Today I hosted an open house in a gorgeous custom home. This newer home is filled with light and it is spacious, with 5 bedrooms, 3.5 baths, an office and a formal dining room, and a basement that creates the perfect suite for guests or an older child. There is also a large storm shelter in the basement, an addition that was once rare in Joplin but is now found in many new homes.
Like all of the neighboring houses, Connor House was built after the May 22, 2011 tornado that ravaged Joplin. It stands on the site of the former residence, a testament of survival, perseverance and grace. This is the house that hope and love built.
I asked the sellers to write about their experience. They agreed, and graciously gave me permission to share their story.
May 22, 2011 was supposed to be a happy and special day of celebration at our home, but — like hundreds of other families that day — our house was destroyed in the Joplin EF-5 tornado. Located just a block from the center of the storm, only a few tattered walls remained of our one-level, three bedroom house after the tornado ripped through the area. Thankfully, those precious walls happened to be the ones in which our family had taken shelter.
As a family of Serbian descent, May 22nd has been an important day for our family long before the tornado ever hit our house. May 22 happens to be the date of our family’s Krsna Slava (or “Slava” for short).
Slava is an exclusively Serbian custom that dates back to the 9th century and commemorates the conversion of a family’s ancestors/clan from paganism to Christianity when missionaries spread the gospel to their area hundreds of years ago. Each year, Slava is a day marked by various Serbian traditions, including opening one’s home to friends and family. The Slava tradition is handed down from Serbian fathers to their sons through each generation.
And so, in 2011, May 22nd began with typical Slava preparations at our house. It was a beautiful day, and I woke up early to bake the traditional Slava bread and to make other preparations for the large, multi-course dinner that we were to enjoy that evening. All through the day, our house was filled with sounds of love, laughter, and celebration as everyone worked in the kitchen and enjoyed being together.
About an hour before dinner, we gathered together in the living room for the traditional Slava blessing. It was a special time, and we all said the Lord’s Prayer together as a family. Just hours later, as the tornado ripped the house apart, that prayer is something that I treasured. As death loomed over us, I thought, “What a gift… We got to pray our Lord’s prayer together as a family in our home right before we meet Him face to face in our heavenly home.”
At about 5 pm, we had just sat down to our beautiful dinner, when suddenly the tornado sirens went off. It was certainly unexpected and inconvenient, but I took normal precautions just in case. The children and I went into our small laundry room, located in the center of the house because we did not have a basement at the time. Soon after, the rest of family came running.
Nine people crammed into the tiny laundry room — children huddled on the floor and curled up on top of the washer… adults linked arms and covered children. There was no time or extra space to even close the door.
And suddenly the storm was upon us.
Adults prayed. Children cried.
The darkness was terrifying. The sounds were horrific… windows shattering, trees falling, the front of the house getting crushed like a can.
And when the roof ripped off of the house, it took with it my last shred of hope that we would survive.
And yet we did. Somehow. We were some of the lucky ones who got to climb out of the rubble and start a “post-tornado” life.
The first couple of months after the storm were hard, but eventually we found a new rhythm to life. And as we began thinking about the future and the best way to move forward, we decided that our recovery needed to include rebuilding our home. Like a phoenix from the ashes, we wanted a lovely home to stand on the very spot where our lives had almost ended but were spared.
Rebuilding the house at 2425 S. Connor Avenue was therapeutic on so many levels. Lots of love and thought went into the planning, and with every board that went up, the heartache receded just a bit.
Although the house is much larger than the previous one that stood in that spot for so many years, we did incorporate a few touches that pay homage to the original house — white kitchen cabinets, dark hardwood floors, and similar tile flooring.
We chose the interior paint colors based on an original oil painting created by a Springfield artist to commemorate God’s protection of our family during the tornado. The painting — entitled “Salvation” — currently hangs over the fireplace.
We purchased the empty lots on both sides of the house, knowing that a large, lovely house needed a beautiful yard to go with it.
Although our family’s future plans for the house — doing more landscaping and building a large family room on the north side of the house — will go unrealized, our greatest hope is that a new family will enjoy the house, make it their own, fill it with love and memories, and have their own stories to tell someday.
What a beautiful story. Tears filled my eyes when I read it. The light that fills Connor House transcends sunlight. It is the Divine light of protection, the light of peace, the light of love, permeating every room and illuminating every corner of the home.
The next chapter is beginning in the lives of the sellers, taking them far from Joplin. Connor House welcomes new owners.
May their story continue to unfold within those sheltering walls.