Tuesday, May 24, 2011


Honeysuckle. The smell of of it transports me back to another time.  Another lifetime.  Another place.  The sweet scent takes me to childhood summers in the very Southeast corner Kansas, carefree, running around in a fit of pure freedom and ecstasy (with the kind of enthusiasm that makes today's doctors prescribe medication to children).  I remember the scent of honeysuckle would tickle our noses and make us stop in our tracks to try to spy it.  We would spot it, always climbing up a fence, winding it's spidery vines through the chain links, it's flowers begging to us to drink the sweet nectar.

My son and I were on a walk (which included, of course, stopping at a nearby playground), and as we were nearing home, the scent of honeysuckle drew me out of my deep train of thought.  I saw it almost instantly, on a chain link fence, and smiled.  I might even have picked a few of the flowers to drink the sweet nectar -- if the residents hadn't been outside enjoying the nice weather.  I was instantly filled with the feelings of freedom and joy, of innocence and unguarded honesty.  I was hopeful.  Hopeful that I can give my son the kind of childhood that he will look back upon and smile.  Hopeful that there will be something all through his adulthood that will act as a time machine back to when times were simpler and life was easier for him.

An hour after our walk, I received a phone call about a tornado that made my heart sink.  I turned on the news and began to cry at the shocking images.  You see, growing up in Kansas can make one tend to not take tornadoes very seriously.  At my house, after hearing the sirens but before taking cover in the basement, we would go outside to see if we could see the storm coming.  As students, we would giggle through tornado drills, as adults, maybe we rolled our eyes through them.  Tornadoes were no big deal.  We had warnings all the time.  Nothing ever happened.  We even have a name for mini-tornadoes: Micro Bursts.

Not this time.  This was serious.  Very serious.  The phone call was a report that a piece of my childhood had been ripped to shreds by a violent F4* tornado.  Joplin, Missouri is a mere 30 minutes from the place I spent the first 20 years of my life.  Joplin was quite a large city, compared to my hometown.  Joplin was where we went back-to-school-shopping, where a boyfriend would take you if he wanted to impress you with a fancy date, where I went when I skipped school one day during my junior year of high school.  As I watched the burning hospital (that now looks like an abandoned parking garage in the worst part of Iraq), the demolished houses, the utter confusion -- I felt robbed somehow.  Robbed of a piece of my childhood.  Robbed of a place that I could go to make me feel like a teenager again.

More than those selfish feelings of being robbed, I wept for the residents of Joplin.  The poor people who have been robbed of more than their memories.  This storm took their homes, belongings, jobs, and, for some, their family members.  The death toll is quickly approaching 120*, making this the deadliest U.S. tornado since 1953.  I keep thinking that this storm was so selfish to take lives and homes and jobs and livelihoods.  How dare it literally rip apart the lives of all these hard-working Midwesterners?  But it's just a tornado, it couldn't hear my accusations, or see my finger pointing.  It's gone now, but the destruction will be long lasting.

For my family, this tornado affected us personally.  My husband and I both have many friends and family members who live in and around Joplin.  My friends have had houses destroyed, his Grandfather has a tree on his roof, was left without water or electricity (like the rest of the city) and came very close to running out of the oxygen he depends on.  My husband's cousin and his family took shelter in their basement (their youngest son in only a towel, as they took him down straight from the bath tub), in a closet under the staircase while their house was ripped off it's foundation.  The tornado tore the water line, soaking them from head to toe.  The basement began filling with water, the smell of gas was nearly suffocating for them.  They feared they would drown.  There was no way out -- the staircase no longer led anywhere.  Thankfully, neighbors were able to help them escape.  They have nothing left but the clothes on their backs (and for the little one, just the towel), but they are thankful to be alive.

There are so many tales of survival, of missing persons, of having to step over the bodies of loved ones to escape the crumbling structures that provided shelter from the storm.  The stuffed animals that children once clung to for help falling asleep - gone.  Family pets - missing.  Water to rinse away a bad day - gone.  Grocery stores - demolished.  High school - flattened.  The bed that once provided relief for an aching back - the wind took it 70 miles away.  The roof that provided shelter overhead - now toothpicks on top of a crumpled vehicle.  So many things that we take for granted each and every day have been ripped away from these suffering people.  I want to stand outside and scream "It's not fair!  They didn't do anything wrong!"

I have a lump in my throat that won't go away.  I think of how displaced and helpless everyone in the community must feel.  I feel so helpless 4 hours away.   I think of how these poor children have had their childhoods ripped away.  They have, in an instant, had to grow up into miniature adults.  Fearing for their lives, followed by seeing their parents openly weep and hear the worries of "what now?" and "how are we going to make it?".  I tear up thinking that these kids won't look back on their childhoods with fond memories of honeysuckle and being carefree, but of destruction, loss, and devastation.


Then I saw this picture.  The picture of a demolished church with nothing but a cross still standing.  But isn't the cross that is standing everything?  Wait a minute... this is a story of rising again, redemption, and rebuilding.  As the mayor said last night on CNN, "We aren't going to let a little F4 tornado kick our asses".  From what I've seen, they aren't.  And the immense amount of citizenry around the country won't let them.  Rescue workers and civilians from all over are traveling in troves to help by delivering supplies, cleaning up, and tending to the needs of anyone affected.  My heart aches for those who were victimized, but is, at the same time, bursting with pride and joy for the amount of support pouring in from all over the country.  There are reports of convoys of ambulances, no two from the same town.

"We are abandoned to God, He works through us all the time."
-- Oswald Chambers

The victims in Joplin still need help, donations, supplies, and prayer - especially with more terrible weather (possibly more tornadoes) headed their way.  Cleanup and rebuilding will take years, they will forever have daily reminders of the devastation that hit them the afternoon of May 22, 2011 -- a date they will certainly remember long after we forget.  Their homes will still look like war zones long after we stop sending supplies.

We are heading down later in the week to help our family and friends, and any others who may need assistance.  I don't know how to possibly prepare my eyes for what they will see, or to prepare my heart for what it will feel.  I can only imagine that the images on the news don't even begin to do justice to the devastation and destruction that is now Joplin.

I believe in Midwesterners - we are a strong, stubborn people who cook with a lot of garlic.  I know that Joplin will, by God's good grace, survive and eventually will be stronger than before.  I pray that, with time and clean up, the victims will be able to look to the future with optimism, to be able to sleep soundly when thunder is roaring, to not have nightmares of the storm that destroyed their world... and maybe even smile when they smell the sweet scent of honeysuckle.

"Do you have an impossible job to do?  Has the Lord told you to do it?  Go ahead! 
When we pray, we enter God's domain from the domain of our inability."
-- Corrie ten Boom (Holocaust survivor)

Help out however you can, use whatever resources or gifts you have, to help these individuals.  Donate, volunteer, give blood.  And most importantly, pray for the victims, rescue workers, and volunteers.  To make a donation by phone, please call the Heart of Missouri United Way at 573-443-4523.

*The tornado has now been rated as an EF5 and the death toll is up to 125 (as of 10:00 on 5/26/2011)

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