Miracle Rain Shower

The survival story of a man who escaped death thanks to a surprise gift from his guardian angel.

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Posted in , Jul 8, 2011

Miracle Rain Shower

Bears were common in the Smoky Mountains come fall. But when one of them started raiding our family’s beehives, I grabbed my rifle and cow horn and headed up Chestnut Mountain with my hunting dogs to track him down.

The dogs picked up a scent in the huckleberry bushes. I ran after them, determined to keep up. Soon we were a mile deeper into the mountains than I’d wanted to venture that morning.

I sat down on a log to catch my breath. I could hear the dogs barking as they trailed the bear along the far ridge line. Then I heard something else—distant thunder. I turned to the west, shading my eyes from the sun.

A long line of yellow-gray clouds filled the sky. Lightning streaks danced down from the clouds in thin, branching threads. “Dry lightning,” I said. “There sure ain’t any rain in that mess.”

The section of Smokys where my family lived hadn’t gotten rain in more than seven weeks. The forest was as dry as I’d ever seen it. At 16 I knew a dry forest plus dry lightning was a recipe for disaster. I didn’t want any bear that badly. Not even one threatening my family.

I stood up and blew on my old cow horn. The sound sent a few birds up into the sky and brought the dogs running.

They gathered around me like eager children, tails wagging, tongues hanging out. “We’ll go down by the stream so you all can get a drink,” I said. “Then we’ll cut across the mountains and head for home.”

At the stream I filled my canteen. Then I hitched my rifle on my shoulder and called, “Let’s go home!” We started climbing. As we came up over the top of Chestnut Mountain I got a chance to observe the storm more closely. It had intensified since I saw it in the valley.

It was dangerous, yes, but it was also beautiful. Crooked lightning forked from one cloud to another, making them glow in a mixture of yellows, blues and whites.

The dogs disappeared ahead of me. They’d make it home long before me. I stopped for a sip from my canteen.

Crash! Thunder boomed above my head, so loud the ground reverberated under my feet. A flash of lightning bleached out the sky. My whole body tingled. I looked up into the heavens. What is that?

A bright, luminous sphere descended from the clouds. I’d never seen anything like it. I was terrified. The phantom ball hovered a few inches above the ground, then moved around the mountain—leaving a trail of flames in its wake!

Fear gripped me. I was too scared to run. I could only watch in horror as the sphere spread fire along the mountain—right across the path to the other side and home! Once it had cut off my escape the ball disintegrated before my eyes.

At last my legs started working. I raced off in the opposite direction, back to the creek where we’d stopped to get water. The flames advancing behind me, moving fast over the ground. I remembered an old story my father told me.

“I was only a little boy,” Daddy had said. “I was walking home with your granddad one stormy night when a ball of fire came out of the clouds. It traveled over the valley, right into an abandoned cabin. A second later the cabin was completely consumed by flames.”

Daddy had seen the mysterious fire too! He’d even discovered its name—ball lightning. Daddy and I can have a long talk about it when I get home, I thought as I reached the stream. If I make it home!

The tiny stream was no firebreak. At best it would be a temporary stopgap to slow the fire down. My chances of outrunning the flames on foot ranged from slim to hopeless to none. I dropped my rifle into the water.

Normally leaving that rifle behind would be unthinkable. Now, with the heat of the fire bearing down on me, I just couldn’t carry the extra weight. I could only hope I’d live long enough to retrieve it again.

I looked over my shoulder as I laid it down. The flames had topped the crest of Chestnut Mountain. The race was on!

I pumped my arms and legs and kept my eyes on the far ridge. I was young and athletic, but the mountain was steep. My breath came in short, raspy gasps. A sharp, stabbing pain pierced my side. But I couldn’t stop.

Ahead, at the top of the next ridge, was a large outcropping of rock. If I could make it there, I thought, I might have a chance. If the rocks could provide protection from the fire.

I ran, I stumbled. I crawled when I had to. Finally I reached the stone formation. I crawled into the center of the rocks and collapsed. I looked down at the valley around me. The forest was an inferno.

The fire had followed the natural terrain of the hollows, completely surrounding my little island of stone, and the flames were getting closer. I huddled down in a crevice and covered myself with my coat. The air around me got hotter as the flames closed in.

It’s like hiding in an oven, I thought. I just might be roasted alive here!

My legs prickled as the heat penetrated my trousers. I tucked my legs up as close as I could to my body. Thoughts of home rushed into my mind. My mother, my father, my sisters, my little brother, Buddy Earl.

But that wasn’t the home I was going to now. I was headed to my home with God. If it was my time, I had to accept it.

I threw back my coat and raised my arms to the sky. “Please, dear Lord, accept me into your presence and take care of my family!”

I held my breath. I heard a strange sound, like the fluttering of a thousand wings beating together.

Then came the rain. Not a light rain like a shower on a spring day or a summer’s afternoon, but a great deluge. The skies opened up and water poured down in a torrent. I ducked my head for fear of drowning in it. The rocks around me sizzled and steamed when the blessed rain touched them.

When the downpour stopped and I could raise my head, I saw the valley around me blackened and charred, but safe once again. On shaky legs I made my way back to the stream to retrieve my rifle, then down the slope toward home.

I opened the back door and found Mama at the kitchen sink. I’d never been so glad to see her.

“What happened to you?” Mama asked, frowning at my still-dripping clothes. “How’d you get so wet?”

“Caught in the downpour,” I said.

“Downpour?” said Mama. “We didn’t get any rain here. This side of the mountain didn’t see a drop.”

Guess my guardian angel knew where that rain was needed most.

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