On December 27, 2015 my family was watching the news when I woke up and got my coffee and something to eat. I hadn’t slept well the night before, and I was living in somewhat of a surreal reality. Pictures of lost and found pets echoed through my head. Snippets of Facebook posts from those in areas where the tornado touched down, if they were able to get any internet access at all. A hole in the pit of my stomach because I still had not gotten absolute confirmation my dogs were OK. (If they had been standing out front of where they were boarded, and lightning had lit the sky, they would have watched the tornado swirl by). So I sat groggily with my coffee, my cookie (ssshhh that is part of breakfast at Christmas time), and my iPad. And it probably took me 5 minutes to realize something was not quite right.
I was in Vermont. And there on the television was the Mayor and City Manager of Rowlett. And I have to be honest. On the whole, you really don’t want to be watching TV in a state 1700 miles away from home and see the Mayor and City Manager of your neighboring town on TV. Because the odds of them being on TV to talk about good news is slim to none (and we all know most news on TV isn’t good news anyway, don’t we?). But I went back to looking at my iPad. And part of me wished that I was still really asleep and that Rowlett was not on national television.
If you have lived long enough, you have had times when your soul sank right through your feet, square into the floor, and threatened to pull you down after it. Often this happens when one we love dies. I would never have expected images on a TV screen to result in this type of reaction in me. I have watched countless images of horrible and terrible things on TV. And I have felt sad. I have even grieved some, and been moved to prayer. But I have never watched something on TV, and felt so much of myself just slip away, screaming, retching, being pulled under. I wanted to change the channel.
My father must have seen a look of anguish on my face because he asked me if I needed him to change the channel, or turn it off. But I said no, for the moment. Because changing the channel, or turning it off, would not have the desired effect this time. There isn’t much in my life that will take away the images of the glass, metal and wood twisted and snarled around toys and clothing, piles of life treasures strewn about as if it were confetti. This was not some far off distant place that I could remove myself from. This was home. And pieces of it lay in tatters.
We live in a fast paced world where changing the channel is our norm. We quickly flip from program to program with little thought at all, trying to find something that amuses us and gives us a break from reality. To be honest, there have been many times over the past few months I have just wanted to do that. To change the channel from what happened here, and just move on to the next piece of entertainment. Or the next piece of anything. But all I have to do is drive across the bridge by my house, something I do fairly often, and I am face to face with the damage that nature has wrought.
Natural disasters happen throughout the world. We hear about them, we read about them, we watch about them on TV. We feel sad for those affected, we may make donations to them, or some go so far as to travel to volunteer there. But to me, in what was my world, then you go home. You kick back, you relax, and you change the channel. And all is as it was.You are safe.
Except that now, nothing is. The channel is stuck. I can mute it. I can go in the other room. I can put a paper bag over it. But it is still there. It doesn’t haunt me anymore. It moves me deeply and profoundly. I don’t think a day has gone by that I have not thought of and prayed for Rowlett. For individual’s who lost their homes, or loved ones. For first responders, volunteers, city leaders. For those dealing with varying levels of reconstruction. For those, who, like me, could not change the channel. Most of all, for healing. For restoration. That God would restore to people not only all they have lost, but more.
“and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.”
[And since this probably did not come across with how I started this, the Mayor and City Manager of Rowlett have subsequently profoundly impressed me with how they have served their city during this time, and I have tremendous admiration for them].