Bergthold finds hope amid tornado wreckage
by Abigail Hintz
“For we are fallen like the trees, our peace
Broken, and so we must
Love where we cannot trust,
Trust where we cannot know,
And must await the wayward-coming grace.”
“A Gracious Sabbath Stood Here,” by Wendell Berry
Trees are overlooked. They’re taken for granted. They’re mourned when they fall but not thanked while they stand.
On Easter Sunday, Laini Bergthold learned the importance of trees.
Early in the morning, she sat on her back porch. She read Psalm 40, reminded of the God who helps her and delivers her from the pit of destruction. She took in the beauty of the trees and her new and long-awaited property. She took a video in the quiet moment of bliss.
“It was so worshipful to me to just be sitting there on our back porch admiring the landscape and reading this psalm,” she said. “The Lord just really ministered to me through that.”
Twenty-four hours later there would be no porch, or trees, or landscape.
The beauty would be gone.
“We knew there was going to be some severe weather. Everyone was pretty calm about that, nobody really thought much of it,” Bergthold said.
Nevertheless, her mom asked her extended family to pray, because in Chattanooga, Tennessee, severe weather can be unpredictable.
However, the night proceeded as normal. Bergthold’s 14-year-old brother was in his room. Her 13-year-old sister slept soundly in her room. Bergthold and her mother watched “La La Land,” one of the many movies they enjoyed over quarantine.
They were simply living in the house they had been building among the trees for the past three years.
Quarantine was a really consolidated time that we got to spend together just enjoying the space, enjoying the land. It was really sweet,” said Bergthold, who initially struggled being sent home from Cedarville to quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Like many students, Bergthold grieved the loss of what seems to be one of the few semesters in college. With such an abrupt goodbye, the transition home felt disjointed and disheartening. Not only that, but her family was strict about quarantine, so she was completely isolated from everyone but them.
“I loved my home, loved my family,” said Bergthold. “I knew that I had it better than most people. At the same time, I was so struggling with everything that I was missing and just feeling like college was going by really, really fast.”
But on Easter Sunday, the Bergtholds’ definition of home changed fiercely.
Late that night, the weather radio in the closet began to blare, warning the family to take shelter immediately. A tornado had touched down in their area.
The Bergtholds had 60 seconds to get to safety. Laini’s dad grabbed her little sister out of bed and shouted for her brother to come downstairs. They rushed into their pantry which had been designed as a storm shelter at the urging of her mother.
“We made it just in time,” Bergthold said.
Bergthold crouched over her little sister with the rest of her family huddled around them. The wind was ripping their house apart outside, so much so that they couldn’t tell where each sound was coming from.
“I was scanning my brain for some kind of Scripture to say or something to recite and I just had nothing,” Bergthold said. “Literally I just remember taking really, really deep breaths. I just kept saying, ‘OK, God, OK, God,’ because my little sister was crying and everyone else was just silent. I was just trying not to have a panic attack.”
At this point the windows were shattering. Rain was pouring into the house because the roof had come off. Yet the pantry remained solid. The glass dishes above them didn’t so much as rattle.
“I was very scared,” Bergthold said. “I didn’t know what was going to be there when I walked out, but I never felt like I was about to die.”
Josie Dicks, Bergthold’s roommate who also lives in Chattanooga, said she was in contact with Bergthold as much as possible during the storm.
“She was like, ‘I think our house is gone,’” Dicks said.
After an hour, the Bergthold family held onto their faith and ventured out into the moment that would change their lives.
“I just remember walking outside and I did not recognize anything. I didn’t feel like I was at my house, I didn’t feel like I was on my street. There were power lines everywhere and the sky was completely brown and a very ominous color,” Bergthold said. “My house looked totally destroyed.”
Her brother’s bedroom was still intact, so they moved mattresses into his room and tried to sleep but were unable to.
“My dad was having heart palpitations, so we were taking turns walking with him,” she said.
Eventually some sleep came, and at 8 a.m. Bergthold woke up in disbelief that the events of the last night were real. In the daylight, the extent of the damage was more evident.
Of the 75 trees on their beautiful property, not a single one was left.
“I remember having this feeling of acceptance, walking outside and being like, ‘Okay, that happened, and we’re going to get through it. This is reality now and I have no idea what this means, but we’re going to get through this,’” she said.
Their street was blocked by fallen trees, so some friends walked four miles with equipment to come help the Bergtholds clear the way so more help could come. They had been in quarantine for so long that the joy in seeing help arrive was all the more heightened by the lack of social interaction.
“I hope you guys are doing hugs,” laughed one of their family friends as they hugged and cried together.
“Even though that first morning was so hard, there were some really sweet moments too,” Bergthold said. “That’s just when I felt God’s mercy. My family just prayed together, and we were like, ‘All right, we’ve got work to do, we’re going to start cleaning up.’ And that’s what we did.”
Dicks came to help with the cleanup process on Tuesday.
“I found anniversary cards from neighbors down the street that had blown over. It was kind of crazy,” Dicks said.
During the two weeks of cleanup and sorting through the wreckage, the Bergtholds were living in a hotel paid for by their insurance. There was no Wi-Fi or cell service within 15 miles, which meant they were unable to communicate with anyone. This made the logistics of getting help extremely difficult.
“It’s amazing how those small things made up the bulk of that trial,” Bergthold said.
With so many people displaced, houses were few and far between. However, a house just 10 minutes from their property came up on Zillow out of nowhere. Within 30 minutes, Bergthold’s dad signed the lease and they had a new place to live until a new house is built on their property.
Home was a heavy thought for the Bergtholds. From a harsh transition back home for Laini to the trauma the family endured after, the word took on new meaning in this season.
“In March when we came home, I was really struggling with having to leave school and coming home for corona,” she said. “So I made this Spotify playlist. It was called ‘theology of home.’”
To say the playlist was timely is an understatement.
It is full of songs and poems that hold a delicate balance of heartache and joy. They long for heaven yet rejoice in earth.
There is a song on it called “After the Storm” by Mumford & Sons. Bergthold created the playlist on April 3.
Her house was destroyed on April 12.
“I thought that I made it because I had to stay home, but then the Lord ended up using it to show me that even when I lose my home, He is still taking care of me,” she said. “The Lord was preparing my heart so much for everything that happened.”
The playlist, the video from her back porch, and a joyride she was able to go on the day before in her beloved car that was destroyed in the storm were sweet gifts from the Lord before a season of immense suffering.
“I feel like a lot of people look back on these experiences and they’re like ‘I wish I would’ve appreciated what I had more,’ but I don’t feel that way because I got to appreciate it so much,” Bergthold said. “It was a really sweet goodbye.”
Now, Bergthold is learning to grieve — to change her definition of home and understand more than before what it means to trust the Lord. She is ministering to her younger siblings who have struggled to grapple with this trial. She is thankful to be home, which to her simply means wherever her family is, even if there are no trees.
“Planting trees early in spring,
We make a place for birds to sing
In time to come.
How do we know?
They are singing here now.
There is no other guarantee
That singing will ever be.”
“For the Future,” by Wendell Berry
Abigail Hintz is a junior Journalism major and the Sports and Digital Editor for Cedars. She loves reading, playing Spikeball with her friends and watching soccer 24/7.