Are you Joplin Proud?  If you’re a fan of comeback stories, adversity stories, triumph stories, you’re definitely proud of the place we call home.

If you’re living in Joplin, and particularly if you were living here in May 2011, you are doing something this month to remember the tornado.  Maybe you’re participating in one of the many cool events (here) celebrating the progress and pride in our rebuilding.

Or maybe you’re remembering a loved one who was killed.

Maybe your thoughts are drifting to the things you loved about your old house, your old school, your old church… the memories made there before it was destroyed.

Or maybe you’re remembering the sights and sounds of that terrible night.

Maybe you’re training to run your first full marathon – the Joplin Memorial Run – that will be part celebration and part remembrance.

I’m running the half-marathon, even though at first I didn’t want to.  It’s going to be hot.  And emotional.  Two things I don’t like when I’m running.  So much of the route passes through and by areas hit by the storm – it will be impossible not to think about  the day five years ago.  When you sign up to run, they ask if you’re running in memory of someone lost that day – and while I didn’t put a name, the truth is I am.  Four people who I didn’t know personally, but whose stories touched me in the days and months (and now years) after they died.

There are lots of great ways to be part of community pride in May. But maybe you’ve decided not to take part in any of the formal celebrations or remembrances, and that’s ok, too.  It changed life for everyone living here – some more tragically than others, of course – and grief and processing and post-traumatic stress and moving forward is different for each and every one of us. However you are choosing to remember, or not remember, is ok.

The tornado changed life for my family in several ways –  significant changes for us and our friends, and they were changes I didn’t like.  But it also brought new relationships into my life:  I met a volunteer named Debbie, a domestic violence survivor who came to Joplin to help through her civic group, the Lions Club.  Debbie’s group provided food for Lafayette House several times in the months after the tornado.  And while she was here, working side by side with others, she met another volunteer who she eventually fell in love with and married.  (Last month, Debbie took her experiences volunteering in Joplin, combined with her past struggles, and spoke in front of a United Nations committee roundtable about empowerment of women and girls – so cool).  The tornado recovery also introduced me to a group of volunteers from Texas who came to Joplin to volunteer.  Over three years, they came armed with strong faith, big hearts and power tools – one group out of the thousands who worked in Joplin after May 2011.  These Texas volunteers — sometimes as few as 10 or as many as 30 — stayed with us (in beds, on couches, in sleeping bags) while they did dirty, hard work during the day, and then gathered in our backyard at night to eat lots of good food and do devotionals and prayers.  These new friends were a bright spot for me in what was at times a very depressing rebuilding and recovery:

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So what is my family doing next weekend?  Two things:

One:  the Joplin Memorial Run (5k, half-marathon or the full marathon).  You don’t have to be a runner to experience the camaraderie, endurance and emotion of a race.  If you check out the course map, you can pick a million places to stand along the route and cheer for the runners.  I’ve been a runner, and I can tell you that spectators/cheerleaders/encouragers make all the difference when you’re hot and tired and thirsty and your confidence starts to waver.  I’ve also been a spectator (more times than a runner) and it is so cool to cheer and support all the runners:  you’ll be inspired by every single one, from the practically-professional to the first-timers.

Two:  Baseball at the Miracle League of Joplin.  Anyone can join in as a cheerleader/spectator.  Miracle League is a baseball league for children (ages 5-20) with disabilities.  The field was built after the tornado, thanks in part to donations from around the world made to the local Rotary clubs and Keller Williams Foundation.  It is named for Will Norton, who died in the storm while driving home with his dad from his high school graduation.  Will’s memory is honored on that field every Saturday, when kids from all walks of life, facing obstacles and challenges in life that most of us will never face, play Saturday morning baseball games just like any other kid.   Area college and high school baseball and softball teams come out to serve as volunteer buddies, pitchers and catchers.   Our family has volunteered with the league since its inception, and it has been life-changing.  Truly – it’s my favorite place to spend a Saturday morning.  You can volunteer to be a one-on-one buddy, or you can just show up and enjoy some really inspiring baseball.  (Sometimes we even need someone to dress up as the mascot, Homer.) You can find our game schedule here.

I guess what I want to say is… however you are spending next weekend, it’s ok.

Maybe you’re celebrating the progress and pride in our community five years later.
Or maybe the memories and grief are still too powerful for you.

Maybe you want to meet up at the community picnic.
Or maybe you just want to move forward and not think back.

Maybe you’ll step out your front door to cheer for a runner, or stop by the Miracle Field and cheer for a baseball player.
Or maybe you’ll pray for Joplin’s continued resilience and be thankful for the blessings we have today.

Whatever you do, it’s ok.  Personally, I’ll be running the half-marathon and then heading over to the Will Norton Miracle Field to enjoy some baseball.  The weather will be hot. And the run will be emotional – but  my friend tells me that will be the good part.

 

 

Luke 1:78-79: Because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.

 

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