Thursday, August 4, 2011

Journey to Joplin

I started blogging by writing about a pilgrimage to a monastery, but recently I made a pilgrimage of a different kind to the town where I was born--Joplin, Missouri. I had already bought my ticket to Joplin for a 4th of July family reunion before the May 22nd tornado. My parents, as well as numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins, live in or near Joplin. I flew in at dusk and I picked out with relative ease the bright, busy lights at the intersection of Range Line and I-44, and I could see the twinkling lights and tree-covered streets of Joplin as we flew over. It was also easy to spot a wide brown scar cutting through the heart of Joplin which had no lights, no trees, no greenery. The F-5 tornado had carved a six-mile-long path of destruction, at times almost a mile wide, which left more than 150 people dead, 7,000 homes destroyed, and 18,000 cars totaled.
But if the aerial view was astonishing, the view on the ground was shocking. Standing at ground zero—say, at 20th and Connecticut, or near St. Mary’s Catholic Church, or across from Joplin High School—it looked like a bomb had exploded from horizon to horizon, as far as the eye could see. There actually was a “ground zero” since many survivors described the eye of the storm passing over them, an eerie calm both preceded and followed by deadly 200 mph winds.
When I reached my parents’ house, I sifted through issues of The Joplin Globe that my mom had saved, which included the photographs of all those who had died: The three men with Down Syndrome-- who lived in a group home and died there together--Mark Farmer, Rick Fox, and Tripp Miller. A friend of Mark’s wrote that he rejoiced “in 1 Corinthians 13:10 as they now have perfect bodies.”
Will Norton, a teenager who had just left his high school graduation and was sucked out of his car. His sister shared that it would only be a short time until Will saw them again because life is so short and “time goes fast in heaven.” Rusty Howard, who was found in Home Depot holding his five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son in his arms. The Pizza Hut manager, Christopher Lucas, who led everyone to safety in a walk-in freezer and struggled to hold the door shut before he died. Another father of two, Randy England, who had been laid off from the La-Z-Boy Factory in November which was, his wife said, a blessing in disguise because he had spent the remaining time with his family. He also was leading a mother and children to safety in Home Depot when he was killed. There are many stories of people who died while sacrificing themselves for others, and many more stories of those who came to the rescue of those who were trapped and injured.
While volunteering at Forest Park Baptist Church, I met the grandmother of two children who died. She told me she had received a phone call soon after the tornado struck from her daughter and son-in-law informing her that one of her grandchildren was dead, and the other was “going fast.” She told me the family had good moments and bad moments, but prayer was getting her through. “I pray all the time,” she said. “It’s all God.”
Two other children were in the car with their grandmother in the parking lot of Home Depot when the tornado struck. The grandmother told the children to start praying, and ten-year-old Mason Lillard was comforted by the angels she said she could see. Mason was pierced by an iron bar but survived.
Harmony Heights Baptist Church across from Joplin High School was holding its Sunday evening service when the tornado struck. Three members were killed, while the other fifty or so members were trapped in the debris. A group of young people arrived on the scene soon after and began pulling the members from the rubble. On a Harmony Heights Baptist Church newsletter is the following:
Devotion for the morning of May 22
Jeremiah 17:17 Do not be a terror to me; you are my refuge in the day of disaster. “Thou art my HOPE in the day of evil.”
Also posted on Strange Islands

In Hindsight

I realize the effort to defend my ego is a lot bigger than the effort to simply keep quiet. I also find that in either case, I can be equally incorrect.

I have found that when in my younger years, if someone said, “Here, try this”–and it was not a yummy treat, it probably was not in my best interest.

Every challenge always pays off– Always. You just have to realize that in hindsight.

The things I thought made me feel cool then, often make me feel silly now.

I would have never gotten that perm if I could have seen my senior picture beforehand. (See previous.)

Some of your best friendships do not end–they go into hibernation.

Whatever people feel they need to take drugs for can be achieved without them.

The best title I have ever held is “Daddy.” (And that it took my wife to achieve this title–and still does.)

Upon reflection, when we say we were “born this way”– that should only pertain to the good stuff. The rest we learned.

Being a loser is someone else’s opinion that I do not have to agree with.

I can understand and be compassionate to something without agreeing with it.

Kids and golf can be the most fun you will ever have being pissed off.

God would never forsake me, I would forsake God. (God waited for my return.)

It is okay to love someone and they not love you back–just don’t do it on their property after dark.

I should have listened more to what I didn’t want to listen to.

I also should have kept my mouth shut a lot more.

Most of the worst stuff I feared I created. (Often it would never arrive.)

I see that most of the stuff that I spent most of my time trying to get; I no longer have, and no longer need.

I also see that most of what I ever needed was always there, I was too busy looking in the wrong places.

Wounds heal.

Love returns. (Not that it ever really goes away.)

You can’t be totally present always looking back in hindsight.

From Artisan of the Human Spirit