New Insights Seven Years Beyond the Tornado

This day has a great emotional impact on Joplin residents who lived here in 2011. Seven years ago a massive EF5 tornado destroyed a third of my city, killing 161 people and injuring many more. Homes, businesses, schools, parks, cars, animals and trees were gone in moments. I can’t forget what happened, nor do I want to.

I woke up this morning feeling the heaviness that accompanies this day. There’s a pall that hangs over the city as people remember, grieve and feel the strong swirl of emotions. There is gratitude as well, thankfulness for survival, for the rebuilding that has been accomplished, and for the indomitable spirit of this community.

I didn’t intend to share anything today, about life post 5.22.11, however, I’ve had some fresh insights in the last few months, about some some health trends I’ve observed in survivors of that horrific event. It seems this is the story I’m to share.

New Insights Seven Years Beyond the Tornado

Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is defined as an emotional condition that can develop after a traumatic event, particularly an event that involves actual or threatened death, serious bodily injury to oneself or to others, and creates intense feelings of fear, helplessness or horror.

Many lived with PTSD after the tornado. Fears of storms, dying, losing a loved one or a pet, losing a home, or loud noises were natural responses to the devastation that occurred. I experienced the disorder myself and still get uneasy during bad weather. My daughter Adriel lost her home and vehicles and most of her possessions that day and still deals with storm related anxieties. Even my grandchildren, who were not directly in the path of the storm but rode it out in the fringes, experienced PTSD in the aftermath. They witnessed the effects of the tornado and understood the emotional toll on survivors.

New Insights Seven Years Beyond the Tornado

In the past two years, as I changed my eating habits and moved into greater health and well-being, I’ve understood the serious and often overlooked effects of PTSD. Beyond causing anxiety and fear, this disorder is contributing to poor health and an increase in autoimmune disorders and mystery illnesses in survivors.

Physically, stress creates a flight or fight response. Adrenaline floods the body as a result, to aid in running from danger or fighting an enemy. When we continue to live under stress we also live with too much adrenaline in our system. So anxiety sticks around and becomes chronic. Those continual bursts of fear-based adrenaline feed the viruses that inhabit our bodies…Epstein Barr, shingles and strep. The viruses in turn release an abundance of neurotoxins that keep the anxiety going. It’s a vicious cycle…and it’s making people sick.

I realized recently that my chronic sciatica pain, which began after the trauma of a car accident in 1995, increased after the second trauma of the tornado. My health began a downward spiral after 5.22.11 that ultimately caused me to begin walking with a cane in 2015. I am grateful for the turn around that came for me after learning how to feed my body while starving the viruses.

New Insights Seven Years Beyond the Tornado

What about those who haven’t found the connection between a healthy diet and healing? I’ve watched as a close friend, who survived the tornado but lost her husband that day, has greatly deteriorated, health wise. She had injuries as a result of the storm. Those healed. But in the years since the tornado she has partially lost her sight and her ability to balance or to drive. She has aged beyond her years, and currently uses a walker due to extreme weakness in her legs. Doctors are puzzled by her symptoms and have ruled out Parkinson’s and several other diseases. They use the words autoimmune, mystery illness and worse. She has been told she is crazy, seeking attention or making up her illness.

I’ve offered her compassion and also suggestions for changing her diet to improve her health. To heal from PTSD, the brain needs to build up its glucose reserves. Good glucose is needed, found in fruits and vegetables, not the sugar found in sweets, which leads to a crash later. And it helps to create new experiences to replace negative ones and to serve as positive reference points in life. Journaling about favorable experiences, gratitudes and even small adventures changes perceptions and calms an overactive brain.

I talked to my friend on the phone this evening, letting her know I was thinking of her today. I was pleased to hear that she is gaining strength in her legs and eating less meat, dairy, and eggs. Her voice was more clear and best of all, she felt a sense of closure today, seven years after having her world, literally, torn apart.

New Joplin Library at 20th & Connecticut

I share tonight in case there are those reading this who experienced the 2011 tornado and are confused today about their worsening health or who are hearing diagnoses of mystery illnesses or autoimmune disorders. Or perhaps you know someone who continues to suffer when others feel they should be “over it”. Post traumatic stress syndrome is real. It has a powerfully negative effect on the body, feeding viruses most of us are playing host to, and contributing to poor health.

Know that there is hope. Joplin has risen from the rubble and been reborn. The city is growing…stronger, healthier, more beautiful. Her people can do the same. Reach out to me, if you want to know more. We can heal, together.

New Insights Seven Years Beyond the Tornado

The House That Hope and Love Built

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. 

Butterfly Mural at Mercy Park

A quick blog post tonight, featuring the new mural that was unveiled at Mercy Park yesterday. I was unable to attend the dedication, however I drove by yesterday and caught a glimpse of the completed wall. 

This evening, I spent time at my mom’s house. Mercy Park is conveniently located nearby. I stopped on the way home to take a closer look at the mural. 

It is gorgeous. The setting sun lit up the mural, which is made up of individual tiles. This form of art is known as Tangle Patterns and the Mercy Park Butterfly Mural is currently the world’s largest such tile mural. 

The artwork was created by AJ and Jordon Wood, and the tiles manufactured and installed by Whitehill Enterprises, LLC. 

I stood looking at the mural, the fresh cool breeze swirling around me, and thought of how far we have journeyed since May 22, 2011. Seeing beautiful works of art such as this reminds me that hope prevails over despair and love wins over powerful destructive forces. 

Each tile contributes a part, and combined with the others, creates a bigger picture that can be seen more clearly. That’s my community as well. We are individuals who bring our own unique gifts as we join with others in creating a better city. 

The butterfly represents protection during the storm (read a previous post HERE about the Butterfly People of Joplin), and rebirth and transformation. As a city, we are changing, growing, stretching our wings as we overcome challenges, and soaring. 

We are Joplin Strong. 

Day of Remembrance: Joplin Tornado

Today is the fifth anniversary of the Joplin tornado. On this date, and day, in 2011, a massive EF5 tornado devastated the communities of Joplin and Duquesne. Considered one of the biggest and deadliest tornadoes in the past 70 years, this storm destroyed a third of my town, injured more than a thousand people and killed 161. 

This year, being the five year anniversary, there were many activities and times of both remembrance and celebration. I participated in several of those. 

Today I have been in a quiet, reflective mood, somber yet hopeful. I was grateful for the bright sunny day, with no threat of storms. And I was appreciative of the celebrations and memorial service held at Cunningham Park. I attended the wonderful lunch that Operation BBQ Relief provided for hundreds and mingled with others while listening to music provided by Carter Hulsey and Kenny Foster. 

I’ve shared in previous posts about my experiences the day of the tornado and about Joplin’s resilience. Rather than sharing my words in this post today, here are pictures that captured the event at Cunningham Park:

The 161 memorial trees planted in Cunningham Park are big enough now to provide shade. 

It was good to gather with others at the park today. Good to see people I know and exchange greetings and hugs. I am thankful for all that people offered this week, to honor those who died and to celebrate the spirit of this community. 

And, I made the decision not to attend the remembrance service at the park. My own backyard garden was calling to. I sought the peace and sanctuary of that beautiful, peaceful space, to remember on my own. 

Watching the movie A Little Chaos recently inspired me to light candles throughout my garden. Tonight,  I wanted to do that, create pockets of light, and build a small fire in the fire pit, in honor of those lost in the storm. I didn’t have 161 candles to light. But the 25 or so that I lit were for them. 

Here are photos of my quiet time of remembering:

I felt restored after my time in the garden, with its warm candlelight and enchantment, and at peace. Although I feel sorrow around the events of May 22, 2011, the heaviness has gone. 

I’ll never forget what happened or the people lost. Nor do I want to. Their lives are part of the fabric of this community, their stories woven with ours, inseparable. The tornado too, is part of us, part of our story. On one seemingly ordinary day, that storm turned our world upside down and  revealed who we are, at our core. We are compassionate. We are overcomers. We are strong. We are Joplin Strong. 

The Other Side of Storm Concert

I had the honor of attending a very special concert this evening. While I am not musically gifted, I nonetheless have a deep appreciation for music. It moves me, stirs my soul and speaks to my heart, using the language of melodious sound. The revised version of The Other Side of Storm, written by Dr. Hubert Bird, made its world debut here last night and tonight, performed appropriately in the new Joplin High School Performing Arts Center. 

Dr. Bird was born in Joplin. He is an award winning, nationally and internationally known composer and conductor. He now resides in nearby Baxter Springs, KS. Visiting Joplin shortly after the May 22, 2011 tornado, he stood on the corner of 26th Street and Maiden Lane, and wept. There was devastation, as far as he could see. His doctor’s and dentist’s offices were gone. Behind him, St. John’s hospital lay in ruins. 

Knowing he wanted to offer to the community of Joplin, from his heart, Dr. Bird realized he could best express his sorrow through music. He wrote the original composition, which was performed in Joplin in 2012. Performers included Joplin’s All City Singers, a chorus of more than 100 high school students, a forty five-piece orchestra with members from across the country, and Bird’s daughter and son-in law, Jennifer and Bjoern Arvidsson as soloists.

Since that first performance, Dr. Bird has continued to develop the composition, adding narratives, read this evening by Gwen Hunt, and visual components by Danny Craven. Both Joplin concerts featured the return of the soloists, the All City Singers with children from local elementary schools, conducted by Kathy deMint, Cindy Oster and Autumn Shurley, and the MSSU Singers, prepared by conductor Dr. David Sharlow. The orchestra was comprised of musicians from across the US, and was conducted by Col. L. Bryan Shelburne Jr. Orchestra soloists were Harold Easley, clarinet, and Dr. Raul Munguia, violin. 

As the lights dimmed, I settled into my seat, open and ready to receive this musical interpretation of the devastating storm that tore through Joplin, and the light and hope that returned afterward. 

The All City Singers began the program with two songs. I was struck by their beautifully clear voices and the poignancy of the song titles. The Journey and Song of the River seemed to tell my story too, using words and symbols from my last two years. 

The Other Side of Storm began with a low, percussive rumbling, reminiscent of thunder, and tears slowly filled my eyes. How stirring this performance would prove to be, and how freeing to my emotions. 

Part I told of the build up to the storm. Throughout the piece, Dr. Bird used, with permission, sections of poetry that he composed music for, to capture the essence of the powerful storm and the aftermath. The poetic words appeared on a large screen as they were sung. Images and videos, the visual component, appeared on the screen as well, creating a rich multi-leveled telling of this story of darkness and light. 

Image is my own. The visual components of the performance are protected, and rightfully so. 

Part II began with the storm, the narrative and images on the screen portraying the formation of the tornado west of Joplin and the warnings issued. My heart raced during this segment, especially when the narrator cried out, “Take cover now!”. The orchestra created with their music the power of that storm…the booming thunder, the building intensity, the raging winds. And then the fury subsided…the music slowing and softening, accompanied by images of Joplin’s massive, cataclysmic destruction. 

My heart rate slowed as well, my breathing deepened as the musical tale continued. There was sorrow, in me and in the music. “I Cannot Find My Way” the singers sang softly, reminding us that we can’t always find our way home, when there is no home left to return to. The lines from Beyond the Sundown impacted me so much that I memorized them. 

“Beyond the sundown is tomorrow’s wisdom; today is going to be long, long ago.” Thomas Hornsby Ferril

Five years later, that fateful day is long ago. The memories remain. However, my perspective is shifting, allowing me to let go. 

Part III of the composition brought the return of peace, of hope. The tone changed. Although I’m not sure if it literally happened, as we were still swaddled in darkness, the light seemed to brighten around the orchestra. I could feel a surge of hope, of peace, of love, within me, as I listened. The concert ended with the singers declaring, as the orchestra played in triumph, “We are the Music-Makers, We are the Dreamers of Dreams”.

We were all on our feet, applauding. What an incredibly powerful and moving performance. As the lights came up, the conductor led us in showing appreciation for those who made this concert possible. And finally, from the back of the room, Dr. Hubert Bird slowly stood, to fresh and sincere applause. 

I may be speaking incorrectly, as he has had many award winning works recognized, but for us, this is Dr. Bird’s magnum opus. This is his heart-felt gift to the people of Joplin. I am so deeply grateful to have received such a precious offering.  

Surrender 139: Joplin’s Butterfly Sculptures 

I’ve been aware, this past month, of the large sculptures that have been quietly appearing around Joplin. There are 22 of them. Area businesses, including Missouri Southern State University, Mercy Hospital, The Joplin Globe, The Joplin Chamber of Commerce and Mason Woodard Mortuary have these uniquely beautiful butterflies mounted on their lawns. 

This week marks a big anniversary in the Joplin and Duquesne areas. Five years ago, on Sunday May 22, one of history’s biggest and most destructive tornadoes tore through both communities, leaving devastation in its wake. Thousands of homes and businesses and vehicles were destroyed. Trees were uprooted or, left standing, stripped of leaves, twigs and bark. In places even the grass was ripped from the ground and the earth gouged. One hundred and sixty one people lost their lives…men, women and children. 

It’s not an anniversary to celebrate, per se, but a time of remembrance…a time of appreciating a community that has rebuilt and grown strong…a time of recognizing the tremendous efforts of more than a hundred thousand volunteers. There are many activities connected to the 5th anniversary this week, grouped under the banner of Joplin Proud. I’ll be mindfully attending several of those events. 

In the aftermath of the EF5 tornado, the butterfly became an important symbol in Joplin, for two reasons:

As stories were told by survivors, one story in particular was repeated over and over, especially by children. As the deadly storm approached, many kids, and some adults, reported seeing large “butterfly people” appear above them, their wings spread as a protective covering over them and their families. These protectors disappeared as the tornado passed by, leaving people shaken but safe. 

There has been a great deal of speculation about who the butterfly people were, however the most accepted theory is that these were angels. Many other people reported being helped by tall men in bright, white clothing…men who later vanished. But the children saw huge butterflies. Perhaps because butterflies are not scary, perhaps to reassure the kids, these youngest storm victims saw something marvelous and beautiful. Whatever extraordinary beings people saw, the ultimate result was the same…protection and assistance. 

And the butterfly is a symbol of change, of transformation through the process of metamorphosis. The caterpillar uses massive amounts of energy to literally change form, to emerge as a beautiful and wondrous new creature. Imagine life changing to such an extreme that you are unrecognizable at the end of the transformation. 

Southern Joplin was unrecognizable after the initial, negative transformation, brought about by a massive force of nature. My first thought as I emerged from my battered house was that a bomb had been dropped on us. My neighborhood was gone. Houses, or pieces of them, blocked the streets. Explosions erupted from busted gas pipes. Trees lay broken in yards, cars were twisted or flattened hunks of metal. Debris was everywhere. I stood in the silence, eerie after the roar of the tornado and the unforgettable sounds of the world shuddering apart, more shocked than I have ever been in my life. 

My community immediately sprang into action, even as rain continued to fall, clearing roads for emergency vehicles, boarding up broken windows, searching through piles of lumber where houses once stood, hoping to find survivors. Volunteers poured into Joplin and Duquense from around the world. For days sirens never ceased to wail as rescue operations continued. And for months and months, the hopeful sound of saws and hammers filled the air as rebuilding began. 

Five years later, we are a community transformed by the power of love. We have emerged, a new creation. There is still building going on. We have more work to do. And we have things yet to repair, in a physical sense and in deeply emotional ways. But our spirit is strong. 

The butterfly is our symbol. Like that amazing creature’s transformation, it has taken massive amounts of energy to bring Joplin through her metamorphosis. And like the butterfly who has just emerged from her cocoon, we are flexing our wings, preparing to soar, rising with those very winds of change. 

We are Joplin Proud, indeed. 

Journey 154: Front Garden Restoration

Front Garden

In 2010, my grandson Dayan and I spent days planning and then planting flower beds in front of the porch, on either side of the steps, and in the sunny southern border on the side of the house. We worked and sweated and in the end, we were very pleased with our labors. Then, the following year, the tornado struck Joplin, and my house. The gardens were damaged. The house was empty for 18 months, as work was done, and we experienced two of the hottest summers we have ever had. Needless to say, the gardens suffered. And in some places, ran wild!

I’ve been back in the house a little over two years. The first year the yard had to be remediated. The destruction of so many older homes deposited lead-based paint in the yards in the tornado zone. My yard was tested and found to be too high in lead content. Which meant, the old dirt was removed, to a depth of two feet, and “clean” new soil was brought in. This couldn’t have worked better for me, as I was planning a major backyard garden. I planted in that backyard paradise last spring and summer. This year, so very pleased with how the back garden is thriving and expanding, I have turned my attention at last to the front and side gardens.

Front Garden Before

The neglected front flower beds

I prepared the left front bed a couple of weeks ago. Being so close to the house, this soil has not been replaced. As I removed old landscaping timbers and cleaned up the vegetation, I came across broken shingles, tar paper, pieces of glass and metal debris embedded in the ground…all reminders of the forces of nature that ripped my town apart. With great satisfaction, I chucked all those sad shards into the trash dumpster. The top 8 inches or so of soil was removed and I now had a clean bed, awaiting my creativity.

Dusk was gathering this evening as I returned from Lowe’s Garden Center, my arms full of plants. I could have waited until tomorrow to plant, however, I enjoy working outside in the cool of the evening. I sprayed myself with home-made mosquito repellant (you can get the instructions for making your own here) and in just a few minutes, I had the plants into the ground.

I have fallen in love with ornamental grasses, so I chose two dwarf varieties to plant in the front, Hamelin Dwarf Fountain Grass and Bronco Leatherleaf Sage. In between the grasses I placed a couple of Stella de Oro Daylilies. Their bright yellow blooms will contrast well with the soft green and cream of the fountain grass and the rusty brown of the leatherleaf sage. I added a bag of cedar mulch to keep weeds at bay and hold moisture in.

Front Garden rock

I tucked one of my favorite small rocks among the daylilies. I’ve had this rock for 20 plus years. I don’t even remember where I found it. It has a tiny reservoir within its craggy interior and I love keeping it filled with water. Last of all, I returned a decorative metal garden stake to the bed. This stake survived the tornado, remaining anchored to the ground, but the stake is bent, from the wind or from being struck by debris. Its little silver metal ball remains in place, amazingly. I have kept this piece as a positive reminder that when the storms of life strike, I can remain anchored in my faith, in my beliefs…and remain steadfast…although I may be impacted by what I have journeyed through. I can bend, without breaking, a beautiful reminder of my strength and resilience.

Front Garden survivor

I loved the peace and stillness in the air as I completed my work, the light from the front porch illuminating my freshly planted bed. One of the benefits of gardening in the evening twilight was that I saw my first firefly, a reminder that summer is upon us. I washed my hands and arms using the garden hose. There is something magical to me about washing up with the hose. It brings back childhood memories of my sisters and I spraying each other, cooling off as the last of the day’s heat rose in waves from the ground. I gathered that deep peace around me like a shawl, entering the house. And laughed as I beheld my hands. I missed some places, washing up in the dark. I prefer to garden without wearing gloves. I like getting my hands dirty. I accomplished that….and more…tonight.

Front Garden Ivy

The wildness of the right flower bed. Dayan and I planted one small ivy plant, in 2010. It was not affected by the drought and heat! My next project….

Journey 142: Remembering

st johns memorial chapel

I knew when I woke up this morning, that it wasn’t an ordinary Friday. As I moved from light slumber to full consciousness, I was immediately aware of a heaviness in the room, crowding me. It was overcast outside, not as light as it should have been, but that didn’t account for the somber stillness in the room.

And then I remembered….it was May 22. It all made sense then. Four years ago today, Joplin and its neighboring community of Duquesne were devastated by an EF-5 tornado that cut a path of destruction through the southern part of the city. In its wake lay the rubble of thousands of homes and businesses, piles of twisted cars and trucks, trees pulled from the ground or, if left standing, stripped of leaves, small branches and bark. Big box stores such as Wal-mart, Home Depot and Academy Sports were gone or severely damaged. St. John’s hospital was ravaged, as was the high school and numerous restaurants, churches, elementary schools and parks. One hundred and sixty one people lost their lives….men, women, children.

st johns memorial tornado tree

Our funny looking trees that survived the tornado

As I got ready for the day, I pondered the heaviness that I felt. I am intuitive and empathic, gifts since birth. I wasn’t just feeling sad, remembering the day. I was feeling the accumulated emotion of hundreds of people in the Joplin area, and beyond, who were feeling grief and sadness….who were remembering. I realized it must be a phenomenon created by the great disruption of energy, accompanied by intense fear and loss. And the loss was so massive, of life, of pets, of possessions.

I moved through my day, as I normally would, but with my awareness heightened, my emotions just beneath the surface, remembering as well. I took shelter during the tornado. I felt the house shudder and buck under the impact of wind and debris, windows shattering. I heard the horrific noise of my neighborhood being torn apart.  I felt intense concern for my family members, and relief as one by one, they were accounted for. I hurried into the next block, with my heart pounding, to my youngest child’s house, or what was left of it, and felt the greatest of gratitude when I saw her standing in her yard, wrapped in a blanket. I don’t believe anyone living in Joplin that day was left untouched by what happened. The upheaval of the city shifted and changed lives.

st johns memorial vacant lot

A vacant lot where a house once stood

My path this morning criss-crossed through the tornado zone. I continue to live within the area.  In the four years since the storm, I’ve grown accustomed to the sights and sounds of re-building, the vacant lots, which are decreasing in number, the funny looking tornado trees, as I call them. I was more mindful today, as I drove. On a corner a new bank is being built. Apartment buildings are going up nearby. New houses are filling in my neighborhood. Everywhere there were signs of growth, progress, rebirth. I cruised slowly through the area, really looking, carrying that collective heaviness like a weight on my shoulders and chest.

st johns memorial commercial construction

st johns memorial new construction

After a wonderful time this afternoon, spent with my grandson Dayan watching Dr. Who, I returned to Joplin and after a quick stop at home, headed out again. I was very aware of the time…5:20…the time the tornado struck. I knew where I wanted to go, to spend a few moments reflecting and releasing. I had not visited this place yet. It was calling to me.

On the old site of St. John’s hospital is a newly erected memorial. The hospital has relocated to just south of Joplin, and opened its doors in March of this year. The St. John’s Mercy Memorial Garden has a beautiful, spacious pavilion standing on the exact location of the former hospital’s chapel. High atop a grassy knoll, the serene space overlooks the newly restored Cunningham Park to the north, with its children’s play areas, memorials and the Butterfly Garden, and the new Irving Elementary School to the south. To the east are neighborhoods of newly constructed houses, testaments to the strength of Joplin in overcoming this tragedy. And to the west, where once there stood a vast medical community, there are empty spaces being reclaimed by grasses and nature. Perhaps, someday, buildings will stand there again.

st johns memorial cunningham park

Cunningham Park

I sat, alone, in this sacred place. Four years ago, the tornado would have just passed this place, leaving devastation behind. Closing my eyes, I could hear the roar of the wind and the sounds of breaking glass and screaming metal. I let that old energy rise within me and pass on through. There followed the cries of hundreds of people, in pain, in shock, in sorrow, accompanied by the persistent wail of sirens. I let those too pass through me. My emotions rose, briefly, fiercely…and they moved through. At last, there was silence. My shoulders, neck, head, jaws and chest hurt. The weight grew heavy indeed, pressing me into the bench. And yet, in that deep silent heaviness, I began to feel pools of hope. Alert, I opened to more. Eddies of life, currents of faith, pockets of healing were there, beneath the sorrow.

st johns memorial roof

Beneath the pavilion

I breathed deeply and let it all pass through….the fear, the grief, the despair….and then hope, the ability to prevail, the spirit of unity…and Life. Beneath it all….Life. When I stood, the heaviness and pain had eased, carried away with the cool breezes swirling around me. I walked to the four sides of the pavilion and looked out in each direction over Joplin, my home, my community. I sent out love and gratitude and blessing. And peace. The wind brought back silence to me, and deep, sustaining peace in return. It was time to go home.

st johns memorial irving school

Irving Elementary School

Day 209: Stroll Through the Butterfly Garden & Overlook in the Evening

Butterfly garden at evening e

I have intended to do this first for a couple of months now. The Butterfly Garden & Overlook, located in Cunningham Park at 26th and Maiden Lane, was dedicated and officially opened on May 22 of this year. I was there for that moving ceremony, along with my grandson Dayan and my sister Linda, and hundreds of others from the Joplin and Springfield areas. It was wonderful to hear the speeches and see so many turn up for the dedication. After the ceremony, I moved through the structures quickly, not able to see many of the features due to the crowd. That was okay. I planned, in the near future, to visit again and look at everything and spend time in that serene, beautiful space.

Two plus months later, the time for that visit arrived. Tonight, for my first, I visited the Butterfly Garden & Overlook, just after sunset, and spent time there soaking up the peace. I wasn’t sure how lighted the garden would be and if it was even possible to be there after dark. While the lighting was not overly bright, it was well lit enough to walk the pathways. The lower lighting contributed to the calming, restorative atmosphere of the space.

Butterfly garden at eveing fountain e

I enjoyed wandering around. There were four youth in the structures when I arrived but they moved on into the park, leaving tranquility behind. Greg, who had not seen the Butterfly Garden & Overlook, accompanied me and strolled around on his own, reading the plaques and trying out one of the benches. I was moved, as I was the day of the dedication, by the simple yet powerful design of the outline houses. Looking over toward where St. John’s Hospital used to stand, I remembered all that had changed in this area. Grief and disbelief welled up and I didn’t try to staunch those feelings. Tonight, I let them rise and flow outward from my chest area. I breathed in deeply and slowly released the air and the energy swirling around my heart. The sound resembled a sigh.

For the first time this evening, I sat on the bench with the journal beneath it. I held the journal, which was full, stories and sentiments and drawings on every page. I didn’t try to read the words. I simply held the journal and felt the emotions emanating from it. I let the sound of water from the nearby large fountain soothe me. Healing is taking place in me and in my city. I very rarely hear anymore in my mind, as I am trying to sleep, the sounds of breaking glass and debris hitting the house. However, a part of me acknowledges what happened each day as I live and drive and dine and shop in the tornado zone. I accept it and I release any need to explain what happened or question why. As I sat quietly on the bench, peace flooded through me, and peace filled that sacred place.

As I continued walking through the garden, I stopped to lightly touch a flowering lavender plant. The scent lingered on my fingers and I was refreshed, renewed. As I straightened, my eyes were drawn to a word, carved in bold letters, on the back of the fountain. A spotlight brought the word sharply into focus, a beacon in the darkness. HOPE. Hope for Joplin. Hope for me. Hope for all who live and work and play here. That one word promises so much. I am grateful.

Butterfly garden at evening HOPE e

Day 160: Weather Channel: Twisted Believers


We are well past the anniversary date of the May 22, 2011 tornado. Being safely into the month of June brings sighs of relief to Joplin residents. However, the Weather Channel broadcasted a special this evening on the Joplin tornado, called, interestingly, Twisted Believers. My mom, who has satellite and the Weather Channel, invited me over to watch the documentary with her, for my first today.

I wondered about the title. It comes from a statement that traumatic events, like an EF5 tornado that devastates a town, can change lives and twist commonly held beliefs. The show looked at three such beliefs that shifted as a result of the Joplin tornado and another tornado that struck Ruth, AL the same year.

The first segment covered a topic that became familiar after the tornado, the appearance of angels during the storm. Many children told stories of being protected during the storm by huge butterflies that shielded them. Adults spoke of seeing tall men in spotless white clothes who assisted them during and after the tornado. Tonight’s program focused on two young ladies, Emily and Mason. Emily and her family were caught in their vehicle as they tried to get home after the Joplin High School graduation. Their SUV was picked up and battered. Emily suffered from a 14 inch gash in her thigh and bordered on consciousness as she bled heavily from her wound. As her family sought to free her from the damaged SUV, Emily felt a presence near her, and a hand on her shoulder. A voice told her not to worry, everything would be okay. She felt peace settle over her and knew she would survive.

Mason and her grandmother and brother waited in the truck on the parking lot of Home Depot while her grandfather shopped. There was nowhere to take cover as the tornado bore down on them. Mason saw two angels with her in the backseat. The truck was thrown more than 100 yards. After the storm she was alive but realized she was pinned to the seat by a metal bar that had pierced her body. She too felt a comforting hand on her shoulder and the sense that all would be well. Both girls recovered fully, their scars a testament to their injuries.


The second segment covered a less familiar occurrence after the tornado, paranormal phenomenon. The show explored the happenings around a man named Nick who lost his home in the storm. His neighbor was killed. After he and his sister moved into another home near Joplin, they began to experience unusual activity in their new house. Lights flashed on and off, unexplained noises were heard, the dogs were disturbed at night by something only they could see, and Nick’s sister saw an apparition of a man with a board through his body. A paranormal investigative team, led by Lisa Livingston Martin, of Joplin, set up sensitive equipment to capture any activity. They did record activity, including a voice speaking that reassured the home owners that the energy in the house was not hostile. My belief about such phenomenon is this: I believe everything is energy, or another word for it would be spirit. With the sudden and catastrophic destruction and loss of lives that happened, a huge amount of energy was released into the area. For a time, there was a great deal of energy or spirit moving about and through the tornado zone. It is dissipating with time.


Lisa Livingston Martin and Paranormal Science Lab

The final segment was about a young girl named Ari who lost her parents, grandparents and a baby cousin during an April 2011 tornado in Ruth, Alabama. For six months before the storm, Ari had dreams of losing her family. Everyone assured her that they were only dreams, and yet, Ari’s premonition came true. When Ari’s grandparents’ house was hit, Ari was picked up by the tornado and carried 200 yards. She later told the story of going to heaven while she was inside the tornado. She spoke of seeing a staircase rise to two huge doors with diamond doorknobs. An angel who called her by name and held her hand led her through the doors, where she saw her family who had just passed during the tornado. The baby was held in the arms of Jesus. Ari was led back down the staircase, and awoke in a field. She was 6 years old at the time. Ari has since written and illustrated a book about her experience, titled, “To Heaven After the Storm”.

A thunderstorm moved into Joplin this evening as my mom and I were watching this show. Her television lost its signal with 10 minutes to go during the program, just as Ari was describing her trip to heaven. We chatted and checked weather and calmed the dogs. As we waited to see if the signal would return, I googled Ari and found the rest of her story online. The storm moved quickly through and the signal was restored for the last 2 minutes of the show. What irony!

This was an interesting program. It confirmed for me that the world is full of deep mystery and sometimes fury, angelic intervention and sometimes unspeakable tragedy. It is a beautiful, wondrous, magical place and we don’t know or understand everything. I agree with Shakespeare, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophies….