Light clouds overhead got heavier and thicker as we drove. We got off the freeway and headed west, and the horizon took on a green aspect, punctuated by lightning.
The sky was beginning to churn when we arrived at church.
Mariel and Cornflower ran inside, eager to play with friends, but I was drawn to a portion of cloud with wisps hanging down. Rather small in diameter, it seemed to be forming a dent in the cloud cover, and I could see the forefront drift to the right, while the background slowly moved to the left. Like a dream, it was.
“Triss, come here. Triss, come here!” I blurted, anxious to have someone verify what I thought I was seeing.
The breach in the clouds was widening. We watched as it moved toward us, rotating and enlarging. It was over the building next door to our church. My friend A came toward us.
“Do you see the rotation?” I asked.
“Oh, wow,” she said.
“What do you think? Should we let the others know?” I still wasn’t sure whether to trust my eyes. I had never seen rotation form in the clouds before.
“Maybe. Where do you think is the safest place in the church?”
“I was thinking the cry room. It doesn’t have outside walls. Kids, go inside!”
My kids and hers had gone through the church building and out into the fenced area, and were playing on the playground.
“Why? What is it? What’s that noise?” they called, as they moved to obey.
“We don’t know. It’s a storm and we need to get inside. Those are tornado sirens.”
We went into the building and informed the other adults, who immediately went outside to see. I did too. I could hardly keep my eyes off the now huge gap directly above us. As we stood watching, my parents drove up.
“Get over here!” we shouted.
We all stood under the porte-cochere and watched the clouds. Truly a breach in the darkness by now, the slow rotation was almost directly above us. We had to step out from under the roof to view the entire thing at once. I thought it was odd that the wind did not blow.
Bigger and bigger it got, until one of the deacons remarked that we were doing the wrong thing standing out here watching. I came to myself and realized my children were next to me.
“Okay kids, let’s go inside,” I said briskly.
Groans, mutterings. I was insistent.
My friend A gathered her children as well, and, except for her husband and mine, the congregation moved inside.
We were behind closed doors, but couldn’t keep ourselves from the windows, and witnessed the wind becoming fierce and strong, catching and whirling small debris. The men were still out there. Surprisingly, four birds attempted to fly past, their way impeded by the forceful gusts which kept them in place as they flew.
“Mom, you know those pictures of hurricanes?” Mariel asked.
“Okay, into the cry room!” I ordered, as the lights went out.
“Where am I?” A's daughter shouted.
“It’s okay, you’re in the same place you were when the lights were on,” I reminded her. The lights popped back on.
We waited in the cry room, wondering what was happening. The lights flickered off and then on again. A brought us a candle. We couldn’t even hear anything. I sent Triss out of the room for an update and asked the kids what they did that day. We had a pleasant conversation about guitars, punctuated by the flickering lights. The men had come inside and were phoning members to ask them to stay home. A’s husband had been nearly blown off his feet by the wind.
A kept in communication with her mother, who was from out of town, and was in the storm trying to find her way back to the church. Every turn A advised her to take was blocked by debris—fallen trees, telephone lines. Finally, A went out to guide her back.
The event subsided into heavy rain, thunder and lightning. We wandered out of the cry room to look out windows again. The children grabbed songbooks. They wanted to sing, “Master, The Tempest Is Raging”. It was good to be in the Lord’s house. Another family arrived safely, having been halfway to church when the storm hit. We went through the song service and began the lesson. A and her mother walked in.
(The lesson was a comparison of the character of Abigail and the character of Nabal. The elder especially emphasized the hard life Abigail had being unequally yoked to a “son of Belial”. I always appreciate someone besides me pointing out to the children how important are the choices we make in life. I suspect Abigail’s was an arranged marriage, but since we don’t really do those anymore—and I don’t think we should—marriage really is about choices. And what an admirable woman she was, subject to an abusive husband and still able to think outside herself to save her household from destruction and even the future king of Israel from grief.)
As we drove home after church, we surveyed the damage in the immediate neighborhood, taking a route least likely to be blocked. Many fences were down and trees uprooted or snapped off at the trunk. A power line and a large tree had fallen across a major city road. One tree was resting atop a pick-up truck.
We arrived home and turned on the news. As we watched, we heard something in the backyard. It was our neighbor, who had chased his dog through a gap in the fence. One portion fell down in the wind. We have a little repair work to do-- along with friends and neighbors across the area, who have fences down and shingles lost. I hear our local home improvement store has already been slammed with customers needing fence supplies. It could have been a lot worse. Across the entire metro area, I know of only two homes that had major damage, and three semi-trucks tipped over by the winds. I haven’t heard any report of injuries.
An event like this reminds me how small we are, how little, for all our brave ideas of government and progress, we actually control things. I am glad to put my trust in the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who knows all things and has power over all.
Master, the tempest is raging!
The billows are tossing high!
The sky is o'ershadowed with blackness,
No shelter or help is nigh;
Carest Thou not that we perish?
How canst Thou lie asleep,
When each moment so madly is threatening
A grave in the angry deep?
The winds and the waves shall obey Thy will,
Peace, be still!
Whether the wrath of the storm tossed sea,
Or demons or men, or whatever it be
No waters can swallow the ship where lies
The Master of ocean, and earth, and skies;
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, be still! Peace, be still!
They all shall sweetly obey Thy will,
Peace, peace, be still!
Master, with anguish of spirit
I bow in my grief today;
The depths of my sad heart are troubled
Oh, waken and save, I pray!
Torrents of sin and of anguish
Sweep o’er my sinking soul;
And I perish! I perish! dear Master
Oh, hasten, and take control.
Master, the terror is over,
The elements sweetly rest;
Earth’s sun in the calm lake is mirrored,
And heaven’s within my breast;
Linger, O blessèd Redeemer!
Leave me alone no more;
And with joy I shall make the blest harbor,
And rest on the blissful shore.
--Mary A. Baker, 1874