We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
Numbers talk. Take 2.29. Add a dollar mark and it becomes the price for a value meal at your local fast food place, or perhaps the price for gallon of gas…at least a while back. At a colon and it becomes the time on a clock twice a day, early morning and mid- afternoon. Numbers talk. Take 4.5.6. At first glance they are three random sequential numbers—three numbers connected only by their sequence. I guess you could say it is a picture of our neighborhood—a couple of evens and one odd ball. Of course, you could place these numbers on a clock and they too would become a time that occurs twice a day, everyday…once early in the morning and once later in the afternoon. Numbers talk.
For the folks who live in the small Southern Illinois town of Harrisburg those numbers speak loudly and mournfully. The year was 2012 and it was a leap year with February having twenty-nine days…or letting the numbers talk it was 2.29. The National Weather Service had forecasted potentially dangerous weather, and some had taken the warning seriously. Others, softened by previous warnings, assumed it would be another false alarm. At 4:56 in the morning, or 4.5.6 a line of damaging storms tore through the Southwest side of Harrisburg and in that tangle of lightening, thunder, wind, and rain raged an F-4 tornado. For miles and miles, it tore through the countryside and several small towns…one of which was Harrisburg.
The tornado sirens were screaming their harrowing sound warning people of the impending disaster. I heard the sirens and yet stayed comfortably in my bed till Judy made me get up. My daughter and her husband were staying with us for the night and he and I went out the backdoor to see what we could see in the darkness. Looking Southeast, in a flash of lightening we saw, what could only be the tornado, as it ripped through that part of our small community. Before long, sirens were racing all through the town as police, fire and ambulances all raced to help those impacted by the storm. Streets were almost crowded with neighbors helping neighbors.
Daylight revealed the damage and destruction. Where homes and businesses stood, now were piles of debris. Much of that part of town was severely damaged and sadly, eight people were torn from our lives that day and many more were injured. Suddenly what we had seen so many times on the Weather Channel and the national news was in our backyard. It was amazing to see how help poured in from all over the nation. Various relief agencies, as well as hundreds of everyday people came to our town to help in any way they could. Churches, often separated by doctrine or denomination, came together to help the hurting. For the coming months, our church and other organizations would house and feed hundreds of volunteers who came to clean up and help rebuild the community. We mourned together, we worked together, and we came together, and through it all, we emerged a stronger community.
So, if this year was a leap year then yesterday would have been the 29th and not the first day of March and it would have been the ninth observance of the Harrisburg Leap Day tornado. I know that day is firmly etched in the minds and memories of everyone who lived in Harrisburg at the time. But also etched there is the beautiful and powerful unity that we experienced during the days that followed the 29th. Slowly, the physical scars have be repaired and rebuilt but the scars of those lost, of course, will remain forever.
There’s a verse in the Bible (written by a guy locked up in prison for nothing more than being a Jesus follower) that talks about how God can bring good from even the worse-case scenario. Now it doesn’t say that everything is good, because that just simply wouldn’t be true. But it does say for those who are willing to trust, those who are willing to look and see, that He can bring good. I know for me that is the memory of people coming together to help people. Religion and politics, social status, and separation were laid aside as people just helped. And, perhaps, that was when the seed was firmly planted in my heart that no matter what—how tall the mountain or wide the raging river, no matter how hot the fire or difficult the journey, that my Dearest Daddy, is in control. Perhaps that is when I knew, “He’s got this” and He still does. Bro. Dewayne