I don't think I'll ever comprehend how close I came to losing my son. It took about a month for me to realize that if he had just moved along at his normal pace, he would have driven straight into the tornado's path. Jason's not one to listen to the radio, and he listens to his iPod music loud, so it's possible he wouldn't have heard any sirens (although I'm sure that the heavy downpour of a rain wrapped tornado would have had him pull over at least). But where is there to pull over to escape a tornado's path if you don't know it's a tornado and you are in the midst of it?
I thank God daily for stopping Jason in his tracks. I'd found out that a large hail stone that landed at Jason's feet was the ONE THING that kept him from leaving his (then) girlfriends' house and driving in to Joplin from Webb City. That ONE THING made him pause and ask to hang out at their house until the storm passed. Thanks God for hail!!
I also learned how much Jason values friendship. I always have known him to be a people person, but for him to have pursued getting to his friend K (where he was headed before he paused) took determination and a lot of adrenaline. I never knew him to be more than casual friends with K, since they both grew up in the same school and did sports together in high school. The fact that they were supposed to "hang out" together that afternoon, and Jason not being able to reach him by phone caused him to push forward into the path of destruction.
As Jason drove into the area along Rangeline, the disastrous demolition of the city was evident. Along this normally busy boulevard, trash and debris was littered all around. He had to drive over, around, and through all sorts of stuff. As he approached the area where K's apartment was, I remember the sound of anger mixed with fear in Jason's voice over the phone, at the realization that K may not be alive. K's apartment complex was behind the Walmart store that was demolished, where so many lives were lost. The Walmart store's wall should have pushed in on K's apartment - but God's hand held it in place. Several lives were lost in the apartment complex, but K was ok. (Sidenote: K had moved in just months before, and had requested an upper level apartment, but was given a lower one. Had he lived upstairs, he would have been killed - as the upper levels were blown away.)
They still joke about the frantic sound of Jason's voice, calling out to K to locate his apartment. All landmarks were gone, so he had no visual signs to figure out what apartment was his. He was located, and Jason was able to drive K to his brother's house in a neighboring town to get settled in. I can't quite wrap my head around them driving through the destruction as dark creeped in, no power available to light the city's lights. I can't believe the car didn't get a flat tire! Jason then drove back into Joplin to check in with the police department and then assist however he could. They sent him to do door to door checks, and he had to use his GPS from his phone to know where he was - all the street signs were down. I remember the sound of his voice, staying in touch with short phone calls so we knew he was ok, and to talk through some of this with him as he came upon new situations. He's so strong, has such a servant's heart. I am so proud of him for the way he stepped out and served that day, that week.
Because of the way he served, he put people over production, and ended up losing his full time job (an agreed parting of ways) because of the companies reaction to him volunteering during those first few days. He would work his 8-10 hour shift, then go out and assist however was needed through the emergency services set up at The Bridge, and sleep just a few hours every night in the dorms at Ozark Christian College. He was running on adrenaline, and I know that he saw a new side of what God can do through him, but he persevered and did whatever was needed. Thankfully, he still had his part time job waiting tables, and this sustained him financially over the next several months.
My surprise in the midst of all that was happening there, was that because of the joy's of the internet, and that I was not in Joplin (I live 9 hours or so away from there at that time), I was able to be used in little ways.
God was able to bring an acquaintance online; she was in the hardest his area of the tornado, in Joplin's Stained Glass Theater, and was trying to reach her son overseas. Somehow we connected, and I could get messages posted on her wall on Facebook, to let others know how she was (alive, with a few non-life-threatening injuries). Since then, we've met face-to-face, and she's allowed God to heal her hurts, physically and emotionally. She still isn't a fan of bad storms, and misses her dear theater friends that lost their lives there that evening, and doesn't understand why she was spared, but her faith has increased in new ways.
For several days I spent time online, putting out requests for materials via Facebook, and routing them to a few agencies that were assisting in the epicenter. It felt good to be able to do SOMETHING from this far away, and I think it was beneficial to be where I was, doing whatever God could have me doing.
I know that so many people have such more compelling stories, lived in front of their eyes, around them in their homes and neighborhoods. I'm still so thankful and grateful for what God did in our family that day, and what He did in me, and for me.
For all the destruction, all the debris that was created by the tornado, I am also grateful that God brought me a friend. :)