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If a Tree Falls, Pray. 

When faced with events beyond her control, Jennica evokes prayer. She exchanges panic, protectionism and dread for an open ended conversation with God. That's not a bad trade. - Editor

It is cold—probably the coldest Bryn Athyn winter I can remember. Bryn Athyn winters usually hover around 35-45 degrees in the daytime so that whatever freeze happened overnight is a slushy, muddy mess by mid-morning. If it ever snows in Bryn Athyn we are lucky if it stays cold enough for us to play in it for one day. Once in a while we get a two or three day cold spell where it dips below freezing. This year (2010/11) December hit and we suddenly had below freezing temperatures round the clock with only a few short jumps above the freezing point. If we had a pond it would surely be ready for skating by now.

What comes to mind as I gaze out my dining room window through my neighbors' backyards is last year’s winter (2009/10) where we had record snow. It snowed for days, then would let up just to snow again. I think all told we had over six feet of snow, four of which accumulated all at once. That was an unusual winter too, but this one still seems colder. During one of the storms of last year it began with a thick but fluffy snow and then turned into a wet, sticky snow that clung to everything. I adventured outside with my son and played in an elaborate tunnel system our neighbors had made where the plows dumped all the snow at the end of the street. Some of our other neighbors were out too, listening to loud cracking and poppings coming from the stressed trees weighed down by mounds and mounds of snow. Most of them sounded far away, but all of a sudden a full grown 100 foot ash tree came crashing down between two neighbors' houses, crushing one of our neighbor’s car-ports.

We were all awe-struck and the childlike sense of fun and security I have always had in snowy weather forever changed as I realized the terrible reality that one of the many enormous trees we have on our street could fall on us or on our house! Short of spending all our time in the basement there wasn’t really any way we could guarantee our safety.

The fallen tree could not be removed until the snow melted, so I often saw it out the very same window I am now gazing through. The rest of the winter passed without major incident, and as the weather warmed we all forgot the anxiousness of the heavy snows.

We had another incident involving a tree towards the end of 2010. Fast forward to November 17th, 2010. I was teaching an after school program for the Bryn Athyn Church School for eleven children ranging from ages 3-9. I took them out to a site in the Pennypack woods where I had built a shelter with another group. It was a really awesome shelter and it fit all of the kids, plus my son who was with me, and the three other adults that were with us.

We had a snack and read a short story inside the shelter. Then I could see that the kids were rearing to run around and play, so instead of reading the other two books I had brought I told them they could go do whatever they wanted. I stayed in the shelter along with the leader of the after school program and my son while all the other children ran out to play in the woods around us.

It was a windy day, that is why we had decided the woods would be a good place to be, where we would be protected from the wind. Just after a particularly strong gust of wind whined through the tree tops, and not one minute after most of the group had exited the shelter, I heard familiar terrible crackings and poppings. I had just enough time to look up and see a tree falling towards us. I screamed the group leader's name before the tree fell on top of the shelter and her. I saw blood in her mouth. She wiggled out from under the tree limb and complained of back pain. I told her not to move and yelled at someone to call 911. It was then that I realized my son was beside me. He had blood on his mouth and I was worried that he had been hurt or had internal injuries. He was terribly upset, but insisted that he was unhurt. I think maybe he had bit his lip or tongue.

One of the other children had a scrape on his head, but nobody was seriously hurt. We passed an eternity waiting for the paramedics (actually about fifteen minutes), the difficulty being that we couldn’t tell them our exact location; we were in the middle of the woods, intentionally hidden to decrease the chances of somebody finding and wrecking our shelter. We got the kids back to the school and their parents, and made our way back home to begin processing the whole event.

The group leader ended up with four broken vertebrae, but no paralysis.

My first instinct when confronted with the stark reality that trees fall and can cause injury, death, and destruction, is to figure out what I can do to protect my family and myself. I can check the health of the trees around my home, and I can do my best to stay away from dead trees; but the other stark reality is that I have no control over these things. I have no control over them happening to me, to my loved ones, nor control over any long term trauma these events will cause.

My husband told me the story of a man who was afraid of freak accidents so spent most of his time “safe” at home. He died when a bus crashed through his living room wall.

So where does that leave me? Scared, and powerless.

There is, however, a relief in powerlessness; a safety in the surrender that happens when I accept that I am not in control. Someone else is in control, and that someone is taking care of me and the rest of the human race. Since I have no control, these things are not my fault. I can only choose how I respond to these events. Whenever I feel afraid, I pray for God to protect me and my family. I pray for God to send angels to give me peace of mind, or angels to help me be alert. Who knows what actually happens when a prayer is said—if it creates a connection for God to act or if God would have done it anyway. I do know that it helps me let go of anxiety and live my life.

So instead of a childlike sense of safety and security, I have an active, daily conversation with God. I know that God is with me, but that bad things still can happen. However, as I continue this daily conversation I find more and more peace and serenity in the moment and less and less fear of what could happen.

Jennica Nobre

Jennica grew up in Glenview, IL, and currently lives in Bryn Athyn, PA with her husband, Calebe and two children, Zion and Solomon. In addition to mothering, she teaches Biology classes part time and leads naturalist programs at the Pennypack Ecological Restoration Trust.

Reader Comments (2)

Thanks, Jennica, for this poignant story. I too have been through the process of recognizing that there is no avoiding the fact that scary, painful things can happen in life. There's no guarantee that they won't. What I have come to recognize, though, and to count on is that the Lord will be there through whatever painful, scary situation comes along, and will send tremendous amounts of help to get us through. So, like you, my conversations with the Lord take the nature of asking him to help me keep a watchful eye out for danger, and also, when troubles and disasters strike, to help me recognize and embrace the loving strength, help and comfort that comes.

March 11, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterKarin Childs

Thank you for this article! I have a tendency to want to "protect" my husband and son from all possible catastrophes...and the truth is that I can't. All I can do is be the best mother and wife that I can be and to pray and trust in God.

March 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterCatie Junge
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