On Experiencing a Personal-Sized Tornado.

Last weekend I went on a girl’s trip with a few Moms in my small group.

But I’ll get back to that another day.

I got home from that trip around 3:15 Sunday afternoon, and when I drove up and parked, Fred (The Cat) came running up to me, with a very uncharacteristic nervous series of meows. Although it was currently a hot, sunny day, a small line of storms were headed our way, and I told Chris that Fred seemed nervous about them.

“Nah, he’s just hungry. I’ll get him some food.”

I got all of my (much overpacked) luggage inside and sat on the living room floor to play with the kids, while Chris went to the basement to get a quick run in on the treadmill. We were going to get out and go to a playground or something with the kids, but we knew that tiny rain band was headed our way, so decided to wait until after it passed.

I’d just started doing an activity book with Noah when the power went out.

Then it came back on, then off again. Then on, then off again.

After about the sixth rotation, I was starting to find it odd, and then it then stayed off for good.

I looked out the window to see the sky darken and the rain begin to fall.

Then instantly, the wind started blowing in circles, insanely powerful and loud. There were leaves and branches swirling in our yard and hitting the house, and Ali and I screamed and yelled “BASEMENT!!” at the same time.

I’ve seen a lot of powerful thunderstorms and not one has ever really scared me, but this one sent me into an immediate panic. I’d never seen things flying around like that before. All the way through the kitchen I was yelling at the kids to duck and not get near any windows as the sounds grew louder.

Chris met us at the door of the basement as he was about to run up and get us. He said “I can’t imagine how loud that was up there – it was crazy down here!”

And then the storm stopped.

It had lasted maybe two minutes – probably less.

We stayed downstairs for about five minutes until Ali quit crying (she has a significant frame of reference for what tornadoes can do, so she had immediate fear, while Noah seemed fairly oblivious), and then we all cautiously walked back upstairs to see what had happened.

We stepped out onto the porch and there was a lazy drizzle of rain and a significant chill in the air. As we opened our door and crossed our arms to stay warm, our neighbors across the street were doing the same. We looked up and down the street, and in a very eerie A Wrinkle in Time kind of way, all of our neighbors were stepping onto their porches at the same time, crossing their arms at the cold.

The outside of our houses were polka dotted with leaf particles that had been blasted onto the siding. There was a tree across the road next door to us, a tree split in half on the other side of us, and all of our yards were blanketed in leaves, gumballs, branches, other people’s garbage cans, and anything else left outside.

Tornado Damage

We stood there, all yelling back and forth and trying to figure out what happened, and then the rain stopped, the sun came back out, and it was like it had never happened – aside from everything being quite out of place.

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Our street congregated around the tree in the road, and one of the neighbors said that she and her husband had been driving home and had just turned onto our street when the storm started. They saw the tree begin to fall and backed up just in time – it was a very frightening near miss for them, and she was still shaking.

We all set off in different directions trying to see how far-reaching the storm had been, and to make sure everyone was okay.

The damage was bizarrely concentrated on only two blocks – our road, the road behind us, and the road that intersects with it. Beyond those roads, there weren’t even leaves on the ground. A few blocks away, it hadn’t rained.

In that small area of the storm, there were at least two houses with trees on them,

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Well over a dozen trees uprooted or broken off at various points,

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all having fallen in different directions,

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And we even received an early Christmas tree delivery when our neighbor’s tree broke off and flew over the fence.

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Thankfully, no one was hurt.

Within minutes, a neighbor had driven up with a chain saw and gasoline in his truck, ready to remove the tree on our road. People congregated to haul, saw, and clear the road. I felt kind of stupid for having asked a few minutes earlier who we were supposed to call to get it removed. Who knew my neighbors were so handy – and prepared?

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One of Fred’s many owners was pacing the street, asking when we’d last seen him. I felt terrible that I hadn’t heeded his feline warnings, but knew he was a sturdy cat and had braved a few storms before.

The sound of chainsaws buzzing and generators humming filled the neighborhood, a sound that is still ongoing.

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Power crews came and started working on the countless lines down – both big and small.

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Our power was returned at midnight, although some neighbors are still out of power. Fred showed back up when Chris went to turn off the generator, happily purring over his exciting adventures. Although I’ve tweeted with the National Weather Service in Birmingham and they promised to investigate the specifics of the storm, it has not yet been declared a tornado, but all witnessing neighbors agreed – it sounded, looked, and acted like a tornado.

As for the kids, Ali had been immediately traumatized – every time the wind blew for the rest of the afternoon she whimpered and winced. We had some good conversations about God’s protection and God’s control over all things – even when storms do come. It took many conversations, but she is now at peace. And although Noah proudly told everyone how brave he had been during the storm, he was the one up crying several times in the night, telling me his nightmares about being on the sidewalk while branches and trees were falling and flying around him.

As for me, the most frightening part was the fact that we weren’t under any watches or warnings. There had been plenty of advance notice that there could be severe weather on Sunday, but no warnings related to the specific tiny band of storms that hit our neighborhood. We could have easily been outside on a beautiful day, or in the car, if we hadn’t been paying attention to the radar.

But ultimately, I’m thankful that I got home exactly when I did – I could have easily been driving in it. And I’m thankful that Noah hadn’t been able to nap – even though nothing had happened, the whole event would have been much more terrifying if he had been a floor above me when I needed to get everyone to the basement in an instant. And I’m thankful that my husband is a radar watcher – otherwise, I have no idea what would have happened.

And also, we won’t live in the bubble of “it won’t happen to us” anymore. Living on the side of a mountain and nowhere near the usual “tornado paths” made us feel a little shielded from severe storms, but now we know – they can do what they want to do.


Updated: NWS Birmingham just tweeted me back and declared it to be straight line winds, not a tornado. Which officially makes Sunday’s storm the most swirly and terrifying straight line winds that I’ve ever seen.

An Anniversary of Questions.

140401c Sunset Through the Bamboo

June has come back around.

It has been a year since I quite suddenly became unwell.

I remember the night that it started – a Friday night – wide awake half the night, my lungs overcome with pain and feeling like they’d been deflated, my head dizzy and full of pressure, my heart beating faster than a Shakira song and my mind petrified about what could make me feel so wrong. The next night, I slept sitting up because every time I laid flat I thought I was going to die.

On Sunday I went to the Doc in the Box, positive that whatever was making me feel this near-death would be immediately evident to whatever doctor drew the short straw of the Sunday afternoon shift.

How nice that would have been.

It took four agonizingly slow months, six doctors, and a dozen tests to get a diagnosis of exclusion – a diagnosis that says “We acknowledge that you are sick. We see the problem. However, we have no idea what is causing it. Here – take some pills to control the symptoms.”

The diagnosis was Dysautonomia, and the drugs were beta blockers, designed to make my heart slow down. Those pills have been a blessing and a curse. A blessing that they have helped with most of the symptoms many days, and a curse for their side effects (hello exhaustion, hair loss and weight gain.) But I realize exactly how valuable they are when I forget to take one, become nearly (or literally) bedridden, and am reminded how very, very sick I still am – and that I’m just masking a mysterious behemoth. I’m in the process of trying to completely change medication types right now, hoping to find a way to have more good days than bad.

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All of the initial tests gave me a way to write about what was going on without being too serious, but the last six months have been difficult to spin. I’ve written half a dozen update posts since, but have published none of them. They contained the long, painful details of the process, the symptoms, the feelings, the side effects, the frustrations. But every time I started to re-read a post for editing, they felt so arduous that I couldn’t make it through them again, so I certainly couldn’t subject anyone else to them.

But that’s the problem. Writing is often grueling now. Getting thoughts to form and being able to write them out is impossible at times – and it’s made worse when I go back and comparatively read my writing from over a year ago. I think to myself, “I was so much better. Will it come back? Will thoughts come easily again?” Your kind words and support have meant infinitely more to me in the past year.

~

I’ve spent nearly a year being convinced that there is an underlying cause for my illness – if only we’d look a little deeper, do a little more research, run one more test. Could it be my head injury? The bats and their guano?  One of a million rare syndromes? And as more problems surfaced and issues were diagnosed – my compromised immune system, my eye issues, and so on, my hope deepened – surely the more ingredients there were to add to my Dysautonomia, the greater the chances were that when mixed together just right, they would present a solution.

But neither that Doc in the Box nor the eleven other specialists I’ve seen since can find it.

One even stared at me, troubled, for a whole two minutes. Then said, “Please come back in six weeks and tell me what you’ve figured out. I don’t want to lose track of you.”

But after the last round of tests that took over three months, a few hundred dollars, and zero helpful takeaways, I feel done. It’s time to accept the fact that I may have a chronic illness that can only be controlled, not eradicated. And even the control is partial at best and completely unpredictable.

That realization has been difficult for me to swallow. I’m a fairly unemotional person, but trying to work through the reality that the past year may be a preview of the rest of my life has brought out tears, anger, and sadness. But also, a seeking of God’s promises and comfort like I haven’t needed to do in a long time.

I hang out in the Psalms a lot – David’s raw emotions and honesty with God and God’s responses to it have always been a comfort to me. Another reassurance came through 1 Peter 5:6-7…Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s Mighty Hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.

Other times when I’ve read that passage it felt very forceful. Get yourself humble, to the ground and under God’s hand!!, but now it feels safe. I am under God’s Mighty Hand. I know I am – I have personally experienced Him in miraculous ways that prove to me without a shadow of a doubt that He is there and He cares for me – personally – and even by name.

So where else would I rather be?

Where I am is where He has me right now. What I am dealing with is what He wants me to be dealing with right now. And He has already blessed it by using the fruit of my trials to help others. I don’t think He expects me to live every moment of it with a skipping blissfulness (He knows me too well for that), but He does know what He is doing.

And I can trust that even if I continue having no idea what is wrong with me or how to get better, He has me under His hand.

And those are sustaining words. As long as I go back to them regularly.

Twenty Minutes Away: Revisited.

Sunday was the three year anniversary of Alabama’s unforgettable Tornado Outbreak, the day that brought us 62 tornadoes, killed 140 people, and injured thousands.

Two days after 4/27/11, Prince William and Princess Kate wed. And two days after that, Osama Bin Laden was killed. Needless to say, the national news quickly forgot the fact that Alabama had been decimated.

But we did not. And we have not.

This year’s anniversary came with its own cruelty. We all knew that we were about to be hit with another three day tornado event starting the next day, making the memories of April 27 all the more exquisitely difficult to process.

But despite that, something compelled me to take a drive on Sunday.

Pratt City was the closest community to us that was hit in 2011. And they were hit hard. I had written a blog post titled Twenty Minutes Away sharing photos of that community.

And on Sunday I needed to see. What had changed in three years?

On April 27 2011, this neighborhood was left completely devastated.

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On April 27 2014, they’re still fighting the battle of full recovery.

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On April 27 2011, things looked hopeless.

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But on April 27 2014, hope is palpable.

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On April 27 2011, Their library was ravaged.

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On April 27 2014, they have a new library.

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On April 27 2011, demolition equipment couldn’t even get in to begin hauling off what was left.

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On April 27 2014, heavy machinery was present – but only to help create more new houses.

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On April 27 2011 this neighborhood was brought to its knees.

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On April 27 2014 those knees are still present – but so are the new fabrics of community.

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On April 27 2011, loss was everywhere.

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On April 27 2014, potential is everywhere.

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On April 27 2011 you couldn’t escape the reality.

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On April 27 2014 there are still memories – abandoned foundations, stripped trees, and large, empty fields. But they’re not nearly as agonizing.

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In my entire tour, there was only one thing that hadn’t changed since my last visit.

Their heart.

April 27 2011,

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April 27 2014.

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We are all giving thanks that this week’s tornado outbreak was nothing compared to 2011, but many communities are still hurting – in Arkansas, Oklahoma, MIssissippi, and Alabama. I will be praying for this same heart and courage in the communities that are about to begin their own rebuilding.