My heart is in Joplin

“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”  Psalm 34:18

One week ago today, our family was gathered in our basement as the tornado sirens wailed outside.  We watched the local coverage of the storm and prayed as a tornado ravaged a section of La Crosse, ten miles to the south of us.  Tornadoes are a bit of an anomaly in the city of La Crosse, and we were shocked to hear accounts and see pictures of the damage in the hours to follow.

I also spent time searching for information on the tornado that ripped through parts of North Minneapolis and surrounding suburbs, since my sister lives in that area.  I was unable to reach her by phone, and it was difficult to think about the possible outcomes, especially since she lives in a mobile home.  (I was finally able to contact her on Monday, and she is fine.)

After these close calls, nothing could have prepared me for the images I saw on Monday morning coming out of Joplin, Missouri.  I had turned on the TV to find out more about the local damage, and instead I was subjected to a visual that might never leave my mind.

You see, I’m a bit of a tornado freak.  I’m always fascinated by the stories of tornadoes and the crazy, weird  things they do.  I suppose it’s due to my own personal experiences with these powerful, unpredictable storms.  I’ve lived through a few of them, including one in a car and another laying in a ditch at an amusement park.  Over the years, I’ve looked at countless pictures and videos of the destruction left behind by twisters.

Joplin was different.

I watched the news coverage of Katrina, Haiti, Japan, and Tuscaloosa.  Although all of those tragedies brought out compassion in me, none of them moved me the way the devastation in Joplin did.  I became physically ill at the sight of St. John’s Hospital, cars twisted like soda cans, and trees stripped of bark.  I wept as people were interviewed, still clearly shell shocked and unable to comprehend a fraction of what had happened to their community in a matter of minutes.

Later that morning, at a doctor appointment, I met a nurse whose hometown was Joplin.  She was in tears as she told me about being reassured her family was all right, but not knowing about some dear friends.  The images on the news were so frightening, and she couldn’t even recognize parts of the city because all the landmarks were gone.

Yesterday, a friend called to give me an update from her husband who drove to Joplin to volunteer with the cleanup.  Having been to Haiti after the earthquake, he described Joplin as “Haiti on steroids.”

It’s a week later, and my heart is still breaking for the people of Joplin.  I really have no idea why this particular disaster has affected me so deeply.  I don’t know anyone in Joplin, and I have never even been there.  I can only assume it’s a move of God upon my heart, and that He intends to use me in some fashion.

I’m doing what I can for them right now…praying, organizing and collecting needed donations, and praying some more.  I believe God is calling me to go there at some point and use my gifts to minister to the brokenhearted and grief-stricken.  For now, my body may be in Wisconsin, but my heart is in Joplin, Missouri.

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