How to start? Beginnings are difficult for so many reasons. When we start something new, there must be something else that comes to an end. Often, we focus on one aspect of the journey at the cost of the other. We tend to concentrate on what ended and miss what’s beginning or just the opposite – we see what’s beginning and forget about what just ended. With that thought, I hope to write this story about tragedies with both endings and beginnings in mind.
On May 22, 2011, an F5 tornado ripped through my home town of Joplin, Missouri. Life was instantly changed for all of us who lived in that plain Midwestern town. So much could be said and so many stories told, but for now I want to limit myself to one person in particular. It is sad to say but true, this story is written about a woman whose name I cannot remember. In the weeks following the tornado, I barely remembered my own. But I do remember how we met.
Immediately after the tornado our church opened it’s doors to host volunteers, do work projects, feed the hungry and serve as a distribution center for supplies. This woman was one of the many who came to our church in need of food and basic supplies. While there, she noticed a sign I had posted about a Bible study that was starting the following week. Thinking back, it is certainly a miracle that any Bible study ever occurred. Because of all the volunteers and supplies in the church, we had to change rooms almost every week. The hookups and power source were continually touch and go. It was utter chaos most of the time. But in the midst of the chaos, God was at work.
On our very first evening at the conclusion of the study, this particular woman approached me and introduced herself. She asked if she could talk with me for a few minutes. Almost everyone else had left, so we sat down beside each other and I looked at her closely for the first time.
She appeared worn and tired, with no makeup and slightly rumbled clothes, but of course that description fit almost all of us after the tornado. The woman confided in me that she didn’t have a Bible. “Done!” I replied and happily supplied her with one. Then she hesitantly told me she didn’t know what the numbers meant in the Bible or how to look anything up. “No problem,” I answered. “We all have to start sometime. I know I did. Let me show you how to look up chapters and verse numbers.” Then she looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Do you want to know why I’m here?” “Only if you want to tell me,” I responded. “You don’t have to, but I’m happy to listen if you want to share.”
What occurred next was quite memorable. She proceeded to tell me her story of what took place during the tornado a few days prior. “I was in my living room and I could see the tornado coming straight for my house. There was no place for me to go. I have never been a person who thought there was a God, but looking at that tornado, I got down on my knees and started praying, hoping there was. I asked Him to please, please save me.
Immediately I felt a hand on my shoulder. It scared me because there was no one else with me in my home. As soon as I felt that sensation on my shoulder, I whipped my head around to see who was there. I saw no one, but I did hear a voice. It said, ‘You need to know me.’ My immediate response was, ‘Who are you? I don’t know who you are.’ To which I heard a voice say again, ‘Go to a church and tell them you need to know me.’ The sensation of the hand being on my shoulder never left. The tornado hit my house straight on and destroyed everything, but He saved me. That’s why I’m here. It’s because I want to know Him.”
This woman came for the next two sessions, having read her Bible and ready to learn. She was staying with a friend in town, but I found out by the third meeting that she was moving. Many people who had nothing left often did. She had no phone and so when she left, I never had any follow up with her again. Had I asked her, I think she would have said that her life, as she knew it, ended when that F5 tornado destroyed everything she had. But where she saw an ending, God saw a new beginning.
As I have watched Harvey destroy parts of Houston and the surrounding areas, as well as Irma hitting Florida and Georgia, I know there have been many, many difficult endings. When we include the wildfires in Montana, Idaho and California, the tragic endings continue to multiply. And that is just in our own country over the last few weeks. Whether it is a natural disaster or a personal disaster, life throws us a lot of bad endings. If we are honest, we are all just one disaster away from getting on our knees and begging someone to save us.
The latest example comes from the shooting tragedy that occurred at a concert in Las Vegas. Taylor Benge’s story reminded me of my friend’s. When he was interviewed on CNN, he said he went into the concert an agnostic and came out a firm believer in God. The thing he will never forget – his sister throwing herself on top of him whenever the shots began to ring out and her voice saying, “I love you, Taylor I love you.”
New beginnings may come in the form of an invisible hand on our shoulder or someone showing up in a boat to rescue us as the flood waters rise. It could be a complete stranger showing up with exactly what we need, or a sister who lays over us so a bullet takes her life instead of ours. It is sad but true, that sometimes someone dies so that someone else can have a new beginning. When Jesus died, every one of the disciples saw an end – an end to everything they had hoped for, everything they had believed in, and everything they had given their lives for. But where they saw endings, God saw new beginnings. Jesus’ death was really just the beginning of new life.
I don’t want to in any way trivialize how horrifically tragic bad ending are. I have many friends who lost everything down to their foundations and even good friends who lost family members in the Joplin tornado. The same is true of others as a result of the hurricanes, wild fires and earthquakes that are occurring and will continue to occur. But even in death, God has made a way, and given us an opportunity, for a new beginning. In the middle of your darkest moments, look for Him. For when things are the very darkest, He shines the brightest.
This means that death is working in us, but life is working in you. 2 Cor 4:12 CEV
I want you to know me, to trust me and understand that I alone am God. I have always been God; there can be no others. I alone am the LORD; only I can rescue you. Isaiah 43:10b-11 CEV
When you pass through deep waters, I will be with you; your troubles will not overwhelm you. Isaiah 43:2a GNT
I am Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Revelation 22:13 NLT
Here’s a few pictures from the Joplin tornado.
For another story of starting again, read “It’s Not Too Late.”
Or leave a comment!
Danny Gokey – Tell Your Heart To Beat Again
Micah Tyler – Different. His message before the song is powerful.
Kari Jobe – I Am Not Alone