Friday, March 2, 2012 turned out to be one of the scariest days of my life. It was a day that altered the lives of several friends, as well as hundreds of people in my community. At approximately 4:00p.m. an EF4 tornado, with wind speeds up to 175 miles per hour and over a mile wide destroyed homes, property and claimed 4 lives in Piner, Kentucky (according to the NWS).
I've been contemplating what I wanted to say in this update, but I quite honestly have so many things I COULD say that it would probably wind up sounding like an incomprehensible string of words. Instead I'll simply share a couple stories; experienced by friends or myself.
A dear friend of mine's sister lost her home to the tornado. After a harrowing experience living through the tornado that took their home -- and the oxygen from the air while turning it a literal GREEN -- the family awoke the next morning faced with the task of cleaning up and rebuilding. People began showing up from everywhere to help the family burn the shredded wood that was once their home. As the day went on, my friend (Karen) noticed a man that she was unfamliar with. He worked side by side from early morning until late in the evening with family and friends. Family members began to notice that none of them seemed to know who he was. Finally, at the end of the evening, Karen stopped the man and asked him if he was a friend of her brother-in-law. He replied "no, I don't know anyone here". Touched by this news, Karen thanked him for coming to help. His reply? He didn't want her to thank him. He said he had been helped by strangers after a natural disaster and he was doing what he could to pay-it-forward. He was a survivor of Katrina.
I've spent time this week doing what little bit I could to help; which was a drop in the bucket compared to what I've seen so many others doing. Early in the week I assisted in the sorting of the unbelievable amount of donations at our local middle school. As survivors came in, they were consistently overwhelmed at the sheer volume of items that were donated. At the same time, HAVING to be there seemed to (re)drive home their loss. I saw, and experienced, as many hugs and backslaps being handed out as I did supplies. I saw the faces of young children break into a smile at the site of the brand new toys they were able to choose from: when you're a kid and every toy you own is suddenly 'blown away' it's a very big deal. I watched a Principal, Assistant Principal, teachers from the school - and schools close by - shed tears over what their neighbors, family, friends, co-workers and students were facing. I watched the young soldier-students from the Success Academy walk into the staging area with purpose, go up to the closest adult and say "what do you need me to do, how can I help". I saw a community come together, lift each other up and find grace in the most unexpected places. I am truly proud to be able to say that this is MY community.
I, along with friends, also had the amazing opportunity to deliver meals to volunteers and tornado victims at actual tornado sites in some of the hardest hit areas. There are simply no words to describe that level of destruction. Yet, what I will remember for the rest of my life is the courage, bravery and sweet spirit of the residents of Piner, Kentucky. My friends and I spent some time on 2 different days with an amazing lady named Judy. She was actually caught outside in the tornado - attempting to get to shelter with her neighbor. It threw her down the street. She managed to hang on to her precious cats -- which she was carrying in a pet taxi. As she attempted to get to her dog, who was still tethered to his dog house, the tornado picked up the dog and dog house and threw both high up into a tree. Judy was fighting for her own survival and could only watch. Before she made it to the shelter of her other neighbor's basement, her dog's chain broke and he fell to the ground.....unharmed -- no broken bones, not even a scratch.
When we stopped by to check on Judy and bring her dinner this evening, she rushed over to us to tell us that her last 'baby' came home this morning. Jerry the cat arrived out of nowhere, with only a few minor scratches on his nose and eye. Judy continually thanked people for caring and talked about how she's been blessed throughout this tragedy. No matter where I go or how many years pass, I will never forget her.
I've included some pictures from tornado sites. I wrestled with the decision to post them. However, I believe what these courageous people are facing; and the dignity and survival spirit with which they face it deserves to be shared.
I've had one or two friends question my belief that GOD's grace has been at work through all of this because not everyone survived. To that I've answered with a quote from Max Lucado: When we face struggles, we often wonder WHY. Years from now, though, we may realize it was those struggles that taught us something we couldn't have otherwise learned --- that there was purpose to our pain. REMEMBER, the same GOD that guided his son through death and back to life said he would never leave us. HE is right there with you.
Please continue praying for the families of all the people touched by the tornadoes on March 2.
**The pictures you see in this post were taken by myself, as well as friends and tornado survivors**