If you are new to the Hands Free journey, I will take a minute to catch you up to speed.
And it will only take a minute because when I say, “A tornado of catastrophic proportions pummeled my state on April 27th,” I don’t have to say much more.
In the days since April 27th, I have been blessed to share my story, the story of incredible survivors, and the story of healing hands. These posts, written under the Hands Free category of There Is A Reason, are some of my most popular posts to date.
It is not necessary to have witnessed or survived a tornado to gain from these messages.
You can gain from them if you simply have the desire to make the most out of the one life you have to live.
The lessons I have received from the tornado and its courageous survivors have been many; they have been powerful; and they continue to come.
But the lesson that stands out in my mind above all the rest is this: The things that matter most in life are not things.
And this message was brought home to me (literally) two weeks ago. Perhaps you were part of it, as so many of you were.
This is OUR story…
I recently traveled north to the state in which I lived most of my life. It is a place that holds special memories for me. I was educated from kindergarten to master’s degree in this state, got married in this state, and even held my first teaching job in this state.
To see the familiar sights and landscapes of my growing years always brings me comfort. Yet, it is the people I love and who love me in return that make it home.
And on this particular trip, I felt an urgency to see the people who are my “home.”
As I drove north from Alabama toward my home state, the words of so many tornado survivors played through my mind.
Standing amidst a mountainous heap of rubble that was once their beloved home, the survivors all spoke the same message: “We are alive! Thank God, we are blessed to be alive.”
They had nothing in their possession except the clothes on their backs, yet they still had their lives and the lives of those they loved. In that respect, they felt as if they still had everything.
I, myself, feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for the fact that my family and our home were spared. And I do not want to waste a day. Therefore, my trip back home was an opportunity for me to grasp what matters. I wanted to hug the people who had loved me as an awkward 8th grader, stood by me as an emotional high schooler, and befriended me as a scared first-year teacher.
In the span of six days, I was able to connect with fifteen of those special life-long friends.
It didn’t matter if I last saw my friend one year ago or twenty-two years ago, I was overcome with an indescribable feeling.
I can only come up with two words: Healing Hands.
(You may recall that I used the term “Healing Hands” when I wrote about the incredible response of my neighborhood in the days immediately following the tornado.)
And now I knew what it felt like to be touched directly by healing hands.
One evening during my visit, I was surrounded by a group of extraordinary women when one friend asked, “Can you tell us about the tornado and the people you have been helping?”
I could not stop the tears.
Before I could tell my beautiful friends about the painful loss that so many were experiencing, I first had to tell them how much I loved each one of them and how the tornado had solidified their tremendous meaning in my life.
I knew with certainty that if my house had been one of the thousands of homes that were dismantled down to their studs, I would still have the love and support of these women.
The most important things in life aren’t things.
When it was time to say good bye to each one of my “home” friends, I found myself hugging a little tighter and holding a little longer than I did in previous years. I even found myself getting in a few extra embraces. I didn’t realize why I did that until I wrote a note of thanks to everyone who had made efforts to see me.
There is something powerfully healing about the love of friends who have known you forever. I am so grateful for my friends who have made tremendous efforts the past few days to spend time with me and bring peace to my heart. I'm taking all the love you bestowed on me back to Alabama.
I suddenly realized that with each embrace, I was collecting. I had been gathering every ounce of love, hope, support and faith so that I could take all these beautiful gifts back to the people of my hurting state.
And while I was sheltered for six days in the loving company of my friends and family, destruction, despair, and devastation were alive and well in Alabama.
Inexplicable loss was waiting for me as I crossed the state line into Alabama.
Along the side of the road were men and women working diligently in 100 degree heat to clear enormous trees haphazardly placed along the side of the highway like a child’s toy Lincoln logs.
The size of the piles of debris they had already compiled seemed to dwarf them as if they were merely tiny specks standing next to a mountain of rubble.
My daughters’ sorrowful voices arose from the back seat, “The tornado, Mama…The tornado.”
Sights such as this do not require whole sentences.
Monstrosities such as this need no details.
I could not respond, for I knew my voice would fail me.
As I looked out to see the visible loss, I couldn’t help but think about the invisible loss, the loss that now scars hearts, dreams, souls and spirits.
How will they ever recover?
And then I remembered the way the healing hands had touched me. And it made me think of The List. The list that I had been collecting since April 27th and had yet to share. I knew it was time to share it.
Whether this list brings you hope or inspiration, there is a reason you find yourself here today.
The Angel Impact on Alabama’s Tornado Survivors:
You (and twelve different healing hands from Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Alabama) provided beautiful clothes and toys to a family who lost their home and car and are still looking for a place to live.
You mailed a pink and blue bible to two beautiful children who tell people, “My Mama went to Heaven,” but still ask their Grandma if their mother will be at church today.
You shopped for new clothes for a little boy whose mother had died protecting him in the tornado.
You took time off work so you could remove trees from people’s cherished homes.
You took time off work to comfort those who were in despair.
You took time off work to dig through the rubble of someone’s precious belongings while she cried by your side.
You recovered a family’s beloved dog buried for days under the destruction that somehow miraculously alive.
You asked your child’s preschool to collect school supplies for 400 school children in Alabama who lost not only their school, but also their homes.
You and your son unselfishly laid aside your own battle with cancer to donate and ask others to donate to those who are hurting.
You told all your friends and family about a family in need and collected a television, coffee maker, clothing, and an abundant supply of gift cards for a family who lost everything; you even offered to drive 800 miles to deliver it personally.
You didn’t even have shoes on your feet, but you dug through the rubble until you recovered someone’s beloved ring that once belonged to her grandmother and now is her symbol of hope.
You designed exquisite handmade cards entitled “Shells For Change” with proceeds of the sale going directly to families impacted by the tornado.
You sent your own daughter’s clothing even though she has yet to outgrow it because a little girl needed it more than she did.
You rallied your entire school and created 20 huge boxes of school supplies to a town that was literally wiped off the map.
You sent $1,000 to someone you did not know, simply going by faith that the money would go to two children who lost their beloved parent…and it did.
Your child made a beautiful hand made card for a heart-broken family and encouraged her classmates to join her.
You sent a gift card for groceries to a woman who fell to her knees in gratitude when she received it.
You received word of what the survivors needed desperately and within twelve hours a garage floor was covered with supplies.
You were the reason seven vehicles loaded with donated supplies reached a hurting town of tornado survivors, bringing both men and teenage boys to tears.
You offered your hands and your equipment because you had survived a flood and knew what the desolation was like.
You supplied a brand new toddler bed for a precious child who had nothing left but the pajamas she was wearing the night the tornado hit.
You bought a prince costume for a little boy whose heart ached for a mother’s return that will never come.
You sent nourishing homemade chicken noodle soup to three families who needed comfort in every form imaginable.
Your little hands gave away your favorite books.
Your little hands gave away your favorite princess dresses.
Your little hands gave away your favorite stuffed animals.
You took a moment out of your busy life to see if someone you cared about in Alabama was OK when you saw the news and images of the mile-wide tornado on national television.
You cooked food for the first responders to the disaster who hadn’t eaten in days.
You played “Amazing Grace” to an incredible woman who would give her life to have her daughter back with her children.
You joined your fellow Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts to organize, load, and distribute loads of school supplies to children who would have been buried under three feet of concrete had it not been for the forethought of their school officials.
You organized a blood drive that created a supply great enough to save hundreds of lives.
You gave your precious time and your precious blood.
You made a cross from the iron scraps of leveled homes so that the distraught owners would forever have a piece of their sacred residence that had once been their safe haven of love, memories, and family.
Your class made cards so the people of Alabama would know they are loved.
Your small hands collected butterflies from a Cirque Du Soleil show and made a beautiful poster for a special boy and girl.
You generously gave your family heirloom dining set to a family who must start over.
Your loving child donated her charity money, as well as her entire savings, after hearing the devastating loss of a precious family.
You asked, “How can I help?”
You asked (again and again), “How can I help?”
You haven’t forgotten that on this very day people are still hurting, still searching, still digging, and still mourning all they have lost.
This is only a fraction of the healing hands that have touched the broken hearts across Alabama; this list only contains the first-hand experiences I have been blessed to witness. There are thousands more just like these.
Just as the hands from my “home” friends had a comforting presence on me, the healing hands from around the country have touched Alabama. And these gestures translate into love, hope, dignity, grace, respect, and compassion.
And what makes the impact even more powerful is that the givers did not know the receivers in these acts of kindness.
The Angel Impact is alive and well, my friends. And it has hands that are healing.
I am simply the messenger on this journey to grasp what matters. It is by the grace of God and by every angel listed above that I have this message to give:
It doesn’t require money to have healing hands.
It doesn’t require education, prestige, or status to have healing hands.
It doesn’t require beautiful words or flowery gifts to have healing hands.
It doesn’t require a large group or a big organization to have healing hands.
It only takes ONE….one person with a desire to help in any way that person can.
No act is too small; no act is too simple to create the impact of healing hands on a broken heart.
And I conclude this post with a picture taken on one of the days my husband, Scott, served on an UMCOR Early Response Team.
In a field of splintered, broken pieces where not one household item was recognizable, Scott pulled out a Bible with miraculously undisturbed pages.
The section that jumped out from the page and made his hands tremble was this:The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble.They approach and come forward; each helps the other and says to his brother, “Be strong!” -Isaiah 41:5-6 (King James Version)
The journey to grasp what really matters has brought me here.
And now things have become clear.
THIS is what it’s all about: dropping the meaningless in our lives, letting go of distraction in order to grasp WHO matters.
The things that matter most in life are not things.
Whether it is a natural disaster, a man-made disaster or a life circumstance disaster of our own doing, the only thing we may have left is one another and the healing hand reaching down to help us up.
What does “home” mean to you? If you woke up tomorrow and your residence and everything inside was gone, what (or who) would you still have?
Can you think of someone in your life that needs a healing hand? Even if you simply take a moment to ask, “How are you?” and provide a listening ear, the impact can be great.
*If you are interested in writing an encouraging note or directly helping a family impacted by the tornado, feel free to use the “Contact Me” link above.
No act of kindness is too small to those who will be putting the pieces of their life and their heart back together in the long days ahead.