44 || To the Survivors, From a Survivor
To Moore, Oklahoma and Tornado Victims Everywhere –
I don’t know what it feels like to be you. I don’t know what kind of pain you’re in or what exactly it is you experienced. However, I do know what it feels like to lose everything to a tornado. I know what it feels like to be caught up in the fury of nature. I know what it feels like to be consumed with unbelievable panic and surreal peace all at the same time. I know because of the moments on April 27, 2011 that shattered my world and forever changed my life.
The day started out with warnings and weathermen labeling it a particularly dangerous situation. Large thunderstorms and pockets of tornadoes scattered the landscape. The morning was filled with sirens and weather warnings. Keeping a close eye on the path of potential danger via moving red swirling shapes on the TV, I had a strange sense of peace within me.
During a small break in storm systems, my family and I wandered outside in our neighborhood in Toney, Alabama. Looking at the horizon, we could see another front heading towards us. The wall of clouds looked ominous, but it didn’t look deadly. I entertained myself by taking a couple of photos and when the storm started to roar outside I began filming. We had no clues to warn us, no flying debris and no obvious funnel cloud or freight train sound, but there was a tornado headed right for us.
A huge flash of lightning and accompanying thunder sent us scurrying inside for shelter where warnings to take cover sent us scrambling for our bathroom. Debate followed – should my dad go rescue the dog? Amidst protest, he opened the door to venture out but quickly slammed it shut and huddled with us on the floor in response to an intense vacuum sound. Milliseconds later, debris shot through the door narrowly missing his head and puncturing the mirror behind him. It had started…
Sheer terror, screams to God, pleas for safety, pleas for comfort and peace, pleas for His presence, and our prayers accompanied the roaring winds, the rumbling and shaking of walls, the crashing debris, and the cracking of timber as our neighborhood became only a remnant of what it once was. These sounds still haunt me to this day. Cold rain soon splashed my face, bringing me into the reality that we were actually in the tornado.
As the wind continued to roar with indescribable passion, I closed my eyes tighter and counted to three. I just knew by three it would all be over with and I would be dead. I remember visualizing in my head a car coming towards us at over 200mph, taking us all out with one swift strike. “1…2,……….3.” At three I said, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t do more God, I’m sorry I didn’t do more for your kingdom.” But for whatever reason, I was still alive. I had made it past 3. As the seconds of horror continued to pass, I sang. Yes, as crazy as it sounds I was singing, “You are good, you are good, and your mercy is forever,” a song by Kari Jobe and Gateway Church.
As the EF5 tornado moved on, my eyes remained closed, but I could discern that there was light in the room. As I slowly allowed my eyes to open and focus, the images around me caught me off guard. With no roof over our head, we were trapped within four walls of what used to be a bathroom. Broken wires waved around in the sky over our heads while we waited patiently for rescue…
By the grace of God, six people survived in that tiny bathroom that day. Our lives have been completely altered – we lost everything, but others lost more. Our bathroom was the only thing left standing amongst our neighbors. Bodies and debris littered our streets. The horror of that day will never leave me in some ways, but God has proven faithful in even this situation. He used that opportunity to shower His blessings on us through our neighbors and strangers. I believe that He has also used our story to help others and will continue to do so.
And so, I send this letter to you. I want you to know that you are not alone. A nation and most importantly our God is standing with you. I pray that you will feel His peace amidst the storm and its aftermath. If I can offer any advice it would be this…
1.) Take care of yourself. Your town has captured the attention of the entire nation. People whom you will probably never meet are praying for you and willing to help you in whatever way they can. Let them help. Do not try to handle your loss on your own. Do not pass up any donations and/or help thinking, “Someone else needs it more than I do.” Let complete strangers make you dinner. Allow other people to bless you and take care of you. Let that child join in and help clean up the debris. You’re going to be outside for weeks to come picking through the remains, wear sunscreen. Take Ibuprofen to help with the soreness while you sleep at night. Take as many breaks as you need, drink lots of water, and wear gloves and face masks as you clean up outside. Trust me, you need the facemask. You’re inhaling lots of wood dust while cleaning. If you’re lucky you won’t get pneumonia like I did.
2.) Cry, get mad, and let it out. Whatever you do, don’t bottle up your emotions and don’t let anyone tell you when you should be over it. Seek professional counseling. Unfortunately, what you experienced this last week won’t be the last time you encounter a tornado. Prepare yourself. There will be sensory things that will trigger your memory and the emotions that you carry from this event. The triggers could come in the form of smell, taste, outside temperature, sound, textures, or the visual of something blowing in the wind. It’s okay; your sensitivity to these things is to be expected. No matter how hard you try, there are some things you will simply not be able to control. My hands still shake to this day when I hear the sound of a siren. A professional counselor can give you the necessary tools to help you cope with your grief and/or PTSD.
3.) Do something proactive to help you feel more in control. I have found that the more informed I am about the weather, the calmer I am when it comes. Enroll in a storm spotter class. I did, and I can’t even begin to explain how much this helped me mentally in the months right after the tornado. Come up with a plan of safety. Decide as a family where the best place in the new house is to take shelter and have an emergency kit packed. If you decide to invest in a storm shelter, make sure that they are certified through FEMA and that the company you are using is reputable. Unfortunately, there are horrible people out there that will try to scam you and take advantage of you. We learned this the hard way. If you cannot do either of the above, find your local community storm shelters and make an escape plan.
4.) Talk to God and tell Him how you feel. If you’re broken, tell Him about it. If you’re scared, frustrated, angry, or depressed, tell Him about it. He cares for you. Write down what you’re experiencing on a daily basis in a journal. You will thank yourself later. Rest in God and know that even though your circumstances may change, He doesn’t. He will always stay the same. Look to Him and the scriptures He has given us to find rest, and peace.
“Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.” 1 Peter 5:7-11
My prayer in writing this letter to you is that somehow I might be able to encourage you, to offer you hope, and to connect you with the One who holds the answers and healing for even this. This too shall pass, take heart. Time really does heal. This event will leave a permanent mark on your heart. You will never forget that fateful day or this time in your life, and that’s okay. Tell your story – share with the world what you have experienced. Rest in the knowledge that this is our temporary home, and that one day there will be no more pain. One day you will look back on this chapter of your life and understand why God allowed you to walk through this. In the meantime, you are in the thoughts and prayers of millions and the hands of an Almighty God who will never let you go.
“Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Psalm 30:5
Meagan Reeves is a Huntsville-based worship leader, performing artist, and Music industry Graduate. Originally from Dallas, Meagan relocated to Alabama under unfortunate circumstances. Although her journey has had it’s ups and downs, Meagan knows God has had a very specific and unique plan all along. “My life has been a series of reminders from the Lord. He has taught me many times that I am not in control, and I have learned to just simply trust him. (Proverbs 3:5) My goal in this life is to decrease myself and increase the LORD and to make Him known in every nation. Hopefully my stories and music can be used to accomplish this,” Meagan stated. www.estoriarock.com