By Sarah Hamaker
Brushing my teeth, I heard the scratching of what sounded like branches tickling the roof. I paused, wondering what it could be, given that no trees were close to our house. I attributed the sound to a stray branch that must have been flung up on our roof from Hurricane Isabel, which was blowing her way through our city in September 2003. Being pretty far inland, we were not too alarmed by this display of nature’s fury.
Then I heard the faint sound of breaking glass. A split second later, the entire house shook. My husband and I stared at each other in frozen horror before bolting to check on our nearly 1-year-old daughter asleep in her crib across the hall. The sound had jolted her awake—never had a cry sounded so sweet—and my husband gratefully snatched her up and darted back to the relative safety of our room.
Peeking down the darkened hallway, we could see remnants of our attic lying on the floor of our living room. After grabbing a few essentials, my husband ventured out, flipping on the hall light. The illuminated site of the destruction provided enough of a visual for us to safely pick our way out of the house and into the still raging hurricane.
My husband started the car while I hurried across the street to let a neighbor know we were okay and were heading to a friend’s home. Shaking but grateful to be alive, we drove away, skirting fallen trees and downed power lines.
The next morning, bright sunlight starkly contrasted with the storm’s destruction. We returned home to see what the dark and rain of the night before had hidden from view: A giant tulip poplar tree that used to reside in the center of our yard had effectively split our rambler in two, crashing through our kitchen window with its long branches extending over the front of our house.
We had hoped to be able to get back inside to check on our cats, one of whom I had seen in the kitchen just moments before the tree fell but we were uncertain of the house’s stability. As we stood on the sidewalk gaping at the damage and wondering what to do, a local fire truck pulled up. The firefighters had heard about what happened at our house and informed us, with a note of awe, that our home had received the worst damage in the city. They volunteered to go inside to check for our cats, and we were thrilled when both felines were found unharmed, although plenty scared.
In the days and weeks that followed, we remembered the feeling of relief when we realized that everyone in our lives who mattered was unscathed—me, my husband, our daughter and even our two pets. We clung to that memory as we navigated the long and sometimes exhausting road to recovery.
Family, friends and neighbors—most of whom we hadn’t yet met given that we had moved in only six months earlier—expressed amazement at our calmness throughout the ordeal. Words cannot fully express how utterly grateful we were to God that He had spared our lives. Yes, we lost many things: books, toys, furniture, dishes, computers, and a fridge and freezer full of food. But those things were replaceable. Our home was rebuilt better than before—and I even had the chance to make a few kitchen renovations during the reconstruction.
The damage inflicted by Hurricane Isabel—the costliest and deadliest hurricane in the 2003 Atlantic season—was temporary, but the opportunity to witness to God’s goodness in the midst of our trial is something we still cherish. When we meet neighbors for the first time, their eyes pop when they realize we live in “the house the tree fell through” years earlier.
The storm and its damage may be years in our past, but every so often we pull out the photos of the tree’s destruction and marvel at how blessed we were—and still are. Whenever we begin to feel ungrateful or unsatisfied with what we have, those photos and memories offer a reminder of how we came through that trial. Especially during this time of economic uncertainty, reflecting on our close call with that tree makes us all the more thankful for our lives and for the things that matter most.
This story originally appeared in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Count Your Blessings.