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New Horizons

Tornadoes and Watermelons

Donna Williams Spiller

Twenty-two Aprils ago, a tornado roared through my neighborhood. I kind of expected it. I’d had long conversations with the Lord and told him how grateful I was that he had strengthened my faith—that it was so strong, the only thing that might test it would be a tornado coming through.

(That was one of those draw-a-line-in-the-sand things, and I don’t recommend doing that. Ever.)

So, this one day the air was so, so still. The birds were not singing, the wind was not stirring. The sky was blank, as if waiting for something to fill it. My daughter’s boyfriend had brought her home early from a date, and, as he left, he commented that it felt like tornado weather.

I had made a trip to Home Depot and bought some pine straw bales for mulch, a tray of impatiens flowers, and several tomato plants. Now I carried the plants to a sheltered corner of my front porch. At two dollars a bale, the pine straw was on its own, but those plants, well, they were special. As I moved them, I said aloud, “Now, God, this is not because I have no faith. You know how terrified I am of tornados. So, just in case one comes, I am planning ahead and protecting my investments. You know I am trying to be sensible about money and these plants were expensive.”

That night, the tornado came. My daughter and I huddled in the basement with my dog and our cats as lightning flashed, rain poured, and a downed tree kept rubbing up against the bricks outside my dining room wall. We were both scared. I tried reciting from the Bible, but what started as the Twenty-Third Psalm ended in the Lord’s Prayer. I tried singing “Rock of Ages,” but when I got to the verse about closing mine eyes in death, I cut it short. My daughter giggled at my attempts. I was scared but also elated because the worst was happening and my faith was still there. Next morning, so glad to be alive, I greeted everyone who passed by with a hearty “Good morning!”

I have often told folks that the tornado was one of the best things that ever happened to me.

Yes, we had damage. My daughter’s old Chevy just got a scratch, but my pretty two-year-old purple Saturn was totaled—a tree from the backyard had settled right down the middle of it. Three of our house doors were blocked by branches and debris. Trees leaned against the back wall of our house, and some had crashed through the corner of the screen room. At least one huge branch had landed on the roof, made a hole, and flown again to land in the front yard. Wires and transformers were down. Roads were blocked.

And yet, safely protected there in the corner of the porch, were my impatiens and tomato plants.

I planted the tomatoes in the front yard where they could now get plenty of sunlight. I gave an impatiens to everyone who came to help clean up the damage, including families from church and the Red Cross volunteers. You see, impatiens like shade. Before the tornado, I had lots of shade. Now the big oak and the cedars were gone.

When the birds returned, much of their food was gone. As I watched one tomato after another approach ripeness, I anticipated a harvest. But as soon as a tomato turned red, it disappeared. I figured the birds or the squirrels were watching, too. In exchange, the birds planted watermelons. That summer I had more than two dozen watermelons to share. And you should see how big the oak tree is out front—a seedling from the one I lost. Finally, I got my flowers after all. Wildflowers grew out back where all the trees had come down. My neighbor looked at them covering the hill and asked if I had planted them. I smiled as I told their story.

The author is a member of Redeemer OPC in Atlanta, Georgia. New Horizons, June 2020.

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