Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Stories After the Storm: A Lesson in Love

This past weekend I had the privilege of being part of a group of women from Austin, Texas that journeyed to Moore, OK to bring "Stories After the Storm". My friend, Meghan Davies woke up one morning with a burning desire to help the victims of the EF5 tornado that demolished a large portion of Moore, OK on May 21, 2013. She wasn't sure what she was being called to do, but the idea to bring stories, and a chance to escape the harsh reality around the victims might be needed. From there, she created the mission: Stories After the Storm. For nearly two weeks, Meghan, this group of ladies, and a large part of our community worked hard to collect nearly 6,000 books! Yes, 6,000!! Meghan's original goal was merely 100 books....but God had much bigger plans in mind!

Our trip began on Friday, May 31. We left town around noon (not including the much needed Starbucks stop) that day, anticipating getting to the Norman, OK area around 7:00pm to meet with our host families. There was a chance for severe weather, but on any given day in the Spring, there is almost always a chance for severe weather in Oklahoma. I grew up in the Edmond area, so I remember these warnings well! Growing up, my hero wasn't Superman or Miss America, it was Mike Morgan, the weatherman. :-) I still love him. I can't tell you how excited I was to see him on TV when we got there! Weird, I know. I love me some feisty weather. However, my adrenaline rush was about to get a rude awakening. As we crossed the Texas/Oklahoma border and made our way into Ardmore in our caravan of two minivans and a UHaul, we started to get calls from family members that it might not be a good idea to drive into Oklahoma City that evening. With storms brewing and tensions rising, we were all pretty scared and decided to stop. Half of our group ended up in a casino in Pauls Valley, some had family to stay with in Ardmore, and myself and another lady checked into a Best Western in Ardmore that smelled like an ashtray and dog pee. Regardless, we were all safe and sound and out of this storm. We watched from news from the security of our hotel room and saw another large tornado, this time an EF3 hit Oklahoma City and El Reno, and kill several people. As of this morning, I heard the death toll from this particular tornado was 19. The previous tornado that devestated Moore killed 24.

The next morning we were supposed to be at a storytime to read to children at 9:00am. We woke up unsure if it would still be on from the events the previous night. However, it was! Our group drove up from Ardmore, and we were so touched to find the children that ventured from their homes that morning to attend our storytime. It wasn't a huge crowd, but we were able to laugh and share with these children and their parents. We also formed a bond with the workers at the library! This was just the beginning of the wonderful people we would meet along the way, that none of us are soon to forget. From there, we decided to finally check in with our host families and get prepared for our next event, which was supposed to be a movie in the park in which we would hand out books. Keep in mind, God had much bigger plans for this trip than we did. We checked in with our host families, which I have to mention. Each of us felt so welcomed by these people that really didn't know any of us. One person in our group, Brittanie Fox grew up with one of the couple granddaughter's, and that was the connection. Four of us stayed with another family that went to church with the other. I could have been staying at my grandmother's house...we all felt so welcomed. I've never opened my home to strangers, but the warmth and willingness to share their homes with us without hesitation, was so awe-inspiring. The generosity of these people was truly amazing. Okay, back to the story....while getting ourselves ready for the movie in the park, we learned it would be cancelled. There was no power, and all generators were being used for, well...more important things. So, our moods declined as one more thing on this trip didn't go as originally planned. We were able to contact the lady that we were donating the books to, for an earlier drop off that day. At that point, I think most of us were pretty upset that aside from the story time that morning, our mission wasn't turning out quite as we had expected. Again, God had much bigger plans that were soon to be revealed.

We went to drop off the books at the Eastlake Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and met their wonderful pastor, Pastor Leslie Johnson. He showed us the unbelievable amount of donations they had collected for the people in their community, and they were just looking to get the word out that they had things for people in need. Their entire church was literally full, with food, clothing, donations, and most definitely love. Since we didn't have plans after that, we asked Pastor Leslie what we could do to help. He instructed us to load up our vehicles with water, and drive through the destruction offering people water and telling them that donations were available to them. So, not really knowing what we were going to find, we set off! He gave us a map of where to go to find the most damaged areas. As we began to drive through, we saw houses with minimal damage, then homes that were missing roofs, then eventually we drove into complete destruction. When I say complete destruction, I feel it is almost an understatement. Where homes once stood, there was merely rubble. The destruction was so wide. It was literally as far as the eye could see for what seemed like miles. The tornado was 1.5miles wide, and went on for 17 miles. While 24 were killed in this monster storm, I am truly still amazed that more people survived after the devastation we witnessed. As we drove through in complete shock, we came across one family going through the remains of their homes looking for pictures, or any other memories that they could salvage. We got out to offer this family water, and ended up sharing the fresh fruits and veggies we had in the car with them. (Most people have been living off crackers and unperishable foods since the storm hit, so I think these were welcomed). Besides the sustenance, we were all shocked at what this family provided for US. One of the men, who told us to call him Numero Tres, started to tell us about his testimony. He was a preacher's son, and said this event was just one more example of a long line of Divine protection in his life. This particularly hit home for me, because my far from perfect self has absolutely no right to be alive after some of the stunts I've pulled in my day. We sat there surrounding him for nearly 30 minutes as we listened to him share his testimony of the night of the monster storm, about how the small bathtub they found shelter in at the back of the house was the only thing left standing in the entire home, and about how they walked away without a scratch. He spoke of the Holy Spirit, and even though I know God is always with me, I have never been so unbelievable sure of His presence as I was in that moment. Here we were, all in tears, in the midst of nothing but rubble, yet completely and totally surrounded by love. Our friend Numero Tres reminded us with his unbelievably positive spirit, that we have all been blessed greatly. He was thankful that he was alive for another day to spread the love of God....which he no doubt did with the nine of us in what was left of his driveway. Our group was not a group from a church, and not all of us are even church-goers, but I do think all of us were changed by that conversation. We came to serve the people of Oklahoma, but they served us! Our hearts were filled with the strong spirit of the people we met. The following morning, we went to the Red Cross to volunteer and met even more people that were impacted by this storm. I feel like my words will fall short of the impact of this trip, because there are certain things you simply cannot describe unless you've seen or experienced it.

The infamous "Numero Tres"

I can't thank Meghan Davies enough for organizing this. I can't thank the group of ladies that I got to experience this with enough. I can't thank Austin, TX enough for your generosity. I can't thank Hal and Grandma Helen and the Romero's enough for opening your homes to us and loving us. I can't thank Numero Tres enough for sharing the love of God with us. I can't thank Pastor Leslie enough for praying with us. I can't thank GOD enough for the things I learned, for the Divine protection that He has always had over me, for teaching me things in a way that He only knows a way for me to learn, for loving me without end, for my new friends, for always providing a light in the dark, for showing me the goodness of His people, for EVERYTHING.

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