Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Too late to prepare

It started out as a perfectly normal day (or so we thought). At breakfast, we listened to the weather radio, and the forecast was dark indeed. We were in the High Risk area, under risk of “large, violent, long track tornados, giant hail (possibly larger than baseballs) and wind gusts up to 65 miles per hour.” That was a pretty ominous forecast! However, we’ve gotten bad forecasts before, and nothing ended up happening, so we decided that we would pay careful attention to the weather, and see if anything turned up. Unfortunately, all the ingredients were in place for a severe weather outbreak – moist, warm air; a strong cap to prevent thunderstorm development in the morning; and sunlight to add energy to the mix. The past several days had followed a distinct pattern – normal morning, hot and humid afternoon, storms in the evening. But none of the storms had hit us; at least, none of the severe storms. However, this time, it appeared likely that we could get something significant.

As the day progressed, we checked the weather several times. The warnings became more urgent, and we were placed under a tornado watch.

Around 3 PM, we saw (on the radar) a large line of strong storms approaching from the west. They appeared to be moving quite rapidly, and multiplying in intensity. We prepared the best we could. Matthew and I put the chickens in their coop, and Father put the car in the shed to protect it from possible hail. It began to become very windy, though that’s not at all unusual when a storm is approaching.

For a while, we thought that maybe it was going to miss us. (It’s happened before.) I practiced my guitar, with my computer showing the latest radar. Around 4:30, I noticed a large red splotch on the radar, moving straight for Chickasha. In fact, it was almost here. Bach Preludes forgotten, I went outside with the video camera to see what I could see. It was very unimpressive. Just a bunch of gray sky, with thunder rumbles all around, and an occasional visible flash of lightning. Nothing particularly exciting or out of the ordinary. I was a bit disappointed, and went back inside. But I couldn’t concentrate on practicing, so instead I just hung around and looked up the latest weather updates. The Weather Channel was posting Twitter updates on their website, so I was reading about the tornados that were about to hit Oklahoma City.

I came downstairs again, and just sat around in my parents’ bedroom, discussing the weather and what was going on. We wondered if the storm was indeed going to hit us. Everything seemed normal at the moment. Suddenly Mother looked out the window, and asked, “Is that a funnel cloud?” I looked out the window as well and announced, “Yes, that would be a funnel cloud.” My whole body immediately felt an adrenalin rush. I ran out of the room, grabbed the video camera (which was conveniently sitting on the table, fully charged and with plenty of tape) and turned around and raced out the door. I was in such a hurry that the door didn’t open quite fast enough, and it got in the way of my foot. I managed not to fall, and someone apparently closed the door behind me. My entire consciousness was focused on getting to see that funnel cloud.

I raced to the fence on the west side of our property. There it was – a tornado dropping out of the cloud! The view here was obstructed by the hill in the cow pasture next to us, so I ran a little farther south to see better. There was no doubt about it now – this was a full-size tornado, and it was moving right towards us!

I was standing there, filming, hardly believing what my eyes were telling me. All the discussions we had had about what we would do in case of a tornado flashed through my mind. What would I really do, now that I see a tornado coming? I wasn’t quite sure. Go to a storm shelter? That was at least 5 minutes’ run away. Go and hide in the house? Definitely not. Stand out and watch it? That might be pretty dangerous. Then I realized I had no choice. I had to make sure my family knew what was going on. Inside the house, they might not be aware of just how serious this thing was. I also realized that if our house was really going to be destroyed, then not only did we need to get ourselves out, but I really wanted to save my external backup hard drive with all our photos and videos from the last 15 years. If we lost that, there would be nothing we could do to replace it. Just about everything else could be replaced.

The next two minutes merged into a blur. Apparently my family already knew the tornado was coming, and they were going to the truck to drive to our neighbor’s house (to use their storm shelter). I ran upstairs, set my iMac face-down on the carpet as a desperate measure of preservation, grabbed the precious hard drive, and scrambled down the stairs, out the door, and into the truck.

We drove slowly down the driveway, not knowing if we would ever see our house again. However, by the time we reached the end of the driveway, it was becoming quite apparent that the tornado was going to go north of us. By this time it was a massive vortex, flinging up a huge cloud of dust and dirt.

We live nearly on the top of a ridge. The local people tell us that tornados generally follow the ridge. There’s a small valley, of sorts, and then a few miles away, another ridge. As things turned out, the tornado followed the other ridge.

We were so relieved.

It later went on to Blanchard and Newcastle, and rendered about 50 homes uninhabitable. We are so thankful that God spared us from destruction. But oh, my heart goes out to those whose homes were destroyed…

I had long wanted to see a tornado in daylight. I also wanted to see one that didn’t destroy our home and property.  This met both of those criteria. And thankfully I had my video camera to capture the moment. (Good thing it was fully charged and ready to go!)


I’ve seen many videos of tornados forming. I’ve heard lots of stories where people say, It happened so fast. But I never realized just how fast it really happens! When Mother saw the funnel cloud, it was smaller than a finger held at arms’ length. Less than a minute later, it was on the ground, kicking up debris and dirt, and destroying whatever was in its path. And it appeared to be moving very, very fast.

We had basically no solid plan in case of a tornado. We thought, if it ever happens, we can use the Chabot’s storm shelter. And, in this case, we probably could have. But what if we hadn’t seen it coming? It would have been too late to do anything. As it was, God spared us from what could have been something very terrible.

Someday we will have to face our Creator in a judgment.  And if we haven’t prepared our hearts to meet Him, it will be too late.

Too late. Forever. No second chances.

Our second chances are now. This is the time given us to get ready.

Don’t waste it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

First of all, my apologies for not posting anything for far too long… I hadn’t forgotten, but amid the bustle of things to do and to be done, blogging has slipped farther and farther down the list. I’ll try to do better in the future though.

A few evenings ago, for evening worship, we were talking about Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. That story is such a classic Bible story.

I always used to think that the purpose of this story was to show that God can rescue you out of the most dire trouble. He certainly can. But this time, I saw it in a new light. Rescuing the three friends from the furnace was only part of the story. It’s a story about worship and commitment.

The three young men were determined to stand for God – quite literally in this case. When they were called to answer for their disobedience to the royal decree, they didn’t waver. They were no cowards, even when they were standing before the ill-tempered king who ruled most of the civilized world at the time.  They were so far from being cowards that they told the king that “we are not careful to answer thee in this matter.” They already knew their answer.

“Our God is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.” (emphasis added) God was able to deliver them from the furnace, and He would deliver them from the hand of the king. That’s interesting. Apparently delivering them from the fiery furnace is separate from delivering them from the hand of the king.

“But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

“If not” what? Probably if God chose not to deliver them from the fiery furnace…

Was there any thought in the young men’s minds that God was going to rescue them? They knew that He could do it. But in plain sight was the furnace, now being heated seven times more than it was designed to be heated. I’m sure they were aware of the very real possibility that they could be martyrs.

And so they were cast into the fire, but not to death. Death fell upon the men who cast them in, however. It seems rather ironic – Nebuchadnezzar wanted to destroy the men who defied his authority, yet instead he ended up killing the “most mighty men that were in his army.” And the men who were supposed to be destroyed ended up as national heroes.

This is a showdown type of story. And God wins, just like He did on Mount Caramel, and just like He has ever since. Yet His victory is not merely based on preserving His men from harm. That almost strikes me as of secondary importance. The crucial moment was just before they were cast into the furnace. All fear of death was gone. All fear of the king was gone. Instead, it had been replaced with all trust in God. And that’s where the real victory was. The power of God to turn a feeble human being into a courageous man, with no fear of anything someone else might do to him…

So many times Christians who seem perfectly steadfast and loyal end up failing when presented with certain temptations. “Surely God wouldn’t keep me out of heaven just for that.” I’ve even tried to use that line of reasoning (better known as excuses) myself. But that’s not what Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did. They could have come up with all kinds of reasons why it would be okay to bow before the image.

But they knew they could trust God with their lives. In fact, God was the only one to whom they could safely entrust their lives.

It wasn’t the first time they had risked their lives to remain faithful to God. But it was probably the scariest. The Bible doesn’t paint a picture of fearful men, however. These were men who had forgotten every trace of their natural self-preservation.

To them, life would not have been worth living had they purchased it by compromise.

Oh, that we would see more of that kind of commitment today…