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WHY? Emily Tittle picks through rubble after a tornado destroyed her home in Paron, Ark.
Associated Press/Photo by Christina Huynh
WHY? Emily Tittle picks through rubble after a tornado destroyed her home in Paron, Ark.

Destructive precision

Disaster | The mysterious path of a tornado and the lasting scars it leaves

Issue: "The GOP’s Greg Abbott," May 31, 2014

It’s only wind. What is wind?

Like light, it can’t be seen; just its effects, the objects picked up in its current or swayed by its force. Driving through certain parts of Kansas, one notices slender trees permanently bent by strong south winds. I live at the edge of the Great Plains, where nothing can stop it. When the weather is warm enough to hang laundry outside, I’m often battered by wet, flapping fabrics. It’s both fun and frustrating. In Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis recalls his Oxford friend A.K. Hamilton Jenkin, who taught him to “attempt a total surrender to whatever atmosphere was offering itself at the moment … on a windy day to seek out the windiest ridge.” A good attitude to have, I think, while fighting with the sheets. But that’s assuming the wind isn’t likely to kill you.

The unpredictability of tornadoes is the most unnerving thing about them. Now that the season is well underway in the Midwest and Southeast, we see news photos of one side of a street devastated while the other side appears untouched. It’s like the Day of the Lord, when two men are in the field and one is taken while the other is left behind (Matthew 24:40). My friend’s sister suffered no damage from the twister that passed within yards of her central Arkansas home last month. But Rob Tittle, staff member at Family Life Ministries, lost his life, along with two of his daughters. His wife, Kerry, and their remaining six children are relatively unharmed, but their home is reduced to a concrete slab. In the wake of such a terrifying event, the whys sprout up like spring dandelions: Why them? And why not me? My family and I took shelter that night even though no tornadoes actually developed in our neighborhood—why not?

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The scientific phenomenon is well understood up to a point. The strongest tornadoes develop inside massive “supercell” thunderstorms, when warm air rising from the ground mingles with cold air in the cumulonimbus cloud, forming a vortex. But science can’t explain exactly what causes a funnel cloud in the sky to reach down to the earth. It’s one of those mysteries of nature that may never be solved.

“The Lord gives and the Lord takes away,” wrote the Tittles’ oldest surviving daughter on her Facebook page the day after the storm: “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” These are the words of Job after a series of personal disasters, culminating in a great wind. It came without warning, struck the four corners of the house where his children were partying, and crushed them all. Sounds a lot like a tornado, an unpredictable act of God that can be almost surgical in its precision. “His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet” (Nahum 1:3). We can’t question the whirlwind, much less stop it; we can only experience it. On some of us, it leaves deep and lasting scars that are the handwriting of the Lord.

Someday we’ll be able to read those scars clearly. For now we have clues and testimonies. Daniel and April Smith of Vilonia, Ark., lost their two young sons in a matter of minutes. But earlier, the very day of the storm, 9-year-old Tyler spoke of his longing for heaven. The only nagging worry was separation: “Will you miss me?” he asked his mother. Of course, she replied. “How long will you miss me?” “Until I see you again.” That evening, one week after Easter Sunday, a violent wind flung open the gates of heaven for Tyler and his brother. Their parents grieve but will see them again. Because of Easter Sunday.

Wind surrounds us—warm summer breezes, drenching nor’easters, western gales bringing cold or warm fronts, playful gusts. I sometimes think of the Holy Spirit, the Pneuma (breath) who blows where He wills throughout the earth, confronting the saved and the lost. And sometimes, breathing them home.

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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