Magic Sneakers

It’s two years post tornado and one year after I promised myself I was done writing about the tornado. But I’m fickle and I promise not to write about it again! (Unless I do …)

A while back I registered the kids for the Joplin Memorial Fun Run. Molly is four, so I envisioned that Emily (8) and David (10) would run out ahead and Keith and I would walk/slow run with the Mollster. Ha.

I hadn’t told Molly those plans.

She’s trained for the run for weeks. This mostly involved sprinting the loop in my home from kitchen, to family room, to living room, and back – again and again and again. A couple days before the run we bought her new sneakers. They instantly became magic sneakers. You remember the type – the ones that made you run faster than ever before.

She was ready.

And it wasn’t a walk with her parents that she was ready for. That girl ran the whole mile with a huge smile on her little face. It was awesome. (But far from leisurely.)

The race wasn’t just about running though. It was a memorial to the people who lost their lives in the tornado two years ago. There was a sign hanging at the beginning of the race and it had the name of each of those 161.  When my exuberant racers arrived, Molly saw the sign and, assuming it was a list of the racers, asked, “Mommy, where’s my name!? Am I on there?”  If she hadn’t been so excited about racing she may have wondered why it took me a moment before answering her.

“No, baby girl, those are the people who died in the tornado and we’re running today to remember them.”

And then my mind swirled with the rest of the answer …

BUT …

Had the rotation been slightly different …

Had the walls twisted a bit more …

Had the ceiling been blown away over that closet …

Then the names on that list could have included my Molly and Emily and Keith. So close; they were so close.

In the past two years we’ve made the decision not to live in the land of “what if’s” because that can be life freezing and maybe even disrespectful to the people who did lose someone they love.  But the sign with the names (and the t-shirts that read “Running in memory of my Granny”) spoke of those whose loved ones couldn’t get into a safe place, whose ceilings collapsed and whose walls fell.  And I grieve with them for their loss with awareness that the happy ending to my tornado story could make their grief more powerful.

Because their loved ones were so close too – so close to safety, to shelter, to survival.

None of us will forget the storm that hit Joplin on May 22, 2011. My family and I may have decided that the storm doesn’t define us but we would be kidding ourselves to say it hasn’t changed us.

Because when I remember, it reverberates once again through my soul – life is precious, time is fleeting, and the people we love are so vulnerable and so fragile.

When faced with the memory of that day, we will do what we’re left here to do.

We will savor.

We will strap on our magic sneakers and run.

God bless the people whose story ended differently. Hopefully they have found some peace.

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I’m at Teachers & Twits Today!

I’ve been blogging for a while now and I’m consistently inconsistent. My plan is to start blogging more regularly; I find it helps me maintain my sanity. However, one thing I’ve been doing consistently ever since I found Renée Schuls-Jacobson’s blog Teachers & Twits is reading it. She is fantastic – makes me laugh, cry, and think. I tend to read her posts while drying my hair in the morning. And while I love Renée, she has been solely responsible for some pretty bad hair days.

So, it is with no small amounts of blogging awe (nerdy giddiness?) that I’m linking to her blog because today I’M HER GUEST BLOGGER!!! Me, she of the inconsistent posts and bad hair.

Please click on her picture below (I know, I know … she’s beautiful and smart) and comment at her place. Her place! Because that’s where I am!! (Have I mentioned that Renée has some of the best discussions in blogland in her comment section?) 

 

 

 

 

 

Surrounded By Heroes

My daughter’ picture as part of Robert Fogarty’s Dear World series on Joplin. His work is amazing. To see more click the picture!

Life is filled with contradictions; mundane mixed with miracle, tragedy with celebration, amazing strength with humbling weakness.  Contradiction makes life both difficult and powerfully beautiful. 

Ten years ago, on May 22, 2002, my first child David was born.  He turned my life inside-out and upside-down.  He taught me that love can be frightening in its intensity.  He made me look at the world differently.  Everything suddenly mattered so much more except, of course, for those things that suddenly mattered so much less.  Motherhood, like life, is also filled with contradictions.

Today is a day to celebrate his life.

One year ago, on May 22, 2011, our birthday celebrations came to an abrupt stop when the tornado pounded through Joplin.  The tornado also turned my life inside-out and upside down.  It also taught me that love can be frightening in its intensity. 

Today is a day to remember that loss and fear.  To, once again, allow myself to be swept away in gratitude that those walls bent but did not fall.

So today, at 5:40 in the evening, I will close my eyes and sit in silence for a moment with my community.  I’ll remember what happened a year ago today.  I’ll remember the lives lost and the neighborhoods destroyed.  I’ll remember that, like my girls’ picture reads, we are surrounded by heroes disguised as neighbors and strangers.  I’ll take that moment so that I can remember; once again, that everything we hold dear is fragile.  It’s a scary reminder.  It’s also the ultimate inspiration to live fully today.

But then I’m going to open my eyes and watch the young man sitting across from me blow out the ten candles on his cake.  David inspires words like hilarious, serious, sensitive, tough, kind, and brilliant.  He’s totally weird in a normal kid sort of way.  We’ll celebrate with pasta and chocolate and presents.  It’s good to be ten-years old.

We are taking this day back from the storm.

One Year Later in Joplin, Missouri

Almost a year ago, on May 22, 2011 a tornado hit my hometown of Joplin, Missouri.  The year since the storm was filled with joy, sorrow, tragedy, and miracle – sprinkled with refreshing moments of ordinary.  Most of you have heard the story:

On May 22 David turned nine years old.  The day started as a day of celebration. At 5:30 that evening, David, two of his friends, and I were in a movie theater watching pirates duke it out for the fountain of youth.  After the movie, we planned to meet Keith and the girls for pizza.  As we watched, I received a text from one of the boy’s mom saying “Stay put, Amy, the storm is bad and the tornado sirens are going off.”  The movie stopped in the middle of a scene, the lights turned on, and we were all instructed to go sit on the floor underneath the screen.  I called Keith to tell him to stay home with the girls and wait out the storm.  At the time, Keith and the girls were getting shoes on to head out the door and meet us for dinner.  Meanwhile, the theater crowd was laughing, talking, and in good spirits.  This is Missouri; we’re used to sirens and tornado warnings.  We were all sitting on the floor sharing any weather tidbits we could get on our phones.  Someone asked a manager why the movie was still playing in the theater next door.  The manager replied, “That’s not a movie.  That’s the storm.  Maybe a tornado …”

The mood changed.

I couldn’t reach Keith and the girls on the phone.  When the storm finally ended, people started to walk up the stairs to leave the theater as texts and calls began to come in.  It was terrifying to see people check their phones and start running, or crying, or saying “Oh my God …” The first text I received was from David’s friend’s mom.  It said, “Are you okay? Where are you? Tell M I love him.”  The next text was from Keith.  It said, “Our house was hit.” 

Across town, shortly after my initial call to Keith, he watched it turn black outside – he didn’t hear any sirens.  When his ears suddenly popped, Keith grabbed the girls and ran to the closest “safe” place – our closet.  He laid over Emily and Molly on the floor of the closet and listened as a tornado went over our house.  The tornado took our garage, trees, fence, roof, two cars, boat, and bent our walls as he and our little girls huddled together – fragile and exposed.   

That was our tragedy.

Here’s our miracle:  Keith, Emily, and Molly walked out of that closet untouched and unharmed.  In our family room, all the windows blew in, parts of our neighbor’s home came into ours, and the furniture was destroyed.  Our two dogs were kenneled in the only corner of that room without glass and debris.  They were also untouched and unharmed.  Our home, unlike the homes of most of our neighbors, stood.  It was fixable.  My parents came that night and took the kids to their home in Kansas City while Keith and I began the work of sorting through belongings trying to salvage what we could as the rain poured in.  We moved into a rental house.

And life went on.  David started the third grade, Emily the second, and Molly went back to her wonderful preschool program.  Keith continued his work at a manufacturing plant in Joplin.  I began a new job as a hospice social worker.  The kids’ usual flurry of activities continued. And, while all this beautiful ordinary went on, our home was slowly rebuilt.

Seven months after the tornado we moved back home!  Our neighborhood is still empty: the trees are gone, homes are missing, our view is a path of destruction instead of homes and trees, and many of our neighbors have moved away.  However, there is construction and progress every day.  We have new neighbors on our right and old neighbors have returned across the street.  Joplin is rebuilding and healing.  The community is a supportive place for those whose stories were more tragedy than miracle.  In fact, this city feels more like home to us now than it ever has in the five years we’ve lived here. 

Life is good and the ordinary is more beautiful than ever.

Finding Hope

A few months ago, someone planted some bulbs.  

And while the people of Joplin rebuilt homes and lives; the bulbs grew silently under the ground.

Now they’ve bloomed.  While we worked to recreate what was lost, hope grew.

What a wonderful surprise when the word HOPE bloomed through the ground.

I look back on this year of tornadoes and death and loss and I’m in awe of the journeys we all pass through in life.  And I’m filled with hope.  Not just a sentimental word but a powerful call to action:

We can be better. 

Our world can be better. 

Our actions matter. 

We matter. 

During this year, I’ve witnessed the kind of hope that carries us past our experiences and understanding and delivers us to words like faith, joy, growth, and strength. 

Our world is filled with people trapped in a suffocating darkness.  Neighbors grieve behind closed doors.  We hide behind status updates and smiley icons.  I doubt there are any of us who haven’t felt the pull of hopelessness.  It’s powerful. 

Fortunately, hope is brilliantly contagious.  I believe hope is spread through the sharing of our stories.  There is healing strength in recognizing ourselves in another person’s story. 

“Maybe you have to know the darkness before you can appreciate the light.”  — Madeleine L’Engle

Good neighbors don’t flash each other.

We don’t have blinds on some of our windows yet.  The reasons for this blaring, privacy-prohibiting oversight are things like indecision and blinds on back-order.  (Of course, personally, I blame Keith.) 

Our new next-door neighbors are also somewhat blindless, which only seems fair.  I’ve become used to scenarios like David pronouncing from our dinner table that the next-door neighbors are watching basketball again. 

It’s a great way to get to know the new neighbors.

However, it’s also like performing nightly on an open stage.  I’m fairly certain that the neighbors are not overly concerned about any of the activities in our family room.  (And by “fairly certain” I mean I know they’re not.  I never see them watching us when I’m watching them.  Scared yet?)

However, it does make those oops the shirt I need to wear is in the laundry room moments a bit awkward. So, I’ve mastered the crouch walk that keeps me below line of sight (at least in my head).  I’ve learned to sprint through the family room when wrapped in a towel.  And I’m getting fairly good at making it look like I’m lovingly correcting the children when I’m, in fact, yelling at them.  (Thank God they don’t have a sound feed into our family room!)

I feel like making these efforts is just plain neighborly.  Good neighbors don’t flash each other.

I was tempted to make this blog post about feeling exposed.   I thought I could explore how we expose ourselves every day through social media and that we should be more aware – apply some filters, hang some blinds.

But I’ve decided not to do that.  This post is just about my efforts to not flash my new neighbors.   Because I think we need a bit more of that in the world.  And I know I’m not the only crouching, sprinter out there.  Just know you are not alone.  And, one day, you and I will both have blinds and we’ll remember these days.

One day.

Haven

On the outside the house looks like any other home.  Inside, kids sit in the living room watching cartoons and playing with toys while a toddler in a highchair eats a pre-dinner snack, a pretty normal scene.

Except that there are no moms and no dads. 

Instead, there are caregivers – employees obviously hired for their compassion, sincerity, and all-around coolness.  This is a children’s crisis shelter, a wonderful place that gives children in crisis, whatever that may be in their lives, moments of home and safety.

We arrive at Children’s Haven arms loaded with lasagna, veggies, and bread – enough to feed a small army, more than enough to feed this house filled with children.  Our monthly dinner with these children is our family’s way to give back, to even out the balances.

But I also come with ulterior motives. 

I come to give my children perspective.

I come to cultivate an awareness of how much even our smallest actions can change the lives of others, just like how much our lives were changed by the people around us after the tornado. 

I come to show my kids that little things are important – a dinner, a smile, a presence. 

I come armed with more ulterior motives than food. 

Then the little boy turns to my son and asks him, “Are you homeless too?”

And in an instant my ulterior motives disappear.  This child is not an object lesson.  He is a little boy without a home.  And his innocent question pierces my heart and the heart of my husband and the heart of my son. 

Are we homeless too?

No, sweet child, because of the kindness of strangers and grace beyond understanding, we are not homeless.   And you gave me so much more than what I came prepared to give you.  And, for tonight, you’re not homeless either because you’ve found a haven.  And there’s not one among us who won’t need a haven at some point in life.

If you’re interested in learning more about Children’s Haven please click this link.  If you’d like to help, there’s a Needs List posted on their website.  We live in the shade of each other.