I keep thinking about how we each have a story to share. A story to live, to share, to experience. A story that touches others lives and stories. Stories that cross over and are lived together. We learn from each others stories. Movies and theater and music can inspire stories, tell stories that move us to feel, to know, to move into something sometimes even great than ourselves. Stories change lives. How we live and respond to the things that happen to us, shape our stories.
For all of you out there who have sent prayers, good wishes, donations, and your time, we are humbled by you and you dear friends are apart of our story. But here is how our story began…
It was Sunday afternoon. Lu was sleeping, the boys were finishing up their rest time, and Paul and I were finishing a movie that we both had fallen asleep during the night before. Saturday had proven to be an incredibly stormy day with major thunderstorms passing through every couple hours or so. At almost 2pm, Paul and I noticed the sky going dark. To us, it was just another rain cloud. There was no wind. Just the darkness starting to creep into our house. I looked out and said, “It looks like its gonna rain again. I didn’t realize we were going to have storms again today.” (Paul and I used to be big TV watchers, but in the last year, it doesn’t go on much anymore except for the occasional show we watch or movie on the weekend, so that means we also don’t watch the news or weather. We’re pretty ignorant people with worldly happenings.)
Within moments, literally less than five minutes later, the wind picked up. We heard it. We both looked outside and still it didn’t feel like a tornado. Paul muted the TV because he thought he heard a siren. The siren was ever so faint. It actually sounded like it was coming from the next suburb over.
This is where I like to point out that many people at this point say, “When you heard the siren did you go downstairs?” I don’t about you, but I have never gone downstairs when I hear the siren. That may seem silly, but when I hear a siren, I mostly just look outside. That may change now.
We faintly heard the siren, looked outside, and it still just seemed stormy. The lights flickered. Those three things, lights flickering, wind growing louder, and the siren going off caused Paul to look at me and say, “We should probably take the kids downstairs.” Not more than a minute later, as we were starting to get up, the wind picked up out of nowhere. We knew instantly that we needed to get the kids downstairs right away. It wasn’t an option anymore. I grabbed Lu from her crib where she was peacefully sleeping and Paul gathered the boys who were reading and playing quietly. As we were headed downstairs, I opened the door to our renters space and called up to him. He was already on his way.
Our house is not that big. Truly. You take 10 steps in any direction, and you are in the next room. In most cases it’s only five. Everything I just described took less than a minute.
It was getting louder. The lights were flickering just a little. I made it to the stairs first with Lu, the boys were behind me with Paul and Chad directly behind them. I was halfway down the stairs when the lights went out. That was my first conscious thought of not having a light source with us. With the storm outside, our basement windows were pitch black. We couldn’t see a thing. We are standing on the stairs, in the pitch black, and my kids can’t see where they are going. This is where we were when the tornado went over us.
People ask us if we heard the freight train sound. I’ll be honest, it was loud. The storm was just loud. What I remember is kids screaming, the wind being so loud and windows crashing. I heard Paul and maybe Chad and of course myself, yelling over all of that for the kids to grab a hand and come downstairs. They were too freaked out and kept trying to go back upstairs where they thought there was light because the basement had just become a big black hole and they couldn’t see. Their parents were responsible enough to bring lights, so we were all in a bit of a panic.
The guys grabbed the boys, and we moved downstairs. Even at this point I wasn’t really thinking that we were in a tornado. I’ve never been in a tornado. I just knew it was really bad outside, and at that moment, I was convinced our basement windows were going to blow out. Paul felt the pressure in his ears build. We have windows all over our basement, so I was trying to maneuver us to one of our closets. Of course all of those closets are filled with junk and we needed to cram six people in there.
I could hear the storm growing calmer. The kids were still crying and we were standing in the basement in the dark. I was holding Caleb and Lu and looked at Paul and told him I needed to go get a light. I was handing him the kids when he told me not to go upstairs.
This is where Paul likes to tell me he doesn’t like being in emergency situations with me because I don’t listen. He doesn’t think its funny that I have a mind of my own and not very helpful in taking orders when necessary. I knew where the lantern was and the lighter. We had to get light down in the basement so the kids could see and have some sort of comfort. The storm was quieter so I knew the worst was over, but I didn’t know the worst of what.
As I went upstairs, listening to the kids crying in the basement, the first thing I saw was our climbing tree up against our kitchen window. You couldn’t even see outside because the tree was pressed to close to the house. A tree that grew up against our garage on the other side of the yard. I walked through the kitchen to the dining room to grab the lantern. The storm was still going, so I didn’t want to check everything out. My people were waiting in the basement. As I went to grab the gas lantern, all I could see around our house was tree branches, debris, and glass shattered all over the house. I couldn’t step into the dining room because I didn’t have shoes on. I took the lantern downstairs with a lighter, and told Paul and Chad they needed to go upstairs to assess the situation before we brought the kids up.
Its funny, my responses are very natural and real most of the time, but there are times where all I can think of is, “how you react will directly affect your kids and how they handle what’s happened.” This whole day was like that. With the exception of all of our freakout on the stairs, we tried very hard to stay calm, talk gently with the kids and reassure them that God was with us no matter what.
I knew there was glass everywhere and branches in the house. I needed the guys to go upstairs first, knowing that my children would have a hard time seeing their house like this. We sat in the basement and prayed. We encouraged each other, and we were calmer. Paul called us upstairs and told us to stay in the kitchen, so we came. He and Chad cleaned out the kids shoes from glass and debris so that they could walk through the house and come outside. It wasn’t raining anymore and things seemed to have settled down. I remember Noah looking out the kitchen and saying, “what happened to our house?” (How we handle this will directly affect their understanding of emergencies and where God is present in hard times.) This is all I could think. Be wise in how you talk to your children.
We walked outside with the kids, and its so funny, I’m not even then that I knew that a tornado touched down on my neighbors house. It all looked different. Trees were everywhere. I saw garages missing. I say houses without roofs. People everywhere were coming out of their houses and walking down the streets making sure everyone was OK.
What do you do when you don’t know what to do? Our dear friend Jeromy called and asked if were OK. I told him we had some windows out and trees down. He said he was on his way with wood to board up our house. Within an hour, I saw Jeromy chain sawing his way down our street. So many trees were down, he couldn’t get through. So he cut his way through. Then more people brought out their chainsaw’s and started going to work. It was crazy.
That next hour, Chad and I took the kids for a walk just to see what had happened around where we were. It was difficult to navigate with all the trees and wires down. It was still gently raining. I know it might sound crazy that we took the kids for a walk, but truly, there was glass everywhere in our house and outside our house. There was nowhere safe for kids to be. They were going to get hurt no matter where we went.
So that night our friend of ours took the kids for the night so that Paul and I could get some work done in and around the house. By the end of the night, we had our windows boarded up, our tree cut down out back, a tarp over our roof where there was major damage, and the car windows covered with plastic. A friend loaned us his generator to keep our fridge and freezer going. It was amazing!
I know we could have taken up a dozen offers to sleep somewhere else, but we just couldn’t. Its funny, leaving your house kind of feels like leaving a man behind. We were in the dark, our house covered in glass, but we were safe. Our kids were safe. It still didn’t feel real. I had to laugh, because listening to the generator made it feel a bit like Haiti. When Paul and I went to bed that night, we laid there and I said, “A tornado hit our house.” It was the first time I could really say that. “I know” was all Paul said. Not sure that it still has really sunken in.
Its just apart of our life now.
It’s our story.
We’ve always been near or far away from the news story. This time, we were smack in the middle of it. When you drive away from our house, houses and neighborhoods looked untouched. When drive towards our street, you drive right into the middle of it.
Its still surreal.
There are many houses that are worse than ours. There are other towns where hundreds have died because of tornado’s. I don’t belittle their story or have any delusions that we have it rough, I just want to share ours.
I have lots of other thoughts that I plan on sharing, but that is the story of what happened to us last Sunday at 2pm.
A tornado hit our house.
Here are a couple photos.
This is the entry into our alley.
This is in front of our garage on one side. On the other side is a wall from a garage compeletly blocking entrance to the alley.
Our neighbors tree in front of our house.
The corner where we live. Our house is the second one in.
This is our street that was once a canopy of trees.
This is what so many of the streets look like.