**I did not write this, Bruce Lauderdale did, but I don’t want to forget this writing either, so if you don’t want to read, don’t feel like you have to! This is just for me to always remember!**
Every time I drive into No-Man’s land here in Joplin my one overwhelming, inescapable feeling/emotion is “There’s only 117/128/141/151/153 dead?” This monster didn’t care what it ran into. It tore a 3/8-1 mile wide swath 10 miles long clear through the …heart of town. Within that zone 8000+ homes of all types were destroyed. I don’t know how many places I’ve stood, spun 360 degrees, and can’t see a single undamaged structure… and I shake my head. It wrapped the frame of a bobtail truck around a tree, blew a rubber garden hose clear through a tree trunk, twisted a 9 story hospital on its foundation, pried up manhole covers, then, when it got bored with that, started sucking asphalt pavement off the ground. “Where were you?” is all you have to ask to get stories, stories of being in Home Depot as the roof left; of rolling down the street in a car, hiding under the dash; of sitting in a concrete safe room, behind a steel door with four latches while the house vanished; and of feeling a house around four adults and two kids walk, one step at a time completely off its foundation. And yet we only have 153 dead?? No mistake, each one of those deaths is a tragedy and the total will probably still grow but we should be burying thousands, not less than two hundred. By all rights we should be dozing trenches, filling them with fifty unidentified, mangled dead, and then going to the next trench.
Instead we are laughing and hollering, as I watch three college students and a sledgehammer make a game out of how fast they can move the rest of a house to the curb. Instead of smiling at a five year old who panics and cries “Tornado” when the lights blink I should be attending his funeral. Instead of a woman telling us that the tornado faded “Halfway through the second recitation of the Lord’s Prayer.” we should be digging her body out of her house. Instead of worming my way into the collapsed kitchen of a second story apartment to retrieve china I should be saying “she’s dead, there’s no point getting anything.” We have 153 dead. Some of those stories are unbelievably tragic. A baby ripped from his father’s arms; another father killed while looking for safety, as were the children in his arms; a chain of people in a restaurant, holding onto each other and losing the last two in the chain; a high school senior, his diploma less than 3 hours old, being sucked out of the car while his Dad tried to hold him. We have heroes also; mother’s whose last act was to cover their children with their body, a husband who did the same for his wife, and others, many others. But we have thousands and thousands living…and they shouldn’t be. They should be dead. God was in this storm. Not a fierce, vengeful God, who kills and maims us for some sin and uses a horrible storm to do it, not a wishy-washy pastel God who only hands out candy and protects us from any possible pain: but a deep strong powerful God who protects and covers us while cars are wadded up like scrap newspapers and houses explode. This God protects those in their bathrooms when the roof blows off, and also those under a Jeep out in the parking lot. This God piles debris over people so it cocoons them, and in other, gentler ways, prompts them visit out of town relatives so they miss the excitement. I don’t pretend to understand why it was this 153 who died and not another 153, or even why it was 153, but after chainsawing, stacking, and clearing my way through a good part of Joplin I’m confident God saved thousands of us. I’m grateful…and I’m still shaking my head.