4-27-2011.

One year ago today changed my life forever.

But yet, the damage to me personally was so miniscule compared to thousands of other people in my state, some living only twenty minutes away.

Like bear claws ripping through flesh, 62 tornadoes tormented Alabama, forever altering the course of 691 miles of our beautiful state.

Tornado Paths April 27Photo from NOAA National Weather Service Birmingham Office.

Almost 2,000 people were injured. 140 people lost their lives. And ALL of us suffered from post traumatic stress syndrome from what was the most ominously horrifying day of our lives.

The massive paths of these tornadoes are still visible from the air – our state had hundreds of miles of what looks like power line trails cut through our city centers, our neighborhoods, our forests, and our farmland.

And from the ground, they are exquisitely painful to see.

But there’s hope, too. And shocking amounts of love.

So many of you poured out your kindnesses into our state to help the hurting babies – you sent thousands of dollars worth of baby supplies to Alabama, and your prayers and well wishes meant the world to all of us.

And then there are other stories. Stories of amazing people coming from amazing distances to do amazing things. Thanks to one of my South Carolina readers, Lindsay (that I got the opportunity to meet yesterday – hi Lindsay!), I was able to interview one of these people a couple of months ago. I wrote her story on Alabama Bloggers in February, but I decided to share it here, today – as a reminder. A reminder that although the destruction was great, the love that has come out of it has been greater.


Shortly after the April 27th tornadoes, I visited Pleasant Grove.

Although I went to half a dozen destroyed towns, Pleasant Grove was one of the most painful. I knew what it was supposed to look like, as I had spent many days of my childhood visiting friends who lived there.

And also, there was this house.

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I broke down when I found it.

I had barely removed the blue bow from my own mailbox when the tornadoes hit. Had the storm moved a little more in another direction, this house could have just as easily been mine.

I never found out if that baby was okay, but I think about him often, as I thank God for the opportunity to look into my own baby boy’s blue eyes.

For the first time since that original visit, I returned to Pleasant Grove this past Friday. As I entered the city, the determination to rebuild their community was immediately evident. Both in tornado damaged and non-damaged areas, construction was everywhere. New neighborhoods, new houses, new everything.

Their commitment to stay in their community was so admirable, despite the wide open spaces all around them.

Brand new houses would be alone on a block, with cleared fields on one side and house ruins on the other.

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With most of the ruins cleared, it wasn’t nearly as evident as to what had happened to this community.

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In some areas, the new construction was so widespread that if it weren’t for the telltale eerie trees, one who didn’t know might just think it was a brand new development.

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My visit to Pleasant Grove was for the opportunity to meet Sara Newton and Jim Mosley.

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Sara and Jim almost certainly would have never crossed paths if it weren’t for the April 27 tornadoes. Sara is an architect who lives in Clemson, South Carolina, and Jim is a retired steel mill worker in Pleasant Grove, Alabama.

After the tornadoes hit, Sara and her father, Steve Sanders, wanted to find someone that their church service group, the Clemson Pres Doers, could bless.

And when I say “bless”, I mean “build a new house”.

Yeah – wow.

Their motto, Go Big With God, is certainly fitting.

They did some research and found a list of people who needed houses. Jim was on the top of the list.

So they met with him, committed to the project, raised all of their own funds, and built Jim a house.

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Isn’t it beautiful?

Jim’s original house was next to where the new one is, but very little was left. He was at home during the storm, and managed to secure himself in the doorframe. He later had to be dug out of the rubble.

Jim told me that when he was going through a stack of papers that hadn’t been blown away, he found a house plan that his mother had saved – it had been her dream home. He gave the plan to Sara, they tweaked it slightly for Jim’s needs, and he now has his mother’s dream home.

Jim got his certificate of occupancy on Friday, and plans to move in later this week.

For this building project, the Clemson Pres Doers raised over $90,000, and only lack $4,000 to finish paying for all of their expenses. They have also brought groups of volunteers from South Carolina throughout the whole process, giving their church members had the option of serving or giving (or both) to complete Jim’s house.

I was astonished at their generosity, commitment, and desire to love their fellow man in such a practical way.

Not all of Jim’s neighbors have been so blessed, yet. As you look out of Jim’s window, there is still much to be done.

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I asked Jim what made him stay in Pleasant Grove.

“It never was an option for me to leave. My family has been in Pleasant Grove for over 100 years – it’s home, that’s it.”

Jim has been living with his Aunt and Uncle a couple of miles away during this construction process, and is thrilled to be moving into his beautiful new home.

When I asked him if I could get his and Sara’s picture, Jim beamed. Then he said “Wait!!”, and pulled off his jacket.

“I never thought this Bama Boy would wear a Clemson shirt, but I sure will now!!”

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After all, being willing to wear another team’s colors is the highest form of gratitude around here.


Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, to everyone, everywhere, who has loved on our state in the past year. We have felt it, and we have been able to continue on because of it.

Leave your comment below!

Comments

  1. Wow. It is so easy to forget how many people are still rebuilding their lives! Thank you for writing this.

    • I know. I am ashamed at how little I do think about it sometimes. I need to remember more often so that I am prompted to help more often!

  2. Deedy Zannis Rafford says:

    I am so proud to be Rachel’s cousin. She is truly talented.

  3. Thanks so much for sharing, your post really touched me & brought tears to my eyes. I live in Hueytown & have so many friends & neighbors that are still recovering from this life-changing devastation. It’s so hard to believe it’s been a year already, but our state will prevail! Thanks to so many wonderful people that have reached out & helped, but most of all to our Heavenly Father.

    p.s. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog for quite awhile, but this is my first time to comment.

    • Thank you so much! And nice to meet you!!

      Yes, there is still so much destruction. It breaks my heart to go to so many areas of our state. But it is also so wonderful to see the love pour out of our state AND the rest of the country!

  4. Marie Zannis says:

    Rachel, thanks for writing about goodness and generosity in such a practical and powerful way. In our culture so much is said and written that is so cynical and which ridicules and tears down instead of building up. You’re a great example, not only to people of your own age but to many others as well. Tank you so much for doing this kind of work.

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