*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of these incredible souls.
Yesterday, I wrote a blog entry entitled, “There Is A Reason.” In it, I let readers know they could expect to see some posts that have derived from experiences I have had regarding the tornados which occurred on April 27th that killed about 350 people and injured thousands more across seven states.
I hoped to make it clear that you did not have to be directly (or even indirectly, for that matter) impacted by the tornados to gain from these messages.
You merely have to have a desire to make the most out of this one life you have been blessed to live.
I am so glad you are here. I think you will be glad you didn’t miss this one…
I am preparing to write letters to three people that I don’t know. I am following my own Hands Free advice by using the strategy, “Take Time to Say It.”
I have seen, time and time again, that we often have the words someone else needs to hear.
The first person I am writing to is Miss Dottie Mae*. She is in her 70s. She used to be an elementary school teacher. Her passion in life was traveling around the world, but not for leisure, she went on countless mission trips in her early years.
Her husband, who passed away one year ago, was a former professor at the University of Alabama. He became very ill in the last years of his life. She lovingly cared for him day after day in the corner bedroom of their ranch style home in Tuscaloosa.
Thirteen days ago, Miss Dottie Mae hid in a closet when the earth shook with the violence of an erupting volcano. She cowered in utter fear, as the sound of something alive bore down her neighborhood obliterating everything in its path.
She wore the hallow look of shock and devastation of someone who had suffered extreme trauma when the UMCOR Early Response Team from my church came to her home.
After speaking to her with compassion and hearing her beautiful life story, my husband asked if they could help her by removing debris from her yard and her home.
Miss Dottie Mae only wanted one thing.
She wanted to salvage the furniture from the room in which her dying husband lived his last days.
These precious items that held great meaning were trapped beneath the enormity of a 200-year-old fallen tree that had crushed that particular part of her home.
That is all she wanted.
The team moved her husband’s bed and chair to a location in her home where it would be free from the ailments of damaging wind and rain.
The Early Response Team prayed with Miss Dottie Mae before they headed off to the location of their next work order.
I can’t seem to stop imagining what Miss Dottie Mae did after the team left her home.
I imagine she placed her fragile, aging body upon her husband’s bed.
I imagine she stretched her body out, yet kept her arms wrapped around her body, as if to remind herself she didn’t dream the last thirteen days of her life.
I imagine she could feel the warm tears flow from the corner of eyes, down the sides of face into her hair and finally onto the bed that had held her true love.
And for the first time in thirteen days, she felt comfort.
She couldn’t see him, but he was there; he was there. She knew with certainty that she was not alone; he was there beside her. And had been there all along.
We walk by faith, not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7
The second person I am preparing to write a letter to is Mr. Franklin*. He is in early 60s. He was forced to retire as a garbage collector six months ago due to severe injuries resulting from his fall from garbage truck going 30 m.p.h.
Mr. Franklin’s knees are in bad shape. He has a hard time bending over. But that did not stop him from doing his passion.
The remains of what had once been beautiful flower beds and lush greenery stood out like precious gems against the disarray and destruction which now covered the front yard of his home.
Thirteen days ago, Mr. Franklin hid in a shallow trench under his home where a heater used to be. He remembers being huddled there with his battery-operated radio, which he eventually had to turn off because he couldn’t bear to hear, “It’s coming! It’s coming, and it’s a killer,” one more time.
He recited Psalm 23 over and over as his ears popped and the foundation of his house shook violently above him.
Mr. Franklin had a look of helplessness when the UMCOR Early Response Team arrived at his home.
He pulled up his pant leg and showed the team the unsightly scars from his fall from the garbage truck. It was as if he had to show these men and women why he could not clear the wreckage from his yard and home him self. He clearly wished he could.
When asked how they could help him, Mr. Franklin only wanted one thing.
He wanted to be able to access his garden, which was currently buried underneath huge trees and dangerous debris.
That is all he wanted.
I thought about what Mr. Franklin did after the team prayed with him and departed to their next work order.
I imagine he went to his garden, which he truly believed had just been cleared by angels on earth.
In his mind’s eye, he envisioned what was to come: plump red tomatoes, crisp green beans, enormous cucumbers and vibrant heads of cabbage.
Then I imagine he very gingerly kneeled down in the rich, resilient soil.
I imagine he dug his hands deep into the healing earth that quickly became saturated with his flowing tears.
And for the first time in thirteen days, he felt comfort. He couldn’t see Him, but He was there; He was there. He knew with certainty that he was not alone. He was by his side. And He has been there all along.
We walk by faith, and not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7
The third person I am writing to is actually two people. They are small children, a brother and sister. One is four-years-old and the other is five. They reside with their maternal grandmother.
I do not know where they hid during the tornado, but I am certain that is an unbearable story to hear.
The monster tornado ripped through their town, destroying their home and mangling all their possessions beyond recognition.
But there is more.
This mile wide tornado that took their home and everything inside, also took their mother.
Unlike Miss Dottie Mae and Mr. Franklin, they have nothing tangible from their past to comfort them.
But there is hope in this story, and someday I pray for the opportunity to share it with them.
These two precious children have an angel who lives in Georgia.
This total stranger (to both them and to me) knew they were in need before I even knew their names.
Within a day of learning of their situation, this angel provided for them with the kind of generosity and selflessness that creates an illuminating light in a tunnel of darkness and despair.
And she is just the first of many angels who will come into their life at exactly the precise time they need it.
They cannot no longer see their mother, but she is there; she is there. They are not alone; she is right there beside them. And she will be there all along sending angels, sending angels.
We walk by faith, and not by sight. 2 Corinthians 5:7
I am simply the messenger on this journey, and it is by the Grace of God, and by the Liberty Crossings United Methodist Church’s Early Response Team that I have this message to give:
It is time to stop letting the material things that we think we need, want, and desire be the things that give us meaning in our lives.
It is time to stop judging our success by the amount of money we have, the square footage of our home, the size of our waist, or the number of awards on our wall.
It is time to stop filling our schedules with so much excess that we barely have time to think, let alone breath, and take in the joy and beauty that surrounds us.
It is time to grasp tightly to that which will sustain us when all our “things” are taken from us and we are left with nothing.
What we can see with our eyes fades.
What we can feel in our heart endures, lasts, sustains, and comforts.
Even when we have nothing but the clothes on our back, we will still have something to carry us.
It’s time to walk by faith, and not by sight.
I’m ready. Are you?
For months I have been struggling to grasp what truly matters. And now? The answer has been thrown into my face like a cold bucket of water.
The things that mean ANYTHING at all in this lifetime are not things. What matters is the love between family members, the memories we create, time spent together, helping our brothers and sisters in time of need, moments of solitude and gratitude with The One who sustains us. What truly matters is nothing you can buy in a store and nothing with a screen or buttons to push.
Take some time today to make a list of what really matters to you. If your home and your possessions were gone tomorrow, what would sustain you? Then make every effort to grow closer to that which you cannot see, but what you can feel in your heart and in your soul.
*A final note: my deepest gratitude goes to my husband, Scott, who looked into the eyes of Miss Dottie Mae and Mr. Franklin and listened compassionately to their stories so that they could be shared through my hands. May we all be changed, as he has, by the heart-breaking sights and stories he experienced while helping these incredible survivors.