Sometimes it Takes Seven Trees


He was a drinker. A dog kicker. A wife beater. The meanest man I’d ever known. His wife was a Christian. A kind and gentle woman. A forgiving woman. I never understood why she never left him. He ridiculed her faith every chance he got. They lived in one of the houses behind us. Seeing the way he treated his wife filled me with an impotent rage against him, and a desperate desire to protect her; but I was helpless in that world, where he was always cruel, and she was always forgiving.

We were in the Navy, and Hurricane Hugo was bearing down upon Charleston, South Carolina, dead center. All the U.S. ships were called out of port to ride out the storm. That left all us wives, to protect our homes, our children, and ourselves. Our house was surrounded by seven pine trees. I had nightmares about the crashing of those seven trees, right on top of us. I kissed and hugged my husband good-bye, lying that I felt “pretty safe,” and my daughters and I prepared for the worst.

Jenny was eighteen, and a freshman in college. She and I taped all our windows with good old duct tape. I had been quick to store up numerous supplies. The bathtub was also filled with water, along with every pot in the house.

As the day dawned, the sky was a crystal blue,. Surely, with a hurricane bearing down on us, the sky should have been cloudy. By afternoon, however, the clouds began to roll in; yet, still, the storm seemed so unreal. Then towards evening, the winds picked up, and began to whip around. We were ready. The inner hallway was our safety zone. Two twin mattresses, snacks, drinks, pillows, and blankets were stacked in the hallway, as the winds picked up and began to howl.

We huddled and prayed, in the living room..

“Lord, please place a dome of protection over our house, and keep us safe from harm.”

“And keep Daddy safe, at sea.” Helen murmured.

“Yes, keep Daddy safe.” Jenny agreed.

SNNAAPP! CRASH! We leaped up and lunged toward the hallway, throwing ourselves onto the mattresses, and covering our heads with pillows. But nothing hit the house. Perhaps it wasn’t a tree. What else could it be?

CRACK!! Another tree! This time it would hit the house!

“Sweet Jesus! Save us!” We prayed. But nothing hit the house.

Tree after tree snapped and cracked, and we heard every one of them, but whether in front or behind, not one hit our house. We listened to our radio, until it went off the air, just before midnight on September 21, 1989. Then all grew silent, as the eye of the storm crossed over Charleston.

“Helen,” I whispered. “Listen.”

“I don’t hear anything, Mommy.”

“I know. That’s what I mean. Listen to the silence. You will never hear this again.”

“But, Mommy, I don’t hear anything.”

“I know. But I do. I can hear the heartbeat of God, in the silence, and if I reach out, I can touch his face.” I held Helen close, as she drifted off to sleep.

Not a sound. Total silence. The darkness was black and deep. Not a glimmer of light. I listened to the silence, and I prayed. For safety. For strength. For courage. And for peace.

I got seven phone calls that night, during the eye of the storm. I did not want to move. It seemed we knew everybody, and they all called. Were we alive? Were we in ruins? Were any windows broken? Each time, I reluctantly left my watch to head for the phone. Finally on the last ring, I tore the phone off the hook, and I shouted,

“WHAT?!! WHAT DO YOU WANT?!! WE’RE BUSY!! WE’RE HAVING A HURRICANE HERE!!” I slammed the phone down and dove back into the hall. In moments, the backlash of the storm hit, and we were riding through Hugo, again. To this day, I have no idea who that last call was from.

Again we heard the crashes, and the banging, and the snapping. Somewhere, in all of that, I drifted off into slumber. I awoke to a loud banging on the front door. Was I imagining this? No, it was definitely someone banging at the door. The phone rang. My God!. Are people nuts?! I answered the phone to hear my neighbor’s voice.

“Look out the back window.” She said, and hung up.

Jenny ran to the front door, as I ran into a back bedroom, and saw the house behind us engulfed in flames. Suddenly, it exploded! Fiery missiles of debris catapulted through the air, and rained down upon the houses around us!

I heard a man shouting.

“Get out!! You must get out!! Evacuate!! Evacuate!!”

I ran to the front door, tripping over something. It was so dark! His flashlight illuminated his face. He was a fireman! He was standing out in a hurricane, and now he was ordering us out into the deluge, too!

“Don’t take anything!! Just come with me!!” He ordered.

“My dog! I can’t leave my dog!”

“Leave him!”

“No! If the house goes, he’ll die!”

“No. Come on!” He shouted. “Leave the dog!”

“NO!!” I screamed. I reached inside the closet by the front door, my hand groping for Sam’s leash. I wasn’t leaving my dog!

“Mom! Here!” Jenny handed me my husband’s old belt. Quickly, I belted Sam’s collar, and we escaped into the storm.

“Watch out for live wires!” The man shouted. “The lines are down!”

We couldn’t see our hands in front of us, but we leaped around, as though we knew where the wires were, and we followed the man into hell. Finally, soaked but unscathed, we arrived at the safe house, down the block, and we waited out the storm, along with the rest of the evacuees.

Hurricane Hugo, in September of 1989, was the fastest moving storm to hit the east coast, in the history of forecasting. It was also the most powerful storm, before Andrew, with sustained winds of 145 miles per hour, and gusts of up to 200 miles per hour! By daylight it was out of Charleston, and headed towards the Appalachian Mountains, arriving in Princeton, West Virginia, with hurricane force winds of 75 miles per hour!

By 10:00 am, the storm was over. It looked like we had been bombed!

We headed back to our house, climbing over mountains of debris, only to find our house totally unscathed. Not a window was broken. Both cars were safe in the carport. There was no doubt that God had placed a dome of protection around our house. All seven trees were snapped like match sticks, and they had buried the house of the wife beater, behind us. The house that exploded, behind us in the other direction, was nothing but a smoldering rubble. Surely, no one could have survived such an assault. Miraculously, no one was hurt. The burned out house had been empty.

The house that was covered with our seven trees, however, held a different story. The wife and dog beater had survived through a soul saving experience. The very humbled, penitent, pale-faced man, came by our house the next day. He stood in our kitchen, and he wept, as he told his story.

His wife and children had left him, and they’d gone to stay with friends. After he nailed his two dogs into their doghouse, he settled down to drink and ride out the storm.

When the first tree snapped, and landed on his roof, he cursed his wife for leaving him. When the second tree landed, he cursed the devil. When the third tree crashed, he cursed the God who made him, then he catapulted himself into a small hurricane closet. By the fourth tree, he was begging and weeping. By the fifth tree, he was screaming for God’s mercy. By the sixth tree, he was silent. And by the seventh, he had given his life to Christ.

He stood there and wept in my kitchen, as he praised God for sending him those trees. He had lost his family. The county took away his dogs, but he was thankful. He was alive, and God had given him one last chance.

Seven trees had been snapped from our yard, yet, God had kept Jenny, Helen, Sam, and me safe, teaching us that in the midst of the darkest storms of life, we can depend upon God to protect us and those whom I love. If I ask him in faith, I need not fear. I can trust him, no matter the outcome. He kept his hand upon my family. He protected us from seven trees; and through those same seven trees, a man was saved from an eternity in hell.

Sometimes it takes seven trees.

Jaye Lewis is an award winning writer, who celebrates life with a unique perspective. Jaye is a born again Christian, who lives and writes in the beautiful mountains of southwestern Virginia. Jaye is writing her first book, Entertaining Angels, that reflect the people and miraculous events of her life. Jaye believes that God’s grace is open to all, even if it takes “seven trees.” Jaye can be emailed at jlewis@smyth.net

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