In early May, I drove down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama to gather stories about the tornadoes that had hit just a week before. You can read one of the stories I wrote about a woman Samaritan’s Purse helped after the storms here. This is the blog I wrote about what I witnessed it Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.
I didn’t know how powerful God is until I was standing on top of a pile of rubble where a house used to stand, talking to the woman who walked out alive.
I didn’t realize how deeply God cares about every aspect of our lives until I heard that a woman’s most treasured possession was the only thing left unharmed in the broken remains of her home.
I didn’t understand God’s care for all creation until I listened to the story of how a family’s dog got lost during the storm, ended up in the next town, and was returned the next day.
I didn’t see how far God will go to try and save one of his lost sons until I saw an old Bible left on a man’s front porch. Everything else was blown away in the tornado.
I didn’t believe in the faithfulness of the local church until I saw hundreds of people show up every day at the white steeple in town to help their neighbors.
Walking in the midst of the devastation in Alabama has renewed my faith in miracles. Some of the stories seem too outrageous to accept as truth, but when you see the evidence with your own eyes, it’s hard to be a doubting Thomas.
During my trip to Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, I was reminded of the testimonies of the disciples. They proclaimed the miracles of Jesus Christ many times, but even in their day, people still did not believe.
In 1 John 1:1-4, John says, “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life—and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write so that our joy may be made complete.”
I could write down many stories for you to testify about how God’s protective hands were all over the people of Alabama during the tornado outbreak. But, even if I did, would you fully believe?
I have seen it, heard it, smelled it, and felt it with my own hands. God and His angels were with these people in the storm, and he has sent His good Samaritans from all over the United States to help them recover and regain hope.
I do not mean to neglect the great tragedy of this event. So much was lost, and many questions linger. Why did an 80-year-old woman in terrible health survive, while a University of Alabama student was found dead in her backyard? Some questions we will never have answers to. But we do know God is in control and that He has a plan.
On my second day working in Tuscaloosa, I volunteered with Samaritan’s Purse. I was excited to get my writing hands dirty and understand better of what it is like to serve in a disaster situation. But God did something rather unexpected that day.
That morning I asked Program Manager Todd Taylor which team I should join for the day. He pointed a team leader out to me and I started to get myself ready for the work day. I sat at a random table while I waited (without my pad of paper and pen). Today I was not going “work” I was going to work.
A few other volunteers joined me at the table. I got to know Bob, one of the team leaders, and some others. By the time orientation was over, Todd started assigning teams. Bob got up and started gathering his volunteers. He asked, “Michelle are you coming?”
I was unsure of what to do, join Bob who I just talked to for an hour or go with the man Todd suggested I join. I decided to go with Bob.
We worked at two houses that day and we didn’t get to meet either of the homeowners. Of course I was dissapointed, wanting to get a story out of my volunteer day. If I had gone with my original team leader, I would have gotten an awesome story out of it. But, later I realized that maybe God didn’t want me to meet the homeowner….maybe He wanted me to just work and not see the results right away.
It was hard already for me to switch from journalist mode to volunteer mode. Not meeting the woman whose house we worked on helped me just work.
As I picked up the pieces of dead branches laying all over the yard, I thought about the Bible passage of the vine and the branches.
Tuscaloosa is the “city of the Druid Oaks.” It has been known for the massive oak trees that encompass the community. That weekend, I drove by the University of Alabama campus, which was mostly untouched from the tornado. On one particular strip of road, giant oak trees hover over the street, their branches stretching out like angels wings protecting everything underneath.
When the storms hit, these trees which seemed to offer comfort and protection turned into deadly enemies. The powerful winds ripped these oaks which have stood tall for hundreds of years out of the earth and tossed them mercilessly all over town.
Their wooden bodies fell on tops of homes, destroying lives and livelihoods. It was obvious that these beautiful oaks that were once treasured became a nuisance in the aftermath. Our chainsaws could barely tear apart these trees. Small pieces weighed hundreds of pounds. Yet, they had to be removed and tossed out. It has been a huge undertaking just to cut up and remove these oaks.
So, as I picked up these pieces, I remembered that pruning produces greater fruit. Recently in my life, I had to cut out a huge branch. This one aspect of my life was not honoring to God in any way and needed to be removed completely.
At first I was unwilling to cut it off. But God why? This branch gave me comfort and security. It made me feel good about myself!
No, He said. It needs to go into the fire. So, God took a chainsaw to this branch. At first the process was painful, more than I thought I could bear. But, it’s been about a month and I already see leaves and fruit blossoming in its place.
So, although cutting down the dead branches is a painful process, it will cause the tree to produce greater fruit. Like an abundant forest springs up after a consuming fire, I believe that great faith and hope in Christ will rise in Alabama after this storm.
He has already started something new and exciting in me. Are there dead branches in your life that need to be cut off? Rest in the promise that Christ has something greater in store for you. That chainsaw could end up being your new best friend.