Our lives have all been affected by the tornadoes which devastated our communities in Lee County. Within a small square-footage area, the tornado ripped apart homes, trees and anything in its path. Twenty-three people lost their lives and several homes were completely destroyed. Words do not express the pain in our community.
Lee County is ARM’s home and we are already working within our community to help our neighbors. We know the healing and rebuilding will take months if not years. Specifically, we will work to help families repair and rebuild while offering comfort through prayers, listening and being the compassionate presence of Jesus. We remember Jesus at Lazarus’ tomb where he wept.
We visited Ms. Betty, who lives in the affected area and for whom we have repaired her home. After multiple calls and unable to reach her, we went to visit, fearing the worst.
The storm took down her power lines and phone/internet connection explaining the communication blackout. Relief flooded us as we saw her outside with the repair man and her home untouched. However, she shared that her mother, who lived down the street, was not so fortunate. The tornado crushed her mobile home. She and her son were unharmed but now without a home.
It is when I sit down and stop the reality hits me. You get to working and coordinating and become somewhat immune to the emotion. Until you stop. Maybe that is why we try not to stop. If we just keep moving, we can push the pain, hurt, confusion, and loss away from us. It’s all so surreal.
A few days after the storm and before we were allowed into Beauregard, I was with a large group in Smiths Station clearing debris from a historic, two-story home. It sustained some roof damage and several downed pine trees on his front acre of land. But, overall, he and his wife would recover fairly well.
The tornado will be seared in his memory as he and his wife drove through it missing the power lines cascading around them and having the windshield cracked as they had to speed up their driveway to miss a falling tree. He felt like he did not need volunteers; there was someone else down the road that needed more help. So we went down there, only to be told there was someone else in worse shape that could use the help. And so it goes. Mr. Jeff was one of those strong guys that did not seem to be rattled by anything. As he gave his thanks, his eyes welled up and turned red and glassy. Apologizing for his soft heart, he shared how he was so grateful and just wanted to see others helped as well. Praying with him was the most special part of the day.
But now I sit and think. I recalled the news articles recounting the places I had been days after the storm; at Watoola UMC helping dry in a roof and a prayer vigil for an elementary school girl at Lee-Scott Academy who lost her life. Visiting a distribution site and beholding the sign that says #Beauregardstrong at the high school. Finally reading the stories and watching the videos, I felt the wave of emotion sweep over me.
Pain like this does not go away and the remnants of this storm are seared in our memory. I hold it in tandem as I recount the Florida Panhandle and the day-to-day struggles of families. Their struggles are exacerbated when financial resources are limited.
For today, I can be a prayer warrior. I can pick up debris. I can call and check on someone. I can make a donation. I can stop and weep.
If this is our new norm … fires, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and killer snow storms, I guess it is time to lock arms, stand together and fight together. The only way to make meaning out of this is to make it together. May love tie us together as we comfort one another.
Lisa Pierce is the executive director of Alabama Rural Ministry and ordained as a deacon in the United Methodist Church. She is an Auburn University alum who loves working with people in rural communities and learning of their amazing stories.