I've never told you the story about where WE were when the Joplin tornado hit, and how we just missed being in the center of the storm. Until now.
Meredith and I were making the drive from Fayetteville to Joplin and decided to make a pit stop at Starbucks in Rogers for a quick pick-me-up. We were running a few minutes ahead of schedule before Ellie was going to meet us at Meredith's parent's house on the east side of Joplin anyway.
As we approached Joplin, the sky looked black. I mean BLACK. It was hailing on my ol' blue Jetta but being a stubborn male driver, I pressed on (sorry Mere). At the intersection of 71 (I-540) and I-44, we saw trucks overturned (I thought there was a wreck), but then Mere spotted twisted metals signs and cars flipped on the other side of the highway as well, and we knew a tornado had come through. Apparently we had missed it by a mere few minutes. Thank you Starbucks addiction.
God knows I'm stubborn and I believe he was looking out for us. He wasn't ready for Ellie to be without her earthly father (frankly, neither am I!).
Oh. Ellie. She was supposed to meet me. Where was she? Tried to call. No signal. With a hand-written note taped to the front door of Mere's parent's house (telling her to STAY THERE!), I jumped back into my car and started driving through the insanity that was my hometown looking for my daughter. Her house was hit, but nobody seemed to be there.
It was, in all honesty, the most terrifying moment I've had being a dad. The not-knowing was overwhelming. I wanted to scream and cry and run... I was as desperate as I've ever been in all my 31 years.
Then, my phone received a signal. I made the call, 4 hours after the tornado ripped through the city, and was finally put at peace. My girl was okay. (still chokes me up)
The days that followed were both heart wrenching and heart warming. Seeing Ellie's eyes fill with fear the next night when the winds began to blow again was so terribly difficult, but my need to be a foundation for her overpowered my empathatic fear and sadness. On the other hand, it was truly a blessing for Ellie, Mere, and me to be in a position to help so many. Giving money and water and food and clothes was such a gift from God, and I'm glad Ellie was a part of the rebuilding right away. I believe it has had tremendous value added to her character.
I know this is hard to see - it's a full panoramic of the damage done by the May 22nd tornado. Click on it to make it way bigger.
And this is the remains of Ellie's Nana's house. Luckily she was in the process of moving and wasn't home.
In the midst of the chaos that night, and my head spinning from trying to find Ellie, I couldn't think of any of my other family members and friends in the area. I had heard from my parents and brother, but it wasn't until I was in front of Tom's house that I realized he was in the thick of it. I jumped out of the car and ran into his house yelling his name. He answered with my name and out of the darkness he appeared with a big ol' bear hug. I couldn't help but sob. At was at that moment that he and Emily told me of their heroism of rescuing (and pulling) bodies from the nursing home that sat at the end of their block. Knowing they were okay, I collected myself and continued on through the torn town.
At the end of the night, as Mere and I were driving a sleeping Ellie to Fayetteville, I spoke aloud to Meredith, "I think my grandma passed away." It was just a feeling I had. When we arrived home, I got the email from my sister that it was so. I wrote a blog post as a tribute, and was honored when it appeared in the Kansas City star (because I want the entire world to know how sweet my grandma was), but even more so when the preacher quoted it at her funeral. I later learned that some of YOU blog readers hosted blood drives in her honor. I was so humbled.
Because we had lost someone so close, we were invited to the memorial service for the victims at MSSU (my alma mater), where Ellie, Mere, myself, my brother, and his family sat just a few rows away from the President of the United States as he comforted us with words of encouragement. I'm happy Ellie got to see the president, and I feel like she grew up 10 years in those 5 days. She saw devastation, but she also saw hope in the most despairing situations she might ever be faced with.
Reinvigorated, we decided to write a post for our friends Tom, Emily, and Chloe to help them out. They lost everything and we wanted to help on as big of a scale as possible. We were overwhelmed with the support YOU ALL showed in sending clothes, money, even furniture to our friends.
And then we got the really good news. The Extreme Makeover: Home Edition had taken our nomination and Tom's family was getting a house!! Shut the front door! We got to stand behind them as they received their new house, and here's a shot I got of the family for their Christmas cards.
Ellie wanted to do her own part for the rebuilding and hosted a lemonade stand, which raised more than $700 that she donated to her school! Man, I love that kid! Here's a video we made to create a little buzz. We also uploaded it to facebook where it spread like crazy.
Though this was one of the most difficult things we've had to endure, the Lord was looking out for us and the entire experience helped shape us more into the image of God. I'm so thankful that Ellie is safe, but even more thankful for what it has done for her character. I know that Jesus loves her little heart more than ever.
Talk to you soon,
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