SURVIVORS, NOT VICTIMS

In case you can't read the letters written on the wall of this former home in Joplin it says, "I SURVIVED THANK YOU JESUS!"

It was the only picture I took during my trip this past weekend.

I started my weekend by meeting a former student and his stepmom. I gave them the donations that I had gathered and they were very appreciative of what I delivered to them. After that I was blessed to get to spend some time with my former student. I am so glad that I was asked to be beside him during this season of his life. We had a great time!

At this point, I should mention that I went to Joplin with the idea that the tornado had affect MOST of Joplin. Well, while that may be true, the northern portion of the town was not affected at all. Therefore, our trip to the mall and back looked just like it has always looked. I felt like I was in Joplin, just like always. Of course, my student talked a great deal about the night of May 22, so I knew it was a real deal, but it wasn't real to me yet. I was praying though for the moment it would be real for me.

Following that, I went to the place where I was staying this weekend. A friend of mine and her family let me stay with them, and they are ALWAYS fun to be with! I was SO GLAD that God set it up for me to be with them. *grin*

After getting settled at my friend's, I went and saw some friends from my old school. It was a blessing to see everyone, hug them, and hear their stories. While I know I'm where I'm supposed to be, it really meant a lot to me to see everyone and hug them.

Saturday I got up and went and saw my former student again. It was SO MUCH FUN to just spend some more time with him. We went to the arcade and played several games. We talked a lot too, which meant a lot to me. He's still one of my all-time favorite people! I plan on doing several more trips this Summer just so I can spend more time with him! *grin*

After that, I called Mr. H. to see if he needed help at the church with tornado relief. He didn't exactly say he needed help, but he invited me over to the church anyway. I told him I hadn't seen any of the tornado area yet, and he asked if I had GPS on my phone. He said I might want to have it on as I headed to the church. Honestly, my stomach did a small flip when he said that, but I knew it was time to see the damage. I hung up, and said a prayer.

I started driving, and had my HERE FOR YOU CD playing as I drove. I drove down Rangeline and looked. While it was amazing to see, one main thought kept coming to me, SO MANY PEOPLE SURVIVED!!! I sang as I drove up 20th street, where there are not many street signs at all. I prayed and asked God to show me where to turn because Mr. H. wasn't kidding when he said GPS would help. I kept thinking SO MANY SURVIVED THIS DEVASTATING EVENT! I made it to the church without the GPS because I knew where to turn. It wasn't because I knew it by landmarks, but I knew it because He guided me.

I got to the church, introduced myself to a few people who took me to Mr. H. Mr. H. showed me their sanctuary that has been FILLED with supplies. It reminded me of Wal-Mart, honestly. It had EVERYTHING you could think of to start over if you lost a house, with the exception of a house. *grin* Then Mr. H. offered to give me a tour of the streets of Joplin. I knew it was time to see it all.

We drove down the streets and at first it wasn't as bad as I expected. Houses were affected, but standing down by his church. Then we went down by the High School. I had only seen the HOPE sign on the net, but from the front you can see inside the classrooms. It was amazing to me. We headed up 20th, and you could still see homes standing, but you could see damage too. It just wasn't as devastating as what was ahead of us. We turned into the neighborhood where my former school is located, and again, most homes were standing. Not necessarily livable, but standing. We turned and saw my old school. Just looking at it, you can't see damage, but as I learned this weekend, looks don't always tell the full story. We turned left, and headed toward 26th. As we pulled up to the stop sign, my stomach flipped. Words can't explain what I saw. My immediate thought was "That's where our students lived!"

I'm glad Mr. H. turned left and headed down 26th, I wasn't ready to drive through that part of the neighborhood. I had heard the phrase, "we lost our house" but I didn't have a visual to go with it. We continued down our path, and honestly I asked Mr. H. a couple of times, "What was there" to which neither of us could remember at certain points of the drive. All we knew was that SOMETHING was where there is now NOTHING. Bark was even off trees. It was amazing to see.

Mr. H. took several pictures, and I didn't. I just couldn't. This wasn't a vacation. I wasn't a tourist. This was my home for ten years. (Work at least, lived there 5 of those 10 years) As we drove, I just keep thinking PEOPLE SURVIVED THIS!!!

We got back to the church and there wasn't a whole lot to do. I eventually found myself useful at various times helping with the volunteers getting items for people who came in for items. It wasn't busy, but it felt good to help. I noticed that more than anything, people just needed to talk. To get their stories out. To process what had happened. I just listened.

Over and over again, the stories were similar.

"We were in a closet, and the house was taken except that closet."
"We were in the basement praying, and the whole house is gone except the basement."
"We went over to a friend's basement, and they lost the whole house, but not the basement."

Sometimes they admitted to praying, and sometimes they didn't. My guess is that in that moment, they were all praying in one form or another. I imagine a lot of people connected with God in some form or another that night.

Some people cried, some didn't, but no one played the pity card. EVERYONE I met this weekend was a SURVIVOR! That is something the media isn't sharing with us two hours away. I certainly don't mean to downplay the devastation or loss of lives on May 22. But as this weekend progressed & I drove more and more in the tornado's path, it became CLEAR to me that God was in the midst of it, keeping THOUSANDS of people alive. For that I Thanked God over and over again this weekend.

About 6-ish, I told Mr. H. I was going to check on another former student. I hadn't had contact with the family and after our drive they were heavy on my heart. I realized this meant a drive back in the devastation, but I was fine with that. I drove around, trying not to be in the way of all the AMAZING volunteers clearing debris with various tractors. There weren't street signs either, so it was almost like a puzzle to get to the student's house. Once again, I was playing HERE FOR YOU, which God clearly used to guide me through this weekend.

I pulled up, and my former student's sister and mother were there. I parked my car and walked up to the driveway. I spent HOURS in that house tutoring this family's son, and while there was a house standing, the roof was gone, windows gone, and furniture was gone. (I gave the sister a HUGE hug before I even walked up to the house. And after seeing the house, I was SO GLAD I had done that first!) After talking for a while with them, it was clear that God protected them as well. I said a non-verbal THANK YOU to God even as we stood there and chatted. They told me that they are staying in a hotel with the boy with Autism that I tutored. I asked if I could go see him, or if that would make it worse. They said it would be fine.

I went to the hotel room and saw a young man, not a boy. He has grown up in the two years I've been gone. He sat down and talked to me. He's shaken, but he's surviving. But, he didn't even play the pity card. He's a survivor & so is his family! I was so glad I got to see him. It was (quite possibly) the highlight of my day! His Dad said he was touched that I came to visit his son, and I said, "Hey, this is what sharing life is all about."

Yesterday I was able to go back and take him something that will definitely help him through this season of his life. I also offered to let his sister come visit for a little while this Summer. I hope she does, as she is an amazing gal and I don't want her get burned out this summer.

I did get to attend a church service last night where Mr. H. preached. It was a very timely message for everyone in Joplin, and it was even timely for me. Mr. H. & his wife are strong believers in the faith, and I'm so glad that my move north hasn't hindered my friendship with them at all. I am a blessed gal.

Mr. H. and I discussed at one point of our time together that Joplin is a town of SURVIVORS. Over and over again we hear the term "Tornado Victims". That's NOT THE CASE! There wasn't ONE person that I met this weekend without an appreciative attitude that they made it through alive. Everything else was just stuff.

I realize it won't be easy for them, but I will say that God is providing for those in Joplin. Most places are so inundated with donations that they're not taking any more. Several places aren't taking volunteers either, as they have too many already. (If you go to rebuildjoplin.org, you can help though! There are even some volunteer sites there too!)

Overall, I was blessed this weekend. While it wasn't easy to see what a tornado did to some of my favorite people on the planet, I know that God is in control & will take care of everyone!

As for me, well, I learned a valuable lesson this weekend. I went into the weekend wanting to help Joplin as in volunteer with a group and go out into the community. What God showed me this weekend is that there are people that can benefit from me going down and just spending some time with them and/or their children. After all, I meant it when I said, "This is what sharing life is all about." *grin*

My prayer has changed now. Not for the Tornado VICTIMS, but for the Tornado SURVIVORS.

*grin*
LIFE.
IS.
GREAT!!!