The upper floor of our home flashed with light every second or two. At other moments, it seemed a hundred lightning strikes gathered and hit all at once, bathing the ground in light so bright you could have sat in a lawn chair at 2 a.m. and read a newspaper.
Our two oldest children, both daughters, appeared in our bedroom doorway, and I was struck by how well I could see their expressions even without a single light on.
The patchwork of dangerous storms that ravaged the south had arrived in the Shenandoah Valley.
In an instant we did something we’d talked about through the years but had never put into motion. While the girls went for flashlights and cellphones, my wife and I hurried to our two boys. I was reminded that the youngest, age 4, wakes up if a butterfly lands on his bedpost. The other, age 7, would sleep through a battalion of butterflies lifting him from his bed and dropping him on the roof.
The six of us, plus one extremely confused goldendoodle, met in the dark basement and began pulling up weather reports, tornado warnings and radars on our smartphones. Wind and rain battered the house, lightening danced across the ground, and hail pounded the deck and cars.
Then we did exactly what your family would have done and what probably thousands of others around us were doing at that very moment. We prayed.
We prayed that all would be safe, the storm would cease, the flooding recede, that no tornadoes would touch ground, and that our fear would ease and drift away with the dangerous clouds.
Thirty minutes later the storm had moved on, and we felt confident we could return to our beds and tuck the experience safely into our mental and paper journals. But just as we all settled back into our blankets, another band of violent storms crossed the valley, and the tornado warnings returned to the weather websites — only this storm was even louder and angrier.
We raced back to the basement and endured another half-hour of anxious wonder. Were the neighbors all right? What about our friends from church who live even higher on a hill than we do? Would those living on the Shenandoah River see their basements flood, or worse?
Despite our fervent prayers, the storms did not cease.
Despite our righteous desires and the innocent faith of our children, tornadoes did touch ground. One cut a devastating 23-mile trail through nearby Mount Jackson, Va., downing trees and destroying a family poultry farm. Thankfully, no one was killed.
In the hours and days since, I’ve reflected on the unanswered prayers of that evening and the miracle that never happened. What good had our prayers accomplished? Hadn’t we done just as we’d been taught in the scriptures we hold sacred?
A simple conversation with my 12-year-old daughter answered those question — and more.
This is our most tenderhearted child. She is the one who requires 911 medical attention for splinters; the one who worries every rain shower will become a named hurricane aimed straight for our neighborhood; and the one who rations cereal because that box of Corn Pops could be the last ever made.
She is also the one who shed not a single tear that night. In fact, looking back, none of my children did. Surely, they were afraid, but they braved it. We even told jokes to pass the time and laughed about how we’d recall the long night later. My sleepy 7-year-old made a bat-pointing Babe Ruth prediction that school would be cancelled. Hours later, it was.
I wonder how many other storms I’ve prayed would be diverted, only to see them cross right over and through my life. I’ve prayed friends and family would live, only to watch them die. I’ve prayed enemies would soften their hearts, only to feel them ratchet up their hatred.
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