washington-il

The whole Building shook. My dad stood on his knees with arms spread across my mother and I’s backs. This was the moment I was going to die. I just knew it.

It was an extremely warm Sunday morning in November of the year 2013. I had slept over at Mikayla’s the night before, as I did most nights, and we had woken up early. Since our families went to the same church, the arrangement always was that my parents would pick me up there, rather than at their house. I had packed my bags, thrown on my denim vest we had arrived at the church.

However, our church wasn’t held in a typical church building. My church was new that year and due to that, we had not purchased a building yet. We met in the Washington Middle School, with its orange and black paw print murals, and its tall glass doors, and that’s why I found myself in a locker room on that November Sunday.

At first things were fine. I agreed to shadow my friend in the church nursery to see what working with the kids would be like. We had put together puzzles, ate a snack, listened to a story and even danced to a few worship songs. It was a peaceful, simple morning, and all of the kids were filled with smiles.

That’s when the morning took a turn. All of a sudden people weren’t in the service anymore. They were in the hallways of the school with fear-filled eyes and their phones anxiously tucked in the palms of their hands. Parents began to come and grab their kids early, and cars began disappearing from the church parking lot. That’s when the pastor got distracted – when he finally asked, what’s going on? What came next changed everyone in that rooms lives forever.

A tornado had touched ground in our little town of Washington IL. Suddenly, the panic began. It seemed that no one knew exactly where to go or what to do. In a blur, we were ushered into the locker room. We sat below the benches, huddled over in anticipation. A few members began singing hymns, and for a good ten minutes, we all just sat there fearing for our lives, and singing. As we sang, the power went out, babies began to cry and suddenly that awful, dreadful sound came. The train sound – the one that everyone tells you accompanies a tornado, it came right before the building began to shake. The next ten minutes were the ten scariest minutes of my entire life.

My senses were overwhelmed. I felt my dad’s strong arms over me, and smelled his strong cologne as he risked his life to give my mom and I more protection. My eyes saw nothing but darkness as all of the lights instantly went out. I could taste the fear in the air as my mouth dried up with anticipation. Lastly, and again, all I could hear was that awful noise – the train noise.

As we emerged from the building, we were relieved to find no damage done to the church building, however most people’s cars were not so lucky. The houses nearby stood in ruins. The trailer that carried our church’s equipment had been slung across the parking lot as if it were a paper doll. However the damage on our church’s street could never compare to the horror we were about to see.

The EF4 tornado had left a significant scar on my town. It spanned 10.6 miles, and took 2 lives. It left a path of destruction that no one in my town would have ever imagined possible.

As we jumped in our car, we turned the corner to Main Street – a street full of all of Washington’s businesses, restaurants, and my best friend’s neighborhood. When we approached the neighborhood, my heart sunk in an unexplainable way. I turned my head to look at where all of the houses once stood, and I saw nothing. I only saw pile after pile of wood, debris, and mangled cars. I slammed on my breaks as the cars in front of me did so, due to the top of a gas station lying directly in our path of driving. I could barely make the U-turn as my vision was blurred from all of the tears.

It was a moment of uncertainty like never before. Are my grandparents alive? Is there house still standing? What about my best friend? My dog?

In a few hours my world was finally resolved. My family and friends were safe. My house stood untouched, and my dog was back in my arms. However, although things turned out okay, I was still forever changed by this moment. I learned how valuable people are, and how many beautiful things I was blessed with. Mostly, I learned that sometimes God brings terrible circumstances into our lives to show us how truly great we have it.