I have kept my shoes on all afternoon for just this mad-rushing, this quick gathering—the blankets slipping from my arms.
“Come on, you guys, come on,” Zoe says, and we hurry to huddle in the dark, pressing our bodies into each other.
They say that the best place to be in the wind-ripping event of a tornado is in an interior room, somewhere away from windows, somewhere secure; but I’ve seen what can happen, and I think our best efforts are maybe only a placebo.
From the window not five minutes ago I could see that all around us, everything looked more vibrant than usual—the green of grass, of evergreen, the barren-brown of Winter. Just beyond the thick, slate-gray (smooth, like a slab), the delicate pink sky reminded me of tender Dogwood blooms. A few scattered leaves suddenly seemed to waken from their uncomfortable stillness to teeter and rustle and whirl down the wet street. It was as though they mimicked the slow spinning of the clouds. The asphalt glistened, catching amber light from that stunning slice of sky. It looked beautiful.
Moments ago, it had hardly seemed possible that this storm could be so threatening.
For some reason, Zoe got the call instead of me, even though we’re both signed up to receive one–that call you want to get but don’t want to get about a tornado coming now very near you. “I got the call, Mom,” she said gravely, “we’ve got to go.” And so, here we are, crammed together in a knot of long legs and sharp angles, waiting.
The sky is green, one of my friends texts, and the light from my phone briefly bounces across my knees. We’ve been in touch all day—a whole clutch of us gathering reports, keeping track. In a way, it’s like we’re all huddled in the same strong space. I can hear hail shattering against the sidewalk, the roof. Hail on a warm day, a day with a breeze like an etheral thumb sliding over the bone of my cheek, can not be a good thing, but of course I don’t say this out loud. I lengthen my spine, gently pressing against the bump of Adam’s back.
“Go out, please,” Adam murmurs, lifting his eyes to the doorway, “go out.” So I show him my phone and let him read the alert.
“See, it says, ‘Tornado warning until 6:30,'” I say, pointing to the time. “We’ll sit until 6:30 because of the storm.”
Next to him, Riley looks back at me through a blur of tears she’s carefully holding, and her eyes can’t quite settle on mine, and I know she’s afraid. Her hair springs into tiny flyaway curls at the crown of her head, and suddenly it feels like I’m looking at that ringlet-headed toddler who used to hide her face from the waves, burying her head in Kevin’s shoulder. “We’re okay. We’re here together. And we’re going to pray,” I tell her. She nods, lifting one hand into the space in front of her as though gesticulating a silent speech. Prayer has long been Riley’s go-to strategy in the face of fear.
“Father, you stilled the storm,” I begin, asking Him aloud to diffuse these dangerous winds, to protect us, to surround us with His power. Zoe grabs my hand in the dark.
When they made the announcement that school would dismiss early, Zoe called me from the hallway. “Is Daddy coming home?” She wanted to know, because the wisdom of children is to grab up their fear and go sit right close to their fathers.
“I don’t think he’ll be able to leave work,” I told her, but I knew why she wanted to know and what she wanted to do. I saw shades of a young me in her, sitting for hours in the dark as hurricane winds shook the house, looping my arm through my dad’s, leaning into his strength. Now, she presses my fingers together in the darkness as I cover us in prayer, prayer that bounces across all our huddled edges, lighting the true shape of our clouded-over security, our storm-blotted hope. God’s name is a place of protection—a fortified tower–where we can run, the wet grass sticking to our calves as the rain soaks our hair, and be safe. There’s only one place of protection that will never be ripped apart. I lift my head, raising my eyes to see if my children feel as well-held as I do.
“Wait,” Zoe says, “I have something to say.” She’s not one to want to pray out loud, usually. But without hesitation or further preamble, she bows her head and continues. “And Lord, should anything horrible happen, we’ll still trust you. We’ll still know you’ll take care of us. We will still believe you’re there and you love us. So just be with us, be with us and all our friends and with Dad. Just be with everyone through the storm.” The God we serve is able to deliver us…and he will deliver us…But even if he does not—it’s a declaration of faith that has been whispered among the great cloud of witnesses for ages, one I’ve often prayed myself when searching for the heart of real faith, the heart that trusts that God is still God when He chooses something other than what I have asked. I don’t know what it is about the Light in a stormy sky that makes everything more vivid, but here we are, sitting in the only real place of protection, and my daughter’s Strength looks more vibrant than ever. And all I can do right now, in this stuffed-in, bent-up, deceptively-shadowed space is give thanks.