On December 26th 2015, a EF-4 tornado touched down in Rowlett and left a 4 mile path of destruction through the city. Usually, when I hear of a natural disaster, I’m saddened, but not moved to action. I read the headline, say a quick prayer and then check my Facebook. Or, I’m watching the news, I comment on what a tragedy it was, and then start watching Netflix. Distance blinds me from the reality of the destruction. However, a week ago, this tornado hit less than a mile away from my home. I read the headlines, and check Facebook, Facebook is flooded with pictures: home destroyed,lost pets, people needing shelter, businesses offering free food, churches offering donations. I see the Mayor’s updates on the city, I see the videos of people finding their dogs in the rubble, and I know their faces. I recognize them. All of it a constant reminder that this tornado was not in another city, state, or another country, this time. On December 26th, the quiet city of Rowlett, Texas was hit.
But this isn’t about me. This is about the people I met this morning. I signed up to help the animal shelter pass out donations in a neighborhood that had pretty severe. They sent us out in pairs, to drive around and ask people who were out and about if they needed anything for their pets. Driving around and seeing the damage was surreal. There were houses without walls and roofs, yards without fences, and lawns with nothing but debris. I started to meet the people, and talking to them you realize how ‘human’ they really are. It’s so easy for us to put people in categories and it dehumanizes them. It became pretty obvious that a lot of them just wanted someone to talk to. A question about dog food often turned into a confession of their frustration, sadness and just despair in the midst of all that happened. One woman said, “You know. I’ve been the strong one in the family through all this.” Her house only had one wall still standing. “I was strong until I realized it was just as cold and wet in my home as it was outside. I stood there soaking wet and cold as we tried to salvage what was left, and just broke down.”
(Side note: And see, that’s why prayer is important. We can supply food, pet food, we can clean up their debris, we can get them trustworthy insurance companies and give them shelter. But, they are human and they have emotional, spiritual and mental needs as well. When you pray, you are interceding for them, asking the Lord to wrap His arms around them as they reach that ‘moment(s)’ when the reality of what has happened hits them.)
Many of the people I talked to were in such good spirits, after losing their homes, cars, even a few had lost their pets. And the opportunity to give them pet supplies, and give them one less thing to worry about was such a cool thing. While we were delivering supplies to a house, a family down the road was sitting on their porch and playing music really loud. It took me a few moments, but I realized the song was the hymn “It is well” , another family had put a cross in their yard with the words: “God is Good.” Their house was in shambles.
This tornado has impacted and changed a lot of lives. I saw two boys in their yard (probably around 6, and 8 years old) playing. And I thought about how this tornado would be a huge turning point in their life. I guess if anything, from my short time out there this morning, I observed the devastating reality of losing everything, but also the beauty of community. When walls are torn down (physical walls, or emotional barriers) it leaves way for helping and healing to take place. While we were passing out supplies, across the street the Mayor was having a rally and giving a speech to hundreds of volunteers before they began volunteering. Then, they came. A group with burritos and juice, a group handing out free chickfila sandwiches, Firemen driving around checking on people, cops paroling the area making sure everyone is secure.
If there is any hope in all of this brokenness, there’s this: people are experiencing community. The “No-strings attached” and “Take as much as you need, we have plenty!”kind of assistance that stops people in their tracks. “Really? Are you sure?” Many of them asked. And we responded “Yes! People have been do gracious to donate so much.”
So if you donated, thank you. You are the reason why we could say “yes! take as much as you need.”
If you are contributing financially, thank you. You are helping fund the hands and feet of Christ in the devastation.
If you volunteering your time, your food, your home, your skills/talents, thank you.
If you are praying, keep doing so. God is answering prayers, and His peace is all over that neighborhood I walked through today.
If you are overwhelmed, and don’t know what to do or where to start, keep reading. I want to end with a short story that I’m going to tell in my retell in own words. These two guys were walking down a beach, they noticed thousands of starfish were on the sand. A guy started picking them up and putting them back in the water. The other guy watched and then asked “What are you doing? There’s so many. It’s not making a difference.” And the other guy responded as he threw one starfish in the water, “Well it made a huge difference to that one.” You don’t have to throw them all water to make a difference.
You don’t have to clean this city up by yourself to make a difference.
Do something. Find your starfish.