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93 || Hope Inside the Storm

At the beginning of a very cold, snowy winter, I found myself studying the book of Job. For months I marveled and pondered over Job’s relentless faith in the Lord. “How could somebody lose so much, and never curse the Lord?” I thought. He lost his livestock, his possessions, his health, and most importantly his family.

My life at the time seemed to be falling apart as a twenty-two-year-old college student and a full-time preschool teacher. My heart was growing and seeking so much from the Lord. I wanted to learn more about him; more importantly, I just simply needed to know him. I lived at home with my parents and at the time I was suffocating under a thick cloud of tension and hatred toward them. I entertained the thought of just picking up my stuff and moving back home to Texas at least twice a week. My home in Toney, Alabama was a battlefield and I firmly believe that Satan was waging a war between all of us and God wasn’t in our family’s priorities anymore.

I remember praying, “God, I just want us to get along, I want to love and enjoy my family again.” I survived those days with the support of some precious women in my life-group who prayed over me as I walked through that season of my life. On one occasion in particular, I told these women that I felt like something was coming in the spring, something big, and I asked them to pray that God would prepare my heart for the future. That’s when I picked up my Bible and opened it up to the book of Job. I had no idea just how much I would end up relating to this man.

The Storm Hits Home

The day started out with warnings of a “Particularly Dangerous Situation.” Large thunderstorms and pockets of tornadoes scattered the landscape and sirens filled the air. Keeping a close eye on the path of potential danger via moving red swirling shapes on the TV, I had a strange sense of peace within me.

During a small break in storm systems, my family and I wandered outside in our neighborhood. Looking at the horizon, we could see another front heading towards us. The wall of clouds looked ominous, but it didn’t look deadly. I entertained myself by taking a couple of photos and when the storm started to roar outside I began filming. We had no clues to warn us, no flying debris and no obvious funnel cloud or freight train sound, but there was a tornado headed right for us.

A huge flash of lightning and accompanying thunder sent us scurrying inside for shelter where warnings to take cover sent us scrambling for our bathroom. Debate followed — should my dad go rescue the dog? Amidst protest, he opened the door to venture out but quickly slammed it shut and huddled with us on the floor in response to an intense vacuum sound. Milliseconds later, debris shot through the door, narrowly missing his head and puncturing the mirror behind him. It had started. Screams of sheer terror amidst pleas to God for safety and His presence accompanied the roaring winds, the rumbling and shaking of walls, the crashing debris, and the cracking of timber as our neighborhood became only a remnant of what it once was.

As the wind continued to roar with indescribable passion, I closed my eyes tighter and counted to three. I just knew by three it would all be over with and I would be dead.  I remember visualizing in my head a car coming towards us at over 200 mph, taking us all out with one swift strike. “One…Two…Three.” At three, I said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t do more God, I’m sorry I didn’t do more for You.” But for whatever reason, I was still alive. I had made it past three.

As the EF5 tornado moved on, my eyes remained closed, but I sensed that there was light in the room. As I slowly allowed my eyes to open and focus, the images around me caught me off guard. With no roof over our head, we were trapped within four walls of what used to be a bathroom. Broken wires waved around in the sky over our heads while we waited patiently for rescue.

The Aftermath

Although I was completely surrounded by chaos, I somehow managed to capture video footage of being trapped in that bathroom. If you were to view the footage you would see Hunter (my brother) taking in a deep breath and asking a thousand questions and Halee (my sister) and Chaylin (our neighbor) bent over double and puking. You would see my dad in shock, staring at the remains of what used to be our bathroom and, unfortunately, my mom having a seizure and then eventually fainting. That’s where the footage stops. Dad caught her while I tilted her head back and applied the first aid training I received a month prior. When my mother finally came to, she spoke out of panic, “My house, our stuff, our dogs, what are we going to do?” That’s when I felt the Holy Spirit speak right through me, “Mom, we are going to be okay. We are going to be just fine.  Mom, Job lost everything plus his entire family. He never cursed God and God blessed him two-fold. We are still alive, we have each other. We are going to be okay.” For the first time in my life, I was one hundred percent certain that everything was going to be okay.

Hours passed and eventually we were rescued. As I crawled and maneuvered my way out of the debris, I became overwhelmed. The view of the destruction and deceased bodies that lay on the ground was earth shattering.  I remember thinking “Okay God, do your thing.”

The Flood Gates Are Opened

That night three different men from three different families risked their lives to come to my family’s aide. These men navigated through indescribable amounts of debris and flooding just to reach our neighborhood. They loaded all of us up in their vehicles and drove us to one man’s home. There, they clothed and fed us and gave us a place to sleep. When the night fell, I made my way into the kitchen to find my dad sitting by himself. His eyes appeared to be hypnotized by the plain white wall that stood before him.

“Dad are you okay? What is wrong?” I asked. With the most humble look on his face he replied, “I just don’t understand, why these people are taking care of us.”  My dad was so confused. He could not understand why men he had never met were being so kind to our family. I remember whispering, “Because that is what church family is for. We are called to love one another.” The men that rescued us that night were the husbands of the women from my life-group. Through them, God began working on my dad’s heart – something I had desperately been praying for.

The next morning, with determination and excitement, my father rose and went on a mission for the glory of God.  With plywood, debris, spray paint, nails, and a hammer, my dad hung a huge message with a cross on the remains of our house that read, “God saved 6 here behind these walls.”Tornado 2 (320x240)

There were tons of people in our neighborhood volunteering and helping clean up the debris. The second my dad began to nail that cross, the entire neighborhood froze and patiently watched him finish. When the final nail was hit, screams and applause broke throughout the neighborhood. Tears of joy trickled down my cheek as I watched my earthly father publicly give thanks to my heavenly Father. From that moment on, God unleashed the floodgates of heaven. He didn’t just bless my family – he made our cups overflow. He turned everything, and I mean everything, into good.

Watching God move in the aftermath of disaster was so inspiring — more so than I ever would have been able to witness without the tornado. Neighbors and strangers from across the country fed meals to all who were cleaning up our neighborhood. At least once a day, someone would walk up to our house and marvel at the sign my dad posted. Then those same people would ask us if they could give us a hug and pray for us. I watched my neighbors love on each other and take care of each other. I witnessed so many lives changed for the better.

News crews set up camp outside the destruction of our home. Journalists stood in line and patiently waited to take their turns interviewing my dad and me. The image of that cross on our house was syndicated all over the country. As a result, two separate families all the way out in Texas donated a suburban to my mom and dad and a Camaro to me. Wally from WAY-FM and the band

Mikeschair came to the property one morning to interview me about my family’s survival story. As a performing artist, I was thrilled not only for this opportunity to connect with these guys, but to be asked to film a promotional video for their new album in Nashville which allowed me to tell thousands of people about my story.

Blessings continued to unfold as God proved faithful. Four days after the tornado, we not only had a place to live, but our church family from Texas raised money to bring a trailer full of brand new furniture to us.  My former Texas high school raised over a thousand dollars that they eventually transferred to my checking account. My dad’s employer QinetiQ North America donated $10,000.00 to my parents. FEMA transferred over $20,000.00 to my family. Our new home became the centralized location for donations in North Alabama. We received food, clothing, shoes, accessories, gift cards, money, toiletries, and furniture. You name it, and it was given to us.

Paying It Forward

As a result, my family was able to bless other families. We were able to give money, furniture, gift cards, food, clothing, and hope to others who were affected and to local ministries. We were overwhelmed. God showed up and did His thing and throughout all of the bad came an enormous amount of good. Looking back, I marvel at His goodness as He prepared my heart for the storm that was to come. He carried me through the fire only to show me that He could pour out blessings of rain. Even before that dreadful day, God was orchestrating this beautiful message of kindness into my life. He wasn’t surprised that my entire family almost died; He wasn’t surprised that we lost everything. He knew all along that He was going to take this tragic event and work it into the most beautiful love song to bring Himself glory.

Message of Hope

I can’t see into my future and know what is to come, but I do know Who holds tomorrow. I know Who works everything into good. I have a hope now that is supernatural because He is the same God today that He was on April 27, 2011. He loves me and He loves you. I don’t know what you’re walking through in your life right now. I don’t know how your pain feels, but I do know that God loves you and He cares for you. He will restore the hope in your life. He will work everything into good. He will renew your strength. He will take your story and rewrite it for His glory.

 

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