How This Portrait of Jesus Saved Their Lives

As a fierce flood ravaged their home, a certain picture reminded her that she was not alone.

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Posted in , Sep 24, 2021

A portrait of Jesus in a gold frame; Photo credit: STEPHEN BARNES/ALAMY

I awoke, startled. Who were these people crowded in my bedroom? What were they doing there?

“Lois.” It was my mother, hovering anxiously near my bed. “It’s a flash flood,” she said. “The kitchen has already flooded.” She was holding a box of soda crackers—what I’d later learn was the only thing she’d managed to grab in her rush to escape the rising water.

June 4, 1940. I was 12 years old. It had started raining earlier that day, a sudden and unrelenting downpour on our little town of Homer, Nebraska. By that afternoon, our basement had flooded, spoiling the canned applesauce, pickles and chokecherry jelly we stored there. It had happened once or twice before, so we weren’t overly concerned. We hoped that would be it. But that was just the beginning.

My mother explained what had happened. As I’d slept, the nearby creek had overflowed. A wall of water had rushed down our street, leaving no time for anyone to get to higher ground. As the only two-story house in the neighborhood, ours was the best place to seek refuge.

The electricity had short-circuited, so all we could do was sit in the dark and wait. My eyes slowly adjusted to the dim room. I made out the faces huddled around me. My mother, father and 10-year-old brother, Paul. Mr. and Mrs. Kelly were also there, with their two young boys, Billy and Bobby. They’d just rented the small house next door. The boys were frightened, crying. So was Mrs. Kelly. “Everything’s gone,” she gasped. “Everything.”

“Everything.”

Our elderly neighbors the Eickhorsts were there too. Mrs. Eickhorst was in her wheelchair. Her husband must’ve somehow carried her in her chair up the stairs. Her gnarled hands clutched at the afghan that covered her knees. She was quiet, trembling.

I slipped out of bed and hurried over to the window. By the light of the moon, I could see that the street had disappeared, swallowed up by the muddy, churning floodwater. Giant elm trees, uprooted by the current, rushed past our house, smashing everything in their path. I watched, horrified, as cars, furniture, even plumbing fixtures floated by.

Paul joined me, his face pressing against the glass, his eyes wide with terror at the steadily rising water.

The town’s fire siren started to wail from atop the one-room jailhouse. Then, over the commotion, came the sound of glass shattering downstairs. It made everyone jump.

Father ran into the hall to investigate, and I followed. From the top of the stairs, we saw the flood water rushing in through a broken window. The living room was filling up!

I turned my eyes to the picture of Jesus on the wall halfway up the stairs. Years before, my mother had hung it there. “So he’ll be the last person we think of before we go to bed,” she said.

Please protect us, I prayed.

We retreated to my bedroom to wait. The night dragged on. In the darkness, the water climbed the stairs. Father began to explore our small attic space right above my bedroom. We might be forced up there, and he knew not all of us would fit. Then what? How high would the water go?

Dear Jesus, don’t let it come to that.

Morning broke and the rain finally stopped. We peeked out of the bedroom to survey the damage. We could just see the first floor, which was entirely destroyed. But incredibly, our house had stayed on its foundation. We stayed upstairs until we heard shouting outside—a man in a rowboat was there to take all 10 of us to higher ground.

My father and Mr. Kelly carried Mrs. Eickhorst across the living room to the waiting boat, wading through the dank water. They returned for the rest of us. Carefully we made our way down the stairs. I glanced at the picture of Jesus and caught my breath. The flood water, which had started to recede, left its mark on the wallpaper. It was easy to see how high it had risen. The water line stopped just below that picture. It was as if Christ had said to the rising water, “Here I stand. Come no farther.”

Eighty-one years later, I look back on that night, and I know that there was one more presence in my bedroom as the 10 of us huddled together, fearing for our lives. The One who had heard my prayers and held fast against the flood.

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