Have you ever been caught in a tornado?
We nearly drove through one on Saturday. Literally.
I’d heard a storm was coming, but because I no longer live with my weather-forecasting-sister, Krissie, I did’t think much about it. Until . . .
All five of us Morgans felt quite festive as we barreled along the highway to the Scranton area for Nani’s 92nd birthday party. Christian and I bantered back-and-forth while the kids watched a movie, so none of us noticed the ominous sky surrounding us.
Sometime around 3:15 pm, my phone beeped as it received an official weather text alert stating that a Tornado Warning was in effect until 3:30 pm and that we should seek cover immediately.
I grew up in Illinois where tornadoes are a part of life, so much so that we had tornado drills at school, scrunching up into little balls in the interior corridors. I can still remember my surprise at seeing my mother participating in a real tornado emergency while pregnant with my younger sister, Jenny, all huddled up, lining the inner staircase of Wild Rose Elementary School with the other PTA parents.
So when I got the text message on Saturday, I knew I wasn’t watching for a tornado. One had actually been spotted.
My eyes instinctively searched the sky. There it was, a dark billowy mass of cloud hovering out the left-front window. It wasn’t as defined as I would have expected, but only later did I realize that we were too close to see it.
I peered over my shoulder. The kids were oblivious, thankfully, and I turned back around. We were potentially in big trouble because the next exit lay several miles down the road.
As we drew closer, dark whips of cloud seemed to be everywhere in the sky immediately above us, and uneasiness rushed over me like the first jump into a swimming pool. I felt small in the face of this inverted mountain of wind, rushing and swirling all around, tugging at our SUV with a vigor that made Christian hold tight to the wheel.
“Christian, we’d better get off at the next exit. I just got a tornado warning text.”
“Really?” He craned his neck and peered through the windshield. “Awesome!” He whooped and hollered while reaching into the backseat for his GoPro camera. I motioned for him to keep his voice down, but he paid me no heed. “Kids, check out the tornado!”
“Where, Dad?” Hannah paused the movie as they pressed their faces against the windows. They located the darkest patch and collectively said, “Ohhhhh!”
John complained loudly that he couldn’t see the vortex. Hannah thought it was extremely cool and handed Daddy the GoPro. Little Abby burst into sobs.
“Are we going to die?”
In that moment, something flashed through my mind that I’d read years ago. Author and speaker, Christine Caine, had once recounted a time when she, her husband, and a few other tourists were stranded on a jungle tour. Something went terribly wrong, and for a couple of days, they’d had to fend for themselves.
At times, Christine found herself wondering if they would survive their ordeal. She shared that once she returned to safety, God impressed upon her heart to never forget for one day from what she had been saved.
Her story made a huge impression on me. How true it is that I, with so many comforts and conveniences at my fingertips, can easily distract myself from facing my own mortality.
Life is but a breath.
Saturday’s storm jolted me into remembering how important, how essential the daily contemplation of death truly is. Doing so doesn’t fill me with fear. Rather, remembering that my days are numbered infuses me with passion to more fully live.
I found myself thankful Abby had voiced the question.
“Mommy,” she said again, tears streaming down her rosy cheeks. “Are we going to die?”
Christian seized the moment before I could speak.
“Who’s going to pray?”
Hannah volunteered and quietly offered up something sweet and simple. Peace washed over our vehicle and stilled Abby’s soul. As our eyes returned to the skies, Christian took my hand and smiled.
We were now less than seven minutes from our destination, so we decided to make a run for it. Apparently, our family missed the heart of the storm by less than two minutes because cars still huddled under the overpass as we finally made our highway exit.
Residents started slowly emerging from their refuge as we drove through Dunmore and surveyed the damage. Fences were down, branches strewn everywhere. A trampoline stood awkwardly bent nearly in half, pressed up against a battered shop wall.
Christian whistled and murmured, “Something definitely came through here.”
We arrived at his grandmother’s house, grateful. His family breathed a sigh of relief as we crunched across the hail-covered lawn and into the sturdy ranch-style house.
In the face of death, we celebrated life, the wonderful gift of Christian’s grandmother. How ironic an afternoon, how fitting an ending, how blessed our family, getting to grow together through yet another of life’s storms.
May God continue to richly bless our family and yours, through storms and sunshine, both today – and beyond.