It's hard to know where to begin.
It was May 22, 2019. For thousands, it is hard to think of the day without recalling another May 22 from eight years ago, when an EF5 tornado plowed through our hometown - Joplin, Missouri. My recent fourth graders do not remember that storm, but they do know that tornados, and storms that might bring tornados, can be scary.
Most of the time, I can look at radar and see the direction of a storm. I can locate hook echoes, and normally I can be sure that the circulation will travel north or south of our location.
We were not too worried for our wellbeing since there are many shelters, built since 2011, in the area. Still we wanted to be closer to our house in Carl Junction. After looking at the radar on my phone and seeing the severity headed toward the airport, my wife and I made the decision to leave immediately to get to a shelter just a mile or so from our house. We arrived there just a few minutes ahead of the storm. When the siren - located just outside the window - blared, our children panicked. There were tears and heavy breathing as they wondered if all of their friends were safe. We lost cable TV, wifi, and phone service, and had to rely on radio reports, which were disappointing (Did I mention I like to see the radar for myself?).
SIDE NOTE: I have to be proud of my children for not worrying about themselves, but showing concern for others instead.
When a tornado was reported in the Briarbrook subdivision and possibly crossing 171 Highway at Gum Road, my wife and I exchanged a look that we have never before shared in our 28-year relationship. We knew the funnel would miss our current location in the shelter (by only a quarter mile), but we also understood that our neighborhood was in its direct path.
Oh well, I thought. I guess I'll be calling the insurance company soon. This could be our next adventure.
Listening to the radio, we were also told that the tornado was on the ground north of the airport and headed toward parts of Webb City and Oronogo. I pretty much resigned myself to the shock that our house is smack in between Briarbrook and the then-current location of the storm.
Between storm cells, I took the car and drove into our neighborhood to check things out. Things were dark, with neighbors walking about carrying flashlights. Electricity was knocked out by the storm, but houses and trees were all still intact. The dogs were still in the house, and the new air conditioning unit we had installed earlier in the day was still on its pad, though silent.
I returned to the shelter and when the next wave of storms passed at 2 am, we packed up the family to go home. Electricity was still off, and the neighborhood was eery. Walking into our house, we habitually flipped on light switches and felt stupid, knowing that they wouldn't work. In 30 seconds - no exaggeration - the house came alive with light. Our power was restored; our timing could not have been better.
Still, we were going to bed not knowing if our friends nearby faired as well as we had.
On Thursday, I ventured out to purchase gift cards from Ace Hardware to distribute to storm victims. As a deacon in the church, it falls upon me to keep an eye on disaster relief needs. My son and I parked on a busy road in the damage zone, and we walked in 90-degree heat to find residents who could use a little charge. We didn't preach to them, but we did also bring a handful of Bibles to hand out with the gift cards.
The sounds of chainsaws and the smells of freshly cut trees filled our senses as we took in the sights of second stories that no longer rested on the first floors of houses, large trees uprooted and fallen onto roofs and cars. Hundreds of volunteers walked the streets and moved rubble to curbs, and though we may disagree philosophically and religiously, everyone we saw was there out of compassion and empathy for their fellow man. Of course, I have read reports of con artists trying to scam victims, but those are far outnumbered by legitimate good samaritans providing food, water, and muscle to those in need. We even passed the governor and an entourage of media following him as he surveyed the damage and offered support.
Our preacher tells me that it's easier to recognize Providence in the rearview mirror than through the windshield. I've found that to be very true for me. In fact, I have come to believe that every storm is an opportunity to start fresh. People have survived much worse than this latest storm.
The weatherman tells me that there still remains the threat of catastrophic flooding in the area surrounding us. With the saturated ground, trees are easier uprooted by smaller winds. We are cautioned over and over not to drive through or play in draining waters.
For me, the picture (right) tells a great story. I took the photo in the flooded parking lot of my friend's furniture story on the south side of Joplin. I don't know what the survival rate of tadpoles in furniture store parking lots might be, but for the moment, life is thriving in the storm waters, and perhaps even because of the storm waters. While flooding can displace life, it can also demonstrate that life goes on, and we just have to take one step at a time.
I am thankful for the safety of my own family and house, and I face the future knowing that every danger brings opportunity and new beginnings.