Tuesday, May 22, 2012

365 Days After the Joplin Tornado, I Won't Give Up

Hey everybody,

It's dizzying to think that a year has already passed since the EF-5 tornado ran a path through the heart of my hometown. What's even more mind-boggling is wrapping my brain around what has happened to the community that shaped the first 25 years of my life. Last night, President Obama delivered the Joplin High School commencement speech and highlighted exactly what I'm talking about.

Among the president's words, these stood out most to me: "Some of life’s strongest bonds are the ones we forge when everything around us seems broken." Isn't that the truth? Families, neighbors, and strangers bonded together for the good of the Joplin community and began the recovery process with a determination of which I've never seen before or since.

Joplin has shown an unmatched resilience. Instead of feeling broken, instead of feeling sorry, Joplin felt hope. Joplin felt optimistic. Though there are many reasons, this is the number one reason I'm proud to say I was born and raised in Joplin, Missouri.

It hasn't all been good news, though. If you've been following my blog over the past year you know that I lost my sweet grandma in the tornado. As sad as that is, I also lost part of my mom and my uncle, who still find it hard to deal with the loss of their mother. I know Grandma is pain free hanging with Jesus, but seeing my family hurt is really hard to see, and I feel hopeless in trying to comfort them. They are plagued with "what if..." questions and have yet to fully recover from their loss.

Still, the good news outweighs the bad. My lifelong best friend, Tom, and his family (and 6 other families) received new homes thanks to the gracious hearts at Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. I've been to Tom's many times over the past year and our friendship is stronger than ever. I have so much respect for how he endured the tornado... keeping his family safe and then immediately going to the nearby nursing home to help rescue members of the elderly community. I've called Tom many things throughout our 20 years of friendship, and in May I got to call him "Hero."

So, here we are 365 days later. Life goes on. The world turns and we find a way to put pieces back together of a world the tornado fragmented. We lean on each other and build each other up because we are stronger when we work, live, and love together.

The most remarkable change I've noticed is how my sweet Ellie has grown over the past year. She was obviously scared the night after the tornado when I had her at my house and a storm approached. Watching her eyes at the sound of thunder broke my heart into small pieces. I wished so badly that I could assure her that no tornado was going to come that night, but could I really? Not responsibly. Instead I had to explain that life throws unexpected things our way and we just have to be prepared as best we can. It's a tough lesson for a dad to teach a 6-year-old girl. But maybe one of the best.

We grow when we find it in ourselves to help another in need. Over the next few days following the tornado Ellie thought of ways we could help Joplin, and her family. We bought new clothes and groceries for her grandma, and I gave a bunch of my clothes to her uncle Cory (both of whom lost their homes and possessions). Ellie was tough. Much tougher than I would've been at her age. Though she still doesn't enjoy driving through "the zone" and we drive around it when we can, she shared in being hopeful for the future. Weeks after the tornado she was again ready to make a difference. She hosted a lemonade stand and raised more than 700 dollars which she gave to her school, Irving Elementary (destroyed on May 22). Later today, Irving Elementary will break ground on their new campus. Ellie will be there.

As terrible as the tornado was to the Joplin community, it was a catalyst in the rebirth of a great city.

I love the lyrics from one of Jason Mraz's new songs, "I Won't Give Up" and think it's so fitting to describe Joplin, 365 days later.
"I won't give up on us
Even if the skies get rough
I'm giving you all my love
I'm still looking up
Still looking up"

Thanks for reading,

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