I only knew one person in Joplin, Mo.: Janice Falls.
And of course when I read and heard of the devastating tornado last week, I quickly texted her brother to find out how she was. I soon received the following email from Janice:
"Dearest family and friends,
"In a nutshell here is my personal experience with this storm. I was at church meeting Sunday night with six other adults and a 7-year-old girl.
"We took cover in a tiny interior bathroom, hunkered down and prayed with all of our might. It took approximately four minutes to dismantle the entire stake center. We could hear the building being dismantled … and heard explosion after explosion, creaking, cracking, smashing of debris overhead and all around. When it was over we were trapped for about an hour but alive. For the first time in my life I faced a terrifying experience and yet I knew we were being protected. I could literally feel the Lord’s hands pressing us down and knew we would make it.
"Once we crawled out our eyes beheld a scene that was impossible to actually take in. If you saw the movie 'War of the Worlds,' the surrounding landscape looked just like that. For blocks and blocks there was nothing standing. Not a single leaf on a tree. Most of the trees had been stripped of all bark. I can’t even describe it.
"This experience has reminded me of a couple of things I want to share with you.
"1. God lives and hears prayers. I don’t understand why some prayers, such as ours, were answered while others lost their lives.
"2. There is nothing in this world as important as family and dear friends. I know I don’t say it often enough. Know that I love you and value your friendship.
"3. As the world was coming apart at the seams, directly above my head, I was forcibly reminded of how much I love my children and grandchildren and want to make a difference in their lives. They truly are the most important people in my life.
"Take care and God bless each of you. I pray you never experience anything close to this in your life. But if you do I pray you are as blessed as our little band of friends who found shelter in the bathroom and safety in the Lord. I love you. Janice."
Janice sent me another email sharing more details about the story that are much too sacred for me to share at this time. But may I just say, those details left her and the others who were in the bathroom without a doubt as to the power of the priesthood, the influence of angels and the hand of the Lord.
Several things struck me as I read this letter and took a moment to ponder on Janice’s experience.
I thought of how the Lord's hand is everywhere. Every time we see devastation, death, destruction, etc., in the same frame we see the hand of the Lord. Whether it be in a tornado, or the life of a wayward child, his hand is always somewhere in the story. It is not necessarily easy to see, but I know his tender mercies are intertwined and laced within the framework of it.
I was deeply touched as I pictured seven adults and a child bound together through prayer; surely they will be changed forever. I couldn’t imagine climbing through the debris out of the bathroom, only to see that everything within view had been leveled and to know that it was not my time to go. From that day on, I would stand as a witness to the power of prayer, the priesthood and the knowledge that there are many on the other side of the veil who are intervening on my behalf.
As I continued to personalize Janice’s experience, I thought of where and how I, too, have found shelter and safety in my own life. Without a doubt, my shelter has come through the commandments and covenants in the gospel. They have protected me from the creaking, cracking and smashing of morals and values that have been exploding all over this planet.
My safety has come only when I have "hunkered down," kept the commandments and held true to my covenants. This is when I have found peace and seen the hand of the Lord in my life.
The story of Joplin, Mo., will always serve as a reminder to me that even in the midst of devastation, destruction, disappointment, unmet expectations, hurt and betrayal, we can still find peace and safety in the Lord.