The stench from broken sewer pipes and buried refrigerators sent my mind to the dump in Guatemala where Courtney and I wept as we held the hands of the poor and watched them dig for things of value in the ruins. Now, she and I – along with our friends- stood on the concrete slab that used to hold a home in Moore, Oklahoma, staring at the rubble. There, in the mountain of ripped shingles, insulation, twisted wires, mildewing clothes – there in the ruins, we prayed we would find something that felt like normal.
Until that fateful Sunday, the slab was Mona’s house. She decorated it for every holiday, and her two spare bedrooms held all the things her grandsons and granddaughters needed so they wouldn’t have to pack a bag to visit her. The kitchen was filled with snacks, and her yard was blooming with flowers and spring green.
It was her son, a police officer, who warned her about the storm. He called her, asking where she would be so he could find her when it was over. She had just time to get to a small hall closet before the tornado demolished her neighborhood. No homes were standing when it was over. Mona was trapped, unable to breathe in the crushing darkness. She prayed, “Lord, let me live please.” Her son’s face was the first thing she saw when rescue workers dug through the debris. The Lord answered her prayer, and her son kept his promise.
We delivered some basic things like cookware and towels for the small apartment she now lived in, and asked Mona how we might care for her. She said she really needed nothing. The Lord had carried her through the storm, her family was safe, and she was doing her best to return to normal. But there was something in her eyes – a wish that was shining through. She pointed to the area that once was a garage and said, “I loved to decorate. My family said I didn’t have to do it, but there’s something special about holidays.”
And so we stood on the slab, with shovels and axes in work gloved-hands, praying to find something that felt like normal. Mona loved antiques and collected china and glass. She had Christmas decorations for each grandchild. And there was one more thing.
“There’s a plaque. It’s from when my son graduated from police academy. It hung in the living room, above a statue of a police officer with a little boy. I found part of the statue but can’t find the plaque. My son is my hero. It would be wonderful if you could look for it. I doubt you’ll find it, but…”
Quietly we dug and sifted and placed our treasures on the slab. A snowglobe. Two angels. Old photos. A few children’s toys. Doilies hand-crocheted by Mona’s grandmother. Porcelain Christmas decorations. Fine china. All had miraculously survived. Even mementos from a childhood visit to the circus were there, literally buried in the mire. There were scars, but there was normal.
And there was one more thing.
The plaque was there, waiting for us near the concrete slab. We didn’t have to dig, didn’t have to sift. It was as if God Himself had dug through the debris for Mona, just to remind that He was walking with her to the normal – and that He thought her son was a hero too.
I will have nothing to do with a God who cares only occasionally. I need a God who is with us always, everywhere, in the deepest depths as well as the highest heights. It is when things go wrong, when good things do not happen, when our prayers seem to have been lost, that God is most present. We do not need the sheltering wings when things go smoothly. We are closest to God in the darkness, stumbling along blindly.
― Madeleine L’Engle
Thank you to First Baptist Church of Norman, Oklahoma, for caring for our team while we cared for others. They fed us, sheltered us, and connected us to beautiful people like Mona.