There is despair in Moore, Oklahoma, along with the rest of the country who have been surrounded by the horrific tornado damage via the internet and TV. Pictures and video don’t really tell us the full impact, the total disaster that has overcome the city of Moore and the people who live there. My heart and prayers go out to everyone affected by the E4 tornado, especially those who have lost their loved ones. I realize that many people have also lost their homes and businesses, which may have held irreplaceable memories. I’m sad for them as well, but there is comfort and joy in the fact that they escaped with their lives, they are here to breathe air, live another day, and rebuild. I remember many years ago, when I was involved in a fender bender, calling my then husband to report what had happened. The first thing he asked was, “Are you OK?” Through my tears and sobbing, I said, “Yes, but the car is dented!” (As if this were the worst thing in the world.) Husband then said, “Good. I can replace Detroit steel, but I can’t replace you.” It took a moment and a few additional tears for it to sink in, but that statement has stuck with me ever since the accident. His words to me have great meaning today. Homes, computers, TVs, iPods, vehicles, couches, beds and the homes that housed them in Moore, Oklahoma, can be replaced. The people that died cannot. Their families are in despair and it will take time for them to feel any sense of joy.
It seems apropos that the message at my church this past Sunday was about despair and joy. While despair can make people walk away from their faith, believing that God has deserted them, joy can be mistakenly associated with material possessions. Yes, the new computer, new pair of shoes, new mountain bike, new living room sofa, or new kitchen gadget will bring joy to their new owners, but is this true joy? I don’t believe it is and, yet, I don’t know if I could live without some material possessions. What would I do if I couldn’t blog because I didn’t have a computer? What would I do in the depths of winter if I couldn’t warm my chill with a new episode of NCIS? How would I get to work without a reliable vehicle? Would I despair if I could no longer buy flowers for my patio?
I can vividly remember once in my life when I felt true despair. (I would have said twice; however, throwing myself on the floor while in the midst of having a bad case of flu and walking pneumonia, then sobbing and asking God what I did to “piss him off”, only counts as having a self-pitying hissy fit, not as a moment of despair). My despair came on a day when I recognized my unhappiness in being married to someone I no longer loved. It was a deep despair as I went through the day feeling as though I could start sobbing at any moment. I wonder today how my demeanor and spirit appeared to everyone else at work that day as I tried to hold my emotions in check. I felt truly sad. While in the midst of trying to meet deadlines and print reports, I seriously thought about divorce and opened up the phone book to check out attorneys. I then remember despair turning into fear and not doing anything about either that day. Ultimately the sadness and despair led me to the courage I needed to overcome my situation. Joy was just around the corner, I needed the lowness of despair to get me moving in the right direction.
Joy can happen when you least expect it. It happens in your soul. I felt very tired and wounded when I first landed in my own apartment, one month after separating from my husband. Over the past three and a half years, the joy of family, friends and faith have methodically worked its way into my being. This joy didn’t happen overnight – it took comfort and support, faith and friendship, tears of loss and moments of healing. When it comes to material possessions, I do have the reliable vehicle, but have had to let go of expensive vacations, regular clothes shopping at the mall, and my DVR/digital cable. Having crappy TV has made me engage in reading, writing and being more involved with my friends and church family. That’s true joy – happiness that is concentrated around people, faith and emotional enrichment, not around a smart phone that allows you to play Angry Birds while waiting in line at the grocery store. The most important things in life aren’t things.
I hope and pray the same will happen with the people in Moore, that courage will take over their despair, they will rebuild, their hearts will mend, and happiness will find them in the weeks to come. I hope that the inhabitants of Moore and their families will find peace and true joy on the other side of despair.