The cross remains at St. Mary’s Church, Joplin.

For the last week we’ve been inundated in the newspaper, on television, on facebook with scenes of horrifying devastation in the wake of an EF5 tornado which hit the city of Joplin. A hospital rendered useless with windows blown out sending glass showering down on patients and clinicians.  Houses and apartment units flattened.  Cars and trucks picked up, tossed around and left in heaps on top of each other.  Businesses like Home Depot and Walmart, the roofs blown off, walls toppled and yet some shelves left standing with merchandise intact. St. Mary’s Church decimated except for the cross standing tall over the landscape.

Far and above the millions of dollars it will take to replace the houses, businesses, cars, furniture and things lost in the storm, though, is that which is irreplaceable, the 142 children, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers gone forever.  The fact that they lost their lives to what is a random act of nature sounds very much like saying that the sun came out today. But this act of nature was not like the colors in a butterfly’s wing or the smooth ripples on a nearby lake.  This was the green-black haunting funnel cloud packing the crippling force of winds ripping apart lives, homes, families all within 15 seconds. Fifteen seconds that has forever changed a town of 50,000 and impacted a nation to perhaps hug a loved one longer or smell the magic of a newborn one more time and then another just because we can.
After several days of gasping at the pictures of destruction across the southwestern Missouri town, I was struck by a parable of sorts with the town of Joplin and my own life.  First, I thought of my closet.  In Joplin, those clothes that people just bought at Walmart or Dillards and hung in their closets were many times ripped out and flung over three different states.  Shards of wood were driven through favorite pairs of jeans.  Mud was caked on babies’ sleepers.  Their closets were dumped out for the world to see.

When I opened my closet door, several shoeboxes, a giftbag, a shoe and ten hangers fell on me. It was wasted space because I couldn’t find anything. Almost in a panic, I began pulling things out of the bottom of the closet and off hangers.  I made piles—keep, give-away, throw-away. Keep being the smallest.  It was a small step to be sure, but it got me to thinking about other things in my life.

You know the yellow warning-do-not-cross tape that the Police use to designate areas? I sometimes think I should be wrapped in that head to toe.  I have areas of destruction.  Some are easily fixed, like my closet.  Some I am working on like eating right and exercising. Some I cannot fix like health issues caused by a number of years of being extremely overweight.  Today, though, can move forward, even if it seems like its only inches forward.  I can do what I know to be the right thing now.
Joplin’s loss was and is real, as real as the bark, limbs and leaves ripped from surviving stalwart trees.   Our devastation is also real—addictions or compulsions we feel we can’t control, people who have hurt us that we feel we cannot forgive, selfish desires that have grown and overtaken us like a wind the sound of a freight train.

The people of Joplin had no say over their fated devastation.  However, you and I do. The good news is, it’s not too late. It’s never too late to take control of that which God has given us authority, the choices you and I make each day.  They are choices for life or for death.

As the people of Joplin dig through the rubble around them, we can dig through the rubble of our lives and find the things worth taking forward.  As the people of Joplin rebuild, we can do the same with our lives.  Maybe it will mean giving a donation to someone in need or taking a trip to Joplin to help another physically put the pieces of their life together again.  As the people of Joplin go forward with God’s help, surely we can, too.  Surely, we can begin to make right choices for our lives.

In 15 seconds, the city of Joplin was changed by a force outside themselves.  In the same amount of time, you and I can change the course of destruction within ourselves.  We can take a step…forward.