Monday, April 28, 2014

That Day, Three Years Ago

Yesterday was April 27th. 

Etched in our minds are memories of what happened across our state that day, three years ago. At the time, it was the second deadliest tornado outbreak in U.S. history. Absolute devastation. All across the South. But people of Alabama are survivors and stories of faith, hope and heroism came from that awful, gut wrenching day. Today as the news plays non stop with images and forecasts for more tornadoes I am feeling a nervous anticipation..but not fear. Three years ago we were racing for Sveta as we sat in the closet praying. Now, Sveta is home but there is another child who isn't home with us...yet. We know who she is and hope by this summer she will be here, in her forever family. 
Today our prayers are with those already affected by the storms and we pray for the coming hours in our own home. 

Today, I have spent time stocking the storm closet with bike helmets, flashlights, wine, chocolate reflecting on the events of three years ago. The hand of God is found in every event and his glory can be seen, even in the midst of horror. 

My post from three years ago....

          Recovery. Hope.Sweet Home Alabama.

One week ago.

Images, sounds, the winds fury, sirens screaming - forever burned into my friends, family and tiny children's memory. Here in the south we are accustomed to severe weather, to schools getting out early when there is a severe weather threat. We sometimes become numb to the continuing news coverage and go on with our day. But on April 27th, something felt different. The air, the sky, the wind.

It felt ominous.

I was volunteering at the kids school when things began to disintegrate. I can only explain it as controlled panic. Parents filling the school racing to get their children. I literally pulled my children out of their class rooms and as the skies grew darker, clouds began gathering in huge, low masses. I hurried them to home, where I have been conditioned to believe was the safest place - in the closet.

We didn't know what was coming.

On that day I realized there WAS no safe place. That no matter where I placed my children, how hard I hung onto them, how many pillows and blankets I threw over their screaming, sobbing heads - I was powerless over the fury.

And somehow, this knowledge created a sense of calm in me.

Our Father in Heaven was in control and as we huddled in the closet I tried to calm Peyton who was hyperventilating, screaming "I don't want to die, mommy I don't want to die" and "Mommy what is it, is it a tornado???"

I couldn't lie - all I could say to my son was "I don't know. I don't know" but I DID know one thing - I trusted the Lord and He gave me the next words to say to my children.

"Perfect love casts out all fear, God is perfect love and we will not sit here in this closet in fear but in love." My babies and I began to chant over and over..."perfect love casts out all fear"

The electricity went out a few hours later and we were literally, in the dark. We had no idea what was coming next. The clouds would roll over so fast, and continued rolling over, the wind was the most unbelievable force. And it blew and blew for hours. I started getting text messages "its coming your way" and "fatalities already". Again we just trusted the Lord and watched the skies.

I finally got my dad who lives in Texas on the cell phone. "Kim it looked like a F4 or F5 tornado just went through Birmingham" We are north east of Birmingham and all I knew was the storms were all around - west, south...where would they head next?

At that point I managed to get out an email on my phone to Renee..."if we all die please adopt Sveta" and yes, I was serious. I didn't know if any of my friends in the areas already hit around here were even okay. I kept thinking about she would never know she had a family who loved her who was trying SO HARD to get her. I wanted to protect Peyton and Paige but wanted Sveta to be okay too.  Surely Renee and Steve would be able to adopt both Paisley and Sveta sometime down the road??? Yes, my mind was racing with all sorts of thoughts.

We are okay. I don't know why and never will here on earth but God left us here, left our home intact, didn't even lift a single thing from our yard despite winds which was pushing trees nearly onto the ground. I don't feel "lucky" but bewildered and humbled over why we are still here.

Why are we still here? Why are any of us still here? We are here to say our God is good even in disaster, in tragedy. He is all knowing, all powerful and we praise His name for His love is in each and every story pouring out of this tremendous, widespread devastation.

On April 27th, 2011 we experienced the second deadliest tornado outbreak in United States history, and to date, the single worst state disaster in Alabama history. But God was right here with us. And His grace continues to cover us in comfort.

The people of Alabama will be okay. Our faith is strong, the sense of community and helping your fellow neighbor is something which will bring you to tears, just feeling how much love exists.

So many still need help and will for a very long time. The tornadoes didn't discriminate, ripping through urban and rural areas, spanning across all income levels and ethnicitys, blowing homes off their foundation, exploding other homes into pieces. Devastation has ripped across the south but rising from the rubble is hope. Stories of heroism as we hear of grandparents and parents literally laying on their children and grandchildren,never letting go, found lifeless on top of tiny souls who DID survive.

 I leave you with one story heroism, from a small town named Tanner. Which is just west of us and where one of our friends children go to school...

"A story of the heroism played out in Tanner.
An E-F-5 tornado ripped through Rosie Road, bearing down on Glen and Janice Riddle, at home with their three grandchidren, ages 4, 6 and nine.
"They got in the hall closet with the grandbabies and they laid on top of the grandbabies to save them.. save their lives. that's the only reason they're here," said Phillip Peden of Hartselle. Peden is Janice Riddle's son. He says his mother and stepfather are the ultimate heroes.
"They give their lives for those babies," Peden said, wearing dark sunglasses to shield his eyes.
Thrown some 75 feet from her home, Janice Riddle lay lifeless, her hands still clutching the four year old little girl she saved.
"She never let go of her," said Peden.
Meanwhile, there were more heroics from this family.
"The nine year old little boy, that had a bad laceration to his forehead, he pulled the middle sister from the debris," said Peden.
Then, Peden explained how instincts and adrenaline allowed Peden's uncle, Kenneth Montgomery to ignore his critical injuries.
"My uncle Kenneth, with a broken back and punctured lung, was able to remove the smaller child that my mother was still holding and rushed them all to the hospital," said Peden.
"This was one of the worst things I've ever seen in my life," said Jason Black, an official with the Limestone County EMA. Black rushed out to the scene to help. He says the children told authorities how their grandparents had saved their lives.
"I think that's just an honor that those grandchildren will live with the rest of their life," said Black.
Authorities found Glen Riddle yards away from what was left of his home. He too died on the scene.My stepfather and my mother are the greatest heroes that ever has been," said Peden with a shaky voice."

The storm may be raging all around us but; He that dwelleth in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. Psalm 91:1

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