Tornado watches and warnings had been going off all day; but for our family, the storms had been brewing for nine months.
At first the storms had hit outside our immediate family: my sister’s troubled marriage, my mother’s diagnosis of terminal cancer. Then I started having unexplained pains. After seeing a collection of doctors, I was referred to the Mayo Clinic, where I was told I had a rare, disabling condition: systemic mastocytosis.
Now in my final month of medical leave, I was still weeks away from learning if I would be approved for disability. For all I knew, our family was on the verge of having no income.
If this wasn’t troubling enough, an attempt to refinance our mortgage revealed that our home was worth about $20,000 less than what we owed on it. In addition to the many repairs we knew we’d have to make, the appraiser pointed out that it was time for a new roof.
“God,” I prayed, “it seems that we have two choices: to walk away from this house or to fix it up. I don’t want to put money into it if we’re just going to end up losing it, so please let us know what we should do.”
I should’ve known God might answer this prayer in an unexpected, perhaps even traumatic way. That had been His pattern lately. For example, though I would have never chosen to get sick, I couldn’t deny that this illness was providing me with more time to be with my children, something for which I had been praying for years.
Perhaps that’s why I was strangely at peace. I prayed about our needs and, for the most part, left things in God’s hands. From time to time, though, I did allow some worries to disturb my peace. Such as the roof—how in the world were we going to afford a new roof?
Then the lights went out. No electricity, and it seemed the storm was just getting going. As the kids’ bedtime got closer, my husband and I started discussing whether we should bed down in the basement. I glanced at my Facebook page, where channel 3 had just posted a new tornado warning—for our county.
“OK, kids,” I announced. “Grab the futon and feather bed; we’re sleeping downstairs.”
As my husband went to close and lock the front door, which the wind had swung open, I heard a strange rumbling. “Rob, is that a tornado?” I called out.
“I think it’s thunder,” he responded while descending the stairs back to the basement. After a brief pause as the rumbling continued he said, “That might be a tornado.”
“OK, kids,” I spoke with urgency, “get like this.” I crouched in the tornado position. “Put your pillows over your heads.” Immediately our family huddled together, listening to the rumbling coming closer and closer.
“Hold us, Jesus,” I prayed over my children. “Hold us, Jesus.” The rumbling passed, then disappeared.
“That was cool!” my son exclaimed. I had to admit, now that we knew we were safe, hearing one of nature’s most powerful forces had been kind of exciting.
Rob went up to check the damage by looking out our back door. Our favorite tree, one we had reminisced about only the day before, had fallen. But we hardly grieved its loss, for our house was still intact.
“I think,” I said, thinking of my earlier prayer, “God wants us to keep this house.”
Then we started hearing voices outside. Rob went out front and gasped. “The house across the street has no roof,” he shouted. “Corey’s home [two houses down] is gone, and there’s a house in the middle of the road.”
I went to the door to see for myself. “Call 9-1-1,” someone shouted.
I stumbled over my children to get to the phone. “What do I say?” I asked as I dialed the numbers.
“We’ve had a tornado,” my husband replied.
“Um, I’d like to report a tornado!” I shouted into the phone, trying to describe the damage that my brain was barely deciphering. After giving our address, I emphasized to the dispatcher, “We’re OK, but our neighbors aren’t.”
Rob disappeared into the darkness, his bobbing flashlight one of many such lights going from house to house. The children joined me at the front door. We learned that Corey’s grandparents were trapped in their home. My son, Kody, started shaking with fear. This tornado was no longer cool.
“Let’s pray for our neighbors,” I said. So we sat in our doorway, pleading with God for our neighbors’ lives and safety.
“Everyone’s OK,” my husband reported when he returned from the house-to-house check he had joined. I breathed a sigh of relief and returned to my bed in the basement.
The next morning I slipped on my shoes and stepped outside. It was time to walk through the neighborhood. That’s what we were all doing, quietly, reverently. I stepped around the home that had landed in the street and the medicine bottles that had spilled out from under it. I later learned that those bottles belonged to an ill church member. While her housemates had been safely picked up and deposited along with the house in the street, the room that contained this woman’s hospital bed had been blown apart. Fortunately, she hadn’t been home that night.
“Do you live in this neighborhood?” A woman from the far end of the street asked.
“Yes,” I said, “but my house is fine.”
“Ours too,” she said. “Just some roof damage. It was God who protected us. Praise God!”
I felt a tinge of survivor’s guilt as I looked over the many homes that hadn’t been held up. Then I remembered our prayer for the neighborhood.
Later that day, as Rob helped some neighbors clear out a fallen tree, they told us about losing one shingle and getting a whole new roof through insurance. I looked at the shingles that were scattered through our front lawn. With our minimal damage Rob and I hadn’t even decided if we would file a claim. Could this be God’s answer to my prayer? Could our new roof be paid for by insurance?
Our insurance adjuster later agreed that a new roof was in order, commenting, “Someone here must have been praying.”
Our neighborhood was a buzz of activity that day. Each family seemed to have gathered a team of helpers to go through the rubble. And tourists started streaming through, coming from undamaged neighborhoods to see what they had missed. Even air traffic was greater than normal.
“Todd says he flew over our neighborhood,” my husband later reported. “He says there’s damage like this and worse for miles.” I couldn’t imagine worse. I was only beginning to understand that we had been part of one of the worst tornados in United States history—we were inches away from an F4 tornado that had plowed through four counties.
Opening my computer, I stared at the photo my cousin Todd had sent me. “If I remember right, this is your neighborhood—what’s left of it,” he wrote.
I studied the image, trying to recognize it. Then I spotted our white van. Sure enough, that was our home. Pulling back to study the image as a whole, I gasped. Most of the picture was filled with utter destruction, but in the bottom corner there was a peaceful untouched section. There our home sat in the palm of what appeared to be a God-sized hand.
“Jesus, hold us,” I had prayed.
Yes, He had held us through the storms, not just the tornadoes, but all the storms.
Over the next month, winds continued to batter our home. I learned that my paycheck would stop earlier than expected, my request for Social Security disability would be denied, and a decision on my disability insurance would be delayed.
But even in these storms, we could see God’s hand as my husband was offered a job he hadn’t even applied for. Why had God placed His hand over our home when so many of our neighbors (many of them devout Christians) had lost theirs?
“I think God knew you’ve had your share of personal tornadoes,” one friend theorized. She may be right. After all, the Bible promises we will not be tested beyond what we can bear. There are moments I’m tempted to panic and lose faith as I wait to hear the verdict from my disability insurance case. As miraculous as my husband’s job is, he’s bringing home less than half of what I had been making. Without this insurance money we won’t have enough to make ends meet.
But in those moments I close my eyes and picture God’s hand over our home. I take the trust the world taught me to place in money and transfer it into the hands of the One who holds our family.
I needn’t be afraid. I have been held in the palm of God’s hand.