I don't really know how to write this post. Just one month ago, a third of my home town, Joplin, was ripped up by the largest tornado category possible. Everyone has heard about this already, I know. I have family and friends that live down there. Less than a year ago, I lived down there as well. I feel the need to write about it.
I had a trip scheduled to visit Joplin a week after this happened. Sandwiched by weddings on both ends, I had been planning this week-long visit for quite some time already. It just so happened that it landed at a time when I wanted to be down there even more.
I'm very blessed to be able to report that none of my family members or friends lost their lives in this incident. Two of the girls who were bridesmaids in my wedding, Lola and Bethany, lost their homes. Lola's car was also totalled, while she was in it, and her arm was hurt, though not broken. My sister's car also received the "totalled" declaration. All things considered, it could have been much worse, and we are very blessed.
When I was down there, part of me did not want to see the damage. I was very scared at the thought of it the whole time I was driving down. But I felt I needed to see to understand. The thing you can't experience in the pictures is the fact that when you're in the middle of a damaged area, devastation is as far as you can see in every direction. It's hard to put into words. I intended to take a lot more pictures of the damage, but it was harder to motivate myself than I thought it would be. Here's one, though. This is my mom's office in the foreground with St. John's hospital looming from behind.
I spent a large portion of the day on Sunday waiting in line to see the president speak. I don't know what it is about a president that has the power to bring so much encouragement to people, but we lined up like crazy for this event.
In my lifetime, I've experienced the knowledge of some serious events. 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, and this tornado stand out, to me. In every case, though, America has got to be the most encouraging country to live in. I have never seen any other country's leaders and people reach out with so many encouraging words and actions during rough times. I feel truly blessed and overwhelmed by the country we live in. There is something amazing about the American spirit.
Obama told stories of individuals that sacrificed their lives saving others during the storm. He also gave the encouragement that "we will be there" until the end.
The most remarkable thing about my visit, though, was the joy that can be found despite the damage. Worship was possibly the most moving time for me while I was visiting. I cried, overwhelmed at the determination of the people of Joplin to praise God in spirit and in truth despite hard times. God is every bit as much still God and still loving when tribulations come. One cannot go to Joplin and not feel this from talking to the people there.
My dear friend Lola, whom I spoke of earlier and whom I've blogged about before, was such a beautiful example of determined joy through this trial. Her wedding was in the very town of Joplin just under 2 weeks after the storm turned her life upside down. She had to consider whether to still have the wedding, and she decided she wanted more than anything to be with her husband and declare their commitment to one another.
In a sanctuary that had been transformed into a disaster relief center, filled with donated supplies, she took the time to decorate and make beauty from the ashes. Lola and Anthony declared their love amongst clothing, diapers, food, and everything else you can imagine might be there. But the front of the sanctuary had stunning wedding decor.
Lola and Anthony, your wedding spoke to my heart and probably the hearts of many others in a powerful way! Beauty still exists no matter the downfalls of life. God is still God no matter what may come. Love is still very present and very important. I am sure I will always be reminded of these facts any time I look at the relationship the two of you have, not even considering the tornado. Congratulations! Always remember how blessed you are in all the years you spend together!