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Our Spirit Will Not Be Broken: Voices from the April StormsOur Spirit Will Not Be Broken: Voices from the April Storms

[Jessica's Story]
by Jessica Pritchett

All I knew about tornados, I got from books and the internet. Pictures of houses flattened and trees down. Pictures of people searching through rubble. That was it. No emotional attachment. Just a thought, “those poor people”. No more. Yet, the night of Wednesday April 29, 2011 will forever be engraved on my memory.

Wednesday morning I was awakened to the sounds of wind and heavy rain outside my window. The power flashed, and I looked out to see the trees in our backyard swaying back and forth. That was at 6:30 am. We found out later that day that what I saw was the after effect of a tornado that passed just 5 miles from us. That was the beginning of April 27th. For the rest of the day, my family and I were glued to the computer for updates as we watched tornado after tornado rip through our home state of Alabama. By supper time, the tornados were fast approaching our town of Odenville. But when the storm reached us, nothing happened. We didn’t even enter our storm shelter. Not a drop of rain, not a gust of wind. It was the calm before the storm.

Thirty minutes later. A hurried phone call. A friend’s voice. “I’m calling 911! Our house is gone” “The Lees are trapped”. I remember the darkness, the cold, the tight, hard knot of fear in my stomach. The whispered prayers as my dad drove off into the darkness. He could run over a live power line, he could have a wreck. Where were our friends? What was happening? And then the tears. The hot, racking sobs. The prayer I couldn’t say out loud because I was crying too hard.

The next morning dawned bright and sunny. But, I soon discovered that joy doesn’t come with every morning. The sun revealed the homes destroyed, the belongings strewn, the lives lost. It was that morning that I found out that Mr. Thomas Lee had been killed saving his family. He was the father of our very dear friends.

The Lee family has 13 children and they live in Shoal Creek valley, just twenty minutes from where we live. The example that the Lee family set daily was a blessing to all around them and you would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn’t still speak highly of Mr. Lee and the legacy he left. When the storm reached the Valley, Mr. Lee gathered his children and wife into an inside room of the house. But, everything happened too fast. Before they knew it, their house collapsed; flinging chairs and other debris on top of the family. It pinned several of the older children under heavy furniture resulting in several long hospital stays. Mr. Lee died when he jumped under a beam that was headed towards his oldest son. His last breath was used to pray for his family.

The Lees were not the only family who lost a home and a loved one. It is estimated that over 300 tornados touched down killing more than 700 people in 7 states. The biggest tornado in Alabama was 1.5 miles long and tracked 80 miles. It destroyed anything and everything in its path. That tornado alone killed almost 70 people. In the Valley alone, 5 friends lost homes, one man lost his whole family, and 3 girls lost their parents.

The aftermath of these storms was horrible and sad. Work had to be done. There were belongings to gather, people to comfort, meals to cook, people to serve.

That was where the Lord began to challenge me.

Before the tornado that destroyed the homes and lives of our friends we loved so dearly, I was afraid to serve others. To really serve others. If someone had asked me, I probably would have denied that fear. A lot of times I don’t think we realize we have this fear until we are confronted with something that really tests us and our ability to serve those around us. I found that I was truly afraid of getting out of my comfort zone and serving.

But now I have driven down the actual road, the road I used to drive on every Sunday, and I’ve seen the destruction. I’ve gotten lost because all the houses and familiar landmarks are gone. I’ve seen the countless crosses beside piles of rubble. I have known the dark and rainy night, the smell of death and sadness; loss and despair fear and confusion. I’ve seen my Dad and many others struggle to get to people we couldn’t contact. I watched my Dad cry as he talked about moving a father’s body. I washed my friends’ clothes and saw the tears of my friends’ faces. And I walked on the kitchen floor I loved to sit on, except now it has no walls and is covered with dirt.

Through the desolation and sadness of seeing people suffer, the Lord opened my heart and mind to the suffering of people all over the world. I began to see the suffering people in the pictures with new understanding. The statistics took on new meaning. I knew that there were families searching for a picture of their father. I realized now that the people in the photos and stories have faces and lives. They have mothers and fathers; brothers and sisters. It was an unspoken challenge to my heart.

The Lord has helped me overcome some of my fear of the unknown in serving others. It is hard. It is sad. It is scary. Death, despair, and sadness are not happy things. But the Lord calls us to serve His people. To the ends of the earth. I don’t know how and when I will serve Him next, but I welcome the opportunity to be challenged.