Pastor's COnference, 1972, ch. 15-16

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Chapter 15

The atmosphere in the sanctuary could not have been any more intense Sunday morning as a modest congregation of just over 80 people took their seats in the pews. Carol Stanley was still alive, though on life support at a Tulsa hospital. The early prognosis was that she was going to live. The handful of sleeping pills she had taken might have been enough to kill her had her kids not ran to get their grandmother when the woman collapsed. There was little question as to why she had taken the pills. The entire town was aware of the gossip, the threats, and the deacons’ meeting on Saturday morning. They, collectively, had almost killed one of their own and the guilt was evident on almost every face that walked through the church door.

Storms had moved strongly into the region late Saturday morning and stayed. Even as church members gathered for the morning service there was still a tornado watch in effect for the county and heavy, ominous clouds lingered overhead. Many took this as a sign that God was angry with them. Glynn didn’t believe in such divine theatrics but he had no doubt that if God was more like the mythical Zeus of ancient mythology there would be lightning bolts hurled their direction. Standing in the vestibule before the service, he looked up at the rolling storm clouds and questioned his own beliefs.

Throughout the song service, heavy rain pelted the roof with such force as to nearly drown out the hymns being sung. Only the upper register of the small Hammond organ could be heard. Glynn could see the pianist’s hands moving, but couldn’t hear the sound. If this continued, he would have to yell his entire sermon.

Glynn hadn’t returned from the hospital in Tulsa until after 10:00 Saturday night and he had stayed up until nearly 3:00 AM re-writing his sermon for this morning. He had chosen his words carefully, trying to tamp down his own anger. Anger was not what the congregation needed from him right now. Seeing the look on their faces as they arrived at the church Sunday morning confirmed they already were consumed with guilt. What they needed was repentance. He wondered if they would.

The rain began to ebb while the offering was being taken and by the time the choir had finished their song, the noise was soft enough that Glynn could be heard without having to yell. He stood in the pulpit and looked out at his congregation. Few would look up at him. A couple of women were already crying. He wondered for a moment if he could get away with going straight to the invitation, not saying a word. Certainly, that seemed possible but it wouldn’t be the right thing for him to do.

“This morning is difficult, isn’t it?” Glynn began, his voice calm but strong, like a parent just starting to scold a child. “Too many of us sit here knowing that our words and our actions contributed to a tragedy that has three children wondering if their Mom will ever come home again. Too many of us sit here trying to excuse what we’ve done in an effort to relieve the guilt that is eating us up inside. Too many of us are just now, at this moment, in this sanctuary, beginning to realize that when the Bible says, ‘The wages of sin is death,’ that it’s not a metaphor for a spiritual condition but consequences for doing something we knew was wrong when we did it.”

The pastor paused and let his words take hold. He could hear sobbing over the rain. When he was sure they were ready, he continued. “Sins like ours are pervasive. We witness that this past week when yet again, a gunman attempted to kill a presidential candidate while he was campaigning. I’m sure I’m not the only one who watched those news reports and wondered if Governor Wallace’s fate would be the same as Bobby Kennedy’s was four years ago. We get scared. We get angry. We get jealous. And we let our emotions take over based not on fact but our perception of fact and too often someone gets hurt without ever having done anything wrong.”

Glynn stopped again. Every head in the congregation was bowed, looking at their lap, or a Bible, or a hymnal, just like a child ashamed of what they had done. Glynn knew he would have to be careful with how heavy he came on next. “Perhaps this is part of our native condition, a plague of humanity that we cannot control our tongues and what comes out of our mouths results in actions and consequences we didn’t expect. In Genesis chapter 37, Jacob had sent Joseph out to find his brothers. When he eventually finds them, what happens is too typical of the reactions we have to people around us. Read with me starting in verse 18.

18 They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild beast has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; cast him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand upon him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand, to restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and cast him into a pit. The pit was empty, there was no water in it.

25 Then they sat down to eat, and looking up they saw a caravan of Ish′maelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we slay our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ish′maelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers heeded him. 28 Then Mid′ianite traders passed by; and they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ish′maelites for twenty shekels of silver; and they took Joseph to Egypt.

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he rent his clothes 30 and returned to his brothers, and said, “The lad is gone; and I, where shall I go?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, and killed a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood; 32 and they sent the long robe with sleeves and brought it to their father, and said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 And he recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe; a wild beast has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob rent his garments, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. 36 Meanwhile the Mid′ianites had sold him in Egypt to Pot′i-phar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.

Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

“We know how this story ends. Years pass. Joseph’s dreams of dominance come true and when his brothers are eventually confronted with what they have done, they fear for their own lives. He tells them, “What you meant for evil, God used for good,” and the story seems to have a happy ending. At least, that’s the way we tell it to our children in Sunday School.”

“Look back through the lens of a judgmental history, we know what happened next. Jacob, now called Israel, and all his sons moved into Egypt and their numbers became so large that Ramses enslaved them all to keep them from taking over. The existence of what would become an entire nation was momentarily at risk because of the actions of 10 men jealous of and angry at their brother. Thousands of people died. Many more suffered. Generations would pass before Moses would come to finally extract them from the mess started over a meaningless argument.

“I fear that we fail to see the severity of our actions even now. We misinterpret God’s compassion in saving a life as forgiveness. If Joseph forgives his brothers for selling him into slavery, then God is going to be compassionate to us as well. The problem with that way of thinking is that it ignores God’s wrath, the part where yes, he forgives, and yes, he is compassionate, but the consequences are still allowed to play out not only in the lives of Joseph’s brothers, but their children, their children’s children, and for generations beyond.

“We can look at this week’s shooting and say God was compassionate in sparing the life of Governor Wallace, but what of the consequences? Governor Wallace is paralyzed. His political career is over. The entire presidential election has been thrown off balance and the fate of our country has been altered. 

“We look at yesterday’s tragic event and I hadn’t left the hospital before I heard someone say God was compassionate in sparing a life. But what of the consequences? We don’t know yet, doctors cannot tell us the extent of the damage to Carol’s life. We don’t know yet if she’ll be able to continue caring for her children on her own. We don’t know yet if she’ll be able to resume her job at the accounting office. We don’t even know if she’ll be able to speak. God can intervene and spare a life but who bears the responsibility for the consequences?

“This morning, as the heavens inundate us with tears, God stands ready to forgive but we must realize that forgiveness is not enough. We, as a congregation, must take responsibility for the consequences, whatever those might eventually be.”

By the time Glynn finished, even children were crying. At the first note of the Invitation hymn, the aisles were full. They filled the steps around the platform and the front pews, praying, desperately asking God for forgiveness. Glynn gently counseled those who requested it but before long there was no one left standing save Richard, who was quietly singing solo. The pastor nodded to end the music and for several minutes the sounds of rain and crying mixed together in a chorus of remorse. 

When the service finally ended, the deacons met briefly with Glynn and agreed to cancel the evening service so the pastor could return to the hospital in Tulsa. Glynn drove through the rain in silence wondering whether his congregation had actually changed or, as often happened with a child, was merely sorry they’d been so obviously caught.

Carol’s condition hadn’t changed since Saturday. The medically-induced coma she was in helped prevent ongoing seizures but doctors warned that the longer the condition persisted the less likely it was she’d be able to resume a normal lifestyle. Glynn spent the time talking and praying with Edith all the while increasingly concerned that his prayers were doing little more than creating a false hope that everything was going to be okay. He tried convincing himself that hope was what Edith needed right now but he worried what might happen when the hope fell through. God’s will rarely ran contrary to natural consequences. He drove back home late that night still questioning whether he had said the right thing and what the eventual fallout might be.

The pastor felt that he’d barely had time for a quick nap and shower before rushing to Arvel to visit with Emmit before the Pastors’ Conference started. The Director of Missions recommended not mentioning specific details of Carol’s situation with the group, especially the part about her potential involvement with the sex scandal at Grace Church. 

“There are still too many of these hardliners who are willing to throw out the baby with the bathwater at Grace,” Emmit warned. “Several members of the church have contacted us or Oklahoma City about the church disbanding, liquidating the property and honestly, I’m not so sure but what that might ultimately be the best thing for everyone. Its reputation within the community is irrecoverable. But we can’t do that without having some means of relocating their membership and Clement’s church has been the only one willing to even consider taking them. Some of the guys from Oklahoma City are coming down this week to talk with Clement and some of the other Washataug pastors. Perhaps you should be in on that conversation as well.”

Glynn shrugged. “I’m not sure any others will want to make that drive from Washataug to Adelbert. Carol grew up in Adelbert so it made sense for her to move back, given the circumstances, and we see how that went.”

“Your experience is exactly why you should be involved in the conversation, though,” Emmit said. “The others are working off supposition and hypothetical concepts. Clement’s had a couple of their members join but they were quiet people who weren’t involved in the scandal. I’d hate to see your experience repeated, or something worse.”

“If you think I can help, then sure, I’ll come,” Glynn said, “but I’m not sure we’re done with the matter. I’m not sure if it would be worse for the church if Carol were to die or be a vegetable requiring care for the rest of her life.”

“I’m not sure I follow,” Emmit admitted.

“I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. If she passes, which at the moment feels like the more merciful resolution, I worry that the church will too soon forget that it happened and their part in causing it to happen. If she comes out of the coma but needs constant care, there’s an opportunity for ministry and a reminder of what happened but I’m not sure Carol or Edith are going to want to see the people who were saying such mean things about them.” Glynn paused and wiped his eyes in an attempt to stay awake. He was feeling exhausted both physically and emotionally.

“Understandable concerns,” Emmit said, “I’ll talk with the guys in the Baptist Building and see what they think. I can give you a call tomorrow morning if that’s okay?”

Glynn was about to answer when a commotion suddenly arose behind them. Larry Winston was on his tiptoes, trying to get in the face of Bill Moody, who was considerably taller. “And I’m telling you, on no uncertain terms, that using any version of the Bible other than the King James Version is apostacy!” he was yelling and waving his Bible. “This is the only accurate translation of Jesus’ words, directly from the Greek.”

Bill, another of the seminary-educated pastors in the association, tried keeping his voice calm rather than matching Larry’s unwarranted volume. “Jesus didn’t speak Greek, though. He spoke a dialect of Aramaic particular to Galilee. The book you’re holding is a third-generation translation of the Latin Vulgate translation of third- and fourth-century copies that had been altered for political purposes.”

Bill’s assertion did not sit well with many of the pastors for whom the King James Version of the Bible was the only one they had ever known. Larry was quick to fire back.”That’s the biggest bucket of liberal hooey I have ever heard. You college-educated boys think you’re so smart but the Bible says right there that the word of God is unchangeable, not one jot or tittle.”

Clement entered the room and walked over to stand next to Emmit and Glynn, who was watching the commotion with concern.

“Matthew 5:18, I’m familiar with the passage,” Bill said. “But do you even understand what a jot or tittle is?” He waited as Larry stammered for a moment and then continued, “They’re the equivalent of punctuation built into the calligraphy of the Arabic languages, including Greek. Jesus was commenting on the veracity of the Mosaic Law, though, and not bad translations.”

Larry’s face turned red with rage. “Bad translations? This King James Bible is every bit as authoritative as the original scrolls themselves. You go look! Compare this Bible to the original scrolls and it’s going to be the same word for word!”

Bill looked at Emmit and Clement for support. “One of you guys want to break the bad news to him?”

Glynn took a careful step back as Emmit and Clement looked at each other. Both knew that facts aside, nothing they could say would convince Larry that he was wrong.

Larry looked at the Director of Missions. “What bad news?” he asked.

Emmit took a deep breath before replying, “There are no original scrolls. They’ve all been lost. The whole purpose of the Scribes of Jesus’ day was to make copies of the copies of the copies they had of those lost manuscripts. The best and most reliable copies we have of New Testament documents are 300-400 years removed from their origin. They wrote on a thin material that eroded easily so copies had to be made by the dozens to insure than any of it actually survived. A side-by-side comparison isn’t possible.”

The expression on Larry’s face was one of complete frustration but Emmit wasn’t going to give him a chance to continue. “Gentlemen, the subject of Biblical translation is interesting but that’s not why we’re here. Why don’t we all have a seat and we’ll begin our meeting?”

Glynn, Clement, and Bill took seats along with Carl Roberts on the far side of the table which inevitably meant they would have a chance to listen to the other pastors and either abbreviate or extend their own reports based on the mood of the morning. Many of the pastors seemed to be tense and argumentative. By the time it was Carl’s turn to speak, his report was simply, “We had church, people responded, no one was struck by lightning so I assume God’s not too upset with us.” Glynn, Bill, and Clement followed with equally short reports, Glynn completely omitting the troubling events that had made Sunday intense.

Emmit then handed out teaching assignments for Junior Camp, which was now only two weeks away. Half the full-time pastors were assigned to teach during Junior Camp, the remainder teaching during regular camp. Since most of the churches in the Association were having Vacation Bible School the next week, with camps and the convention’s annual meeting after that, Pastors’ Conference was unanimously postponed until the second Monday in July. 

Chapter 16

Everything in Adelbert and the surrounding counties revolved around the agricultural calendar and Vacation Bible School (VBS) was no exception. Wheat harvests typically began in early May but wet ground conditions had delayed that by a couple of weeks, meaning that combines were running full-time the week school let out. Several vegetable crops started harvests in June and by July alfalfa and hay baling became important followed closely by corn and other late-summer crops. As a result, many men in the church, including four of the five deacons, were often occupied in their fields from before sunrise until sunset and even afterward for the entirety of summer. The only breaks came on days when the weather was too dangerous for anyone to be out in the field with few exceptions.

Preparations for VBS had started back in February. Themed materials had been purchased from the Baptist Sunday School Board and the women committed to teaching had been “trained” in the use of those materials as though there was any chance they might actually follow the suggestions made in the teacher’s guides. Craft activities, which were the highlight of each day, had been carefully planned and materials obtained. 

Those who were not needed to either teach or help corral children were marshaled for cookie duty, without which no VBS would have ever survived. Store-bought cookies were simply not acceptable. Each year ultimately resulted in an unspoken and unrewarded contest for whose cookies could create the most buzz, especially among the fifth- and sixth-graders who considered themselves cookie connoisseurs. 

While the blatant and unapologetic proselytization of children might have been the stated purpose of VBS, in reality, it was the town’s day camp. Being the largest church in town meant taking on the responsibility of keeping everyone’s children busy while parents were occupied in the fields. Normally, VBS ran for two weeks but the school had run late this year thanks to the need to tack on days missed because of snow and ice. As a result, there was only room for one week of VBS before Junior Camp. A handful of the busiest parents complained about the shortened schedule but most of the teachers were grateful. 

The week before meant women were at the church as early as Glynn would let them in, setting up their room, cutting out teaching aids, and doing their best to get everything just right. Stories and activities were discussed in detail. Rooms were arranged and re-arranged with every detail over-considered. Glynn split his time between answering random theological questions (did Jesus have to eat as much as a normal person and why weren’t there girl disciples?), and helping hang Bible-related decorations on walls that were too high for shorter teachers to reach.

Glynn found that he rather enjoyed not being the only one in the church building all day. The buzz of activity was exciting, the teachers were enthusiastic, and since Marve was, of necessity, one of the teachers, Lita and Hayden were in the building, making frequent visits to their daddy’s office. Glynn was always happy to see them even when it meant cleaning up from sticky hands after they left.

Tuesday and Thursday afternoon had been set aside for Glynn, Marcus, and a couple of skinny high school boys who had yet to find summer employment to drive down to Camp Univeral to begin cleaning the church’s cabin. While the Saturday before Junior Camp, which this year was the Saturday at the end of VBS, was officially designated as cleaning day, Glynn had been warned that the old barracks-styled building would need to be opened and aired out since having sat empty the past eleven months. Bug poison would need to be sprayed to keep down the insect population and the area around the building needed to be mowed before half the church descended on the building the next week. 

Glynn had never experienced anything quite like the church campgrounds. He had heard of church camp, of course, but he had never gone as a child and the small churches he had pastored previously had never participated in such programs. He was excited to get his first glimpse of the place so many church members had fond memories of attending.

The pastor was impressed at the setup. At the front of the campground was an open-air “tabernacle,” essentially a pole barn with no walls and a stage at one end. The tabernacle could hold approximately 500 people in folding chairs that had been donated by the various churches of the two Associations that sponsored the camp. Scattered out about 50 yards around the tabernacle were a dozen or so “classrooms,” slabs of concrete covered with corrugated tin roofs, each one just large enough to accommodate 40-50 teenagers. Just a few yards out from the classrooms were a couple of softball fields, volleyball nets, and a small swimming pool that was diligently policed to not only make sure boys and girls weren’t in the pool at the same time but that one gender didn’t hang around ogling the other. An old and seldom-used church building sat off to one side in case the weather became inhospitable.

The tabernacle area sat on top of a hill with individual church cabins lined along three dirt roads downhill from the cabins. First Baptist Washataug had the largest, with First Baptist Levi, in Colquitt Association coming in a close second. Other cabins of various sizes were lined down each of the roads and at the front of the middle road sat the cabin belonging to First Baptist Adelbert. 

The cabin was certainly not as large as some of the others—it didn’t need to be. The front door led into an industrial-styled dining and kitchen area with dormitories and shower facilities on either side. The dormitories were populated with old WWII-surplus metal bunks with thin military-surplus mattresses that smelled of mold and mildew. The concrete floor was cracked in several places but not severely enough to be worrisome. A back door leading out of each dormitory met fire safety qualifications and Marcus was quick to inform Glynn that he would need to take the bunk closest to the back door to prevent any of the young men from sneaking out at night.

Glynn was surprised to find that the campground had its own water system. The resident groundskeeper, a former pastor himself, had already made the rounds to make sure everyone’s water was turned on and that there weren’t any leaks. Marcus unlocked the cabin and the boys raised the hinged plywood boards covering screened windows. Air conditioning had been deemed impractical for something so seldom used. Instead, an attic fan positioned over the dining area was turned on at night to pull in cooler air. 

There was plenty of work to be done. The boys started mowing the area around the cabin while Glynn and Marcus checked all the plumbing and the propane-fueled cooking facilities. There were plenty of repairs to be made as squirrels and raccoons had gnawed through electrical wires and the copper tubing in the women’s shower needed to be replaced. Marcus had anticipated both and brought plenty of supplies with them. 

Glynn was exhausted by the time he returned from the camp both evenings, but there were still sermons to prepare and visits to be made. Those were both things he could not and would not neglect no matter how busy his schedule might be. Marve offered to postpone their Thursday date but Glynn was insistent and they slipped out to a steakhouse in Arvel where they both ordered the chicken-fried steak, an inexpensive Oklahoma tradition complete with mashed potatoes and green beans all smothered in peppered gravy. 

By the time the women left the church building late Friday morning, everything was as set up as it could be. Final preparations couldn’t be made until after Sunday School but those would be minor room arrangements that would only take a few minutes. Glynn was impressed by all the work that had been done and the efficiency with which the women had done it. There was plenty of buzz around town and the whole church was looking forward to the next week.

There were only two older church members in the hospital, both in Arvel, so Glynn paid both a quick visit after enjoying lunch with Marve and the kids. The skies were beginning to grow gray again, as happened this time of year, but it was a calm gray that seemed to contain little wind and any rain probably wouldn’t last long enough to upset any farming schedules. At least that’s what the forecasts all said.

Neither of the hospitalized church members was in critical condition so Glynn took his time, checked for other Adelbert residents, and lingered briefly around the hospital to make sure he hadn’t missed anyone. He was on his way home around 3:30 in the afternoon, listening to the radio as the band America sang something about a Horse WIth No Name when a gust of wind rocked the car unexpectedly. 

Glynn instinctively turned down the radio and started looking out the car windows at the skies around him. Everything to his south was still a soft gray. Northwest of him, however, the clouds were dark and rolling, an obvious squall line with heavy rain behind it. Glynn kicked up his speed a bit, hoping to make it home before the heaviest rain hit. It was only about seven more miles and the speed limit on the narrow two-lane highway was 65 miles per hour. He wasn’t terribly worried.

A second gust of wind shook the car as the effectively-annoying National Weather Service alert sounded on the radio. Mishawaka, Ridell, and several other counties were under a tornado watch and imminent storm warning. Glynn watched as the squall line seemed to be heading toward him as fast as he was trying to get to Adelbert. The closer he got to town, the more the wind picked up. Small twigs with spring leaves still attached were blowing against the passenger side of the car as dust swirled in the middle of the road picking up any random paper or light trash along the way.

Glynn felt his ears pop as he got out of the car, a signal that the barometric pressure was falling fast. He ran into the house to face his panic-stricken family. With only four rooms to the house, there was no reasonably safe place to take shelter. They had just decided to huddle low against the inside wall of the house when the back door suddenly opened. 

“You’re not safe here,” a voice yelled at them. “Grab some things and come get in my storm cellar.”

Glynn rubbed the dust from his eyes to see Tom Hiddleman, the elementary school principal, standing in the doorway. Tom and his family were among those church members who rarely made time to attend on Sunday. They also lived right around the corner, less than 50 yards away if one cut through all the backyards, which is what they did. Marve grabbed Hayden and Glynn carried Lita as they followed Tom to the damp, musty-smelling concrete bunker buried in his back yard. When everyone had made their way safely down the steep stairs, Tom shut the heavy steel door.

The underground space was small, roughly 8’x10’, with a narrow bed along one wall, a rough wooden bench along the other, and a dusty wood shelf containing jars of home-canned vegetables in the back. A single bare lightbulb hanging loosely from the ceiling lit the space but two coal-oil lamps had already been lit in anticipation of the electricity going out. The air down here was cool, which normally would have been a welcome relief but at the moment felt too chilled to be comfortable. 

Glynn sat Lita on the bed next to Tom’s 16-year-old daughter, Claire, who had conveniently served as their babysitter the night before. Hayden refused to leave Marve’s lap, though, as she sat on the bench next to Linda, Tom’s wife, who was a second-grade teacher. Glynn stood next to Tom at the bottom of the stairs, not sure exactly how they were supposed to react.

“I saw the storm approaching as I drove be from Arvel,” Glynn said, attempting to make conversation. “I’m surprised it hasn’t started raining yet.”

“By the time it starts raining it’s too late,” Tom said, his voice sounding very much like a principal taking control of his students. “There’ll likely be a brief downpour of rain, what you saw coming at us from the highway, and then everything will get quiet for about three minutes. The pressure will bottom out and your ears may pop. Then, either we’ll hear more rain or one of the most frightening sounds in all of nature.”

Glynn glanced over at Marve as she rocked back and forth trying to comfort Hayden. They had experienced a lot of rain the past two months and several storms had come along with it, but none had felt this ominous. When Marve looked up at her husband her expression was one of fear, something Glynn rarely saw from his wife. 

Just as Tom predicted, a torrent of rain and hail started suddenly pounding against the steel door. Then, after a short two minutes, it stopped abruptly. Glynn put his hands to his ears as the pressure dropped again and Hayden began to cry. The pastor was praying for the rain to return when the light bulb began to sway and the ground around the shelter began to shake. A sound like a dozen locomotives thundered above them. The power went out leaving only the lamps for illumination. Then, after another three long minutes, just as suddenly as it had started, everything stopped. A heavy but more gentle rain could be heard outside. Tom opened the cellar door to let the pressure balance out. Glynn followed him up the stairs to see if anything had survived. 

They had been spared the worst of the storm’s wrath. A large tree limb laid in the middle of the street in front of Tom’s house. Similarly, the ball field across the street from Glynn’s house was littered with debris from several different trees. None of the nearby houses seemed to have suffered any severe damage, though, nor had the tall grain elevator just on the east side of the railroad tracks. 

Marve gathered the kids and with grateful thanks to Tom and Linda took them home. Despite having come unlatched and blown open, the screen on the back door was still intact. The power was out, which could eventually be a problem for the refrigerated food, but no windows were broken. Nothing inside the house had been disturbed. 

Hayden slid from his mother’s arms and ran to his room to secure the stuffed bunny he hadn’t had a chance to save beforehand. Lita sat down at the kitchen table and asked, “Why does God send storms?”

Marve sat in the chair closest to her daughter, took the child’s hand in hers, and said, “God doesn’t send storms, baby. He doesn’t use nature to target people, or towns, or anyone else. God created an environment that uses tornadoes and hurricanes to sort of ‘clean up,’ tear down the old to make room for new things to grow, clear out the air and make it fresh, Sometimes, we humans get in the way, the things we make and build are in the path of the storm and get torn down. That doesn’t mean God’s mad at anyone or doesn’t like someone. He designed nature to take care of itself and that’s what it’s doing.”

Lita thought about her mother’s explanation for a couple of seconds and then asked, “But sometimes people die, don’t they? That’s what they said in school. Standing outside in a tornado can kill you.”

Marve tried her best to give Lita a reassuring smile and squeezed the girl’s hands gently. “Yes, baby, sometimes people die. People die for a lot of reasons, though. People die when they’re supposed to die, not too early, not too late, but exactly when God plans. If someone dies because they didn’t take shelter, maybe that’s God’s way of reminding us to take shelter.”

“And not live in mobile homes,” Lita added.

“Yes, don’t live in mobile homes in Oklahoma,” Marve laughed.

Outside, Glynn and Tom were walking the streets looking for any signs of severe damage. They walked over to the school first and Tom was especially pleased to see that the only damage appeared to be tangled swings on the playground. They walked down the street to the church building next and Glynn was similarly pleased to see no evidence of any damage. Excepting for several down tree limbs, the north side of town had been spared.

Hub and a couple of other men joined them as they walked toward Main Street. Tar paper and shingles littering the road hinted at the likelihood of roof damage, but even here, there was no immediately visible damage. All the buildings were still standing and the most severe concern seemed to be whether the bank’s security system was still active given the lack of power anywhere in town. The bank’s president, who had driven down in his old work truck, assured them that independent battery backups would keep everything safe until the power was back on.

The men were standing around chatting, expressing surprise at the lack of destruction, when the walkie talkie on Hub’s belt squawked. “Hub, Sheriff just called. You better get back here. Looks like Bluebird was wiped out. Bring the preacher with you. Both the church and the store are gone.”

Glynn’s stomach immediately tightened as he thought of Jerry and wondered if he and his wife were safe. A couple of men in pickups gave Hub and Glynn rides to the funeral home. Rose was waiting. “Go to the old store first,” she said, “That seems to be where most of the damage is, but the Sheriff says he’s calling in additional help. There are multiple injuries at least. Apparently the sirens out there didn’t work.” She paused and turned to Glynn, “Since the phones are out, Wynona next door has gone over to your house to tell Marve what’s going on. She’ll likely stay there until you get back. You know Wynona, she loves to talk.”

“Thank you,” Glynn responded, grateful that Rose was so efficient.

The two men closed the ambulance doors and sped toward Bluebird, leading a parade of men in pickup trucks ready to help however they could. The seven-mile trip was made all the more difficult as it became clear that the tornado had set down a couple of miles east of Adelbert, ripping apart fields, taking out powerlines, uprooting trees, and digging a trench across the dirt roads. As far as anyone could see, there was nothing more than three-feet tall left standing.

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