First let me say that I don’t claim to be a true Oklahoman–that is a club I’m pretty sure it takes a lifetime to get into, and I am far from paying all my dues. If I consider myself from anywhere at all, it’s Florida, where I was born and where I graduated from high school and where the rest of my family lives at the moment.
Florida knows hurricanes. You can evacuate from hurricanes, sometimes days in advance. You can board up your house and stock up on batteries and bottled water. Hurricanes are awful, to be sure–Hurricane Ivan laid a fierce smack-down on Pensacola the year Mia was born–but tornadoes?
I will forevermore be afraid of them.
A lot of people around me are talking tough: “That’s the way we do it ’round here! Us Oklahomans are a breed of our own! We are thrivers and survivors!” It’s truly empowering and encouraging…but I’m still reeling from all the disaster, and from the heartbreaking loss of life.
And I confess that I’m overwhelmed partly because that tornado was this close to doing to my family what it did to thousands of others. When I hear about the teachers who draped themselves over students, and about the mothers who couldn’t get to their children, I selfishly think of my own panic and near-hysteria of that day.
This was the atmosphere Sunday evening at my house:
We laughed at Caleb as he ran out into the yard to collect the baseball-sized hail that had plinked out of those dark clouds. The kids were excited and we were safe and happy, but that particular storm spawned a tornado a mere 20 minutes after it passed our house–it destroyed homes and lives in Shawnee, Oklahoma, and other small towns along the way.
The next morning, weather forecasters were predicting much of the same thing. I left my job in Chickasha a little earlier than usual. My plan was to check the kids out from school before we got any bad weather because I like all my baby chicks with me before a storm. (read also: I didn’t want my car hailed on in the elementary school pickup line.)
The sky was looking wicked and we were under a tornado watch, but that’s not really unusual. Storm-chasing cars and trucks were refueling for the afternoon at our town’s gas station.
It was humid and a little windy, but I could still see the sun shining through the clouds. I was feeling pretty nonchalant about everything until I got to Mia’s school and saw how parents were freaking out left and right–everybody and their brother had apparently signed out their kids already.
“Have you heard? It’s headed to the Blanchard/Bridge Creek area! It will be right over us! They say it will drop any minute!”
Well, crap. I got my daughter and left. The high school was my next stop and Cheyenne was not happy about being checked out: “Now I have to take my English exam, mom! I was exempt until today–now I’ll have an absence, so thanks a lot for totally wrecking my life!” or something to that effect.
The elementary school parking lot was a ghost town. I checked Merrick out and his sweet teacher personally walked him to the office to me. We headed home to check the news, since I was getting no signal and the radio in our car doesn’t work that well, and I had no idea what the storm was actually doing by then.
I hoped we were in the clear at that point–and we were.
I sent the kids to play in their rooms so I could flip on the news. What I saw made my stomach drop: a monster–and I mean a monster–tornado swirling mightily on the horizon, with the southwest side of Moore sitting right in its way. Houses, businesses, schools, and churches…they all made up the tons of little while dots in the foreground, just lying in wait of that ginormous black storm.
I couldn’t even watch.
I hit the mute button and I prayed, but my prayer was suddenly interrupted by a terrible thought: where in the blue heck was my husband? Didn’t he say he’d come home early that day? Shouldn’t he have been home by then?
His route to the house ran straight into the path of the tornado. I started to hyperventilate just as he walked in the door.
His shoulders were drooped over and his eyes looked wild and tired at the same time. I could tell instantly that he was shaken; and when he got out his phone and showed me some video, I knew why.
Caleb had been listening to the radio on his drive home down I-44. He had pulled over at the exit for Newcastle to figure out on his phone which way the storm was headed. Sitting in a Walmart parking lot, my husband caught sight of a whispy white funnel literally just dropping down right out of the clouds, almost right above him. According to the newscasters, it was headed in his exact direction.
So he hauled butt out of that parking lot and onto the highway. Minutes after it had formed, the tornado had tripled in size and turned from white to black. Caleb filmed it with one hand and drove with the other, trying to figure out which way to go to get away from it. The video he got is a stormchaser’s dream: it was taken from a closer standpoint than anything I’ve ever seen in my life. I’m surprised he didn’t need to change his pants, because just watching it made me want to vomit. I was just glad he was okay.
(Sidenote: my husband has a fancy smartphone for work that he has yet to figure out. We were like clueless apes trying to get that video to upload onto the computer, and it was all in vain. So if you see him around, ask to see his insane footage. And then please offer to help this computer-illiterate man by explaining to him the virtues of youtube.)
My people were together at home. Our power was still on and most of my friends had chimed in with text messages and facebook updates that they were safe and accounted for.
We turned our attention back to the news: reports of houses obliterated and children trapped and parents worrying and people crying…disasters like this are sad no matter where they happen, but somehow seeing places that are familiar to you destroyed–it makes the bad things seem way worse.
What affected me so much about this catastrophe was the children–and we all know what I’m talking about without me having to write it. The sweet, sweet children that filled those schools with smiling faces and excited shouts and squeaky shoes and runny noses and giggles on a daily basis…how scared they must have felt in the moments before the storm hit. And how protective their teachers must have felt over them during! And how powerless the parents must have felt in the aftermath.
TEACHERS CAN NEVER EVER BE COMPENSATED ENOUGH FOR WHAT THEY DO.
And that’s a fact.
I’m sitting so content here today in my perfectly-intact house, with the people I love, while 20 minutes up the road, an entire city is dealing with the aftermath of one of the biggest tornado in history. My heart hurts for them–it breaks in pieces for the parents who have lost their children, and for the children who have lost their parents. I can so easily imagine myself in their shoes and it scares me half to death.
The churches and other organizations in our town are doing everything they can to help. Donation centers and shelters have sprung up all over the place and anyone wanting to give has more choices than they’ll know what to do with. I’ve been contacted by so many friends that live far away–I’m told the easiest and best way that you can help is by donating money to organizations like the BGCO Disaster Relief Fund.
A friend of mine is helping to put together a silent auction that will be held alongside a benefit concert in Bricktown, Oklahoma City this coming Wednesday; No Boundaries International is collecting clothes to give to the families and is in need of volunteers to help sort through donations and minister to the people who have lost everything. One of my husband’s dealers is involved with Love OKC.
The outpouring of love and support in one community is simply inspiring, and I hope, when all is said and done, that this is what people will remember most of all about Moore.
We have this treasure from God, but we are only like clay jars that hold the treasure. This is to show that the amazing power we have is from God, not from us. We have troubles all around us, but we are not defeated. We often don’t know what to do, but we don’t give up. We are persecuted, but God does not leave us. We are hurt sometimes, but we are not destroyed.
So we constantly experience the death of Jesus in our own bodies, but this is so that the life of Jesus can also be seen in our bodies. We are alive, but for Jesus we are always in danger of death, so that the life of Jesus can be seen in our bodies that die. So death is working in us, but the result is that life is working in you.
The Scriptures say, “I believed, so I spoke.”Our faith is like that too. We believe, and so we speak. God raised the Lord Jesus from death, and we know that he will also raise us with Jesus. God will bring us together with you, and we will stand before him. All these things are for you. And so the grace of God is being given to more and more people. This will bring more and more thanks to God for his glory.
2 Corinthians 4: 7-15