Sunday, May 29, 2011

A Severed City

I hear writing is therapeutic. It’s almost midnight and I’m in desperate need of some relief. So, I write.

On May 22, 2011 my community was severed…literally torn in half by a savage, merciless EF5 Tornado. It tore through homes, businesses, churches and schools…unrelenting and lethal…leaving a six mile bleeding wound down the center of my home. Joplin, Missouri will now forever be marked as a place of devastation so profound that any attempts at description will be grossly insufficient. Words will never suffice.

It was also a day marked by stories…hundreds upon hundreds of stories. Some of them so tragic that they literally make me dry heave. Stories of such catastrophic loss…that the only humane response is to put your head in your hands and cry. There are also stories of life…and reunion. Stories wrapped in hope and faith. Others stories are still unfolding…and some have yet to be told.

This is my story...

I was in a closet with two of my closest friends. Three grown women and one dog… packed hip-to-hip in coat closet. We heard the tv broadcasters breathlessly screaming at us to seek shelter…we watched in horror as a news skycam caught the first glimpse of the monster. It was coming toward us. We heard it coming. The roaring freight train…the monster twister. I tried to pray…but I was gripped by profound fear. I think I may have chanted the name of Jesus…or maybe that was someone else, I don’t remember. But I remember the silence in the closet…the horrible silence…and the waiting. Years from now the memories of that closet may fade...but the waiting…the intense, mind-numbing waiting…that I may never forget. For me…that night was marked by the intensity of the unknown.

Outside of our closet we were met with a scene out of an apocalyptic movie. We barely had time to absorb the gratitude of our home and lives before the chaos set in. It began with a desperate search for a friend’s son…then sirens…injured people wandering down the street… more sirens…desperate attempts to reach loved ones…constant sirens…devastating glimpses of destruction mere blocks from our home…unbroken, unceasing wailing of sirens. They’re still in my head. The nights are now eerily quiet…but I swear I can still hear the sirens.

The hours and days that have followed have been…well…beyond description. Wave after wave of heartbreak…and numbness. I know my life has changed…and I feel almost a desperate urgency to record my thoughts before the newness of tragedy wears off…and it becomes my normal.

This is what has changed:
1. I no longer feel safe…anywhere. I now know there is something out in the universe that is powerful enough to chew up any structure. That knowledge has stolen my sense of security…and frankly, it pisses me off.
2. I used to love Sunday afternoon thunderstorms…now the sound of a storm makes my blood freeze.
3. “I’m ok” is my new favorite sound.
4. My city now has a perimeter and 9 o’clock curfews. It doesn’t feel like “home” anymore…it feels like a war zone.
5. I now believe that looters should receive the death penalty.
6. In the moments after a tragedy…having a sense of purpose becomes paramount to almost everything.
7. Not only did the tornado sever our city…it just as effectively split our population. There are now new citizens in Joplin…those who lost property or loved ones...and those who didn’t. Those who escaped with their lives…and those who just had to leave the closet.
8. I now believe in the value of human touch.
9. We are a city of grief…our language of life and death has changed. I now have to learn how to love my friends and family differently.
10. Even in the midst of such tragedy, I truly believe that God is good. That truth is more acutely real to me than it’s ever been. My eyes and heart will forever be scarred by the tangled, ravaged remains of that Tornado’s path and the lives it stole…but I can now weep with the knowledge that I am not meant for this place. My city is broken…but my Home is waiting.

In the coming weeks…months…and years, I believe that God is going to give Joplin rare glimpses into heaven. I also believe that we will all begin to absorb the trauma in profound ways…emotions that we never knew existed will haunt our hearts and minds. The enemy is going to try to take even more from us…but we NEED to drive a stake in the ground by claiming the goodness of God every…single…day. Abba is going to remind us in unique, staggering ways that He is preparing a place for us. A place without pain…without loss…and without fear. We will be tempted to let the tragedy of our wounded landscape define us…but I truly believe that if we are ever watchful…we will witness His majesty displayed before our very eyes.

I, for one, resolve to keep my eyes open. I’m going to use this blog to bear witness to the stories of His tenderness and care as Joplin begins her slow journey of restoration. In the months to come, if you need a good laugh or a taste of hope…visit this blog. Let’s rest together…and tell our stories of Home.


  1. Alissa,
    Your mom sent me the link to your blog. I have watched the news about Joplin but your story brings it to life. My heart aches for all of you! Thank you for giving me an "inside" look. I will be praying for you, your family and the city of Joplin.
    Deanna Sturgeon

  2. Deanna...thank you for reading and thank you for the prayers! We'll take every single whispered plea to God that we can get. Hugs backatcha!



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