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What I Learned from April 27, 2011

This time two years ago, we were sorting through ruins and rubble. Today the sun shone as bright as the future that lies ahead for Alabama. I remember April 27, 2011 as if it were yesterday; that day, that devastation will always be vivid in my mind. I can close my eyes and still smell red dirt, rain, and the sweet sap of freshly snapped pine trees.

I tried so hard to make sense of it all. I looked upon mile after mile of destruction and was completely dumbfounded. I couldn’t comprehend it–how God could let something so awful happen to strangers, neighbors, family, and friends. Why? How could God let so many lose so much in an instant?

I realized that there was no sense in it: no sense in questioning it, no grandiose reason for it either. It was just a storm, really. Asking why a tornado forms is like asking why grass grows, why wind blows, why the sun rises and sets each and every day. There’s no answer beyond the fact–it just does.

My father is a minister for the United Methodist Church. Daddy and I have had many conversations about the storm. He knew it made me question my faith. He knew how profoundly that storm and the loss that followed affected me, how I ached for my town, how I felt, at my core, guilty. I couldn’t understand why God took so many others that day and not me. I would have gladly traded places with someone else if it meant a child didn’t lose her mother or a parent didn’t lose his child.

And to be honest: Most of all, I felt like God was absent that day, that he had turned a blind eye while our entire state suffered.

Through many conversations with Dad, I finally came to terms with it. I still didn’t understand it, but I felt less anger. It took time, but my faith came back; in time, it was stronger than ever before.

There are a myriad of scientific reasons why April 27, 2011 saw a record tornado outbreak, but I don’t think there is any one reason why it happened to us. I will tell you that the days, weeks, and months that followed the storm showed me something about God, something that solidified my faith in him and my faith in others.

There’s a passage in the Bible I’m sure we’ve all heard before… the one where Jesus says what we do to our neighbors is, in essence, what we do for him. Tuscaloosa must have taken that passage to heart. I have never seen so many people willing to help each other, to love and give and mend and rake and build and bake– so many people, such kindness.

April 27, 2011 showed me people are still good people. This world can be a cold and crappy place sometimes, but the outpouring of love in Alabama after the storm–that was beautiful in every sense of the world: we all treated our neighbors with unconditional kindness and love.

I drove through Tuscaloosa today–past my old house in Forest Lake, through Alberta City, down 15th Street. These places are all little miracles. This time two years ago, I would have never dreamed we would have come so far so fast.

I came home this evening, and I sang to my daughter as I rocked her to sleep… the same daughter I was told I would never have, the same daughter I almost lost twice, the same daughter that was born too soon. I looked at her and felt such love and such awe… this time two years ago?

I would have never dreamed I would be where I am today.

That’s a miracle. I think of Tuscaloosa and all of Alabama on this day… of the recovery, the change, and the countless little miracles that have happened since and happen still each and every day. For that, I feel nothing but gratitude.

I’ll never fully understand April 27, 2011–but I don’t have to. I don’t need to. April 27, 2011 bent us in so many places, but God saw to it that we were never broken: the spirit of love and kindness flourished in this town like never before and continues to do so today.

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