I hope you were able to spend Thanksgiving eating delicious food with family or friends and recounting and reflecting on how blessed you are. A great deal of work goes into preparing the traditions that families observe at their gatherings. But what about when it becomes impossible to prepare and traditions fail? How can we still show our thankfulness?
Some friends of mine know how to be thankful even in the midst of a disaster. Missouri is called the “Show Me” state. In May 2011, Joplin Missouri was struck by a devastating tornado. They got hit hard, but they showed the world they weren’t down for the count. Within an hour of the twister’s passing, rubble was being cleared and survivors were being rescued and victims recovered. Within a few days, basic services were being temporarily restored and business that could still operate reoriented themselves into service centers providing assistance to tornado survivors.
My son and I made a disaster assistance trip to Joplin in early June 2011, about two weeks after the tornado. The level of coordination and cooperation and the sheer amount of clean-up and recovery that had been accomplished by residents and volunteers was astounding!. The newspaper headlines read “You Are Not Alone”. The locals I spoke with definitely weren’t defeated. Yes, there were more than 150 dead – many of them children. Yes, a large portion of the town had been leveled. But – these people were not spending any time feeling sorry for themselves. There was no complaining. Instead, my early mornings at the local pancake shop were filled with people telling me how blessed and thankful they were. The only ones who seemed concerned about what the future held were the children. They wondered if there would be a Christmas now that their houses were gone.
Communities in and around Lawrence and Mercer Counties, and from even farther away, took on the mission to guarantee that Christmas would indeed come to Joplin, Missouri that year. The rental of a large truck was donated and that truck was filled with donations of all sorts of gifts, Christmas decorations, storage containers and even a few surprise items. My friends Chad and Kevin joined me and we drove that truck to Joplin, Missouri. We were there at Thanksgiving, giving gifts and decorations from the back of the truck while residents observed the six month anniversary of the terrible tornado. I still heard no complaining, no blaming, no hopelessness. Of course there was grief over the devastating loss, but there was also unquenchable hope – even thanksgiving for Divine providence.
A makeshift dining tent was set-up over the site where a church had been destroyed – the pastor and worshippers had died there. The place was called “God’s Kitchen”. A local electrician donated the electrical service panel needed to power the lights and the dozen crock-pots and warmers filled with food donated by and served by area volunteers; they did this for several months. A Navajo friend of mine made a giant turkey smoker from several barbecue grills and duct work recovered from the wreckage. I played guitar and sang encouraging songs to the scores of recovery workers and tornado survivors who poured in every day. It was difficult to tell exactly when Thanksgiving day was. We were busy working every day from sunrise until long past sundown and all we ever heard was thanksgiving. My friends in Missouri really showed me what Thanksgiving was all about.
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