WARNING: My heart is full. This post may be long and full of emotions. Read at your own risk! :)
On September 11, 2001 Dr. Money stood before a packed coliseum and looked out at a sea of people hurting, and in shock. The first words out of his mouth were, "You never know what a day might bring." Those words have stuck with me for years and have resonated in my heart over and over. This spring break I remembered those words more times than I can count.
Tuesday, April 3 I was enjoying a lovely, lazy spring break. DJ was still at work and I hadn't accomplished much of anything. (But you'd never hear me complaining!) Suddenly, my phone rang. My mother-in-law was panic-striken on the other end. "Are you ok?" I was completely in the dark as to what she was talking about. She explained that bad weather was headed my way and that I needed to take cover. I laughed her off, explaining that while it was a little cloudy we didn't have any rain or wind. I promised that I'd watch the weather and keep an eye on the situation. I was sure she was just over-reacting.
When I flipped to a local station I discovered that the weather was indeed, quite nasty. But it was over an hour away from me and I felt no need to worry. I called some family and friends in Waco to let them know that I was just fine and we hadn't even had a drop of rain. I continued to laugh that people were so panicked over hail that was no where near me. Nevertheless, I kept my promise and watched the weather to make sure it wasn't near me.
After several hours of watching the weather reports and praying for those affected by the tornadoes, I was shocked to realize the storms had turned. They were headed straight for my town. I was in shock! I began furiously texting the Hubsters to make sure he was taking cover at his school. He assured me he was in lock down on the first floor and told me to prepare to take cover. I called my mom to update her when the tornado sirens began to sound. I grabbed some blankets, flip flops, and the puppies and headed for the bath tub. I suddenly felt an overwhelming urge to protect this unborn child within me. I was the only one who could shelter him from the storm. I was his only hope of survival. I huddled with the dogs and prayed for the storm to pass quickly. With the TV turned all the way up I could hear the progress of the storm and knew it was getting close and it was getting bad. Suddenly, D.J. called that he had the all clear and was headed home. My heart began to panic. We talked all the way home as he described hail, green skies, and rotating clouds. I just prayed it wasn't the last time we'd talk. He arrived home and struggled to pull both cars in the garage as the lights flickered on and off. By that point I was a basket case. I could hear the winds howling outside. The last thing the TV had said was that a tornado was confirmed on the ground in Forney, only 2 blocks from my house. D.J. made it to the bathtub and calmed his terrified wife.
In less than a minute the winds died down and D.J. ventured a peek outside. Our neighbors were standing in the street taking pictures with their cell phones. We turned the TV back on to see what the weather was saying. That was when we heard what we feared the worst. A massive tornado was on the ground in Forney. We huddled in the bathtub once again until the weather station made it clear that Forney was safe. We cautiously walked outside and spoke with our neighbor. He had pictures of the F-3 tornado that had hit the other side of town. We knew it hit near Wal-Mart and jumped a few times. The news told us that it had hit Forney High School (only 2 blocks away) and we were in shock. (Turns out it hit North Forney High School on the other side of town. It also hit an elementary school in the same neighborhood.)
As we walked around our house and checked out our neighbor's houses we were shocked to realize that we hadn't had a single broken window pane, a shingle knocked out of place, and hadn't lost a leaf off of our fragile fruit plants in the back yard. How did we survive without a scratch? God clearly had a bubble of protection around us!
As the afternoon turned into evening, the bubble of protection became quite clear. If D.J. hadn't left the school when he did, his car would have been battered by baseball sized hail. If he had left 15-30 seconds later, he would have been on Broad Street when the tornado touched down. Then pictures began rolling in from the other side of town. Houses were demolished. Homes were mangled beyond recognition. The elementary school had been hit pretty hard. And in it all, not a single life was lost. People had some minor injuries and were shaken to their core, but no one passed away. Not even one.
By Tuesday night our church was declared the drop off center for all supplies. Another church was the center for training all volunteers. Donations began to roll in before the Red Cross could even make an appearance.
Wednesday morning dawned bright and clear. I e-mailed the church and offered my help since I was on Spring Break. However, it turns out no one is interested in a 6-month pregnant woman waddling around a disaster zone. So I stayed home and prayed for those involved in the clean up. I followed updates on-line and was amazed at the explosion of volunteers that came out of no where to help out! I ended up driving past some of the damage when I had to take Marley to the vet and my heart shattered. I couldn't fathom the heart ache wrapped up in the aftermath of the storm. I couldn't imagine the horrors that were hidden behind the remaining fences. I swore I'd never get close and never drive by again. I was thankful for the people that were lining the streets to help out but I was so thankful I wasn't one of them!
Wednesday night our small group went to the church to help organize and sort car loads of donations. (I stayed home and kept the babies of the group.) D.J. said that the cars never stopped coming. People arrived at the church with trunk loads of goods from Wal-Mart. Our small church was jam-packed with things donated for the tornado victims. All D.J. could talk about was how overwhelming the out-pouring of generosity felt. He was blown away by the ways the community pulled together to help out. So much so, that he decided to return Thursday night to volunteer. This time with his very pregnant wife in tow.
Thursday night I waddled to the church and asked how they could use me. To my very great surprise, they asked us to go into the community most effected and pick families up and bring them to the church to get what they needed. Terror struck me to my very core. Go in the neighborhood??? Where there was destruction??? And more heart ache than I knew what to do with??? It was all I could do not to cry as D.J. and I drove to that side of town. We prayed for the images we would see and the people we would meet. We prayed for the right words to bring the comfort and peace we couldn't provide.
I wish there were words to describe what it was like to walk those streets. I wish I could describe the emotions I felt that night. I talked to families and heard stories of survival that can only be described as Super Natural! One woman rode out the tornado on her front porch because there wasn't time to get in the door. She held onto the doorknob as she sheltered three children from the tornado. Inside, every window in her house exploded and filled her house with glass shards. Another woman held onto her grandson's ankles as the tornado literally made the house around them explode. The tornado then picked her up out of the tub and sat her down in the garage. Another child was walking around in the back yard. Tornadoes simply don't set people down gently in another part of the house. It can only be explained by the Lord's hand of protection!
That night D.J. and I were able to help two families stock up on supplies to help get them back on their feet. My heart felt so much better knowing that I'd helped do something practical to help these hurting families. The leaders asked us to come back the next day and do more of the same. So Friday morning, D.J. and I headed back into the neighborhood to look for more families. We ventured deeper into the neighborhood ths time and saw homes that were demolished beyond recognition. Other homes were untouched. Some homes just had broken windows and roof damage while others were missing the back half of the house or the entire second story. We heard more stories of heart ache and tragedy. My heart ached for the families we spoke to, but I found it a blessing to be able to give them a very practical answer to their pain.
After several hours of walking the neighborhood and seeing houses twisted and mangled we headed back to the church. Someone took pity on my poor pregnant feet and had me sit and answer the phone while D.J. loaded families up with donated goods. After 6 hours of hard work and loving on people, we finally headed home. We were exhausted and emotionally drained, but so happy to be a part of the healing and recovery.
In the days since, I've cried several times (I'm good at that!) and I've hurt deeply for the families affected. My mom has always told me that God put me on this Earth to cry with other people. This week I've lived up to that! My heart will never be the same after seeing those houses destroyed. I will always remember the stories and heart ache I shared with others. However, I have loved getting to be the hands and feet of Christ as I held others while they wept. I have loved getting to connect people in need with the generosity of those in our town.
We continue to pray for the families we met. It'll be 6 months (at the earliest) before most of them are back in their homes. We continue to pray for ways to minister to them for the long haul. We continue to pray for emotional healing as the families walk through the trauma of surviving a storm. We continue to praise the Lord that not one person died. It'll be a long road of healing for Forney. But we're so blessed to be in a community that pulled together in such unity. Several national reporters have come through Forney in the past week and all of them have commented that they've never seen a town pull together like this. People who work disasters across the nation have been shocked at how quickly volunteers and home owners have cleaned up the mess and gotten life back to normal. We are truly blessed, even in heart ache. Nevertheless, our hearts will never be the same...
You never know what a day will bring.