I don't often find myself fumbling for words, and I've often been told that I actually tend to put them together quite well.
I've had trouble with my words and my focus over the past eleven days or so. We live approximately 60 miles from Joplin, MO. Yes, this is the place that has been all over the news for the past week and a half--where the EF5 tornado hit and demolished this city. I've read the twister described as a "multivortex monster" with winds over 200 mph. While we have no direct family or friends who lost lives in this storm, we do have friends whose families have lost their homes. And even if we didn't directly know any of the 140 lives lost, I have felt very somber and in a true "funk" since the event. Highly distracted. While we scurried to find cover as the tornado warnings entered our area, they soon passed, and we ran outside to see the beautiful, yet eerie, double rainbow that hung in the strangely colored sky. The entire double arch could be seen in our backyard. I didn't yet know the extent of the massive impact on our neighbors in Joplin--of the babies ripped from their mommy's arms in the 200 mph winds, the daddy found with his arms wrapped around his two young children (all of them found deceased and buried under the rubble in a local big chain store), of the teenager sucked out of the sunroof of his car and out of his father's grasp immediately following his high school graduation. I didn't yet know these or the countless other horrifying stories that would begin to surface in the following days. I only knew a twister had touched down in a community nearby, and that the sky looked weird.
I had never heard of a "rain wrapped tornado" in the many years that I've lived in this area. Tornadoes are somewhat common here, and in the past decade we have seen the paths of destruction that tornadoes make. We've seen houses destroyed just a few short miles from our own home. We've known of lives lost to tornadoes. Several times each spring, we scurry to our basement to watch the local weatherman narrate what is going on in the current weather patterns as tornado warnings post to our area. We perch, ready to crawl into a concrete room in the corner of the basement on a moment's notice. It's almost normal to us, in a weird sort of way. But I confess that even as we find ourselves huddled before the basement television, watching the weatherman and the storm-tracker radar, I don't often feel great concern. We get desensitized to it around here. Tornado sirens are common and most often don't amount to much more than several moments of watching the weatherman and then returning to our "regularly scheduled" lives. The night the tornado hit Joplin, we carried out this ritual of scurrying to the basement, yet something felt strangely different. Perhaps it was because we had just heard that a tornado hit Joplin minutes earlier. We had not yet heard how massive the tornado was. It had not yet been classified as an EF5. We had no idea that nearly 7,000 homes had been destroyed and that 140 people had died or would die in its wake. Perhaps this time felt strangely different because as I grabbed my cell phone on the way to the basement, I received a text from my pastor's wife asking if we were okay and telling us that our dear associate pastor's daughter had lost her home in Joplin. Whatever the reason that made this time strangely different, my heart pounded heavy until the warning lifted and we got the "all clear."
It could have been my community just as easily as Joplin. And I realize now that if it had, we would not have had time to take cover, as apparently this "rain wrapped" beast was not detected until it was upon Joplin. They had little to no warning. Five minutes, I've heard, but many didn't know anything about a tornado headed their way until it hit-blowing their home and family to the four corners. We, too, would have been blown apart, as we were outside building a patio, and only came in when the rain started and the sky began to look a little odd. I went about feeding the kids dinner as Dear Husband picked up outside. "Check the weather!" He called to me. I was busy putting something in the oven and decided I'd just let him check it when he came in. If we hadn't been blown apart while still outdoors working, we may have been blown apart while Husband was picking up tools and I was putting dinner in the oven. Or even while perched on the couch watching the weather, assuming we had time to dive for cover in the concrete closet.
Yes, it very well could have been us. My heart breaks over and over again for the loss of our neighbors to the west. The aching arms of moms and dads for their lost children and the aching arms of spouses for their partners. Wondering how it must feel to be sitting down to dinner with your family one moment and the next moment have no home or family left. Wondering how a person picks up and goes on after that. It's overwhelming. Word's can't even begin to make sense of it, and in these moments, I am thankful for my faith in knowing I have a God in Heaven whose grace and mercy abounds even in the midst of stuff we don't understand.
...and I'm thankful He can interpret the groaning I feel inside that I can't quite justify with words.