“I can’t believe I’m here.” How God uses a tornado to rebuild a life.

THE LAST THING RICKY REMEMBERS BEFORE HE BLACKED OUT WAS THE POP, POP, POPPING IN HIS HEAD.

Power lines snapped loose and sizzled. Everything went dark and spooky quiet. Then, a sound like a coming freight train told him time was up. He corralled his wife and kids into the bathroom for cover. As Ricky pulled the door shut, an invisible force ripped the knob from his hand, and the door was flung free.

The popping in his head. The screams. The memory goes black.

Ricky regained consciousness in a heap of dirt and debris. “First thought was, ‘I lost somebody. I lost one of my kids.’ Second thought was, ‘Maybe we’re all dead.’”

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RICKY TELLS ME HIS STORY AFTER SUNDAY SERVICE. The quiver in his voice and the tears in his eyes show that the memory remains raw and real. In effect, he has a form of PTSD. They all do—Ricky, his wife and the two children who were with him. That’s typical for tornado survivors.

“I sat up,” he says. “House gone. Everything gone. One kid was with me. And then I saw my wife and my other kid.” He shakes his head. “I can’t believe we’re here.” He looks around the sanctuary of the small Rowlett church where we stand. “I can’t believe we’re here,” he says.

“I sat up,” he says. “House gone. Everything gone. One kid was with me. And then I saw my wife and my other kid.” He shakes his head. “I can’t believe we’re here.”

By “here,” I assume Ricky means alive and in one piece. As I listened, I learned that’s only part of it.

The tornado erased the house Ricky and his family were renting. Wiped it clean to the foundation. They never found the refrigerator, stove, or much of their other belongings. One of the few things they recovered was his son’s school backpack. It landed in Royse City, 10 miles away.Ricky's family meme

Yet, the family landed alive and whole just feet from where the house once stood. Ricky has an older son who is a pastor and had ignored his son’s pleas for him to trust Christ as his Savior. As you can imagine, the tornado got Ricky’s attention.

But that was just the start of how God used the tragic storm to begin the process of rebuilding Ricky’s life. Ricky had a neighbor who knew a woman, who knew a pastor, who knew another pastor. The final pastor in the chain was our friend Pastor Kurt of Still Water Community Church. I reached out to Still Water in the aftermath of the December 26 storms to offer help and aid.

Now, Ricky and I stand eye-to-eye in a place he would have never imagined two months ago. Now, I understand what he meant when he said, “I can’t believe we’re here.”

A few weeks ago, when Pastor Kurt told us they wanted to help Ricky and his family, I assumed that Ricky was a member of their church. As I spoke with Ricky after church, I soon learned that’s not the case. The Still Water Community Church body had rallied around a family of total strangers and showered them with help and love. During the Sunday service, Pastor Kurt presented Ricky and his family with a work truck someone in the church had donated. They gave tools, school laptops, food, clothes, and help with back bills.

Now, Ricky and I stand eye-to-eye in a place he would have never guessed he would be two months ago. Now, I understand what he meant when he said, “I can’t believe we’re here.”

“It’s not about church,” Ricky says. “It’s about Jesus. I get it now. It’s about Jesus.”

Of course, Ricky and his family are happy to be alive. But they are also surprised to find themselves in this church building. Surrounded by a church family. Surprised to discover that the tornado that destroyed their home and possessions could, in the end, be part of God’s plan for their lives.

“It’s not about church,” Ricky says. “It’s about Jesus. I get it now. It’s about Jesus.” He shakes his head again. “I can’t believe we’re here.”

For the text of his sermon, Pastor Kurt chose Romans 11:36: “From Him, through Him, and to Him are all things.” Every time I read that verse, I’ll think of Ricky’s story and shake my head in amazement. Thanks to God’s grace, Ricky is here. Thanks to God’s grace, I am here, too.

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Owen Wildman is Pastor of Missional Living at Stonebriar Community Church. Stay up-to-date with the latest from Missional Living on Facebook.

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