Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Isaac's Storm

This weekend we are going to visit my son and daughter-in-law in Conroe, Texas.  We have planned a day trip to Galveston, Texas.  I'm looking forward to visiting Galveston again.  The last time I was there was in December 2008.  At that time Galveston was recovering from Hurricane Ike.  There was still lots of damage visible.  Galveston has had it's share of hurricanes.  The hurricane that hit Galveston in 1900 was so destructive that it is known simply as the Great Storm.

Several years ago I read the book "Isaac's Storm", that told about the Great Storm of 1900 by telling the story of Isaac Cline. Isaac was the chief meteorologist at the Galveston, Texas office of the US Weather Bureau from 1889-1901. Some friends of mine from church, Dave and Fay Wiebe, heard me refer to the "Great Storm" of 1900 in a sermon. They brought me a hand typed account by a relative of theirs who survived the storm. The account was dictated and signed by Carrie M. Hughes, and copied by Irby B. Hughes August 9,1957 in Palestine, Texas.

The story tells tells of how 19 people took refuge in the house. As the water rose, they went to the uppermost room in the house. This is what Carrie Hughes wrote about what happened next. "The tremendous wall of broken houses and debris had struck our house, like a battering ram and crushed the underpart, letting the upper part into the water. As it settled down I felt the ceiling touching the back of my head with the water just under my chin. Instantly the roof of the house seemed to blow over from the south throwing little Mattie and me into a corner of it. The next thing I knew I felt ourselves slipping out. I clutched at the ceiling or walls but could catch hold of nothing. As we slipped into the water my hand was grabbed by Eliza Williams, a colored woman whom I knew well. She drew me partly onto the raft upon which she and her daughter Hattie Banks were floating."

Five members of this family made it through the ordeal and 2 did not. As I read the story, waves of emotion swept over me. I have read many survivor stories before, but this one seemed different, as it was a remembrance recorded so that family members would know what happened that night. Because of my friendship with the Wiebe's it seemed real, like I knew the person telling the story.

This is the way that Carrie finished telling her story. "How gladly would we have lost every dollar we possessed could we have kept dear Mattie and Stuart with us, but we do not morn them as one without hope, knowing we shall meet them again. It is such a comforting thought that they were Christians. We do not know where their beloved remains are resting. It may be in one of the numberless unknown graves that dot the whole face of beloved Galveston. It may be they are resting in the depths of the bay or gulf, or their ashes may have mixed with the earth from which they sprung. Whatever may have become of them we know they are safe in the arms of Jesus."

More than 6,000 men, women and children lost their lives during the Great Storm.   It was the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States.  It is hard to imagine what the people of Galveston went through.  Reading the story of her family as written by Carrie Hughes gave me an idea of the terror that people experienced.

I highly recommend the book, "Isaac's Storm", by Erik Larson.  The author uses Cline's own telegrams, letters, and reports, the testimony of scores of survivors, and our latest understanding of the science of hurricanes, to tell the story of one man's heroic struggle and fatal miscalculation in the face of a storm of unimaginable magnitude.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013


On May 20, 2013 a devastating tornado ripped through Moore, Oklahoma. Authorities say 24 people, including eight children, perished in the twister.  The storm hit on the second consecutive day of tornadoes in Oklahoma, packing peak winds of 200 mph.  The tornado spent 40 minutes traveling 17 miles on the ground and devastated an estimated 30 square miles that included neighborhoods and two elementary schools.  Emergency workers have pulled more than 100 survivors from the debris of homes, schools and a hospital.

Below you can see the path the tornado took.

In these aerial photos you can see the Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, Okla., before and after it was hit by the massive tornado. Seven second- and third-graders from this school were among the 24 killed in the tornado.

A friend is in Moore, Oklahoma right now giving out meals to the victims and also the volunteers.  Here are a few photos that she has taken.

The devastating tornado of May 20, as bad as it was, is not the worst tornado to hit Moore.  On May 3, 1999 Moore was hit with an extremely powerful F5 tornado in which the highest wind speeds ever measured, 302 miles per hour, were recorded by a Doppler on Wheels radar. Throughout its one hour and 25 minute existence, the tornado covered 38 miles, destroying thousands of homes, killing 41 people and leaving $1 billion in losses behind.

Tornadoes cause tremendous amounts of damage.  I know this all too well because on April 9, 2009 a tornado hit my town of Mena, Arkansas.  Fortunately for us neither our home or our business were damaged, but over 600 homes were damaged when a F3 Tornado, with 136-165 mph winds, hit Mena devastating a 25 block area. 100 homes were totally destroyed and over 600 damaged.  3 people lost their lives in the storm.  Here are some photos that I took two days after the tornado.



















Here is what I wrote about the tornado two weeks after the storm.

It has been over two weeks since my town of Mena was severely damaged by an F3/F4 tornado. I have not been to the damaged side of town for two weeks. Because I install auto glass I have been busier than I have ever been in my life. I am trying to get as many vehicles usable for people as I possibly can. The destruction of homes, cars and property is beyond my ability to describe. I have been getting up at 5:30 A.M. to go to work, and working until after 10:00 P.M. I come home, take a shower and crawl into bed and the next thing I know the alarm is going off.

I have never been so thankful for a Sabbath day as I was this week. God knew what he was doing when he created the Sabbath day and told men to rest from their labors on the Sabbath. Today has been wonderfully refreshing for me physically and spiritually. I had the first good nights sleep I have had in a while, and was so blessed by our Sabbath School class and Pastor Dan's sermon.

Mena Tornado 2009 47

This afternoon we drove into the damaged part of town and took some photos. The sights were very depressing as I thought of how many people in my small town have been affected by this disaster. Officials estimate that over 600 homes have been damaged. As I surveyed the damage today I feel that the estimates are probably low. With the amount of homes damaged I'm sure that 2,000 people or more were affected by the storm. The population of Mena is between 5 and 6 thousand, so nearly half of the population are dealing with the aftermath of the storm.

Mena Tornado 2009 44

This photo really brought to my thoughts what people are having to deal with. Many of the damaged homes are still being occupied because the people have no place to go. As I was taking photos from the street this little girl was walking into her house. Earlier we had seen a young girl standing in the doorway of her damaged home looking out into the street with a forlorn look on her face. You can multiply her feelings by a thousand.

Mena Tornado 2009 35

What is amazing in a disaster like this one is the extraordinary amount of work it is to clean up. These pictures were taken 16 days after the tornado, and there have been so many people working so hard with the clean up, and it still looks like this. Our tour of the town today left us feeling depressed and overwhelmed.

Mena Tornado 2009 54

As we drove through town we passed the Salvation Army location. The Salvation Army does so much for the people of this town, but their building was damaged and is unusable. Even though their building isn't usable, they have been helping here in town along with so many other churches and agencies. The volunteers come from many different churches and organizations. The help and support have been utterly amazing. I came across this thank you note written on a house that says it all.

Mena Tornado 2009 33

My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by the Oklahoma tornadoes this year.

The ABC Wednesday Meme is a fun way to see some great blogs.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


911 Memorial

Memorial Day is a day for remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. I have been fortunate enough to not have any close family members who died in the service of their country.  But as I think about how wartime affected some family members who served and how sad their lives ended, I have come to realize what they sacrificed to serve their country.

One of my ancestors who served his country is my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels.

According to a document that I found, James Vowels was a soldier in the Army of the Revolution.  James was born in Virginia in 1738. He enlisted in 1776 under Captain George Slaughter of the 8th Virginia Regiment.  He fought in the Battles of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, Germantown on October 4, 1777 and several others.  He wintered with his regiment at Valley Forge and served out the time of his enlistment faithfully.

When his enlistment was up, he came home to Virginia and married Anne Fields in April 1781.  After the wedding he again joined the Army and was at the siege of Yorktown.  After the surrender of Cornwallis on October 19 1781, he returned home to Culpepper County Virginia where he lived until his death on April 17, 1815.

My great great great great grandfather was a part of some of the most important events in American history.  He experienced the hardships of Valley Forge.  He was part of the Army that forced the English General Cornwallis to surrender and end the war.  He helped America gain its independence.  He was a true patriot.  I’m proud to be a descendant of James Vowels.

Even though James Vowels didn't give his life for his country, he served valiantly and did more than he was asked to do.  After the hardships he had gone through, I find it amazing that he left his new bride and re-enlisted in the army.  He was a man who definitely believed in what he was fighting for.

A local hero that we remember on Memorial Day is Herbert A. Littleton.

Littleton was a United States Marine who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for falling on a grenade during the Korean War.

He was born on July 1, 1930, in Mena, Arkansas. He enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve on July 29, 1948, for a one-year term. After the outbreak of the Korean War, Littleton reenlisted in the Marine Corps. He went to Korea with the 3rd Replacement Draft, fighting in South and Central Korean operations from December 17, 1950 until his death.

Littleton earned the nation's highest award for valor on April 22, 1951, at Chungehon. At the time he was serving as a Radio Operator with the First Marine Division. Littleton was standing watch when a large well-concealed enemy force launched a night attack from nearby positions against his company. PFC Littleton quickly alerted the forward observation team and immediately moved into position to assist in calling down artillery fire on the enemy force. When an enemy hand grenade was thrown into his vantage point shortly after the arrival of the remainder of the team, he threw himself on the grenade, absorbing its full impact with his own body. By his prompt action he saved the other members of his team from serious injury or death and enabled them to repulse the enemy attack. For his valor in the face of certain death Herbert A. Littleton was awarded the Medal of Honor.

At the Polk County Courthouse here in Mena, Arkansas there is a Polk County War Memorial that honors the fallen.  The names of the Polk County citizens who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country are engraved on it.

Here are the names as they are engraved on the Memorial.

On this Memorial Day I will remember the men and women, such as Herbert A. Littleton and all the rest of those whose names are engraved on the Polk County War Memorial, who died while serving their country and I will also remember my great great great great grandfather, James Vowels, and the multitude of other men and women who have sacrificed so much serving their county.  Thank You to our men and women who served, are serving, and sacrificed their lives.

Vicksburg 911 Memorial

Friday, May 24, 2013

What Matters

What matters most to you? Seems like an easy question. To some of us it is whether our favorite sports team does well. That the political candidate we favor will win. That our children do well in school and make us proud, and are happy. Whether God is pleased with us. Whether we have left our mark, however small or subtle, upon the human race.

As a Christian, I know that for me what matters most is “God”, or at least it should be. But “God” is such a big subject, that surely there is a way to be more concise.

One day an expert in time management was speaking to a group of students. He used an illustration those students will never forget. As he stood in front of them he said, “Okay, time for a quiz.” He picked up a one gallon, wide mouth Mason jar and set it on the table in front of him. Then he took some fist-sized rocks and placed them one by one in the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and he could fit in no more rocks he asked, “Is this jar full?” Everyone in the class said “yes.” He said, “Really?”

He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in, shook the jar, causing the pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he asked them once more, “Is this jar full?” By this time, the class was on to him. “Probably not.” one of the students said.

He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in the jar and it went into all the spaces that were left between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked the question, “Is this jar full?” “No.” the class shouted and he said, “Good.”

Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was full to the brim. Then the expert in time management looked at the class and asked, “What’s the point of this illustration?” One bright young student raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is if you try really hard you can always fit more things in to it.”

“No.” said the speaker. “That is not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is this:  If you don’t put the big rocks in first you will never get them in at all.”

What are the big rocks in your life? Your children, your religion, your loved ones, your education, your dreams, a worthy cause, teaching or mentoring others, doing things that you love, your health, your spouse?

Remember to put these big rocks in first or you will never get them in at all. If you sweat the little stuff, the gravel, the sand, you will fill your life with little worries that don’t really matter. You will never have the real quality time that you need to spend on the big stuff.

What is the biggest rock of all? What matters most? In Matthew 22:36-38 we read, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

What matters most in life is love. The Apostle John tells us in 1 John 4:16 “We have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

Love should be your top priority, primary objective, and greatest ambition. Love is not just something good in your life; it’s the most important part. Love should be what matters most.

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 14:1 To let love be your highest goal. It’s not enough to say “One of the things I want in life is to be loving” as if it’s in your top ten list. Loving relationships must have priority in your life above everything else. Let love be your highest goal. Why? Because life without love is really worthless.

Paul makes this point in Corinthians 13:2,3 “I may have the gift of prophecy. I may understand all the secret things of God and have all knowledge, and I may have faith so great I can move mountains. But even with all these things, if I do not have love, then I am nothing. I may give away everything I have to the poor, and I may even give my body as an offering to be burned. But if I didn't love others, I would be of no value whatsoever.”

Mother Teresa said, “It’s not what you do, but how much love you put into it that matters.”

Barbara Bush said, “What matters most is how you treat others and not what you have done”.

It is not enough just to say that love is important, we must prove it by investing time in our relationships with God and people.