The following is an excerpt from my book I’M IN. I am posting this because it was during this week, last year, that I spent 14 days helping to rebuild the city of Joplin, Missouri. It was an experience that will forever make me humble and thankful to be alive. This is an anniversary period that I will always cherish with mixed emotions. It broke my heart to hear the many stories of tragedy and to witness the evidence of destruction (click link for pictures.) However, there was beauty in the devastation: the hope, pride, and resolve of the people in Joplin.
“On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado, with speeds in excess of 200 miles per hour, touched down in Joplin at 5:41 P.M. It ripped a path of destruction 1 mile wide, at its widest, and 6 miles long. It destroyed nearly 30% of the town, including a hospital and all the schools. The tornado inflicted damage to roughly 8,000 buildings while injuring 900 people. Unfortunately, it also claimed the lives of 160 people.
When I arrived in the heart of the path of destruction, my heart sank. I wandered aimlessly in the middle of the street. I was awestruck. I didn’t have to worry about traffic. There wasn’t any. There were no homes for anyone to return to. As far as my eyes could see, I saw evidence of destruction. Trees were stripped of their bark. The trunks remained rooted in the ground although they were badly splintered, while the broken limbs had already been cleared away. I could see that the trees once provided a beautifully lush and thick landscape. But, what I saw looked more like a desolate desert.
I saw entryway stairs leading to empty slabs of concrete, where a house used to stand. Some lots still had significant debris and remains of what used to be a home. Tattered clothes dangled on fragmented tree limbs. I wondered where all the residents of the densely populated area had gone. Would they ever come back? The destruction was everywhere, 360 degrees around me. I had never seen anything like it. I couldn’t see a single structure that withstood the storm. I couldn’t see any signs of reconstruction. I didn’t see any reason for hope. I had never felt anything like this sorrow. I felt a little sick to my stomach.
A wave of emotions swept over me. I began to cry because I felt guilty for all the complaining I had recently done in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene. In late August 2011, the Hurricane knocked out our power for 8 days. Boy, did I bitch and moan without the conveniences of running water and air conditioning! I felt selfish. As I looked around, I realized that the people of Joplin lost their entire home, all of their belongings and some lost family members. Life is hard for the people in Joplin.
God, why have you brought me here? This is certainly not a pleasurable experience!
I saw hand painted stars nailed to a post just outside Joplin High School, which had been destroyed. They read “God Bless Joplin” and “Love, Trust God.”
How do these people have so much faith and trust? I realized that I had given up on God many times in my life for what I now see were mountain-out-of-molehill events. I have never experienced a serious hardship. The Girard family experienced hardship in their lives. The Landa family, the Extreme Makeover recipients in Suffield and Springfield experienced hardship. Standing in Joplin, surrounded by the evidence of a devastating tornado, humbled me.
As I explored more of the barren landscape, I saw a cross standing tall and upright, like a beacon, on a hillside. It was a remnant of what used to be St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Torn American flags rippled from makeshift poles and tree limbs near the church property. It was a symbol of hope…”
Be Kind. Be Thankful. Be Significant