It seems to me today that people take pictures of everything: the beautiful sunset, the delicious meal, the bad haircut, and the many other trivial things like what color shoes and dresses appear to be. I am one of those people who don’t take pictures regularly. Honestly, there would be no pictures of my boys’ birthday parties if it wasn’t for my sister. It is not that I dislike taking pictures, but it is more to the point that I am usually too busy to remember to do so.
I heard years ago that if you take lots of pictures that you don’t have as strong of memories. So any time I forget to take my camera, I just say that we are making memories instead. Those good memories I cherish and we have maybe one or two pictures on our social media page of the actual event.
Then eight years ago we were preparing for the arrival of our second child. Earlier that spring I had taken pictures of our flowers in bloom and our social media was filled with our search for a new home for our growing family.
One hot evening, life as we knew it was turned upside down. People who are better writers than I capture the terror and confusion of May 22, 2011 better than I can. When the EF-5 tornado shredded Joplin, Missouri, we were in the midst of that tragedy.
Images flooded the national news media and our friends’ Facebook accounts filled with pictures of their lives or others’ lives in piles of broken, twisted pieces. Pictures were taken to show how things were destroyed and how lives were spared. They showed the rubble, but failed to capture the scope of the tragedy.
Images do some things, but not everything. Pictures cannot capture the smells of earth clawed from the surface or natural gas lines ruptured, gas stations ablaze, or creosote power poles reduced to splinters. They don’t capture the smell of wet fiberglass insulation or the smell of mold and mildew rotting what is left of your life. Images show the shock on someone’s face, but not the screams of people crying for help trapped in rubble.
It is for those reasons and many more that I chose not to take pictures.
Our home was a total loss after being picked up and shifted on its foundation, but it was still standing. I knew that being 38 weeks pregnant that this was not the time to freak out and go into labor. Little did I know at that time, that my hospital where I was going to deliver was destroyed too.
We were blessed by amazing friends who became family to us as we went from a family of three to a family of four while staying with them. Since I was very pregnant and then a new mommy again, I was spared the work of the clean-up of our property. We were blessed time and time again by our family and the small-town community where I grew up when people just kept coming and helping.
My parents, brother, and sister pulled the weight of picking up the pieces of our life. I am not sure I will be able to ever thank them enough for that.
They took pictures.
They took pictures of our house that has roofing felt impaled into our vinyl siding and pictures of the large elm tree that fell inches from where we were hiding that ended up taking the brunt of the storm for us. They took pictures of our missing ceiling, torn apart roof, and garage that was blown away. Their pictures chronicled the devastation of our town.
I just couldn’t take pictures.
As we thought of how life would be now, I couldn’t see past the “now”. My dear friend and mentor Jennifer had just gone through the earthquake in Haiti the year before and she told me something I will never forget. “This is only temporary”. I held on to that hope from someone who knew what it felt like to see your life crumble away.
Still in the midst of the unknown, pain, and confusion, I messed up some friendships. I wanted Jennifer to be right that this, indeed, would only be temporary, but my heart was hurt. Platitudes from well meaning people sounded hollow and insincere and I treated those people as shallow and insincere. There are some relationships that have yet to be fully mended from that time.
Yet, here we are nearly eight years later and guess what? When I thought our lives were over, it was only temporary. What seemed to be the end of life as we knew it became life for us. A new church and a new ministry entered for us.
The tornado was the best, worst thing that ever happened to us. God brought in a ministry that partnered with our church and within two years, I met my dearest friend. I didn’t know I needed her as much as I did. We have walked through life together and I am forever grateful for her. Year after year we met young women who became the blessings God brought into our lives. Our hearts became full and joy filled the hollow parts of our hearts.
It was because of those blessings that I started taking pictures again.