Wednesday, April 27, 2011 – It was early afternoon and my husband (Jeff aka Bear) and I sat on the sofa and watched the news. This was unusual. We were both supposed to be at work, but an early morning storm that came through our area caused so many trees to fall across Highway 280 that he couldn’t make it downtown. I only work a few miles from home and had been able to make it to the office, but the schools closed early because of the threat of severe weather, so I had left work and come home. The kids were occupying themselves elsewhere in the house, and Bear and I sat and watched webcam coverage of tornadoes ripping through Tuscaloosa and Cullman. It was surreal. To sit and watch such destruction as it was happening…to know that hundreds if not thousands of lives were being forever changed right before my eyes…I couldn’t help but think of the tornado that struck Oak Grove and the surrounding areas on April 8, 1998. I knew people who had been forever changed from that tornado. The images on TV were just as horrendous, if not more so, than the 1998 tornado. And to think these might be headed our way. God help us.
We took the necessary precautions and headed downstairs when James (Spann) said it was time. The lights flickered on and off, so we took flashlights, although we ended up not needing them. We watched the radar helplessly as the storms dredged on their way…right toward our home. Fortunately, they all passed right over us and our area was completely spared, but the news was reporting damage in other areas close-by where we had family and frieds: Forestdale, Fultondale, Pleasant Grove… We called our parents and made sure they were ok. I couldn’t get through to my sister in Huntsville (storms had also headed that way), but I was able to reach my niece in Mobile by FaceBook and found that my sister and her husband were fine (gotta love technology). I was saddened by the devastation that surely was out there, but thankful that I’d been able to check on loved ones and not heard any reports of any being hurt.
Early the next morning, I checked FaceBook early for some reason…usually I don’t check FaceBook until later in the day. I saw Tim Jones’ post about his mother’s house being gone, and that she was missing. He wanted everyone to pray. The urgency in his post was apparent – Tim was worried and in need of peace and comfort. That’s what I prayed for. We knew Mrs. Reba well. Of course, Bear knew her better than I did since he had been buddies with Tim since they were teenagers (dare I say 30 years ago???) We had all grown up in the Forestdale area and all attended the same church, but both Bear and Tim were a little older than me and had become close friends while they were young. They began singing gospel music together when they were still teenagers, and still have a quartet that sings today. Although I knew Tim well, I was also close friends with the precious young lady that became his wife – Liz - and I remember Mrs. Reba from church and at countless singings over the years.
One thing I remember most about Mrs. Reba is her love for her family. Liz said that she loved her grandchildren equally, and that she never showed any favoritism toward any of them. She loved her children, too. She beamed with pride when anyone mentioned their names, and she had a soft, peaceful look on her face when she would listen to Tim and the others sing. Tim often takes a few minutes during a singing to talk about his dad’s passing, and I know that Mrs. Reba missed him too. I don’t remember Mr. Jones since he passed over 20 years ago, but Tim’s love for his dad is evident in the way he talks about him. His urgency in that FaceBook post spoke volumes about his feelings for his mom.
Sadly, we got the news later in the day that Mrs. Reba had not survived the storm when it went through Pleasant Grove. With all of its sadness, I tried to focus on Tim’s talks about his dad and that now Mrs. Reba was with him again. She had finished her life on this earth and had gone on to Heaven. Her house in Pleasant Grove was destroyed, but now she had a house in Heaven that no storm or wind or rain could touch. She had a new body that would never know pain. She was in a much better place than what she had left behind. I was so sad for Tim and Liz and the family, but felt joy for Mrs. Reba and her new stage of life. The pastor that spoke at her funeral summed this up better than I could – he said “she is not dead, she is more alive than she ever has been.” He spoke from John 14, and said that Jesus had been preparing a place for Mrs. Reba for some time and that her place was ready. Jesus had personally come to Pleasant Grove on the evening of April 27 in a storm to take her home. I could almost imagine Mrs. Reba smiling (smirking as those who knew her would say), at being personally escorted to glory on the arm of her Savior.
A phone call came while we were preparing to leave the house to visit Tim and Liz. Another close friend (another Jeff I’ll call Jeff J) who used to sing with the quartet called. Jeff J told me that he had just googled Mrs. Reba’s name to check her official status since the storm, and had come across an interesting blog. He told me to google “Reba Jones Pleasant Grove” and it would be one of the first links to pop up. By the time he finished summarizing the blog, I passed the phone to Bear and headed to my laptop. Within minutes, I was reading a very touching story about Mrs. Reba’s mailing label having made its way some 70 miles from home. A lovely and caring soul had retrieved it from her rose bush, and had pondered its journey and the fate of its owner and her house, Reba J. Jones, 516 7th Ave., Pleasant Grove, AL 35127. She had weighed the possibility that Mrs. Jones may not want her personal information posted on the internet against her hope that by posting, she might find out the fate of Mrs. Jones and the rest of her home in Pleasant Grove. She commented later that when God places a mailing label in your rose bushes, the message is pretty clear. The unknown blogger used memories from her childhood to bring her post to life. They were stories any child that grew up in the South could relate to, and I found myself connected immediately to this person. I had to respond to her. I had to reach out to the one who cared so much about the owner of the lost the mailing label. I’m not sure that she really expected an answer to what happened to Reba J. Jones, at least not so quickly, but I could sense God had His hand in this and that I needed to let her know. For those interested, you can see Carol’s blog at http://theleftbankofthecoosa.blogspot.com/2011_04_01_archive.html.
We shared the story of the blog with Tim and Liz later in the evening. Tim was clearly moved and thanked us for letting him know about it. He got online later and made his own comment to Carol’s blog. The next morning I read the new comments and couldn’t help but sense God poking me. My thoughts jumped from sheer thankfulness that God had spared my family, feeling so unworthy to still have EVERYTHING (including electricity), and witnessing the pain and devastation all around me. Surely this blog popping up like this had to mean something. I couldn’t help but wonder what God wanted me to do with it. I had felt this same prompting years before when the 1998 tornado went through Oak Grove but lifted and disappeared into the sky just one mile away on its course to my home, but my own personal life had fallen apart just a few days later, and I didn’t feel strong enough to write about faith then. But it was the same prompting, the same urgency that my life was spared for some reason.
I thought about Liz sharing with us the night before. She had felt the need to call Mrs. Reba and make sure she was taking cover in the storm. Liz knew others were calling her too. She had spoken with her just moments before the tornado struck. Liz had cared for Mrs. Reba in last few moments of her life. It is comforting to know that in her final moments, she heard voices of those who loved her. The thought of God prompting Liz and others to call her that night kept echoing in the background. How many times have I been prompted to do something but didn’t? What was God trying to teach me through this?
No one saw Mrs. Reba’s destiny coming. I don’t think it ever occurred to Liz that she would be one of the last voices Mrs. Reba would hear on earth. Even after the storm, when she couldn’t get Mrs. Reba back on the phone, Liz’s mind was thinking that the phone lines were down and that’s why she couldn’t get through.
At some point on Saturday, my thoughts went to 1998 and I recounted numerous things I had thought about sharing with others, but never did publicly. I’ve shared details of my life and things I’ve learned one-on-one in conversation with others, but it wasn’t until I gave my personal testimony to my Sunday School class in the Fall of 2010 did I realize that I had so much to share that might help others. I again thought about blogging, but just couldn’t bring myself to publicly do that. And then I thought about Carol’s blog. She didn’t have a private blog that only friends and family could see, she had one open to the public, open enough that Jeff J had found it by googling Mrs. Reba’s name. He had shared it with us, and it had touched my heart so deeply. If I had a blog and I shared things that God prompted me to share, someone that I would not otherwise be able to reach might see a post one day and it might be just what they needed to hear.
After all, I’ve been broken in my lifetime. But I’ve also been healed. I believe that God allowed me to be broken so that I can minister to others who are broken. I also feel that God has taught me through this to treat others the same. What a wonderful thing for Liz to remember about Mrs. Reba – she treated everyone the same.
People shouldn’t hide who they are and where they’ve been. Yet I’ve done that very thing because I was fearful that others would look at me differently. I am not a super-talented person. My husband has musical talents beyond belief…I never tire of listening to him sing or play the piano. I’ve often wished I had similar talents, but I realize now that I am to honor God with the talents I have, not with talents I don’t have. I praise Him that my talents are not the same as others. I am uniquely and specially made by God. No one can have the same impact I am designed to have, as no one can have the same impact YOU are designed to have. Use what you have for God. Listen to his promptings and follow Him.
I am the type that believes things happen for a reason. The fabric of our lives and the experiences that take place are too interwoven for much to happen by chance, as some believe. I believe that God has used many details from this storm (Mrs. Reba’s death, a mailing label caught up in the wind – something identifiable and able to be traced to its owner, a friend googling for information, and a blogger unknown to any of us) to bring me to finally starting a blog. I pray it brings peace to Mrs. Reba’s family to know that her life impacted others even in her passing.