Our Tsunami Experience

    We had planned a trip to Thailand for over 10 years with our close friends living in Austin. They had spent their Peace Corp years there and grown to love and cherish it's country and people and wanted to share their love of this place with us.

    In fact, once we arrived, It had been something of a paradise experience the whole week See pics We commented that morning while saying good by to our friends that it had been the best vacation ever … Earlier in the week, we had created a homemade Christmas service because the nearest Christian church was 1 ½ hours away. During that service, we talked about the hope that baby Jesus brought into our world and for Lucie this is what she would hold onto those following days. Hope that we would find them, hope that some how our lives would miraculously be allowed to return to normal. Lucie wanted me to share this reading from Romans with you

    "we… know that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us."

    Lucie prayed the following days that this hope would begin to refill her emptiness.

    Sunday morning, our last planned day in Thailand. We woke up early to say goodbye to our friends who had an early flight out. After breakfast we saw the Italian family who liked to play volleyball and we started a game on the beach. ~ 10:00 the sea mysteriously began to ebb out, not unlike what we had seen at Mount St Michel last summer. The water receded as far as you could see.

    Hannah had a premonition at this point that this was a bad sign and danger was near, we dismissed her fear and ventured out into the dry seabed, while she stayed back and waited on the beach. Lucie and Renee walked out a bit into the dry seabed, Leah and I ventured further. A crowd of about 50 people gathered on the beach as several of us chased a little flounder from one tide pool to another farther and farther out toward the receding sea.

    After several minutes, the crowd on the beach began to shout and call us back. When we looked up in the far distance we saw the sea returning. We turned and casually began to jog back. As the seconds passed however, the crowd on the beach began calling louder and as we continued to look back we saw the sea coming more rapidly than expected. I began to hear the faint sound of the returning surf which grew louder with each step into a roar which began chasing us down!

    In front of us now on the beach there was fear, panic and confusion. We were in a bay and as we looked to our right where the shore went out, it was terrifying to see that the sea was not stopping at the shoreline, but crashing up and over everything that stood in it's path and it was about to reach us. We ran now with all our speed and might trying to reach a hillside beyond the beach.

    Play the video…Man engulfed in Wave

    Renee was the only one who managed to spot some stairs, which she sprinted up unharmed. We later laughed that our new family emergency plan would become

"Listen to Hannah and follow Renee!"

    I had grabbed onto a tree on the hillside and began reaching back, as I looked down to my right, the last sight I saw was Leah crouching down in a protective shield behind Hannah, then the wave crashed over all of us and we felt the most powerful force of our lives exerted against our backs. The water 1st smashed us into the dirt embankment and then took each of us on a different route. I was able to hold onto the tree and about when out of breath, could pull myself up and out of the water. Hannah was already standing there safely out of the water waiting, the water had mercifully propelled her up onto dry land, but not before stabbing her side with some speared object in the churning wave.

    During these moments our senses began to perceive reality in different ways, some of us heard the load roar of the approaching wave, others not. Some of us felt panic and fear, while Leah felt peaceful before the wave hit as she remembered thinking … "really bad things just don't happen to me". While I was looking at Hannah, Renee ran up behind her and shouted to me she would take Hannah, but I never saw or heard her. I had also not noticed the blood coming from Hannah's side. Renee also gathered up the 10 year old son of the Italian family who was now hurt and alone. She would find a car and driver at the top of our hill offering to take them to a nearby hospital for treatment. She made the wise decision to take the offer for Hannah's sake and it was at this point we became separated.

    Lucie had got trapped under the water when the debris from the surging sea piled up around her leg. She realized it was a life and death struggle to free her leg. She pulled so hard, she damaged some ligaments in her knee but thank God freed herself and pulled herself out of the water. Her leg is healing now slowly and surely.

    See 2 pics hillside w tree and Lucie's debris pile

    Leah's momentary peace was thrashed and her knee slashed before she could grab onto a tree. She held on in shock she said waiting to be rescued until the yells of her mother compelling her to get out of the water woke her up to her possibilities and she climbed out.

    Lucie, Leah and I found each other within the next 10 minutes and were able to help several others more severely hurt out of the water and to safety, but we would not find our 2 girls that day. We saw many people lying about us who had been killed instantly by the wave, most likely dashed into the buildings and trees around them. As we called for Renee, we heard a faint voice from beneath a pile of debris. We frantically struggled to uncover this person. However the waters began to recede again and people began shouting a 2nd wave was coming. We sprinted up the hill just in time to miss the crashing waters, almost as big as the first wave. After this there were no more signs of life on our beach and we climbed up the hill to seek refuge from the sea.

    We spent the next 2 days searching up and down our coast and from shelter to shelter for our girls with no success. We were like so many others who bore the intense sadness of losing their most prized possession, each other. Leah was an example and source of strength to us many moments those days as she continuously sought out every opportunity to reach out and help those around her in need. She quickly developed a cast of comrades in our shelters. As Renee cared separately for her 2 younger charges, Hannah was praying nonstop, except when Renee told her to take a break.

    Show pics of Thai temple and shelters

    I had prayed off and on throughout my adult life that God give me the courage to offer up all I had if need be, no matter the pain and consequence if he asked me to, with one exception, I stubbornly resisted the thought of releasing to him my family. Eventually, I had finally surrendered them and now wondered if God was exercising this option…

    These were the saddest 2 days of our lives, we struggled to be strong for each other, grasping for an answer of how we would ever fill the hole in our lives without Renee and Hannah. I don't know if the worst moments were just before peering under the cover of the small corpses lining the roads and makeshift shelter morgues or those still moments when there was no where left to search, no one to call, nothing to do. It was then that we interrogated our decisions and lack of action in those critical moments before the wave struck which might have forfeited our children's lives. I had been feeling lonely one day during the vacation, and sensing it, Renee had come up from behind and placed her hand in mine and comforted me, I wondered if this would be one of the last cherished memories of her I would be forced to hold onto the rest of my life. By the end of the 2nd day, I remember trying to believe and feel with all my strength what Job had said, "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return; the LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD." I tried to convince myself that 2nd day that the joy and blessings these 2 wonderful daughters brought us these past years would be bigger in the end than the pain we now faced losing them so early.

    Renee and Hannah initiated a chain of events the second day that would eventually result in our receiving the miraculous news of their survival the following morning. They went with several others to a site nearby the hospital with internet access and sent out a message of their situation and whereabouts to friends and family who's email address they remembered. This message went from a cousin to old friends in Phoenix Arizona to a freescale employee in Phx to my supervisor at work.

    I had just called him to ask for help from our company in searching for my daughters. He called back minutes later after receiving the mail and read it to me. We cried with joy and began to smile and laugh again. We at the same time needed to remain sensitive to so many around us who still bore the weight and sadness we had just escaped. Our new found Thai friends helped plan our reunion

    Show last pic…

    On that 3rd day after being reunited and returning to the hotel to pick up our passports, the manager told us that of the 60 people on our beach that day, 30 had perished. We've been asked and we've asked ourselves many questions since this has happened. Why did this happen, why were we in that particular place at that very particular time, are we having any psychological problems now, and perhaps the most interesting, now what will we do having been spared against all the odds. I was shown this scripture while preparing for this talk:

Luke 13: 6 And Jesus told this parable: "A man had a fig tree that was planted in his vineyard. He came looking for fruit on it and found none. He told the vineyard worker, 'Listen, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it even waste the soil?' "But he replied to him, 'Sir, leave it this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. Perhaps it will bear fruit next year, but if not, you can cut it down.'"

    At first we may consider it some kind of ultimatum, but instead let's consider Jesus in that loving gardener who wants to give our tree an extra chance, to try one last time to care for and bring it to fruit. We believe we can bear fruit where each of us is planted. Indeed, we have seen through the many wonderful acts of support and kindness extended to us both by the Thai people and here by many of you and our extended community what this fruit might look like.

    We never want to forget from our experience to take this day, these moments as gift from God, an opportunity to bring some fruit into our own world, in some little way to make it a better place. Tomorrow, we've learned, is not guaranteed to arrive.

    It's already getting harder to remember this just 5 weeks later, as we begin to get swept by another type of wave, the surge of commitments, responsibilities and difficult situations and people we deal with each day. Let us commit now to help each other remember all that we have been blessed with and all that we can share with those near and far in need of each other, each and every day.