Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Lightning

If you met our family recently you might think we have highly entertaining, very exciting, maybe almost unbelievable lives.
A heartbreaking move ~a miraculous home -selling event ~ and the Icing on the Cake of Surprises: Lightning that Struck My Van. Literally. While it was in motion.
I don't know when my rather ordinary, regular, everyday family became such drama-magnets but somehow we have been highly entertaining lately and This Writer must record this last, most extraordinary event for sure.

The week of June 14-18 was VBS at the church here at the Beach we have been attending. Naturally being the Elbow-My-Way-In person that I am I volunteered to work at VBS, thereby also enrolling even my younger 2 boys in nursery so we could all attend.
(Sneaky, sneaky.) The theme: God's Word being Important. Daily the theme varied slightly and we'd shout at prompted times: "God's Word is Exciting!" or "God's Word is Comforting!", etc. It was enthusiastic and we focused on VBS greatly this particular week.

On Thursday afternoon the 17th, after VBS ended at noon I piled the boys into my 8 year-old Mercury minivan and headed down the interstate toward the Orlando airport to pick up my cousin there. This would be about 2hrs+ each way but the boys had a movie on and had been engaged all morning at VBS so I envisioned a fairly smooth run. I drove right around 70mph, maybe a bit over just because and of course in the far left lane, to get the point across that I had an agenda. It was 3 PM. The rain was drippy on and off and the clouds were heavy and dark but this is Florida and at least it wasn't raining buckets. I prefered this, in fact. The clouds kept the van cooler and the rain was steady but not blinding. The lightning that accompanied the clouds however was loud and close. VERY loud and VERY close. When suddenly it wasn't close at all ~ it was upon us. The loudest BOOM you can imagine shook the entire van. A moment of deafening noise rattled the windows, shook the steering wheel and stopped our hearts. A split second later I knew instictively what had happened without question: we had been hit by lightning. As I looked down to assess the dashboard I saw every light illuminated: the emergency brake light, the oil lights: every one. And I was decelerating, already having slowed to 37mph. (Keep in mind I was in the Fast Lane in 6 lanes of traffic in a rainstorm.) My power steering was gone. And unbeknownst to me I had blown out al 4 tires. Somehow God and I pulled that van into the left-hand soggy grass median. My heart is pounding unevenly, I am hyperventilating severely and my hands are tingling, my thoughts are jostling for position all trying to take center stage. We have no umbrella. I smell burning. The van is dead. There is silence except for my too-fast, terrrified gasping. I can't think I can't think I can't think. Think, Esty, THINK THINK THINK THINK.......
I open the van door, extend a leg out, unsure whether to call 911, whether I should extract my wide-eyed, frozen children from the van and step out into the rain with them in the middle of a wet highway median - nervous that if we stay put we may all be killed by our exploding vehicle, nervous that if we venture out onto the dangerous highway was may all be killed by another vehicle. I call 911. They transfer me. Twice. Minutes are ticking by. My brain starts firing in order. 2, 3 minutes, maybe 4 pass. Now I am told to get away from the van and by now I am impatient to do so. I hang up, turn around, tears streaming from my eyes I loudly say while smiling:
"Boys. Get your seatbelts off. We are getting out of the van. Be brave. STAY WITH MAMA. HOLD MY HAND. GET OUT NOW. COME. NOW."
The littlest one starts crying but they all obediently file out, clasp hands, huddle around me so that I can barely walk and we march into the swampy grass yards and yards away from the van. We plunk down, indian-style, soaking up the falling rain, piled together, watching the deafening traffic zoom by on both side of us, 3 lanes worth in each direction. Soft crying starts from DoodleBug. Honey Monkey slams his hands over his ears. Little Bunny is silent. I sing "Jesus loves Me" out loud, the only words that I can even think above my frightened thoughts that whisper: "You can't see all the cars behind you. You are exposed in this narrow field. Cars of people are craning to see you. Anyone can lose control and slide towards the boys here."
I tell the boys all I can remember: "Jesus Sees Us. I know this: Jesus Sees Us. God's Word is Comforting. Jesus Sees Us and He Will Send Us an Angel. Just Watch. Wait and Watch."

Pretty soon a mustached man stops behind the van, marches out to us with a large umbrella and a blanket. He has seen us, used the nearest exit to circle back around to us. We tell him he is our Angel. He seems confused but humbly glad to be of service. At least now we are more protected from the rain. A wreck two lanes away reminds me that we are still on a highway though and people are slowing down unevenly, curiously spectating and we are in serious danger here still.

Finally the huge, blaring red fire engine arrives, further terrifying Little Bunny who mournfully wails "I want Daddyyyyyy" which I can only agree with at this point. The firefighters seem unimpressed with the damage to the vehicle, first offering to change my tire, convinced that it must've been a blown tire which spooked me and caused me to trek ino the median with my children, poor distressed Damsel that I am. Upon further kicking of tires though they find the drill hole and burnt circumference of paint about a foot behind Doodle Bug's seat at the top rear of the van in the roof. "Yes, you were hit by lightening.", they admit, shocked. It's official. Validation is a relief. I didn't overreact after all.

Over an hour later, family arrive to collect us. We have been back in the warm, dead van, waiting now. The wreck 2 lanes over is being removed, the circus having moved on, the highway rhythm resumed. By 9PM that night we are all back home, tired and shaken but all completely unharmed. The van will never be seen by us again. $400 later the towing is complete. The official totalling of the van happens the next day.

4 days later I have a beautiful, shiny, clean, bright, sweet, slivery blue-grey new minivan complete with ammenities my old green van only ever wistfully saw in carpool line like power doors and Blutooth. Wow. She is mine the first day of summer. She has 8 miles on her odometer when I find her on the lot. All insurance interactions are smooth as silk, thoroughly meeting our expectations. It's a dream after a nightmare.

So now, a month later I can finally start to fully appreciate SOME of the ways God protected us that day on Interstate 4, outside of Orlando.

* there wasn't a Mack truck behind me when I decellerated so quickly on the highway
* I was in the left-hand lane to begin with so I could get into the median without being hit
* no one hit us on the highway
* family was able to retrieve us so I didn't have to buckle the boys into a vehicle without carseats
* most amazingly: the lightnening DIDN'T WOUND ANYONE.

Bottom line: YES, the car IS the safest place to be in a lightening storm. The van did what it was supposed to do: it conducted the lightening from the rear roof of the van, under the van and blew out the front tires to ground the electricity. We were all absolutely unhurt.

I get antsy chills lately when I see lightening and expect I will for a long, long time to come. I am reassured though, knowing SURELY it won't happen to me again.


God's Word is Comforting. He protected us that day. I wish I was more aware of His protection everyday in myriad ways. I know He is good to us. He didn't have to send an Angel with an umbrella just to prove to my children that He saw us. He didn't have to spare us at all. He didn't have to make Andrew so far away, or have to make the storm that day at all. Why did He? I am still mostly altogether unsure. I have no answers but these: He loves us. He cares for us. He is good. He can be trusted. I am grateful.