As I headed across the Missouri state line on my journey to Detroit, the exits for Joplin, MO caught my attention. In May of last year Joplin was hit by one of the fiercest, deadliest tornadoes in history. Having heard and read the stories of the devastation and of the mindset of the community that this storm would not stop them, I decided to see what was going on in Joplin.
When I first headed down the business route of I-40, I was wondering if I would even be able to find what I was looking for. A mile or so off the interstate everything looked so normal for a small town — trees, old buildings, fast food stores, etc. Then, suddenly everything opened up. There were no trees, no buildings, only a wide open space of what was once a neighborhood. Off in the distance I could see the remains of the hospital that was destroyed by the tornado. Sadly, I had found the Joplin I was looking for.
At first I was uncomfortable being there. The people in this town had their lives turned upside town in a matter of tragic seconds. I didn’t want to be that gawking tourist disrespectfully driving through to view the devastation. However, I did want to see and experience what had happened here firsthand. I pulled over and quietly snapped two photos and prepared to drive out of town not wanting to be disruptive or rude in any way.
As I was preparing to leave, a sign in front of a house caught my attention. It said “this house is God’s miracle.” As I slowed to look at it, the owner of the home started walking to his car. I rolled my window down and asked him if his house was a miracle because it survived the tornado. He smiled and said, “no my house was destroyed; that the house is here now is the miracle.” I asked him if he had a moment to tell me the story and if it would be alright if I pulled over and parked my car. Again he smiled and said “go ahead.”
For the next thirty minutes he told me how the 350 MPH winds destroyed the houses in his neighborhood and all the one hundred year old oak trees that surrounded it. He told me a little about the four houses that had already been rebuilt in the immediate area. Finally, he shared with me the story of how his house — the one that had just had the roof replaced the day before the tornado — was rebuilt even though he did not have any insurance.
As I listened to his story of faith and trust, how every time he and his wife faced an obstacle and worked through it, I was touched by his “miracle.” His was an amazing story. The Notre Dame University drill corps framed the house, a builder came from Arkansas to mudded out the drywall, a woman from Oklahoma mailed him $100, and after having his claim rejected by FEMA they somehow sent him the money a week later. He pointed to a brick walkway that wasn’t there this past Friday when he and his wife went away for an overnight church event. At every turn what appeared as an obstacle, ended up presenting a solution.
I thanked him for his time and for sharing his incredible story. As I drove down the road, I was humbled by his experience. Here was a man who stayed focused and kept moving when everything he had was completely flattened and destroyed in a manner of seconds. In comparison, some of my challenges, concerns, and worries, my life are pretty simple and very manageable.
Everyone’s adversities are unique to them. Next time as you focus on your commitment and your challenge, I hope that this story will inspire you to keep moving, to trust in the direction of the path that you are on, and stay focused on the outcome of your vision. A home was re-built after a catastrophic event because someone believed there was a way. Each of us can accomplish a great deal if we believe, too.