Several years back in 2011 you might remember tornado season hit pretty hard.
Joplin, Missouri was hit with a category F5 tornado, which means winds over 200 miles per hour hit that community. Devastation left behind on May 23, 2011, was massive. I served in Joplin for a few days right after the tornado went through as a disaster relief chaplain. And I remember talking with residents who were telling their stories of where they were, who was with them, and how they survived. A comment that came up again and again was, “It’s all changed now... even the road markers are gone. The landscape is totally different.” They were now immersed in shock, disorientation, and disbelief. I remember surveying the landscape of flattened homes, trees stripped of life, no street signs, and miles upon miles of debris. There was no doubt, to anyone, city resident or outsider, the landscape was totally different.
But, right along side the sense of loss, fear, shock, and grief, residents also shared comments like:
“God watched over me during this, I could feel his hand protecting me.”
“God showed me what to do to stay safe!” “My family lost everything. But God.....”
The experience has stayed with me and I find myself drawing some parallels with what we are all living through with the pandemic. Our cultural landscape has definitely shifted. Many of our familiar ways of functioning can no longer be the road markers anymore. We wear masks when before only the bad guys, or superheroes, wore the masks. We walk into grocery stores or little shops looking like bandits rather than patrons. We live in the “no touchy” culture now. No high fives, fist bumps (unless you are gloved)! and no hugs. I often think of The Emperor’s New Groove and hear “no touchy, NO TOUCHY” running in the back of my mind.
Obviously, economic impact is being felt and probably more waves still ahead. The employment environment for some people has shifted to working at home or with new hours and higher restrictions. Some are not working at all.
We have had some food restrictions and shortages. And numerous other changes. Externally, culturally, we live in a very different world than February of this year, just those few short months ago. God knows what the tornado-winds of COVID has done to society, to government, and to individuals.
The common theme among residents during that weather disaster was God protecting and being the safe place. As people reemerged from those secure places, they were holding on to their experiences during the worst part of the storm. They were now navigating a changed reality with an undergirding testimony of God being with them, protecting, and showing them how to stay safe. The undergirding happened with those who lost it all as well; homes, personal property, jobs, and even loved ones, gone. “I lost everything. But God.” People knew the recovery road was long and painful. They did not know how it was going to look or how they would rebuild. But God...
My point in all this is to say, since God was with the people of Joplin in the moments when wind and debris were actively leveling a city, he is most certainly with us. He is the ultimate GPS and will guide us through a changed culture. Like Joplin residents, use the testimonies, the experiences of that safe place to undergird you moving forward. Also, everyone in Joplin lost so much. Whether or not a person was directly in the path of the tornado or not, everyone knew someone who was. Their economy was practically destroyed in 38 minutes that afternoon.
For some, COVID has hit harder than it has hit others. Great loss. Greater challenges. And I am not making light of those circumstances. They are real. Recovery may take longer and have more pain in it. But God...Remember how God was watching over you during this time. If you quiet your heart for a moment, and only listen for him, do you sense him keeping you safe? Hold on to that. Build on that. Remember. Lean into the Holy Spirit for practical steps in this new place. He is faithful.