Amid an ultra-busy election season packed with travel and appointments, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest finally had a Saturday afternoon to spend with his family at their home in Raleigh.
It was Oct. 8, 2016, precisely one month before Election Day and one week before his 49th birthday. Rough weather made it a good day to be indoors. There was heavy rain and sustained winds from the outer bands of Hurricane Matthew, which had brushed southeastern U.S. coastlines for the previous two days.
At around 2:30 p.m., Forest was downstairs with his son Max (age 15 at the time), watching television coverage of then-Gov. Pat McCrory updating storm damages in the eastern part of the state, where there was severe flooding.
Then, suddenly …
“We heard this massive couple of sounds, like thunder crashes—like lightning hit the house or a bomb blew up or something,” Forest recalled in a recent interview with Decision. “The whole house shook.”
As rain invaded the room through a collapsed ceiling, Forest realized the 60-ton oak tree in their back yard had fallen on and into the house.
“At that moment—I don’t like to even tell the story because it gives me chills—I literally thought everybody in the house except my son and I were dead,” Forest said. “It was that much of an impact. The tree was that large.”
In their family of six, only the eldest son, Jake, was not at home.
Forest ran upstairs. He saw his wife, Alice. She was OK. They darted together toward the adjoining bedroom and bathroom shared by their two daughters, Haley (then 20) and Olivia (11).
That was the part of the house onto which the tree had fallen. The ceiling was split open. Wood, insulation and debris were in piles. Much of the floor was unsafe to walk on.
Dan and Alice literally busted the bedroom door open.
Olivia was not visible beneath three feet of rubble that covered her on her bed. But only seconds after her parents entered the room, she emerged—just popped up out of bed—with only a tiny scratch on her shoulder.
Haley was in the bathroom, where the tub had been smashed into the lower level of the house. The tree missed her by three feet. Back on her bed, right where she had been lying watching a movie just moments earlier, a 10-inch piece of tree branch had pierced like a spear through the center of the mattress and down into the floor below. She, too, was unharmed.
For Dan Forest, it was like a manifestation of Psalm 91.
“It was just a great example of God’s protective hand on our family, where you can see such instant destruction, yet it was like He was saying, ‘I’ve got you covered,’” Forest said. “It was a real visual for us. Now, everything in our lives falls ‘before the tree’ or ‘after the tree.’ It’s like this great marker in life.”
The family moved five times to temporary dwellings over the next year, fretting not, while the house was being repaired.
“They were truly an example of the peace that surpasses all understanding,” said North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby, a close friend of the family. “Their attitude about it was like, ‘Hey, we’re safe. Let’s get on with the things God has called us to do.’”
Thirty-one days after the tree, Forest was re-elected to his second term as lieutenant governor. Next up: a likely run for governor. Sometime in the months ahead, he’s expected to announce his candidacy for the 2020 election.
His career and life are rooted in faith in Jesus Christ.
“My faith instructs everything I do every single day,” he said. “God has given us a very clear plan of how to order our lives, how to order our families, how to order our government and how to order the church. Those things are directed by His Word, and that’s what we try to uphold.”
Forest believes the Lord has him in the political arena “for such a time as this” and that, similarly, the church must embrace its divinely destined role in a culture that has, in many ways, turned its back on God.
“Many of the issues we deal with today are direct attacks on God’s creation, like Biblical manhood and womanhood, that come down to very clear lines being drawn that are anti-Biblical and anti-Christian,” he said. “The church needs to realize the times we’re in and that if it doesn’t stand up and fulfill its role in such a time as this—loving our neighbors and truly being the church in tough times—then there probably will be no hope for the future of our country to have religious freedom and a free society. God has placed us here, and we need to do our job.”
That sometimes means being willing to take controversial, unpopular positions in order to obey the Lord.
“I tell my staff every day that we’re going to do the right thing no matter what it costs,” Forest said. “I’ve always said if there’s ever an issue or incident or anything else where you felt like you had to compromise your principles to be victorious in a political campaign, then I’m not interested. I would rather lose a campaign—let the people decide—than compromise my principles.”
Those principles are guided by Scripture study, prayer and godly counsel.
“Dan is driven by the desire to please God,” said Justice Newby. “For him, the real question is: What is the teaching of God’s Word on a particular issue? Once he determines that, he knows what his stand will be.”
In 2016-17, Forest stood resolute in defense of North Carolina’s much-maligned House Bill 2, which required transgender people to use bathrooms and locker room facilities matching the sex on their birth certificates rather than gender identity. The bill was designed to protect women and children from potential predators.
In protest and in lockstep with LGBT advocates, large corporations and sports organizations boycotted North Carolina, including the NCAA and NBA pulling their championships and all-star events, respectively, from being played in the state. When Gov. Roy Cooper announced an agreement with state legislators to repeal the law in March 2017, Forest sternly disagreed, saying in a prepared statement: “We are yielding the moral high ground and giving in to a new form of corporate extortion … Why are we allowing them to dictate to us laws that govern the protection of our people? We should have the backbone to tell them to take a hike.”
Forest grew up the son of a politician. His mother, Sue Myrick, was Charlotte, N.C.’s mayor from 1987-91 and served nine terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995-2013. Yet for much of his life he had no interest in pursuing a similar path.
He was a highly successful architect, rising to the position of senior partner in a leading company.
Though he grew up in church, Forest didn’t truly encounter the Gospel until he was nearly 30. The turning point came in 1996 when he and Alice attended the Billy Graham Crusade at Ericsson (now Bank of America) Stadium in Charlotte. After Mr. Graham gave the invitation, Alice told Dan she wanted to respond, so he took her by the hand and walked with her onto the field below, where she surrendered her life to Christ.
“I thought I had it all together back then,” Dan said. “But I didn’t.”
Alice began attending a Kay Arthur Bible study with other women and was so enthused by what she was learning about eternity that Dan became aware of what he was missing.
“I remember sitting on the sofa, looking at her and saying, “Honey, I don’t think I have what you have.”
Shortly thereafter, Forest got on his knees, repented of his sins and gave his life to Jesus, too.
He joined a Christian mentoring and discipleship group headed by four older men, which became the Charlotte Leadership Forum. One of its founders was Sam Cornwell, now 84, whom Forest calls his “spiritual papa.”
From Cornwell, Forest learned how to memorize and apply Scripture and became a daily reader of Oswald Chambers’ devotional classic My Utmost For His Highest.
Forest was more than 10 years into his walk with the Lord before he received and answered God’s call into public service. His last day as an architect was Dec. 31, 2009.
In November 2012, he became only the second Republican elected as North Carolina’s lieutenant governor.
Along with the many duties of his office, Forest stays involved in ministry. For the past four years, he’s hosted a Christian men’s retreat in the North Carolina mountains. He and Alice are part of a Sunday school class—taught by Justice Newby—at Christ Baptist Church in Raleigh that consists mostly of college students and young adults, in keeping with their heart for helping disciple the next generation.
Occasionally, Forest fills in for Newby teaching the class, and he has preached at area churches.
On Oct. 16, 2016—eight days after the tree—Forest gave a message titled Giants In Our Land at Faith Baptist Church in Knightdale, N.C., about 10 miles outside of Raleigh.
“Would you all like to hear a miracle this morning?” Forest asked the congregation.
Then he told the story about how God spared his family.
He also shared his heart about how Western Civilization is under attack—surrounded by the “giants” of a godless culture seeking to reap destruction—but that God wants His followers to live confidently in His plan, provision and protection.
Forest talked about David’s battle with Goliath, and how even if David had slung the rock off target, Almighty God was able to redirect it right into the giant’s head.
“David went out with courage because He knew how powerful God was,” Forest said near the end of his message. “He knew that nobody could stand against God. … He trusted that whether he did it or God did it Himself, that God was going to be victorious in the end.
“David got it, and I hope you and I get it, too.”