Ever since 2011, May 22 has had a different meaning for the people of Joplin. The people living here feel emotions on this day that they don’t normally feel. They remember things that happened that seem like they can only come out of nightmares. I will never forget the phone call that we got while we were in Tulsa. Our daughter worked at Walmart at the time. She called to tell us a tornado was headed that way and they were taking cover. Then the phone went dead. Then the next thing we heard was that Joplin was struck by a massive tornado. Businesses were destroyed, including Walmart. And there were multiple deaths. We couldn’t reach our daughter. Our hearts sank.
As we drove home, we were not able to reach her. But we did catch other family members. And they said she was fine. Fortunately, the store she worked in was missed. The storm went just south of where she was. Thank God. What a relief. But then we began to hear about the magnitude of what happened. Quite possibly the largest storm to ever hit a metropolitan area. It had winds well over 200 mph. It was on the ground for over 20 miles. Just grinding up whatever it touched. Homes destroyed. Business is destroyed. Landscapes destroyed. The destruction was immense. 161 people lost their lives that day. Including kids who just graduated high school. It really was horrendous.
I retired that year from teaching. And I wanted to do something to help out. So I wrote a book. The intention was to raise money to build a home for someone who lost their home in the storm. I was able to interview 62 families. To tell their stories. The book really is simply a collection of their interviews. Word for Word. I heard stories of those who lost loved ones. Who were there with them when they lost them. I could never imagine what it must’ve been like. And I was humbled to get to hear them firsthand. I was humbled that they would trust me to tell their stories. I was floored by the stories I was hearing. Stuck in their car. Stuck in their bathroom. Watching the roof being sucked off their homes. Having their child sucked out of their arms. Let’s just say there were tears shed over, and over, and over.
Although what I was hearing was repetitive, each one had its own feel. They were definitely original in the sense of how they experienced the storm. But no matter how different they were, each one came back to a very common point. As we concluded each interview, I asked this question: “Where was God?” And just as they shed tears over, and over, and over, they did not hesitate to tell me that God was with them over, and over, and over. A young girl told me that she didn’t cry or get scared because the angel told her she was going to be fine. Another told me about finding their child in the arms of somebody in a white clothing. And as they approached their child, that person was gone. The child was fine. Others talked about angels holding the walls down. And a father who lost his son, told me that God allowed him to hand his son over to him. Wow!
I will never forget listening to those I interviewed. Hearing what they had to say. And then re-reading their stories on the pages of the book. And one thing we should all learn from stories like these, is how God is there through storms. Now, our storms may not end the way we hoped they would. We aren’t promised easy. We aren’t promised things will go our way. We may lose loved ones. Just as a father who lost his son did. We may know others who lost loved ones as well. We may lose property. We may see destruction. But no matter what it is we go through, God will get us through. Through his strength we will get through. And if you don’t know this, let’s talk. Make today the day that you do come to know God. So when the storms do come, he will be there to get you through. Because he loves you. He always has. He always will.