“Chapman take cover — the tornado is on the ground!” Words I will never forget! On June 11, 2008, an F3+ tornado shook our tiny town of 1,400 people while I rode it out with my husband and our son in the bathroom.
It was a beautiful evening as we traveled home with friends from Bible Study.
I remember driving along old HWY 40 looking at the wheat nearing harvest and commenting on the magnificent clouds above. The sky was remarkable; no rain in sight, the air was barely moving.
When we arrived home the TV and every light in the house was on; our son was home from college. I went looking for him and found him in his bedroom lying on the bed in his gym shorts, talking on his phone. Coming back into the front room, I heard the TV weatherman saying they were tracking a storm capable of producing a tornado in Salina, about 40 miles away. It was tornado season so this was nothing new to hear on the nightly news.
This time, I felt a heighten sense of alertness.
Tom and I stood watching for a few minutes, it was just after 10 p.m. We decided to take a few precautions: check the batteries in the flashlights, check cell phones charged, replaced our sandal feet with socks and shoes, told Thomas to get dressed, and each of us put our ID in our pocket. We pulled the queen size mattress off Thomas’s bed frame to put in the hallway near the bathroom, “just in case.” With no basement, the bathroom was the designated tornado shelter.
Just as we set the mattress against the wall, tornado sirens began to wail!
We ran to the neighbor’s house, hoping they were home since they had a basement. The house was dark so we got in our car planning to drive to the school, the designated community shelter. Putting the car in reverse, the sirens quit. We tried to find a local radio station that might be covering the storm. With no success, we concluded the storm changed directions, and headed back to the house.
Tom and Thomas stayed on the porch, looking into the dark sky. As I stepped inside, the TV was still on and I heard the weatherman, “Chapman take cover immediately, the tornado is on the ground.” Frantically I opened the door to tell the guys we needed to head to the bathroom. An intense rumbling sound filled the air; I thought it was a train on the tracks near our home. Thomas said, “Dad, what is that?” Tom said,
“It’s the tornado, get in the house!”
I ran to the hallway, drug the mattress into the bathroom, and was trying to get it into the tub when Thomas came in. We decided to pull the mattress out and wedged it under the sink just in front of the toilet. We sat down on either side of the toilet, grasped hands behind the toilet and pulled the mattress over our heads. Tom was in the hallway trying to coax our golden retriever into the bathroom.
The rumbling sound grew louder, our ears began to pop, the electricity went out, and only our flashlight illuminated the small bathroom. The house and ground under us began to shake, and I could see the blown in insulation we had just put in the attic falling and landing on Thomas’ dark shirt.
I cried out with a loud voice.
“Oh God you are our God and we are your people! You are a very present help in times of trouble. This is trouble! You are our Rock and our Refuge! (Please listen to your Pastor when he says read your Bible every day and memorize it! I’m here to testify that when faced with death, scripture is what comes to mind and brings strength and comfort!)
Tom came into the room and lay over top of the mattress. As I felt Tom and heard his voice calling on the name of Jesus, something in my spirit snapped, a peace came over me as a calm assurance filled my heart that we were not going to die, we were going to make it! We all began repeating the name of Jesus over and over. I felt a pulling sensation and could see the corner of the roof lifted up, I was certain we were going to leave the house through that hole.
After what seemed a long time, but was really about 15 seconds, the pulling ceased, a quiet stillness filled the room and I remember thinking, “Are we in the eye of the storm, the center of the funnel?”
The silence was interrupted by the sound of our dog walking around on broken glass.
Tom told us to stay put and he would go check….but we followed him, not wanting to be separated. With flashlights in hand, we began to see the devastation. The hallway walls and ceiling were still in place, though pictures that once covered the walls were on the floor, glass crunched as we walked toward the dining room.
Turning the corner, first thing we saw was our boat in the opening where the dining room window once was. Shinning our lights around the living room and kitchen, we could not believe our eyes: debris everywhere, windows blown out, trees and limbs in the house.
I grabbed my cell phone to call our daughter and son-in-law.
I remembered the weatherman saying the tornado was heading toward us and their town. As Valerie answered I said, “Where are you? A tornado is heading your way”….and then the phone went dead. I called back! She answered that the tornado sirens just started going off and they were getting their infant son and heading to the basement. I told her we had taken a direct hit by the tornado and that we were alright, but feared the town was in bad shape. I heard Tom and Thomas on the front porch yelling back and forth with neighbors all letting each other know the other was fine.
It is a night our family and many others will never forget.
More than 80 homes were destroyed, along with all three schools, and several businesses. We walked through the streets of our tiny town that night with the others who lived there; all seemed to be shell-shocked, each with flashlights, walking by one another and stopping when we recognized someone.
The long night and days ran into months as we pulled together to dig through the rubble trying to salvage what we could. So many people came from all over to help. My faith in humanity was again restored. I looked around and my faith in God increased…He sees me! He hears me! He’s with me! We had help in every area: dealing with insurance, digging through rubble, cleaning salvaged items, making meals, sending financial support, prayers…oh the prayers that sustained us, truly we could feel them lifting us with such power and force just as the tornado had lifted the roof off of our house. The power of prayer kept us going day after day, we had the strength to carry on.
Tornado season the year after June 11, 2008 was traumatic.
I had just started a new job at a crisis pregnancy center. During one of our weekly prayer meetings, it began to rain. Behind the building were storage sheds with tin roofs. Ever hear the sound of rain on a tin roof? It has to be ten times more amplified, at least!
That sound triggered an anxiety attack; yes, I learned Christians are not immune from anxiety and panic attacks. After the tornado, I could hardly function. Literally my brain was in a fog, I’d sit at my desk and stare, knowing I should be doing something, but what? I’d wake at night and thoughts of suicide ran through my mind. I wanted to bury my head and disappear. I was diagnosed with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). A blog topic I will share later about Christian and mental illness.
The tears began and I could not stop them.
Back to the prayer time, I remember sitting there with spiritually godly women, the board president and my boss, the executive director, with head bowed, chastising myself, “get it together Tina, these people are going to think you are weak and wonder what kind of woman they hired.”
As the prayer closed with the whispered, “in the name of Jesus, Amen,” I reluctantly lifted my head and began apologizing. Much grace was offered, yet I couldn’t get over feeling weak and inadequate. I excused myself and went to my office.
Later that day, as I was reaming myself over and over (you know what I mean?), not letting myself off the hook, entertaining self-abased lies, repeating, “How could you get so upset? Don’t you remember how God protected you in a tornado? Why do you doubt He would do it again?” Satan is a master at trying to use scripture against God’s people…remember Jesus in the wilderness?!”
The Holy Spirit finally got through to me.
A thought entered my mind; “Tina, if you knew someone who was suffering from memories of a trauma, would you say these harsh judgmental statements to them? Tina, you almost died, of course your emotions go on alert in situations that remind you of that time.” I broke right there and sobbed, “Lord, thank you for your graciousness! Thank you that you long to comfort me in this time, not judge me for my lack of faith.”
Oh do you believe that His Grace is sufficient for you in the eye of the storm?
Does your view of God, our Abba…Daddy…Father allow you to curl up on His lap and let Him hold you and hush you tenderly as your fears and the lies slowly slip away? It is the sweetest place of peace and release. My best visual of these times is of when one of my grandchildren is frightened or hurting, my arms automatically reach to draw them near into my safe embrace.
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! –1 John 3:1