Unique days are never forgotten. Those moments impact a person by marking them for life. Wednesday, April 27 was one such day in my life. It was a defining moment that will guide me for the rest of my life.
I awakened to the news that a tornado had struck downtown Cullman about 40 miles north of my home. My first thought was of two friends who are church planters and lead Desperation Church near the center of the downtown. I prayed, sent a text, and waited…and waited…and waited…but no reply. So I prayed harder.
The weather was deteriorating, moving quickly from bad to worse. The television meteorologists were tracking a huge storm that was bearing down on Tuscaloosa. They were using descriptions and scale numbers far above the levels they had been taught in school. I have family in Northport and two more friends who are church planters and lead Refuge Church in Tuscaloosa, so I prayed…hard.
I will never forget the next few minutes. One of the television crews had parked on a hillside east of Tuscaloosa and was filming the horizon when a gigantic black tornado over a mile wide at the ground appeared and began moving from left to right across the screen. Homes, businesses, trees, and people’s lives were sucked up in the churning vortex of this monster’s mouth and obliterated in its massive jaws. A numbing helplessness crept over me as the tears ran down my face. Familiar places were disappearing before my very eyes—the Big Lots, the Chevron Station on the corner of 15th and McFarland, and the Full Moon Barbeque—all gone in a moment—in the blink of an eye. Places I had been just a week earlier. Homes, apartments, and businesses vanished. I prayed, sent a text, and waited…and waited….and waited…but no reply. So I prayed harder.
This particular storm stayed on the ground and headed north toward Birmingham—churning its way through Pleasant Grove, Pratt City, and eventually Fultondale, leaving a path of devastation, desolation, and death. We heard its roar as it passed seven to ten miles south of where we live. I prayed and prayed and prayed, and then I prayed some more.
Prayer is the equivalent of throwing your hands up in surrender without giving up hope. Let me explain what I mean. There are moments (far many more than we are willing to admit) where we are helpless. In prayer we surrender the selfish independence that makes us think we can take care of our own selves. We can’t! In prayer, we cry out for provision or protection from One who is unlimited in power—omnipotent. We call for the Lord God to come—to help—to protect—to defend—to whatever it is we need in those moments. And…God always comes. He never leaves us, even in the midst of a killer mix of swirling wind, unrelenting hail, twisted metal, and the blackness of lost hope.
Twenty-three tornadoes bathed in countless prayers finally brought this horrendous day to an end. The day is past, but the physical and emotional cleanup will take months and years to complete—if ever. God is answering the prayers. Stories are surfacing of miraculous moments in the midst of those monsters’ grips. His faithfulness is being shown in a myriad of different ways.
And…during that day two welcomed texts—one from Cullman and one from Tuscaloosa appeared without warning on my cell phone. Thank you Lord for hearing my prayers!