As I caught myself calling Joplin that, I realized that Joplin has always been a part of my life.
When I was a little girl, and we’d come up for camp, my Mom and I would come over from Wyandotte with friends and eat dinner at a Mexican place called Raphael’s.
When I was a teenager, my friend Phil and I would come over and hang out at a coffee shop on Main Street, when Main Street was still the “main drag.”
When I moved to Tulsa, my brother and his wife followed shortly after by moving to Joplin, and I’d come over on weekends to see them.
When I moved to the area to be close to my family, I realized that there was a place in my heart that had always thought of Southwest Missouri as home.
I was born in Arkansas, and my heart lives in Texas, but Missouri is just as much a part of my life as those other places I’ve called home. Living here for the past (almost) 6 years, I’ve never really called Joplin home. I may have felt it was, but I never really said it. Home was Dalhart, Texas, a place I loved from the moment I laid eyes on it.
On Sunday, May 22, 2011, something changed and Joplin became “my city”. We don’t live in the city limits of Joplin. We live in a small town near Joplin, but we shop in Joplin, we eat in Joplin, much of our life is centered in Joplin.
So, when a tornado ripped through my city on May 22nd, my heart started breaking. Right in the middle of a month that had already broken my heart with the death of a man I admired above so many others, another heartbreak that tore apart a city I love shook me to my core. I’m still trying to make sense of the month of May 2011, and I have a million questions that will probably never be answered. May 2011 has changed me. There is a point in every day since May 18th where I am caught unaware by grief. Sometimes I grieve the death of my friend, sometimes I grieve the destruction of my city, and sometimes I don’t even have words to describe my grief.
In my heart, I’ve taken ownership of Joplin, as I know many others have. This is our city. Carthage, Oronogo, Webb City, Carl Junction, and all of the others in between have declared this city as OUR city.
Joplin is my home. I don’t live within its city limits, but it is my home. Every day, I hear new stories from survivors, people who shouldn’t have lived, but by the grace of God, they did. Every day, I’m reminded that my city was broken, but I am also reminded that my God reached into the midst of a monster to save a life of a friend, a colleague, a family. My family. My brother. My sister-in-law. My nephew. My niece. My God redirected their paths to keep them out of the storm, as He did for so many others.
Joplin is my city. Since May 22nd, I have thought of Joplin not as Joplin, Missouri, city I shop and eat in, but as MY City, place I call home. The road ahead for Joplin is long, and as so many have said, the news people will leave, the relief workers will go home, and we the citizens of Southwest Missouri will be left on our own to rebuild a city that will never be the same.
As I watched yet another video filmed in the aftermath of the monster, I was reminded of the words of a Joplin pastor who declared that in Joplin, the Cross still stands. I was reminded that the chapel was one of the only two places in St. John’s hospital undamaged by the storm. I was reminded that my God was in the midst of the tornado guiding and directing people into the places that would keep them safe.
My city. No longer just a place to shop or eat, Joplin is my city. In my heart, I think it has always been my city. I think the years of visits and quick trips over to town have embedded Joplin into the fabric of my life. Joplin will recover. My city will rebuild. The breaking of our hearts will begin to subside and be replaced with hope for our future. Our city will stand, and in the midst of our city, my God still walks, bringing with Him peace and comfort, hope and joy, a future.