A friend, who has never been to Oklahoma, asked me to describe our state.
“Think oil,” I began. “Lots of oil. And earthquakes. And droughts. And floods. And blizzards. And ice storms. And tornadoes. Lots of tornadoes. Big tornadoes.”
Certainly makes you want to come visit, huh? And, it probably makes you wonder why any sane person would ever want to live here? But, for me, Oklahoma is home.
And, it is tornado season in Oklahoma once again.
Last Wednesday, we were warned in advance that there was a risk for tornadoes. It wasn’t expected to be much, but there was a risk. So, as always, we were watching the weather throughout the day.
Around 2:30 pm, I received the first notification on my phone of a tornado warning south of us. I called my dad and asked him to let me know if I needed to head home. About 30 minutes later, he called and told me to start home.
I walked in the door around 3:45. I had called my kids to tell them to round up the dogs and have everyone ready to go to the safe room.
The safe room. Those outside of Oklahoma might not understand what a safe room is. Many are familiar with basements and underground storm shelters, but in the last couple of decades, above ground safe rooms have become more common. Tucked away in the back of my closet in the interior of my home is a 4’x8’ room. It is steel reinforced with one foot thick concrete walls. It has a steel door with triple dead-bolts, and it is designed to withstand even the strongest of tornadoes—the dreaded EF-5 that will wipe homes from their foundation.
Shortly after I arrived home, tornadoes were firing just a couple miles south of us in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma. We locked ourselves in the safe room, armed with computers and whipped cream and Cheetos and pizza. Might as well have a party while we are in there!
There we sat, two dogs, a cat, three kids, and mom. We were streaming the weather on my phone while a steady stream of text messages from friends and family outside the storm area kept us informed. After 30 minutes or so, we felt safe to leave our little room.
But the peace didn’t last long.
As I looked at the tv, I saw a massive tornado in the vicinity and the sirens began to sound. We scrambled back to our safe room to ride out round number two. By this time, our snacks were gone and we were left to entertain ourselves.
After receiving the all clear, we vacated our safe room. Again, the reprieve was short-lived. Tornado sirens sounding. Round up all the critters and the kids. Lock ourselves in yet again.
Round after round of tornadoes seemed to be sent straight toward us. Dropping from the sky. Churning up the landscape. Twisting and destroying everything in their path.
Around 7:30, we saw yet another storm taking a path straight toward us. One last siren. One last mad dash to the safe room. By now, over four hours into our little tornado party, we were tired of being locked in a stuffy room together. Nerves were frazzled. The fun was over. Our Bible verse drills were old. Our movie choice no longer worked for everyone.
I continued to try to stream the weather on my phone, but there were so many tornadoes in the area the meteorologists were unable to focus on all of them. But, there on the radar, I could see the circulation right over us. I could hear the occasional mention of the storm chasers watching from the corner of highways 37 and 4. I knew they were looking directly toward our neighborhood.
The electricity began to flicker. Off and on. Off and on. Finally, it went out and didn’t come back on. As we watched the radar wondering what was over us, we felt a sudden and drastic change in pressure as our ears tried to adjust. We were in the midst of the tornado.
Text messages were flying. “Stay in your safe room! It’s over you! Don’t come out!”
We hunkered down, wondering exactly what was going on outside our little safe spot. The walls were thick and insulated, and we couldn’t hear a whole lot. We knew that something bad was happening outside, but we sat still. Even with the bickering and arguing (and the smell of wet dog), we knew that our little spot was so much better than being outside in the storm.
Around 9:30 pm, we were finally able to walk out of our safe room. Our home was still standing. We were safe and alive and thankful.
Just to add a little comic relief, there is an exotic animal refuge a couple of miles from our house. It, too, had been hit, and the news stations were warning us not to venture outside because there could be lions and tigers and bears (oh my!) wandering free! Only in Oklahoma!
The light of day showed us what we had survived. Many of our neighbors have significant damage. Almost every shop to the west of us was left as nothing more than twisted and mangled pieces of metal, thrown and scattered throughout the neighborhood. At least one of our neighbors has significant structural damage, damage where they can push on the wall of their house and move it. I was blessed that my damage was minimal. But, my heart aches for those around us and our many friends down the road in Bridge Creek that have lost everything.
As I was thinking about our evening, I was so thankful for our little safe room. We could ride out the storm really without a care in the world, knowing that those things most dear to us would be safe. We put our trust in the walls surrounding us as the winds and rain and floods whipped up all around us. We were able to make the most out of a difficult situation.
And that’s what our God is to us.
The storms rage. The winds whip up and throw our lives into turmoil. The flood waters rise around us. Our enemy, a roaring lion, prances around our neighborhood looking for someone to devour. The morning light reveals the damage, as we survey the rubble and debris scattered throughout our neighborhood.
And yet, we can run to our safe place, our Savior. We can ride out the storms swirling around us, knowing that his loving arms are protecting us. We can rest in peace, enjoying the safety and security, knowing that nothing can touch us that he does not allow. We can have a safe harbor, even as the pressures change around us. He is our safe room in this life.
God is our refuge and strength, always ready to help in times of trouble. Psalm 46:1
Thank you, Lord, for being our safe room, our hiding place when the storms threaten to overtake our lives. Thank you that you protect us, that we can ride out the storms in your presence knowing that nothing can hurt us in your presence. Thank you that we have a place of safety, a place where we can run when our very lives are in danger.