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Picking Up the Pieces

  • Updated Jul 06, 2015
Picking Up the Pieces

In the month of May 2013, Oklahoma was hit—HARD. Every single day, I drive by areas of tornado destruction. On every street, there are piles of trees by the road. Fences are blown down or propped up with pieces of wood. Roofs are covered with tarps. Signs are blown out or down. Trees lay across fences. In the hardest hit areas, cars are still piled, nothing more than twisted scraps of metal. Homes and business lay in mangled heaps. The path of the tornadoes is painfully obvious, the landscape permanently altered.

I’ve yet to travel into the hardest hit areas, in part because I don’t want to be guilty of just gawking at others’ loss and devastation. There’s also a part of me that doesn’t want to see it—the hurt and pain experienced by so many is more than my heart can bear. But, it is impossible for me to work without seeing bits and pieces of the destruction. The damage is so unbelievably widespread.

Today as I drove through my hometown, the stark contrast to the past was once again a painful reminder of what we have been through. The old bridge that has stood for my entire lifetime and is permanently emblazoned on the city seal is now nothing more than a memory. The exact path of the tornado is obvious by the trees that are stripped of leaves, split down the middle, pulled from the ground.  As I continued down highway 37, the once beautiful homes that stood just west of my brother’s dental office are a reminder of how close it was to the ones I love. As I drive by those heaps of wood and brick, I can’t help but imagine how overwhelming it must be trying to figure out how to begin the process of starting all over again.

And yet, there are signs that Oklahoma is beginning to move forward, to put the devastation behind us and rebuild. Last week, I took my oldest son to the movie. The theater took a direct hit from the EF-5 that devastated Moore, but it survived with only aesthetic damage. However, the hospital just north and the bank just east—both in the parking lot area of the theater—were completely destroyed. As the hospital still stood, a mangled mass of shattered glass and brick with huge chunks missing, I noticed that some of the businesses had been completely wiped clean. The piles were gone, and nothing was left but the slab of foundation.

At the credit union, employees and customers survived in the safe. It was the only thing that remained standing after the storm. The safe, however, is now gone—along with the rest of the building. It has been completely wiped clean, as if it had never existed. A fence now surrounds the area in preparation for the rebuilding process. It will be a long process, but it has begun.

How do I know the rebuilding will happen? Oklahoma is not a stranger to the destruction of tornadoes. Fourteen years ago, another huge tornado wiped out my hometown of Bridge Creek before traveling into Moore. Over 40 people lost their lives on May 3, 1999, in what was then the largest ever tornado to hit a heavily populated area. As I drive through my hometown today, there are areas I don’t even recognize. Everything has been rebuilt. It’s newer and better. But, it is so very different from the place I once knew as home.

As I contemplated the destruction from the tornadoes, I began to reflect on my own life. About four years ago, I was completely unprepared for the tornado that hit my life. My perfect life as pastor’s wife and mother was hit by an EF-5 known as adultery and divorce. I stood looking at my life, overwhelmed, trying to figure out where to begin. I looked at the heap of bricks and mortar, and I could do nothing. The tears flowed so freely. The pain was so unbearable; I couldn’t pray or open my Bible.

But, the Holy Spirit was interceding for me.

In the same way the Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings (Romans 8:26).

I found myself angry with God, wondering how he could allow this type of devastation to my life. I had done everything right: I went to college, married the man God told me to, served Him obediently. And yet, here I stood looking at nothing but rubble. How could I ever go on? Where do you start rebuilding your life when you’ve lost everything? Why go on?

Because God promises that He will make something good out of devastation.

We know that all things work together for the good of those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28).

In my anger, I wasn’t sure that I ever wanted to walk in obedience to God again. Sure, I could do the “right” thing and continue to go to church, but on the inside I just wanted to sulk. His way didn’t work out so well, so I might as well live life my way—and have some fun along the way.

He loves us even when we are faithless.

If we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot disown himself (2 Timothy 2:13).

As the days wore on, I felt this overwhelming sense that God was relentlessly pursuing me. He was calling me to run to Him for my security. The harder I ran from Him, the more He tried to get my attention. Eventually, I gave into His pursuit. I began to read the word and spend time in prayer again. My Savior’s love enveloped me and began to give me a vision for the future.

A future with Him is always full of hope!

For I know the plans I have for you”—this is the Lord’s declaration—“plans for your welfare, not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. You will call to Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will by found by you” (Jeremiah 29:11-14).

As difficult as it was to let go of the past—of what I had always planned for my life—I began to allow God to push away the pile of rubble. He began to reveal that the foundation of my life was still intact, and that foundation was Jesus Christ. Eventually, everything was wiped clean. It was time to begin the rebuilding process.

We must let go of the past.

But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:13-14).

God brought in new wood and bricks. The plans were different from what I had always imagined, but the master builder was in charge. As the years pass, I realize that my life was permanently altered. It will never look like it did four or five years ago, but that’s really OK. You see, what God is doing in my life is far greater than what I had planned. It’s an exciting time to see what God will do. It will be bigger and better than what had been before!

God is beginning a new work!

Do not remember the past events, pay no attention to things of old. Look, I am about to do something new; even now it is coming. Do you not see it? (Isaiah 43:18-19).

God is in the rebuilding business. No matter how much destruction and devastation has taken place in your life, He will not rest until He has repaid the years the locusts have eaten (Joel 2:25). With every step toward my new future, I have the promise that God is with me, that He is in control, that He will never stop until His purposes are accomplished.

The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. (1 Peter 5:10).

What destruction and devastation have you experienced? Are you allowing God to lead you in the process of rebuilding? If not, surrender and let Him take over. He is the master builder! He delights in making something beautiful out of the rubble!

Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (Ephesians 3:20).

Dena Johnson is a busy single mom of three kids who loves God passionately. She delights in taking the everyday events of life, finding God in them, and impressing them on her children as they sit at home or walk along the way (Deuteronomy 6:7). Her greatest desire is to be a channel of God’s comfort and encouragement. You can read more of Dena’s experiences with her Great I AM on her blog Dena's Devos.

Publication date: July 3, 2013