Life Changing Events – Part One (The Storm)

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Life Changing Events - Part One S.I.X. Months.

It’s hard to believe it’s been SIX months since I last sat behind this screen and shared not only a recipe, but a bit of our lives with you. 2020 was a hard year, but also a year full of growth. And while we faced some challenges in 2020, we had no idea what was to come in 2021.

January and the first half of February were fairly “normal”. Whatever normal is these days.

Up until Valentines Day. We went to church that morning then spent the day leisurely at home. The kids eating mini cupcakes and coloring on Mess Free market sets gifted to them by our dear neighbors. At some point in our uneventful day, we FaceTimed with Papa and Gigi (Josh’s parents in VA) for a bit. That was our rhythm, to FaceTime Sunday afternoons when possible. But we had no idea this would be our last time to do so with Papa. No awareness that the next morning, we’d receive a call from his mom, as she told us through hysterical sobs, that Josh’s daddy was gone. He died that morning, President’s Day, of a massive heart attack.

We were shocked…devastated.Life Changing Events | Lemons and Basil

He’d never had even a minor heart attack or any other scare that indicated his time here on earth may be short. And he had been in the field feeding the cows just days before. You’re never prepared, never ready to say goodbye. You never hang up the call or FaceTime thinking, this might be the last time. But it was.

I’ll never forget how upon receiving the news, Josh was immediately concerned for his mom. I can still hear him repeat “Mom, it’s okay, we’re okay, you’re okay, just breathe, deep breath”. In a single moment, he was the head of the family. He unintentionally, yet whole-heartedly transferred the responsibility his dad had previously carried, to his own shoulders. The need to be strong for his mom, for his sister, for our children, who just lost their Papa…it was innate.

He put his own feelings aside, at least momentarily, to think level headed. To make sure the right phone calls were made and to make sure someone was able to quickly get to his mom, so she didn’t have to be alone.

We wanted, needed to be in Virginia.

But a snow and ice storm was headed our way and the streets were already covered in ice with more on the way. Traveling was unwise at best. His mom, clearly wrecked from the loss of her husband, insisted we stay. The thought of us getting in an accident trying to get to her was too much. It was was fives days before the streets cleared enough that we felt safe to make the journey. Josh’s sister and family live six hours away as well, but thankfully in the other direction. The winter storm didn’t effect them and she was able to be there quickly.

Life Changing Events | Lemons and Basil

The next several weeks went as you can imagine. A lot of time spent grieving and holding close to one another and our little ones. Time spent reminiscing on memories of Josh’s dad, of the man he was.  We’ve had countless conversations around his childhood, the hardships he faced, and how his coming to know the Lord changed the trajectory of not only his life, but his kids’ lives. We found interesting similarities in the lives and even deaths of my mom and his dad. As we talked, we grieved. We’re still grieving. Not only his dad, but I’m finding I haven’t fully grieved my mom.

There’s a strange closeness shared in having both lost a parent at a relatively young age. An understanding.

We spent a week in Virginia, grieving with and helping his mom as much as possible. The first week after his death, there was a tremendous outpour of love from their community. We’d always known Perry had never met a stranger, but we had no idea just how many lives he impacted. Perry didn’t have a smart phone. He couldn’t text…and so he called. So many people have since shared with Josh’s family how much those calls meant to them. Grown men have shared through tears how much they miss their friend.

Perry wasn’t one to worry about dressing the part, or saying all the right words. But he loved others so very well. I’ve pondered so many times, since losing him, how much time is wasted on “perfection”, all in the name of “using our gifts” or “having a strong work ethic” or “doing something with excellence”, rather than just being the hands and feet of Jesus.

Life Changing Events | Lemons and Basil

The Second Life-Changing Event

Just when things started to settle down a bit, when we thought we had an idea of when and where the family would host the Celebration of Life for Josh’s dad; another unexpected, life-changing event occurred. It was Saturday, March 27th and they had been calling for thunderstorms and possible tornadoes through the late evening, early night. We’d had a lot of rain two days earlier and the ground was already well saturated. Josh stayed up late, watching the news to make sure we didn’t need to take cover at some point. Thankfully, the tornado never came. But the water did, in the form of a flash flood.

I remember laying in bed, listening to the storm and wishing my body would give in to sleep. But my neck was sore with tension and eventually I got up to rub some cream on it. It was around 11:30PM, and I lifted the blind in the bathroom to see if I could see the creek in our back yard. Lighting flashed and our yard was illuminated. The creek was higher than I’d ever seen it and half way into our yard. In that moment I wondered if we needed to move the cars. It was less than a minute later that Josh came back to our bedroom to get shoes, and said the very words I’d just been thinking. “I think I need to move the cars”.

I gathered some towels and asked what he needed from me. He simply said to meet him at the front door. Out he went, moving the first, then running back for the second. From the time he moved the first to the time he got back for the second, the water had gotten probably another 10 feet further into our yard. With the headlights shining on the water, we could see that it was actually flowing over the top of our four board fence. The debris had gotten so thick that the water could no longer get through the wire netting.

As Josh ran through the puddles in the front yard, the sky dark, the rain coming down as hard as ever, he yelled “get the kids, we need to go”.

Me: “Seriously?”

Josh: “yes, now.”

I called my best friend to make sure it was okay for us to come to them. I hung up the phone thinking we had a plan, but that our leaving was all out of an abundance of caution. Surely we wouldn’t really flood… We quickly woke the kids, dressing them in rain boots, rain coats, and grabbing a change of pjs for both. White I frantically hurried to grab some old cards and photos of my mom, I hear fear in Brighton’s voice as he looks out our back sliding door and says the water is to the house. Moving faster than before, I grabbed my phone and computer, throwing it all in a bag as Josh calls to me that he has the kids and I need to get Tucker (our dog).

He opens the door, ready to race towards the car and I hear “Sh*t!” In our 15 years together, I can count on one hand the amount of times I’ve heard Josh curse. I ran to the front door and even knowing it had to be bad, I heard myself repeat his same sentiment. The water was not only up to the back of our house, but was also rushing like a river in the front of the house, somewhere around 2 feet deep. Driving was no longer an option.

Josh stepped on the porch, directing the kids to stay put and begins to see what other options we have. Looking to our left we see the beam of a flashlight pointing out way. Our neighbor was outside. The grade of their yard slopes ever so slightly up and somehow, part of their yard and porch was not yet under water. Our neighbor asks if we’re okay and proceeds to tell us that our “barn”, a 12×20 loft style shed, just went through their back yard and is gone. He asks if we can get to him. Josh, hesitant, sets down his bag, directs the kids to stay with me and makes the first track to see if it’s safe. Thankfully, it was. He proceeds to carry each kid, one at a time, over to the higher ground. I close the door behind me and make the same journey carrying my bag and our Tucker.

The moment we arrive to their house, both kids in tears, I kneel down, pull them to me and pray aloud. Asking God to bring peace among the chaos as only He can, to calm Brighton and Addie and remind them that He is with us. We get the kids inside, wrap them in towels graciously provided by our neighbor, then changed into the dry pjs. Our neighbor, Ms. Mary had such a calm presence about her. She reminded the kids of the story in the Bible where Jesus calms the storm.

We left the kids in the house with Ms. Mary and began to call family to ask for their prayers. Prayers that the water recedes and that our Sovereign Father protects our family and every family on our street. Then we began calling each family on our side of the street, to make sure they were awake and aware of the flooding. Once the calls were made, Josh stationed himself on the front porch and I took up residency on our neighbors back deck, and we prayed over the waters. Worshipping and petitioning God to intercede as only He can.

And He did. The water was coming down just as hard as ever, and somehow, over the course of 45 minutes, the water consistently receded. I’m sure some would try to explain it by science and the way drainage works, blah, blah, blah. But I believe with everything in me that God heard and answered our prayers. As Josh says, “It may have been a coincidence, but I see more coincidences when I pray than when I don’t.”

During that 45 minutes or so, sometime shortly after we had gotten to Ms. Mary’s and gotten the kids dried and changed, I know an unknown call come through. It was after midnight, and so I immediately assumed if someone was calling, they had a reason. I answered and initially heard only commotion. Eventually a teenage boy said hello, I realized almost instantly that it was the neighbors on the other side of us, who moved in only a month or so before. They speak Spanish as their first language and so our communication has been somewhat limited. But Josh and I had taken a plate of cookies to welcome them. With the cookies, I left a card with my number on it, should they ever need it. Only the Lord knew that she would soon need that number.

As her son spoke better English, I quickly understood why he was the one on the phone, and he explained that they were in their attic. Their converted garage is now the master bedroom, and the parents woke up to water around them. Can you even imagine?! Out of fear they went into the attic. We tried to see if they felt like perhaps they could see how strong the water was to see if they could make it to us, but they didn’t feel comfortable to try. So we eventually called 911 to see if they could help them. The emergency vehicle arrived quickly, but because of the deep waters, could not get to the house. They tried to enter the street from both directions, but using wisdom, they had to wait for the waters to recede.

After about an hour, the water had receded enough that we felt safe to make the journey up to some close friends of ours, to stay the night with them. We didn’t know if anymore water was still to come, and we didn’t know whether or not it was safe to stay in our house. As Josh and I opened the front door to check the damage of our home, our hearts soared to see that there was no water in the main part of the house. We made our way to the converted garage, our family and laundry room which sit two steps lower than the rest of the house, and see that the room had definitely been under water. The floor was nothing but dark mud and there as a water line of about 9” or so. We both agreed it was only one room and could have been so much worse.

After surveying our house, we checked on the neighbors who had gone up to the attic, now on their front porch. I smelled natural gas and thought it was their home. Concerned it may not be safe for them to stay there, I said as much.

It wasn’t until walking back to Josh and the kids at Ms. Mary’s that I realized the natural gas smell was coming from our house. The HVAC had been ripped off the side of the house and away from the gas line.

Gathering the kids and Tucker, we made our way up the street to higher ground. With Tucker’s 20 pounds and the weight of the heavy bag on my shoulder, my body was fatigued and stressed from the night’s events. I remember praying for strength and giving myself a little mental pep talk. It was only 5-6 houses, I could hold my son’s hand, and carry our dog and the bag for that long. But I didn’t have to, before we even passed our house, two neighbors, one with a headlamp on met us in the street. One scooped up our son, Josh was carrying Addie, and the other took the dog as they made the journey with us.

The same neighbor who carried Tucker, was kind enough to call Atmos Energy to have the gas valve shut off.

There was little to no sleep that night. We were all functioning on adrenaline, laying down to sleep felt futile. But eventually we did, and I remember laying in bed next to Josh, the clock reading 3:45AM and asking him if perhaps God answered our prayer in a more powerful way by making the water recede, then had He just not allowed it to come in the first place…

Life Changing Events | Lemons and Basil

Life Changing Events | Lemons and Basil

Life Changing Events | Lemons and Basil

[You can see the waterline on the trees.]

By 7 the next morning we were up and dressed and made our way down to our house to assess the property. We found that our barn style shed was indeed gone. As was much of our four-board fence. The remaining portions thrown and laying in our yard as if a tornado has picked them up and put them there. The crawl space was still full of water, as the moving of the HVAC unit created a 2×4 hole the direction the water was coming. The yard was littered with debris. Remnants of the brick fire pit, cement cinderblocks from beneath our HVAC unit, and insulation thrown out from under the house. We soon realized most of our furniture up against the house was still in tack, and only the four Adirondacks from the fire pit and a couple of ottomans had joined the moving water from the night before.

The interior of the Sorento was dry, thank goodness. But the Prius wasn’t so lucky, the flood water had most definitely gotten in. For those who don’t know, flood water is considered contaminated, as it can contain sewage waste.

Wanting to find our shed, I left the kids with our friends we’d stayed with (bless them), and began driving around to look for it. Parking in another part of the neighborhood, further down the creek, I saw a man out and introduced myself. He and his wife had also flooded the night before and were assessing all the damage. I asked him if he had perhaps seen a large brown shed. He had. He asked me to follow him and took me to the farthest point in his yard and then pointing further down stream and across the creek to a structure. “Is that it?”…”Yeah…that’s it.”

Life Changing Events | Lemons and BasilLife Changing Events | Lemons and Basil

[This image shows where the shed had been in our yard.] Life Changing Events | Lemons and Basil

He let me know that I’d have to go back out to the main road and back in on another road, as there was actually no connecting road within out neighborhood. I thanked him and got back in the Sorento. Following his directions, I was at our shed within a few minutes. It was not in the creek bed, but up on land, caught between two trees. Contents had been thrown out upon the impact of hitting the trees, and Josh’s tool box and misc tools were strewn in the ground. There was a hole out the back, and the shed was full of debris. But amazingly enough, everything in the loft was untouched and exactly where we left it. I’ve got some of my mom’s old ornaments in there..I was so relieved. I called Josh.. “I found our shed”.

We had no idea what all was ahead of us, but we were safe. And that’s all that mattered. We’ve had to remind ourselves of that a lot since them. I’ll post again soon, sharing the aftermath of these two events since that time.

Life Changing Events | Lemons and Basil

[You can see the waterline in this picture, where the tractor must have been fully submerged.]

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