She looked up from her phone and spoke with authority.
“We need to take cover. Now.”
Her children followed like obedient ducks. But we, the west coast visitors who had never received any such emergency text, questioned her urgency.
Right now? In the middle of dinner?
Two families and a live-in mum around a table, eating simple pizza and crudités before the impending Christmas feast, ditched our plates, grabbed a few carrots and vacated. I felt a blog post coming on, so I snapped this pic and followed the fam.
Our friend Erik (well aware of how long this might last) grabbed his guitar and yelled to our oldest, “Micah—grab your ukulele!”
And my poor children, clueless as could be and acting like this was some fun adventure, went running for the closet. They took cues from their friends who actually knew what to do, but it wasn’t rocket science. Head for the master bath, into the walk-in, close the door, sit down.
Confusion and logic kicked in as I sat. I kept my mouth shut but thoughts raced. The contractors didn’t build this new house with a basement. Why wouldn’t they build a basement? I thought everyone in the midwest had a basement. Wouldn’t it be helpful to have a basement at a time like this?
The inner closet. The next best thing. We weren’t there because it was a fun place to stuff nine people. It was the most centrally located spot in their house. Complete with water bottles, snacks, a weather radio and… helmets?
My friend Debbie casually explained, “If the roof gets ripped off you’re going to want one of those.”
And then a new message from the man with the monotone voice came from the radio:
“Hazard: damaging tornado and quarter-size hail is on the ground. Take cover now. Mobile homes will be damaged or destroyed. Move to a basement or interior room on the lowest floor of a sturdy building. Avoid windows.”
I’m a west coast girl who learned the art of “duck and cover” long before I got braces or my first kiss. I lived through the 7.1 Santa Cruz earthquake back in 1989 and knew exactly what to do in the event of another. But a Texas tornado? Not a clue.
“Do you hear that?” asked Debbie. “Shhh… listen.”
“That’s the tornado siren you saw down the street.”
And my kids, in awe, respond like they’ve just heard a robot say their names. “Whoa… that’s coooool.”
There we sat among Erik’s wardrobe, looking up at his shirts and leaning back on his collection of pants, pushing his shoes around and staring at each other. Lightening cracked, thunder boomed, the tornado spun closer, and the troops got snacky.
The men slowly stood from their awkward positions, claimed they’d be right back, and the women tilted their heads in disbelief. Much to our chagrin, they hustled down the hall, through the family room, to the abandoned table, grabbed slices of pizza, a fried pie and lonely wine, and returned like this:
We sat, and ate, and sat some more.
“So now what?”
Technology, that’s what. Three adults started clicking, tapping and skimming while one started strumming and I took it all in. The kids had lit screens illuminating their faces—a clear sign of a 21st-Century family in an emergency situation—but I wanted to sing.
Christmas carols it was. We bounced between keys, pitches, and songs, grinning at each other, cheering for solos and soaking in the moments.
And then our friends’ son busted out the Christmas version of Hallelujah while our family (clueless it even existed), chimed in on the chorus.
I’ve heard about this baby boy,
Who’s come to earth to bring us joy,
And I just want to sing this song to ya.
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth,
The minor fall, the major lift,
With every breath I’m singing, “Hallelujah.”
The sounds of friends who feel like family, scrunched together in a small space and singing softly in the dark was nothing we could have thought up, forced or duplicated. I don’t think any of us thought about the tornado in those moments; it felt homey and full of love… community at its finest.
Our sweet bonding time was interrupted when Debbie showed me her newest emergency warning text.
“You are in the path of a life-threatening tornado.”
Life-threatening? Really? Not just building-threatening?
With crazy high winds only 30 miles away, she knew things could get ugly real fast. I still felt like 30 miles away was pretty far and the likelihood slim that anything would happen. She knew I was too calm and proceeded to tell me about tornado levels.
“Level four can rip our roof off. Level five takes your house to the foundation and we won’t be here anymore.”
We didn’t show that text to the kids, but when one asked if we were going to be okay, Erik reminded them God still had everything under control. Panicking and talking about all the what-ifs was not going to help keep us safe.
We sang more songs, finished the pizza, and 45 minutes later the storm took a turn to the east. We were in the clear, so nine bodies spilled out of the stuffy closet like a flock of too-warm and too-crowded doves, flying free and spreading out.
But all was not calm to our east.
- Over 30 tornado warnings were issued across North Texas.
- Nine of them touched down in counties all around Dallas, including ours.
- Hundreds of families were displaced and then homeless.
We sat close to our close friends, singing and eating while eleven people died that night, including a three-day-old infant.
It could have been us. God chose to let us see another day and we are grateful.
At the end of our two-week Texas vacation we went around the table and each answered this: “What was your favorite part of our time together?” Of course Legos, day trips, and wrestling matches were remembered, the mini snowfall was fun, dipping pretzels was deliciously sticky, and the remote-controlled trucks were a blast.
But the highlight for the majority of us? Carols in the closet.
What about you?
Have you ever been in a life-threatening situation?
Did you see God’s hand over your life?