I have lived in Oklahoma most of my life, and there’s only one word to describe the last two weeks: UNBELIEVEABLE!
I know I have been on edge since the tornado devastated Moore last week. It’s as if everything in my life is out of whack—the way I eat, exercise, work. I am so distracted, and I just can’t seem to get back on track. With constant warnings of impending severe weather this week, it has been a constant stress.
And then came yesterday…
All week, I’ve been watching the weather and trying to get home to my kids before the daily outbreak of severe weather. Yesterday, storms were not expected to start firing until around 5 pm. That gave me the ability to put in a full day of work before I needed to be home.
My last stop happened to be in Tuttle yesterday, just a few miles from my house. So, I picked up the kids’ friends for my daughter’s birthday party before heading to Tuttle. Yes, we had a birthday party planned, and it will definitely be one to remember! I made it home shortly before 5 pm. I was watching the skies while my son and I cooked dinner, and I finally told the kids they needed to turn the tv over to me. I flipped on the weather, and—sure enough—there was a major storm brewing. It was north of us, but it was going to be ugly.
We finished cooking dinner as I watched the weather. By this time, there was a large tornado in El Reno. It was traveling down I-40 straight to Yukon, about 10 miles directly north of us. As I busied myself in the house, I could hear what sounded like constant thunder. Then, the power went out.
We still had fairly clear skies, and I stepped outside. I walked to my parents’ house next door. Everyone in our neighborhood was outside looking north. We could see the dark skies, hear the rumble, and only wonder what kind of devastation was taking place. Our phones were our only chance at listening to the weather and getting text reports of what was happening.
As we heard reports of new funnels developing along hwy 152 and heading toward Mustang, I called my sister in Mustang and told her to bring her dogs now. No more waiting! I didn’t care if the dogs messed up the house. If that’s what it took to get her to a shelter, bring the dogs! So, she loaded up her great dane (that looks me in the eyes on all four) and her three smaller dogs and headed our way. However, everyone else in Mustang was headed south with her. With tears and terror, she drove the wrong way on the streets and somehow managed to get around all of the traffic and make it to safety. We locked her dogs in the safe room. Unfortunately, because of the traffic, we had to call her son-in-law and send him the opposite direction.
With the dogs in my safe room, we took all of the kids (at this point I had six) and adults to my parents’ storm shelter. The kids were safely inside, and we adults continued to stand on the back porch. The first tornado appeared to be headed straight downtown with White Water Bay, the state fairgrounds, Bricktown, and the Devon Tower in its crosshairs. We just stood, shaking our heads, wondering what would be left of the state we call home.
Although we still had clear, sunny skies to our west and southwest, the skies directly in front of us had all kinds of “fingers” hanging down. We watched as the fingers moved, swirled, and combined. It seemed as if a tornado could drop right in front of our eyes at any moment. Our weather, however, was so focused on the tornado heading down I-40 that we couldn’t get any information on our area.
Then, we saw it. There was a large cloud directly north of us that seemed very low. As we watched, there were scuds being pulled in with every second. We could see the rotation as this large cloud was beginning to circulate, growing larger with every pass. Everyone in the neighborhood was fixated on it, and we began to video. We were finally able to see a shot of the radar, and we immediately saw the area of circulation just a couple miles north of us. The hook echo appeared to be directly above us. As Okies, we knew what that meant: tornado forming.
Suddenly, the hot, thick air was replaced by a strong, cool wind. We all looked at each other. It was time. We adults made our way into the shelter to join the kids, the cat, and my dog. We had no idea what a long evening it was going to be.
By the grace of God, I was able to get the weather broadcast on my phone, even underground. Apparently, the recent upgrade I made to the latest and greatest iPhone was well worth it! It was our only connection to the outside world. We listened in horror as tornadoes were literally dropping everywhere! The one we watched form was headed directly to Will Rogers Airport and my brother’s house (he was safely in his in-laws’ storm shelter). The major one was still heading through Oklahoma City. Soon, we heard of another one near Union City. There was yet another one near Minco, and another one at Tuttle. We were surrounded—tornadoes to the north, south, east, and west!
We sat in the hot, stifling cellar listening to weather, reading text updates, begging anyone we could contact to let us know when it was clear. Reports from friends and relatives all over the state–Tulsa, Eufaula, Enid, Lone Wolf, north Oklahoma City–were the only information we could get. We kept hearing the message, “Stay underground!” And so we did. As we sat and prayed for our precious state and all of our friends, we were in disbelief. As a group of native Okies, NEVER have we seen this much destruction, devastation, and sheer number of tornadoes in such a short time. Our hearts ached for all those affected, for our poor state, for those running from the storm. How do you express the emotions you are feeling at such a time?
As the hail pounded the cellar door and tornadoes continued to drop, I turned to my daughter and said, “Well, this is a birthday party you will never forget!” With a laugh, we all sang Happy Birthday to her, and I promised we would have a do-over!
Apparently, the tornadoes were not enough for our great state. After an hour (or longer) in the cellar, we decided it was safe to make our way out. As we emerged from underground, we found that our neighborhood was now a lake with houses and shops jutting out of the water—and we are on top of a hill! With all of the rain we have had in the last few weeks, our drought is gone and our ground is saturated. It simply can’t hold any more water! If downed power lines weren’t blocking the roads, most of the metro was now facing severe flood conditions. Roads were impassable because of the amount of water covering the roadways. I guess if there’s a bright spot, we have yet to have an earthquake this week—that I know of. They seem to be increasing in frequency around here, so I’m not ruling it out yet!
As the sun rises on the destruction this morning, I have yet to see what kind of devastation was inflicted last night. I don’t know how many people have lost homes and lives. I don’t know what kind of help is needed with this round of storms—even as the clean-up in Moore has barely begun. But, I know that God holds us in the palm of His hand. This latest round of destruction didn’t take God by surprise!
What can we learn from all that we have been through? Some would say we need to pack up and move! Yes, the thought has crossed our mind, but this place is home! I lived outside of Oklahoma for ten years, and I couldn’t wait to come home! I can’t explain it, but there is just something about Oklahoma, its people, the simple way of life. Yes, we are often portrayed as backwards, uneducated rednecks, but that simply is not true. Yes, it is still illegal to park your horse at the state capitol (true!), but most of us use modern day vehicles to get around. We have great universities, and many of us have college and advanced degrees. We have major oil and gas companies. Our unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation. While much of the country suffers economically, we have remained fairly healthy. We have open spaces and beautiful skies, amazing sunsets, and awe-inspiring sunrises. We have lakes and rivers that offer great recreation. We have open spaces for our kids to run and play. We still maintain fairly strong morals and values as a state. We are Oklahoma—hard-working, God-fearing, family-loving people! For me, there is no place like home!
I have no intention of leaving my home because of the current conditions, but as I reflect on the last two weeks, here are my thoughts:
1. My daughter was extremely upset that the tornadoes crashed her long anticipated birthday party, but I told her that we would have a do-over. I am so thankful that God gives us do-overs! How often do we make BIG mistakes that could cause major devastation to our lives or the lives of those around us? When we come to God and confess our mistakes, He is faithful and just to forgive us from our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). He gives us a fresh start and begins something new (Isaiah 43:18-19). He takes it all and makes it all work together for good (Romans 8:28).
2. As some of the kids were worried and scared, I took them in my arms and reminded them that when we are afraid, we should trust in God (Psalm 56:3). As a child, I was very fearful. My mom taught me to simply repeat this verse in my times of fear. As I focused my mind on God—my strength and my refuge—His peace always surrounded me and comforted me. I am so thankful that my mom taught me to take my thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ even as a young child! God is my fortress and strong tower, the One I run to in times of terror and danger, the One who surrounds and protects me! Even as destruction and devastation surround me, I will not fear. Nothing can separate me from God. Nothing can touch me that He does not allow into my life.
3. It is important to know what is truly precious in this life—and to loosen our grip on those things that are not. So many in our area have lost every earthly possession in the last two weeks. I cling to those things that are important—my family and friends. There are a few possessions that would be irreplaceable (my grandmother’s wedding ring and other jewelry, some precious pictures), and I have begun to keep those in my safe room. But, as long as I can hug my children tight at night, pray over them each morning, laugh with them, enjoy their antics, everything else is just stuff.
4. Even in the midst of utter destruction and devastation, God is still here. He is faithful. He is true. He is close to the broken-hearted. He is the restorer of all things lost. He is the comforter of those who mourn. He is the provider for those who have lost everything. He is a shelter in the storm. He is the Healer of those who are hurt. He is our strength in our weakness. He is here, and He is waiting for us to seek Him with our whole hearts so that He might be found.
Where would I be without my God? I would be a fearful mess, running from trouble, terrified to stay in my home, clinging to the stuff that is ultimately meaningless. But, God has made me a new creation (1 Corinthians 5:17). He has transformed me by the renewing of my mind (Romans 12:2). I will fear no evil for He is with me (Psalm 23). I am so thankful that God walks this life with me!
My precious Jesus, thank you for your love and protection in the midst of these horrible disasters that have overtaken my home state. I pray for those who have lost so much—that they would run to you as their shelter in the storm. I thank you that you carry us through the storms of life, and that you do your greatest work in us through trials and tribulations. I thank you that your mercies are new every morning, that your faithfulness is beyond our comprehension! May you be glorified in this time! Amen.