Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Joplin Tornado, Us, and You

[The following blog was written by both Darrin and Lori, and originally appeared on Darrin's facebook page. Darrin's thoughts are in blue, while Lori's are in red. When we're both speaking, it's in plain text.]

What a difference a month makes, right?

Never in our lives would we have thought we'd be a part of one of the biggest national stories of the year. And truly, though 158 now have died from the deadliest US storm in 60 years, the aftermath has been nothing short of inspiring. If it's not a story about a miraculous survival, or thousands of people (representing 24 states!) showing up to adopt the hundreds of animals that were left homeless (and they all found new homes, way to go, people!) it's an offer of help, an offer of prayer, an offer of comfort, whether it be from a stranger or a friend. Here we are over a month after a devastating EF-5 tornado that changed everything for a lot of people, including us.

The night of the storm, we were on our way home from seeing our friends Mel, Justin, Chad, and Elizabeth at Mel and Justin's home in Jefferson City, MO. We were about an hour away from Joplin when we turned on the radio, expecting to hear some of the typical programming, and instead heard News Director (and all-around good guy) Josh Marsh talking about catastrophic damage caused by a tornado. Naturally, we listened more intently.

Then he mentioned Joplin. We got worried.

Then he mentioned the intersection where we lived, and how it had been wiped out. THAT hit us. Imagine being kicked in the gut, then forced to run a mile uphill. We sped the whole way home, forced to take a 15-mile detour that cut through some police barricades, avoided others, until we got about two blocks from home and were forced to walk the rest of the way due to the sheer destruction all over. We parked by the School District's offices, which were standing but severely damaged.

Once we got out of the car, all remaining breath was taken away.

It was like a bomb had gone off. The sky was red, and angry. Fires smoldered in the distance, and a landscape that just three hours earlier had been filled with beautiful homes, businesses, and landscaping was now leveled. Nothing left. No stone stood upon another. 

We trudged up Connecticut Street, moving through what was left of people's homes, over downed power lines, past the odor of gas escaping into the air. When we reached our apartment building, we broke down. It was all gone; the brick base still holding, but two floors above having been torn to shreds and collapsing onto our floor. We knew our home was a total loss, but we had a bigger priority: our cat was still inside.

After frantically calling for her, searching each side of the building, finding that one corner of the apartment had completely caved in upon itself, Darrin dove headfirst through a shattered window into what was left of our bedroom and somehow made it into the living room, where Kairi was hiding behind a chair, in a soft "cube" we had gotten her. She was dirty, terrified, and completely unharmed. 

Darrin shouted to me "I've got her!" I was shocked and managed to yell "You've GOT her?!?" and began to sob as I ran around to the busted out kitchen window. Darrin handed Kairi out the window to me and made his way out. We hugged and had a good cry. Our family was still whole. Darrin soon went straight to work at KZRG, getting information out to those who were in more need than us, doing whatever possible to help, not stopping for a moment to contemplate all that had happened until much later. 

That's when the help arrived. 

Mel, Justin, Elizabeth and Chad offered to come down to Joplin instantly... the night of the storm, once hearing we were OK, they had bags packed and were ready to come. They hit town the next day, flanked by Justin's amazing dad J.D. With their help, we were able to save a few items from our home, got temporary shelter for Lori and Kairi, and had the first assurances that it would be OK. They even had a care package prepared for me, with comic books and Superman DVDs (the essentials, of course). 

Co-workers I had barely known before were now united, standing side-by-side with me, offering whatever they had to spare. 

News organizations from across the world - from NYC to England, from New Zealand to Canada - reached out to me as well as several others on our staff. Yes, they wanted the story, but they also wanted to know two things: 1) "Are you OK?" and 2) "How can I help?"

There is no easy answer for the destruction and lives that were lost. We don't always understand why God allows terrible things to happen. But when asked where God is we can answer that God is here and His hand can be seen through the many miraculous stories of survival, sacrifice, help, and love that is being shown to us and numerous others who were impacted by the tornado. Seeing God's hand when we experience good times is easy. When faced with loss and destruction it takes faith to keep seeing Him.

We have received generous gifts from friends, former co-workers, and complete strangers. We have felt the power of tons of people praying for us. A nationally syndicated radio show that our group of stations carries personally sent each staffer who had lost a home cash. They didn't know us; yet they showed us love anyway. Friends organized efforts to donate to Joplin rebuilding, as well as our personal replacement of all we had lost. Chad's church collected a LOT of stuff to donate, and I know many of you also did the same. They - YOU - didn't have to help, yet did anyway.

This is the definition of hope. This is the definition of love. This is the definition of humanity. When tragedy strikes, we prove that deep down, it's not about politics. It's not about who has more and who has less. It's about us. It's about helping one another. Loving your neighbor. Doing unto them as you would have done unto you.

It's love. It's hope.

And it's all because of you.

From the bottom of our hearts, you have done more for us than we ever thought possible. More than we could ever repay. Whether you prayed, donated to the relief efforts, or gave to us personally, you are eternally in our thoughts and prayers, and we will NEVER stop being thankful for you.

You're the reason we can move on with our lives. And you're the very first thing we thank God for every day.

Thank you.

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