That afternoon we had Bennett's family birthday planned for 5:00 at my in-law's pool. My father-in-law picked up Bennett for some birthday horseback riding while I hung out with the other 3 boys and got a birthday dinner for 16 people ready.
Bennett had requested an "old fashioned 3 layer cake....all vanilla" and I had just finished decorating it with homemade buttercream vanilla frosting. The three boys took the leftover icing on spoons out to the strawberry patch and had fresh "berries and cream" while I cleaned the kitchen. My father-in-law called and said that he and Bennett were lounging by their pool and invited the younger boys to come and swim.
I'd been checking the weather, and because it looked like it might be stormy later, my in-laws and I agreed to change the party to our house and to let the boys do some swimming beforehand at their house. My husband took the 3 boys to his parents' house while I finished getting our house "party ready".
I called/texted everyone and told them to come between 5:15 and 5:30 since we weren't going to be swimming. I popped Bennett's favorite casserole (Ms. Cheryl's Celery Chicken) in the downstairs oven and changed out of my frosting covered clothes.
At a little after 5 Bennett's godparents Beth and John and their kids Emma and Patrick showed up. It was starting to look a little stormy and we agreed we'd made the right decision to move the party to our house instead of the pool. Soon my mother-in-law (mil) arrived with Bennett and my nephew Harry (5). My father-in-law had dropped them off on his way to let his horses out. She told me that Ethan and my nephew Wyatt would be coming soon with Barrett's aunt and uncle.
The sky was getting darker and darker and I asked my mil how far behind them Ethan and Wyatt were. She said she'd seen them leaving their driveway which was 5 miles away (north) from us.
The sirens went off for the first time.
The tv said that there was a possible tornado sighted in Carl Junction...which is north of us. Beth and John and the kids went down to the basement and they turned the tv on down there. I called Barrett's uncle and he answered his cell phone, joking about how hard it was to talk and drive in the rain. The sirens had stopped, and I told Barrett's uncle about the possible tornado. He told me they were close to our house and were fine.
The sirens went off again.
Barrett was looking out of our kitchen window. My mil was standing in the living room. I opened the door to the garage to make sure it was open for Barrett's uncle, and stood there, holding my dog Rigby's collar so she wouldn't dart out.
Then I saw the sky outside the garage turn really dark.
Things....big things.....flew by.
I turned to look at Barrett and saw things flying by the window behind him.
Barrett's uncle's truck was not in my driveway.
It was not on my street.
Then my ears started POP POP POP POP POP POPPING.
Barrett and I looked at each other.....
Then yelled while running down the stairs "GET INTO THE STORE ROOM NOW!!!!!!!!!"
We yelled at his mother to get down stairs.
The kids had been in the bathroom and came running out. Bennett and Patrick and Emma ran to the storeroom. Harry ran the other way but Barrett grabbed him under his arm and we all ran into the concrete storage room.
I was still holding the dog by the collar.
We got just inside the door and pulled it closed.
I had Bennett and Patrick in front of me with my arms over them, and one arm somehow around Emma. Harry was next to me in Beth's arms and John was next to them. Susan was in front of me and we were all leaning over the dog. Barrett was behind Bennett.
Our ears kept popping....painfully and loudly.
The light that had been coming through the crack under the door was gone and there was just loudness.
Bennett and Patrick were crying and Bennett....my sweet Bennett....said, "Can you please pray?"
I held my arms over them as tightly as I could and prayed as loudly as I could so I could maybe even hear myself....
I know I thanked God for getting us to the basement, I know I asked him to keep us safe, but what I mostly remember is praying over and over again, "Please Father God...cup your hands around Uncle Frank's car....hold them close to you. Hold them in Your hands. Protect Ethan and Wyatt and Uncle Frank and Aunt Sana.....hold them so tightly in your hands dear God....please protect them. We know You love them more than we could ever imagine loving them and we trust You to keep them safe. Please keep them safe.........."
As I prayed I heard noises above me. Kind of a banging around noise. I thought, "It's Uncle Frank! They made it"....but as I kept praying I kept hearing the noise and thought, "Why aren't they coming down here? They would know to come down here? What are they doing? Why won't they come down?"
The banging continued and the praying continued and the loudness continued and the crying continued. Emma was praying too and we were all leaning on top of each other and then........
Light came back through the crack under the door.
There was still some banging above us, but not much.
Barrett started to go out. He opened the door, but it wasn't "right" yet. It was still weirdly loud. I asked him to wait, not to go yet, and he stood there for a few minutes. Then it got quieter and lighter, and he and John went out.
We sat there, not moving, the kids softly crying, and Beth said, "I think it's raining on me."
Water was pouring down near her back.
Then Barrett came back in and looked right in my eyes, and kind of shook his head a little, this really confused expression on his face and said, "Our house is gone."
We stared at each other, and then he said, "I'm going to find them," and ran up.
We left the storage room, and got everyone settled in the main downstairs area away from the water. I had Bennett hold Rigby and my mil held Harry and I walked up the stairs.
The ceiling and walls were everywhere except where they should have been. It was pouring in the house. Furniture and debris was all over. John said, "I'm going to go check on the neighbors." I knew that Barrett was doing everything he could to find our boys and aunt and uncle, and I knew there was nothing I could do to help them now...except pray, which I was unceasingly doing. I asked John to go get my shoes (I was barefoot) which he did and then I climbed over a bookshelf and got a jacket. I went back downstairs and made sure they were settled and safe and left with John out of the garage.
It was raining. My neighbors houses were half gone. I couldn't see some of them because of the gigantic trees in the way. Across the street the K's house no longer had a top story. We ran there first because the little boy there is in Carolyn's class and there house looked so so awful. The front door was blocked and the windows were busted but blocked too so we couldn't get in. We yelled their names and heard nothing. We met another neighbor and tried to get into the garage but couldn't because the roof had come down. We kept calling their names but heard nothing. Then we heard my other neighbor screaming. We ran that way....I was so scared about what she was screaming about because most of the front of their house was gone....but they were ok.
Then it started hailing and the sirens went off again so we ran back to our house.
Barrett wasn't back and Uncle Frank's truck was still not there.
We checked on everyone in our basement...they had moved to the bedroom down there because it was dry and undamaged. They were safe, wrapped in blankets.
The sirens stopped and the hail stopped and John and I went back out of the garage.
Still no truck.
We ran down the street, and saw another house that was missing the top half. People were starting to stagger out of houses and we were yelling to each other, "Have you seen the K's? Did you find the R's? Are the S's ok? Did you see them?"
The neighbor behind me lives alone and doesn't have a basement. John and I ran back there, climbing over trees and wooden planks and fences and found her standing in the middle of some semblance of a house. She was not really coherent, she just said, "I don't have a basement. I can't find the cats. I don't know where the cats went." We helped her out of the window and across the fences and planks and trees to the door of our basement. I knocked and Bennett let us in. We brought the neighbor to the bedroom and my mil wrapped her in a blanket.
I started back out of the basement door, still trying to get news of other neighbor. There was a loud hissing sound coming from the back of the neighborhood and you could smell gas. I was checking with neighbors when John yelled to me, "FRANK IS HERE....THEY ARE OK."
I ran back in and started up our basement stairs, but somehow my knees gave out, and I ended up sliding back down. Beth...well, Beth caught me, pulled me up, and put her arm around me and we got up the stairs.
I ran through the garage. The truck was in the driveway with the doors all shut. It was pretty dented on the side and the back window was shattered, but the windshield was ok.
Frank was sitting in the driver's seat with his hands on the wheel not moving. His face was completely gray.
Sana kept saying, "It's all right. They're ok...we're ok....they are ok...it's all right." I opened the back door....the boys saw me and burst into hysterical sobs. I grabbed them both. I held on so tight.
God is so so so good. He is so good.
Ethan had shoes so he walked next to me. Wyatt was barefoot so I carried him over the glass and down into the basement. I honestly can't remember everyone coming together in the basement at that point, but I know the relief was actually tangible.
The ceiling started falling down in the storage room and we knew we needed to get out of the house. Barrett and I went upstairs to grab....well....whatever it is you think is so very important and essential at a time like that. I grabbed a folder that had our birth certificates and passports, a box with my wedding ring and my bible. John found a duffel bag and came up to the kids' rooms with me. We grabbed their "special" blankets/animals, and shoved various clothing of theirs into the bag.
I remember asking John to grab the hermit crab cage. He was so calm and kind. Then I went down to the playroom to check the other animals. You know, almost every window on the front of the house shattered EXCEPT the ones in the playroom. They blew in, which saved the animals lives. I threw the 3 critters into a portable cage and stuffed some food in a random bag and asked John to put it in the car.
We walked everyone up the stairs. Frank and Sana left with my mil, Wyatt and Harry to find their parents. My brother-in-law arrived on foot. He and Kim (my sister-in-law) didn't even know there had been a tornado. They had been coming to Bennett's party....driving down Shifferdecker when suddenly, they realized that the street was destroyed. Spencer jumped out, told Kim to take the girls home, and ran as fast as he could to find us. I was able to tell him that the boys were ok....and on their way to their mother.
We could still hear and smell the gas, and by word-of-mouth we were able to ascertain that all neighbors in the back loop of of neighborhood were accounted for and ok. We knew we had to get the kids out of there, so we loaded them into our cars (dented but mostly fine). It was still raining. Spencer drove me in my car and Barrett drove his with the boys in the back. We stopped to check on people, but really wanted to get the kids out of there. We couldn't call anyone to check on them....and so we drove some strange weird route over to the north side of town which was untouched. The radio kept saying that the city was hit. Devastated. That more tornadoes were touching down. We felt so frantic....to get our hands on all our kids and get them somewhere safe.
We got to Kim's house. Everyone was waiting. Everyone was ok. Everyone was ok. We were ok.
Barrett and Spencer got on their bikes and rode back across town to the hospital. We had seen it when we left my house and knew they'd need....well...they needed something? Everything? We had to hold the kids. They had to go help.
Ethan had a small cut on the back of his head. That's because a stop sign had shattered the back window. The intersection where Frank pulled his car over to avoid the tumbling power lines is basically flattened. Frank's car wasn't even picked up. Not quite 2 blocks south from that intersection is the entrance to my neighborhood. A car pulling into the entrance was caught in the tornado and the passenger, a young man who had graduated from high school that day, was pulled out of the sunroof.
I know beyond any small shadow of an inkling of a doubt that God's hand is all that kept Uncle Frank's truck safe that night. I will write more about our stories, about what happened, and about what we are going to do. As I write these things I will continue to thank God and praise Him for all of His blessings. I will pray for everyone who needs to feel His presence right now and in the weeks and months and years to come.
I am so grateful. So humbled. So blessed.