His Hand in the Heartbreak

The storm is ending. We slowly venture up the basement stairs, the boys still wearing their bike helmets. My mom heard once that bike helmets might protect a child’s head from flying debris, so when the siren sounded I strapped them on the boys before we took up our post in the basement. Now I absently remove them as I look out the window. The darkest clouds have moved to the East, though it is still sprinkling and the occasional burst of thunder still growls in the sky. Art goes outside to survey the damage, while I call my dad.

We’re all okay, I tell him. He had no idea why we shouldn’t be. I tell him about the storm, about the rotation Art had seen in the dark clouds, about our trip to the spidery back room of the basement. We have no power, I inform him, so he checks online to see if there are more storms headed our way. Maybe, he says. But probably not as bad.

Art comes in to reveal that a tree is down in our yard. I go out to see, and I meet the neighbors. People are slowly coming out of their houses, observing the branches down in their yards, checking to be sure their friends and acquaintances are okay. North of us, huge branches lay across the road, blocking it entirely. South, I think I see more limbs across our street, but I can’t tell because of the haze that rests in that direction.

I can’t tell what I’m looking at up there, my neighbor comments. The blare of distant sirens reveals the source of the haze. I make my way down the street, ask another neighbor if he knows what’s happening, whose home it is. He names someone I do not know, and I inwardly sigh with relief. We have friends who live along that part of the road. This neighbor and I silently clear fallen leaves and branches from the road. It is meaningless work– these are too small to impede traffic– but we both feel the unspoken need to do something, however meaningless, as if somehow these actions will help the family whose home is on fire.

The firetrucks are now arriving– volunteers who have raced across town to the fire station and who now are prepared to risk their lives to help a neighbor, a friend– if they can get there. Trees lay across the road in either direction, blocking access to the fire, forcing the heroes backward and around the block. Neighbors help clear branches from the fire hydrant near the blazing house.

My children now are peeking out of the house to see the wonders of the storm– the water– the branches– the people– the firetrucks. Within moments their shoes are off and they are splashing through the stream that our sidewalk has become. Their laughter seems out of place in the somber mood of our town, but as the sound of a chainsaw buzzes down from up the road, I decide to let them be children. There are enough of the rest of us worrying and working and praying. The people up the road are clearing the roadblock of fallen limbs out of the road. The next firetruck to arrive will have clear passage.

The boys are dripping wet and happy as clams, as I discuss the damage to the trees in our yard. One, only feet from our house, was apparently struck by lightning; it fell into the space between us and the neighbors. I am praising God for sparing our home, even as another siren blasts down our street. I pray for the strangers in the burning house. Why were we spared? Why were they not? These are questions I don’t know how to answer, but my heart cries to the God who is our Shelter, asking for grace and mercy for the people whose home is on fire.

We walk around the house with our soaking wet sons, taking in the damage. Nearly every tree in our yard has been injured. I try to imagine the people of Parkersburg, emerging from their basements to so much more destruction than a few downed trees. Even as I give thanks for being spared that horror, my heart breaks for the people who lost everything they had. These are things we simply can’t understand.

The chorus of “Till the Storm Passes By” is running through my head, and I sing as I drag branches across the yard to the brush pile.

Till the storm passes over,
Till the thunder sounds no more,
Till the clouds roll forever from the sky,
Lift me up, let me stand
In the hollow of Your hand.
Keep me safe till the storm passes by.

And again I pray for the family down the street. Their storm is just beginning.

We can only find two little votive candles; I am concerned about the food in the fridge; we can’t cook dinner. And I am, two hours after the storm, already experiencing internet withdrawal. But those things seem so small right now, as over and over the images of true tragedies flicker through my mind. I am so blessed, if my biggest problem is an inability to check my email.

I look around me, out my bedroom window at the fallen tree, and I praise God for sparing our lives, our home. As I give thanks for this mercy, my heart again and again turns to others who have not been spared. I cannot understand why God would allow the heartbreak of Parkersburg, of Katrina, to happen to others, yet spare me. But I do know that God has a purpose of every path, every heartache, every joy. His plan for me is different than his plan for the people of Parkersburg, but his rich mercies are new every morning for them as they are for me. And his great faithfulness extends to them as they rebuild their lives, as it does to me as I struggle to write by dusk and candlelight.

This morning I read, “A man’s steps are directed by the Lord. How then can anyone understand his own way?” (Proverbs 20:24). Tonight, as twilight fills my home, unchecked by the bright lights of a normal Sunday evening, I understand why the Lord directed my eyes to that verse today. He knew that I would need that reminder before the day was over. He directs my path. His hand guides me whether I walk through joy or heartbreak, whether my grief is overwhelming or I am just mildly annoyed. The way I walk is His way for me, and I am foolish if I expect to understand the path my life takes. His ways are so much higher than my own.

In the basement this afternoon, while the wind was blowing the boys’ pool to the backyard three doors down and lightning was striking up and down our street, Ryan and Sam and I were singing.

The Lord’s our rock, in Him we hide–
A Shelter in the time of storm.
Secure whatever ills betide–
A Shelter in the time of storm.

The raging storms may round us beat–
A Shelter in the time of storm–
We’ll never leave our safe retreat–
A Shelter in the time of storm.

Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A weary land, a weary land.
Oh, Jesus is a Rock in a weary land,
A Shelter in the time of storm.


I didn’t really intend to write about heartbreak this week. To be honest, I have been very blessed and haven’t had my heart broken that many times. My most recent heartbreak, my miscarriage in January, is always with me, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to write about it, for a variety of reasons. Then the storm hit and as I thought of the heartbreak of those who experience tragedies– who aren’t spared the heartbreak that my family and I were– well, then I had my story. Thanks for reading, and click on the icon to the left to read more stories about heartbreak.


20 thoughts on “His Hand in the Heartbreak

  1. wow, erin, i’m so glad you all are okay. isn’t it amazing through all the heartache and bad things that can happen so suddenly, we are able to stand back and thank God for the goodness He does bring? i have found myself doing that more than once in my life and it always makes me smile because in a way, it’s the weirdest thing to have happen to you during the tragedy that’s taking place.

  2. oops, i wanted to add something about the tree and i forgot too. LOL it is absolutely bewildering to me when lightning strikes a tree how it affects it. the one time it struck a huge pine tree out from my home where i grew up, i walked out after the storm. the pine tree was split from top to bottom right down the middle of the trunk and into the ground. i’m assuming the lightning then hit the electricity somewhere underground because nothing hit the pavilion beside the tree but all the electrical outlets in the pavilion had melted to mush. it was a pretty wild sight to see.

  3. Incredible story! Did this storm just happen?

    I loved the moment when you’re clearing small branches off the road with a neighbor. It really set the scene and got me involved. I’m so glad your house is okay and through all of it you were able to see the lighter side. I know how difficult that can be.

    Oh and the photos of your children are adorable! Lovin’ the helmets!

  4. We’ve been through similar feelings with hurricanes, particularly the hurricanes of 2004 that came through our area. We came through relatively unscathed aside from needing to put a new roof on our house afterward, but so many of our neighbors and relatives lost so much in those storms. We were without power for weeks and many elderly people died from the heat. We were lucky.

  5. Wow- what an experience! I’m glad you were all okay. And it’s so comforting to be able to trust God in the confusing times, isn’t it. I’m glad I dont have to have all the answers!

  6. I am so thankful that you all are ok,God is good…all the time. I can only imagine how it felt..I remember when Hurricane Fran come through I was horrified……and yes we were blessed then as you have been now. I will be praying for the family. I say again I am just glsd that you all are ok!

  7. Erin, thank God you and your family were spared. It is such a “heartbreaking” and scary event that nature can affect our lives in such tragic ways.

  8. It’s when your child writes things like this that you know you did the right thing sending her off to kindergarten (and grade school, and high school, and college, and married life)…

  9. Wow! I am glad that your and your family are safe! Your vivid description reminded me of the horror of going through a tornado as a teen. Also, I love the picture of your children playing in the puddles. It was priceless.

  10. So glad that you and everyone is okay!!! Storms like that are scary and I get terrified of them!

    BTW, Love your sweatshirt Erin!!

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  13. A few weeks ago, we were grilling out at my parents house, when some big storms came in. My brother had just started a new job, and didn’t have health insurance yet. When we saw things start rotating and dropping out of the clouds, we all went to the basement, but Lafe ran for his car. He came flying down the stairs a few minutes later with his bike helmet on. After seeing our befuddled faces, he said, “You all have health insurance!” Then he went back outside to watch the storm 🙂

    I’m glad you were all safe!

  14. wow. That is one intense story.
    I would have done the exact same thing with my kids and their helmets. And of course, being a fellow scrapbooker, I would have also taken pictures!

  15. So thankful you and yours are safe and well.
    Here where i live we don’t have such extremes of nature, just some right out loud and gorgeous thunder lightening storms…which i love. I go outside and watch, listen to them….so exciting!
    I lived in Oklahoma for a while years ago and went through a tornado, thank you not ever again….too wild and scary for me.
    I love your blog, thank you so much for your writings.

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