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.


  1. -Was at the edge of my seat the entire time I was reading this.
    Oh my, Esty - this is jsut amazing. I know I would certainly cringe at lightening for a long long time too.
    I love how God showed himself to you and the boys in so many ways.

  2. HOLY COW (Tears) what an ordeal! What a wonderful mommy! What a mighty God!

  3. Kathleen DonaldsonJuly 13, 2010 at 2:19 PM

    Beautiful! Thanks for sharing and encouraging the rest of us. God is amazing. You are an inspiration!

  4. Wow! You sure have a talent for expressing yourself in words. I'm so sorry you were hit by lightning--but SO grateful no one was hurt. What an experience! The Lord does indeed show His love for us. You should submit that to Readers Digest! It's inspiring. Love to all:)

  5. I know I-4 all too well, and that part is scary enough to think about sitting on the side of the rode, but then the greater thought of being struck my lightening is mind boggling! And the fact that you didn't lose control of your van at 70 mph when two tires were blown out. God's protection was amazing!

  6. That sounds TERRIFYING Esty! We are so glad you were all okay. What a good little van, keeping you all safe. Enjoy the perks of your new car :)

  7. Oh Esty, I had tears streaming down my face reading your story. I can completely understand that the only thing you could think to sing was "Jesus loves me" I think that's all I could manage as well. Well done you! But I remember driving with you in Florida when the car in front of us blew a tire and I was so impressed by the quick and careful way you responded to the situation, even though the car was full and we were all talking.
    I'm so thankful that you and the boys were safe and that you had family to come and collect you.
    Our God is an awesome God . . .

  8. Wow Esty!!! Praise God you are safe and praise God for the new van!

  9. Hi! I found your blog on Tiffany's sidebar with the post titled "Lightning" I had to check it out. We were just driving our van home from a family reunion yesterday and watched lightning streak down all around us. It seemed to get closer and closer. I wondered if it could even hit our van.

    What an amazing story! And you told it so well. I, too, was on the edge of my seat, with my jaw dropped!

    I'm so glad you and your boys are all okay. What a testimony to your children how to walk faith-fully through a terrifying situation!

  10. I have just gotten around to read the details of exactly what happen. I cried, cried, cried. Have you had nightmares about this? PTSD?!?

  11. Oh thanks a lot! It's 11:00PM, but now my hands are clammy and my heart is racing. What a wonderful example of why we teach our kids to obey the first time, and why we hide God's Word in our hearts. Glad everyone is ok and that you got a new van out of the deal. I've always thought about what would happen if my car got hit by lightning...guess now I know.

  12. Esty, I just now read your well written, on the edge of your seat account of the incident. What a girl my Andy married...you never cease to amaze me at your faith and trust in our Lord. I stand amazed at the mighty hand of our God. He really does hold us there in the very palm. Those sweet babies..what a testimony to their young impressionable faith. Mom Downes

  13. So, I thought I would read your blog (which I'm horrible at doing) and just read the lightening story. Hearing you tell me about it does not compare with how you wrote about it. I think you need to consider a new vocation...

    I am amazed by our God, your faith, by the Holy Spirit's peace for those sweet babies who could have been screaming, and for the rain to hide your sweet tears as you had to take those sweet babies out of the van. We DO have a God who sees. Love you!

  14. How come this is the first time I've "heard" this story? You have been holding out on me! With all the drama that my family brings, you couldn't make me feel a little better by sharing this one? ;) Remind me to tell you why Scott won't stand near me in a thunder storm. :)