Four weeks ago today, a series of storms blew through North Louisiana, producing several tornadoes. My family shares property with my parents in a small community marked by a flashing light, a couple of churches, and a new Dollar General. We essentially live in Middle of Nowhere, Louisiana, which seems to be a tiny tornado alley of sorts.
We’ve had at least 15 tornado warnings in the last five years. As my daughter said the other day, “We’re used to them now.” I’ve received several phone calls from tense voices—“There’s one headed your way.”
It never mattered. Prior to that day, we had no safe place to take shelter. I’d pray and go about my business. The heralded tornadoes never came. It's a good thing, too.
We live in a mobile home tied down by four cables. (To put this number in perspective, my sister's trailer was tied down by more than 20 cables when she lived out here with us.) And even the smaller F1 tornadoes can pick up a trailer and move it off its foundation.
One week prior to the arrival of this storm system, my husband Brandon had finished building his large metal shop, which features a sturdy roof and metal posts that anchor a couple of feet into the ground. He'd been planning to build the shop for years. When he finally began, he had to leap over all kinds of hurdles to complete it, but God always came through with the resources he needed. It's like He knew what was coming.
The morning of the storm, Sara woke up with a temperature of 101F. I canceled my plans to attend house church that night, and we spent a quiet day at home.
Mom called when it was almost time for dinner. “There’s a tornado headed our way. Do you think you should take the kids out to the shop?”
I guess our perfect record of near misses lulled me into a false sense of security.
“I don’t know,” I said doubtfully. “Sara’s sick. I have supper cooking. The warning will last a while. I think I’ll wait it out and let Jesus tell me if I need to go.”
(Note to future self: Sometimes Jesus sounds like your mother.)
I kept an eye on the weather outside as I continued cooking. I called Brandon to tell him about the warning and to ask for the whereabouts of the shop key. I found it and set it on the arm of the couch that sits next to the back door. I told the kids to be ready in case we needed to move quickly. I listened to the Lord and commanded all tornadoes to steer clear of my home.
Outside, all went eerily still. I put on my shoes and told the kids to do the same. The wind suddenly picked up. “Time to move!” I ordered.
Realizing I might lose my home, I took a second to grab my wedding ring. The kids must have sensed the same danger. They collected their most precious belongings--"Lovey" and "Puppy". On the way to the door, I scooped up the lid of a plastic tote that was lying on the floor (in case of hail and debris) and then reached for the key I’d set aside.
My stomach dropped. It wasn't there. I yelled for help. "Jesus!"
There they were. My fingers closed around the keys, and I pushed the back door open.
By this time, the storm was upon us. Not knowing what to do, I told the kids to wait on the porch while I unlocked the shop. I felt they would be safer with a roof over their heads.
I ran out into the rain, scanning the sheets of metal and pieces of wood lying on the ground. In a moment, they would become dangerous weapons. I had to get the kids inside that shop.
Debris lifted from the ground, moved through the air. The mud was slick, and my shaking hands had difficulty with the key. Things were lifting, blowing, ripping, falling. My stomach mimicked the chaos outside.
I had the key turned the wrong way. Flipping it, I finally shoved it into the lock. My phone rang. I ignored it.
I waved to the kids. “Come on!”
I used the plastic tote lid as a shield against the flying debris, but nothing hit us. It seems that something should have hit us.
Sara made it into the shop. Micah had stopped. “I dropped my owl!” he cried.
Without thinking, I turned back to look for the (blankety-blank) stuffed owl. My foot slipped in the red mud, and I landed on my backside. The jolt brought me back to my senses. I leaped to my feet, not feeling the discomfort, and said, "No time! Come on!”
I yanked Micah inside and closed the door. Just in time.
Metal screeched, banged, and jangled against the roar of the wind. It sounded as if everything was being ripped apart. The kids and I knelt, huddled together on that cold shop floor in braced silence. In a breath, it was over.
“Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus,” I gasped. I knew the One who had saved us, and it wasn't me. Tears seeped out of my eyes.
My phone rang again. I assured Mom we were okay. I called Brandon when I had caught my breath.
I opened the door and peeked outside. My skin prickled. Metal sheets and trailer skirting were strewn around the entrance to the shop. Where my children had waited on the porch, a heavy metal pole had fallen. The outdoor furniture had been leveled, and everything else had been tossed. Building materials littered the yard. The roof of Brandon's old shop was half gone. Our home, remarkably, stood in place.
Mom’s near-frantic phone calls measured the minute that tornado came and went. We’re pretty sure it passed overhead without touching ground, which is probably the reason we still have a home, though it moved slightly. (Brandon moved the porch back into place, and we recently had the trailer releveled.)
We lost some trees and the kids' playground equipment. I was a little sore from my fall for a few days, but the kids and I escaped without a scratch. Mom, Dad, the animals, and their home are all okay. All in all, the damage was minimal, and our insurance company was gracious to us.
The only explanation for all this is God’s goodness, protection, and provision.
My dominant reaction to our tornado event has remained one of gratitude. (Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus.) But as the weeks have gone on, my perspective has broadened. I look forward to sharing more about that in the next post.
Have you survived a tornado? I'd love to hear your story. Comment below!!!
P.S. We found Micah's owl. He's slightly stained from spending the night face down in red clay but is otherwise safe and sound with his owner. And my questionable decision to finish cooking dinner wasn't for nothing. We were able to eat a good meal together in the dark after all the excitement.
Now, a big HAPPY BIRTHDAY is in order! Tomorrow is the one year anniversary of Eleora's release!!! To celebrate, you can purchase the Kindle version for only $0.99. If you already own a copy, consider purchasing one as a graduation or Mother's Day gift for the readers in your life. Enjoy!