Saturday, April 30, 2011

Desperate for Something

So much of me wants to write. But, what to write about? Do I write about the terrifying experience of being in a house hit by Wednesday's tornado? Do I write about the nightmares? Do I write about the despair on the faces of those who have lost everything? Do I write about the sick-to-your-stomach feeling you get when you walk through the destruction in the city?

I don't know what to write about, frankly. And maybe that's a sign I shouldn't be writing at all. But, my heart is hurting. Hurting for our own losses, and hurting for the overwhelming loss of so many others.

I guess what I can write about is what we experienced here in Ralph. For those of you who aren't familiar with my crazy-fun family, about 25 of my immediate family members live on a big piece of property out in this beautiful rural area. We all live within two miles of each other, with the intersection of Wesley Chapel Road and Sipsey Valley Road at the center. A few weeks ago, we confirmed with my family that Blake and I would be moving into my great-grandmother's old house, which is right at the intersection.

It's a brick home, built in the 1960s and has served as a gathering place for my family for decades. My mom, dad, and I actually lived in the house for about three years to take care of my grandmother while I was in high school. Some close family friends have been living there for about six months, but had planned on moving to Mississippi in about two weeks. Blake and I had already picked out paint colors, and were thrilled at the idea to live in Ralph near my family and to live in a home that means so much to me. I was even begging Blake to let me get some chickens to put in the yard. I love living in the country. :) This was going to be our first home... a beautiful home, already filled with memories, and the answer to a yearning prayer for God to provide a home for us.

After the intense winds of Wednesday morning, Blake and I decided that we'd hang out at the new house with my cousin Holly, her boyfriend Micah, my cousin Julie, two of her kids, and our friend Hilary (who has been living at the house) and her niece. We wanted to go there because of the brick walls and cellar. We played games with the kids in the living room as we listened closely to James Spann. We laughed and chatted, and Blake and I surveyed the house. My heart was pitter-pattering at the idea that this was going to be our home. I had it all planned out.

Then, James Spann said for Ralph and Fosters to get in their safe place. We sent all the kids, Holly, Julie, and Hilary to the hall with blankets and pillows. Micah, Blake, and I looked around the windows to see what was coming. We thought the house was safe - in the fifty years that house had been standing, surely it would be okay.

Blake and I meandered to the sun room - filled with a wall of mid-20th-century Florida-style windows. We watched the sky turn gray, and decided it was time to go sit in the hall. Everyone was in the hall when we noticed the door to the sun room creak open. Blake went to shut it, but by the time he returned down the hall, it had opened again. He went back to shut it once more, and yelled for us to get down. What I found out later was that he saw the pine trees in the yard starting to snap.

We dove over the kids, and my mind went blank. I could hear glass shattering all around us and snapping and popping sounds. I was terrified that the glass from the sun room would soon impale itself in our backs.

And then, silence.

We sat up, checked to see if we were all okay - if anyone was hurt or missing. Everyone was accounted for, so Blake, Micah, and I got up to survey the damage. I opened the sliding door to the living room.... and my heart sank in my chest. Rafters, bricks, limbs, leaves... and sky. A giant hole was torn through the roof of the room where we had just been. But, the scariest was yet to come.

As we went to each of the four exits, we could find no way to get out. Every exit was blocked with trees. We could get out on the front porch, but power lines were down across the trees and we were too nervous to cross them. I called my mom, in a panic, who told me to stay where we were and she would come get us - but she couldn't get to us for trees in the road. Eventually, we made the decision to take a chance and we climbed over the dozens of twisted pine trees.

We got to the street, and saw that my aunt's house across the street was okay, but trees were down EVERYWHERE. She, too, had a yard full of beautiful, full-grown trees. We climbed more trees to get to her, while my uncle Marshall (who had ran half a mile from his undamaged house) ran to my aunt Tammy's. Tammy was at home, a quarter of a mile away, alone with Hilary's five-month-old baby.

Tammy's house was destroyed. She spent yesterday letting the insurance company haul her belongings into a storage unit. She will most likely have to rebuild most, if not all, of her house. Our new house is salvageable, but the insurance had not yet been changed over and our last hope is for FEMA to be of assistance. As for now, our plan is to live with my mom post-nuptials and hope God provides again.

Wednesday was the end of plans and dreams for me and Blake, and also a nightmare of a task to clean up our family's property. But, what we experienced and what we lost pales in comparison to the mass devastation in Tuscaloosa and in the other areas affected. We still have our material possessions, and the ones we lost can be replaced. My heart aches for those who have lost family members, friends, loved ones... for those who have lost their homes and have nowhere to go... for those who have simply had to clean out their freezers for lack of power. We are thankful to have what we still have, and are determined to use what we have to help others.

An entire cemetery was wiped out in Ralph. This tombstone was from 1900.

My Aunt Tammy's sewing room... complete with a new aerial view. :)

Some sort of projectile shot through this wooden door and into the wall of the hallway where we were taking cover. Blake and I had literally been sitting in front of this door just moments before we ducked for cover.

The living room. A tree hit the chimney, and then the chimney and the tree came tumbling into the living room. Thank God we had moved!!

Just outside the living room.

Our dreams and plans for the near future were uprooted, but our faith the the Lord was not. He will provide for us, but our concern is with those who lost more than just plans and dreams. We pray God will provide in miraculous ways through the outpouring of His spirit onto the volunteers who will sweep through this city.

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