their caregivers, carpool parents, me not being able to do all the things I typically did for them for a very long time – most of all have them on my lap to cuddle them, all of us adjusting to living in a hotel for months while our house was fixed, etc., etc., etc.
We were all afflicted.
So what do you do in the midst of affliction? I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you how we spent a great deal of time in the months that followed this season of affliction: we prayed.
We thanked God for being in the details of our medical care, for providing friends in the right places and at the right times to help us navigate unknowns, for the incredible nursing team and surgical team who cared for us, the school friends who managed so much of the daily nuances with our kids, and our church family for covering us in prayer and taking care of meals for our family (I couldn’t cook for months). I thanked God for my husband’s tender care of me during those emotional days when I couldn’t fasten my bra because my hand was bandaged or when my leg itched so bad from the healing after my graft surgeries that I was literally going out of my mind, in tears, ready to scratch my own leg off. He was (and still is) my rock.
We prayed for all the people involved in every detail, we also prayed for how we could be used to bless others, in spite of the circumstances. There was no clarity of what we should do or how we should handle things, so we prayed for wisdom and discernment as we navigated the onslaught of investigators and questions that came day-in and day-out.
It’s been exactly four years since that fateful day. I can honestly say, in a lot of ways I am a better human being because I went through this affliction. Would I want to go through it again? NO! But this isn’t about me. It’s about what God is doing in my heart and through me to affect others. I can tell you, I wouldn’t be painting again if I hadn’t gone through this painful experience. I also wouldn’t be writing. So, if I had my way, I wouldn’t go through getting burned again, but I also can’t ignore the fact that I am here today, writing and painting, because I went through it…so, I guess, actually, I would.
We take great efforts to avoid pain and affliction in our lives, but stop and consider this: God is creating within you a beautiful masterpiece, one brushstroke at a time. When I paint, there’s usually an initial layer expressively added to the canvas, but it doesn’t have a lot of depth. After a few more layers, there’s a richness that is developing, some of it provided by the color, some of it because of the texture of thick undercoats. When I add that final “subject” layer, you may not see all that went into the completed image, but it’s there and it is because of what that painting has been through that creates a beautiful work of art.
We are the canvas in this analogy. We have no depth without having layers of experiences, good and painful. To wish away our affliction minimizes the eventual beauty it can and will create in us…if we allow it. Believe me, I wished mine away frequently in the early months. I eventually recognized the opportunity for growth and trust in Jesus, I had to give up my clear control issues, and realize my plans are not always God’s plans for me…but His are so much better!!
Are you in a season of affliction? Have you considered how God is using the circumstances to create in you another layer of depth and beauty? I’m not being trite here. When presented with a similar question by a well-meaning friend, I wanted to knock her block off. But the question rattled around in my thoughts for days before I took that same question to God and asked what He was doing in and through me and my family during that difficult season. Truth be told, I didn’t get a clear answer for a couple of years. That’s the funny thing about adding layers to a painting: you have to wait for each layer to dry before adding the next one. It takes time to really hear what God is saying to us without using our “want” filter, as opposed to the "God’s plan for us” filter.
I want you to know, I am praying for you right now, that God will show you how He is working in and through your life to make your current season, affliction or not, His perfect masterpiece!
Seeking beauty in the every day with you,
Featured Artwork: “Fire in the Sky”, 18” x 36”, acrylic on canvas. Available at lynhiner.com.