Tuesday, May 02, 2006


On a break from work one day, one of my co-workers (that I'll call Jim) told us about growing up poor in Arkansas. Jim's family owned a small plot of land where they grew a few crops to sell at local markets. Jim's father worked at odd jobs to supplement the small income his family earned from scratching out a living off the land.

All in all, though, Jim said it was a pretty happy childhood. He and his brothers and sisters played, worked, and the family created strong bonds between them. Although they had little in the way of material posessions, it didn't really matter to Jim and his family and they seemed to want for very little.

That went for Jim's parents as well, hardy people who could make due with whatever little they had on hand to build a storage bin or fix the tractor. The only real wish Jim could remember his mother ever expressing was a desire for running water in the kitchen. The old clapboard house was not plumbed for water but they did have a hand pump about fifty feet away that brought up cool, clear water from a deep well. Still, Jim's mother felt her time could be better utilized by working the fields than by walking to and from the hand pump every time she needed to wash dishes or wash the children.

As you can imagine, money was tough to come by and an extravagance like a water spout in the kitchen was hard to justify. But Jim's dad planned to accomodate her some day and probably wished so hard that he could make her dreams come true on the spot. Jim's mom never made a fuss about the lack of water. She most likely just mentioned it a time or two as anyone would about something they wanted.

Things went along the same for many years. Times, financially, for Jim and his family didn't change much, but they were able to get by.

Arkansas lies in a part of the country where storms can be very strong. Pressure systems can sweep across Texas and Oklahoma, combine with copious amounts of moisture from the Gulf of Mexico and produce high winds, large hail and crop drenching rains that can sometimes wipe out fortunes in minutes. Many times, small farms like Jim's have a difficult time recovering.

One such storm entered the area where Jim lived and it spawned a tornado. Luckily, Jim's family had an old root cellar near the house and they were all able to make it inside moments before the tornado swept across their farm. Jim can recall the frightening sound of limbs being sheared and tin hitting trees as the tornado's wickedly high winds tore through, nothing but destructon in its wake.

It's an eerie thing about tornadoes. As quickly as the winds pick up to a deafening roar and destroy in minutes what it took years to build, it is just as quickly that a still calm replaces the storm and the sun smiles again.

Fearing the worst for their small place, Jim's dad cautiously swung open the root cellar's door. Everyone gasped when it became immediately obvious that the house was gone. Where it once stood was only a patch of wet dirt and a a pile of tree limbs. Jim looked at his mom and saw fear in her face, some of the smaller children were sobbing. Jim understood then how much they had lost and wondered how they would go on now. Where would they live? Who would take them in?

As a hundred different emotions coursed through Jim, he looked up to his father still standing on the cellar steps. His father slowly turned back to the family, a widening grin stretching across his face. They looked back at him wondering if the loss had jarred his sense of reality.

"It stands," was all Jim's dad said. He pointed to his right.

Everyone clambored up the steps, surrounding the father as they strained to take a look. Sure enough, the house stood. In tact, except for a few broken windows and a large swath of missing roof shingles. Jim had heard about this kind of behavior from tornadoes. He read about a church organ being found atop the rubble of a leveled town miles away from the church were the organ had once been. The organ was unscratched and still playable. It amazed Jim that his house was now not unlike that church organ.

Once everyone had piled outside the cellar, they could see there was work to be done on the farm, clean-up had to begin soon so they could save what they could and rescue the crops. Jim's dad headed to the house and told everyone to wait outside while he went in to make sure it was safe.

He sooned stepped back into the sunlight, another silly grin across his face. Montioning rapidly with his index finger, Jim's dad said, "Come here, all. You just got to see this."

The floors of the old house looked pretty solid, no worse then they had ever been. The walls were all right, too, although the beds and bureaus were wrecked and clothes were scattered about. But it was the kitchen where the father wanted everyone to assemble.

He hugged his wife, smiled at her and said, "Honey, you got what you wanted." The house had landed square on that old hand pump. Jim's mom now had running water. And in the kitchen to boot. Jim went over and worked the pump a few times. A steady stream of cold, sweet water issued. Soon, everyone was smiling. What was once a terrible misfortune now seemed a little brighter.

Someone, I don't know who, once described God as "the world's greatest comedian playing before an audience who is afraid to laugh." We often seem to blame the worst of events - floods, hurricanes, tornadoes - on God, ascribing them to His will. I think those things happen because it's just the way the world and the universe works. A constant state of flux and change, upheaval, creation, destruction and re-creation. It isn't God who sends those events upon us, but rather it is His love and His laughter that get us through them.