Honestly, I’d never heard of the term “derecho” in my life. Derecho /dāˈrāˌCHō/ is defined as a line of intense, widespread, and fast-moving windstorms and sometimes thunderstorms that moves across a great distance and is characterized by damaging winds. As a Midwesterner, I’ve never gotten too concerned about straight line winds. The winds that start turning in a small tight high speed circle have my full attention usually.
My wife communicated to me the storm was coming. She was in the city West of us, my daughter was camping far to the South of the state, and my son and I were at the farm doing our regular thing – a mix of work and play. An avid storm watcher, I thought this was opportunity knocking for my little boy and I to experience some great clouds and be a small part of Mother Nature. I wasn’t prepared for just how small we’d eventually come to feel over the next several days.
My son and I hopped in the truck. Not a small truck either. A 7000 pound Tundra Crewmax was our choice to watch the event. We drove up on some property we own that has a large earth berm we constructed with dozers several years ago. It provides a great place to get up high and observe. We’re in a ‘tall’ area of the county anyway, so that particular spot offers some great vantages. We could see the western sky had become exceedingly black in brisk fashion. In sophomoric fashion I thought to myself, “we’re going to see a real show this time.”
Most storm systems around here move along at a pretty slow pace. 25 to 35mph is typical. I wasn’t prepared for how quickly what you see above made it to my front door. It was only moments and we were in the thick of it. Two very odd things became evident to me. First, this system was moving extremely fast. Second, unlike most major fronts there appeared to be no end to this wind and rain. When a tornado pops up, they come rolling by and then the mayhem subsides. This was very different. It became obvious after I watched a small tree roll down our 1/4 mile driveway and across the highway like a tumbleweed that I couldn’t safely get my 30lbs son to the house, as the home is very wooded. I opted to keep an eye on the weather radar to make sure a tornado wasn’t headed for us, and ride it out in our current location. It wasn’t ideal, but the best I could do all things considered.
After a few minutes the intensity increased, not tapered off. Frankly, I don’t know how long this lasted, but it was well over 30 mins of sustained winds above 80MPH with peak gusts recorded in my neighborhood on amateur weather stations up to 116mph.
1pm rolled around and the scene was dramatically different. I lost count at 40 trees on our hobby farm that were snapped off. That doesn’t count the damaged trees that need help or pruning. 40+ trees on a 40acre farm that are literally snapped off at knee height. There was no power of course. Some cell towers were knocked over, but enough remained and had generators powering them that I could make some calls. My brother and father sprang into action and they put a plan in place to help us from afar. Dad sent up fuel and generators and my brother brought them up along with extra chain saws. Gotta love your family, right? This was only a glimpse of the many kindnesses we were going to witness over the next week.
Trees snapped off, our shooting range blown shut with down trees, ornamental trees we’d been babying for two decades missing and presumably blown into someone’s field, shop roof smashed with a down white pine from our once-majestic wind break, and all kinds of debris strewn around. The house? Untouched other than a storm door that flung open and was destroyed. Other than a few days worth of dragging trees into piles with log chains and my truck, and a bunch of chain saw time, we came to realize we were very, if not extremely, fortunate. Some of our neighbors and church family hadn’t fared as well.
I relayed storm potential over to the family that was camping with my daughter so they could prepare as the storm wouldn’t be to them for another hour, and my wife made her way home. We shored up what we could at our place and headed over to some of our church family to see if their livestock operation needed help. It required the use of our UTV, as nothing as large as my truck could make it through the destruction. We had to turn around and change our route a few different times, as down power lines or huge trees blocked our path.
My friend John was pretty beat up when we arrived – both in terms of the physical state of the property, but also his spirit. His losses were significant. Grain bins were decimated and strewn across his entire farm, hog buildings beat up and destroyed, fences collapsed by trees, high power lines laying down in his pasture, and his corn crop utterly destroyed. I got the sense even though he wasn’t saying it aloud, that he was wondering, much like Job, what he had done to deserve this. But, he’s strong, as is his wife and their children. We lent some small bit of help and decided driving back through that mayhem 10 miles to get home would be especially risky in the dark, so it was necessary to skedaddle.
Moments after we made it home, my brother arrived after his 200 mile journey to join us. We opened the main breaker to the house, wired in the gen set, and powered up the house. We didn’t have AC or frills, but basic electrical needs were met so we didn’t lose our fridge and freezer, and we had welcome light.
Throughout this ordeal I had been texting around with various members of the church family. They literally had sprung into action. There was no hesitation to help one another out. This has been the case for every day since then. People offering up generators and sawing labor, those with power opening their homes to those without, folks making meals for those without, and a general sense of togetherness and ‘can do’ attitude trended within our church family and that of the community.
While politicians were busy ignoring the 500-mile path of destruction Derecho had left and working their hardest to make the other look bad, valuable action and lessons were being offered and absorbed right here in little ol’ Iowa. My faith has been shored up over this event, rather than diminished. We pulled together instantly and helped one another. We loved one another. Normally we deny help when asked, but this time there were honest and heartfelt responses like, “Yes actually, it would be great if…”
I’ve loved greater and watched others do so in kind. We’d even had a church potluck scheduled for months to take place on Saturday evening. With a catastrophic event on Monday I think there were some that wondered if a single person would come that night, but the fellowship hall was full stories, laughter, and love. I enjoy my church family far too much to consider not coming, and they must feel the same. They were there. A little tired, but full of the Spirit! I was so proud of them all.
First, as odd as it may sound, thanks for suffering. For without the bitter we cannot appreciate the sweet. Was Paul not afflicted with the thorn? Through our suffering, we can hone our Christ-like behavior. I see it as an opportunity, and many passed the test. Second, thanks for the camaraderie of church family. Third, thanks for love offered to one another throughout a trying time. Fourth, thanks for the reminder of just how great we have it. As I sat in silence wondering how I was going to work or accomplish tasks, I asked myself how the framers of this nation did it, or better yet, how the disciples began. Neither of them had electricity or running water and hot showers. Yet, their accomplishments and work changed a world. That was a valuable thing for me to consider. Fifth and foremost, thanks are to the God willing to see his Son sacrificed and to Jesus for offering himself. No matter how tough I have it, crucifixion is the worst.
After all, I’m quite inconsequential. Philippians 1:21 was recently part of our Sunday Sermon. “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” The only death that matters is His. For he rose. My death you ask? Whatever. I know where I’m going, therefore you cannot kill me in a way that matters. This idea was concreted in my mind this past week and I wonder if it might be one of the most valuable lessons I’ll receive. Thank you Lord.
Please be Salt and Light my friends…