“We were at my daughter’s graduation…” Todd Baker fidgeted with the work gloves on his hands and rubbed the back of his neck. The sunglasses guarded his eyes but I could still see them retreating into memory… a memory he wished he could forget.
My team had been in Joplin over an hour before we were able to actually start working. It had taken quite a bit of time to get organized with Grace Baptist Church, find a way past the National Guard into the disaster area, pick through the littered and traffic filled streets, and find a house to work at in clearing away debris where the owner was actually present to give us permission. Fred’s house was the first we were able to work at and the Baker family had come over from across the street to help. After several hours of work we took a break to eat something and to hear Todd’s story from that night.
As I stood now listening to Todd reopen the book that held that story I had an urge to stop him. To close it up again. To tell him not to relive it… but at the same time I knew this was a necessary step to processing shock. So I stood there, motionless, apple core in hand, unable to ease the grief of anyone in this family standing before me. I stood there and listened.
Todd wandered through his tale, beginning as his daughter’s graduation ended with tornado sirens going off. “They didn’t have any real protocol for exit in a situation like that,” he said, describing the relative panic that ensued. He and his mother-in-law had been seated in the disabled section of the auditorium and were able to get out quickly. As he neared their home Todd got a call from his brother telling him to get inside immediately. It was here.
As soon as he pulled into his drive, Todd had to rush his mother-in-law into her wheelchair and get her to the house. Seconds later the tornado tore through his neighborhood. He called his wife who had finally gotten out of the auditorium and was several minutes behind him headed to their home with their other daughters in tow. “My daughter was actually driving,” he said turning to his second oldest standing next to him. She gave a small smile but I could see the fear behind her eyes. She remembered that night very well. Todd told them to turn around and find shelter. “They turned around but everyone was just sitting at the light by Walmart.” Todd went on to say that his wife instructed their daughter to pull into the other lane and get into the Walmart parking lot. Pulling the car into the fire lane and and running into Walmart, they beat the tornado by mere seconds. Parts of the Walmart roof ripped off in the area where they had congregated all the people. Todd’s daughters stood by his side looking at the ground. I could not imagine what was going through there minds. How could you ever get over that? How do you stop picturing the roof ripping off of Walmart… of people getting sucked out of the store? How do you sleep after that?
“I heard that over thirty graduating seniors died that night,” Todd said, looking down. “If anything had happened to my wife and girls…” he choked back a sob. We all stood in silence; I thanked God for the safety of my own family… that another tornado that had swept up a town only 25 miles from my parents’ home last night hadn’t had a change in course. Our team later saw what was left of Walmart. It was beyond recognition; completely destroyed. The Baker home was left unharmed for the most part and the whole family was spared of injury. Through it all Todd Baker praised God for His sovereignty and protection. In a time when people choose to pick out the wrath of God or stamp Him with injustice, a family sees His sovereignty. I will never forget that testimony. I will never forget that response and how very much God delights in a heart that recognizes that His ways are unsearchable. There are some things we will just never understand but He asks us to trust regardless. We have a good Father in heaven and He is always in control.
Written by Sarah McCormick