Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Heartland

Unexplainably horrible.  Indescribably heart-wrenching.  Devastatingly Awful.  Somethingness turned into nothingness.

These words are describing the sight of what is now left of Joplin, Missouri.  My husband and I -- along with his parents, brother, and future sister-in-law -- spent time in the midst of the tornado stricken town helping family members who were affected by the storm.  In my earlier post, I predicted that my heart and eyes weren't prepared for what they were going to feel and see.  I was right.  The 30 minute drive from my parent's home to Joplin was almost surreal.  At first, everything looked just as I had left it last winter during a Christmas shopping trip, as it had been a few weekends before when we were visiting family, and then - BAM - in an instant, everything was different.  Trees looked like creatures from a haunted forests, structures now resemble giant tangled balls of yarn, vehicles reduced to piles of scrap metal and glass.  The photos on the television simply cannot do justice to the destruction that was caused.   The newscasts can't show you just how much devastation is there.  It goes on for miles and miles and miles and miles.  At some points, all you can see is damage and destruction and pain.

"God wants us to be victors, not victims; to grow, not grovel; to soar, not sink; to overcome,
not be overwhelmed."  -- William Arthur Ward

It's easy for my mind to understand or fathom one home being ruined, one business being torn apart.  But it is was not quite so simple to wrap my brain around this vastness of ruin.  The descriptions of 'war-zone', 'total devastation', 'like a transformer movie' don't even begin to cover it.  All I could manage was to cover my gaping mouth, and try to decide whether to bawl or just throw up.  Traffic was incredibly slow due to the lack of drive-ability of many roads, and the amount of extra people who have showed up to help (and some just to gawk).  Because traffic was so slow, I was able to make eye contact with most of the other motorists around me.  Some were taking pictures, many were crying, all had that polite grimacing smile on their faces -- you know, the one you wear at a funeral when you don't quite have the right words to share.  The smile you wear when you wish you knew what to say to make everything right again, knowing in your heart that no words can make it better.

Joplin is thread in the fabric of who I am, many of my fondest memories were built there.  As the death toll rises higher and higher (currently it sets at 142), my heart breaks more and more.  Although the people who are volunteering would probably prefer the gawkers and amateur photographers (I didn't take pictures... it felt too much like an invasion of privacy) to stay out of their way; I feel like everyone should see exactly what happened in Joplin.  For Midwesterners, it may encourage them to take tornadoes more seriously, because, let's face it, we tend to forget their damaging potential.  For everyone, it will encourage you to be less selfish, and to give what you can.  For everyone, giving looks a little different.  It can be donating money, supplies, time, skills, prayer, creating a fundraiser, etc.  But the victims in Joplin need help of every kind.

"God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline." -- 1 Timothy 1:7

While dropping off donations of diapers, formula, and baby wipes at a collection station; I saw something I didn't expect to see.  I saw people standing in lines, waiting to be given the donated items so they could feed and clothe their families.  These people weren't lazy people who made bad choices and then became homeless.  These people weren't beggars.  These were people just like you and me.  Hardworking middle-class Americans who had everything ripped away from them.  Some lost homes and vehicles, many lost their places of employment and loved ones.  I was incredibly humbled and heartbroken at this sight.  I left the donation sight with tears in my eyes, wishing I could do more.

Even though I left Joplin bruised, scratched, dirty, exhausted, and sore; I felt like I had accomplished something.  My heart swelled at being able to do something for someone else, to help someone else begin to pick up the broken pieces.  I know that we didn't do nearly as much as some volunteers who are exemplary demonstrations of citizenry and loving thy neighbor (I now know why the Midwest is referred to as "The Heartland"), many have even taken extended leaves of absence from their jobs to be able to help as much as possible.  But we did as much as the weekend allowed us, and we are committed to going back again to help more.  My short amount of time in the trenches was incredibly consuming.  My dreams are filled with tornadoes and storm cellars and images of Joplin that have permanently been burned into my brain.  My most longing prayers are dedicated to their survival, safety, and resilience.

I am astonished by the number or people helping, the amount of military support, the supplies pouring in.  But these people need more.  Be someone who helps.  Do something.  Give what you can, do what you can, pray all you can.

And remember... you're In Good Company.

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