Lessons Learned One Year After the Joplin Tornado

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the EF5 tornado that hit my hometown of Joplin, Missouri. It was the deadliest tornado since modern record-keeping began over five decades ago. It claimed 161 lives, destroyed 7,000 homes, 18,000 cars, and will cost over $2 billion in insurance claims and cleanup. It will be a time to mourn the loss we have experienced as a community, but there is also much to celebrate. Whenever something bad happens to me, I am always able to reflect back on that event and realize that it was a blessing in more than one way. No matter the situation, if you look hard enough there is a lesson somewhere in there than can make you better. Here is some of what I learned from the Joplin tornado.

  • You have to be prepared for life. Whether it is a storm that is coming or something that goes wrong in your business, just be ready. That could mean anything from having flashlights and water on hand to making sure there is enough cash in the bank to make it through a turbulent time. It is not about being ready IF something happens but more about being ready WHEN something happens. There will be bumps in the road, so plan accordingly.
  • Firm up your foundation. It is crystal clear to me that faith, family, and friends are what made the biggest difference in Joplin. I have never in my life seen such acts of heroism, kindness, generosity, and faith. I am fortunate because I understand what people are capable of now. When it really matters you need a strong support group surrounding you. Trying to do life alone or not asking for help when you need it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. You have incredible people in your life for a reason, so lean on them when it makes sense. On the flip side of that, you have to make sure that you are there for those that need you. What we say or how we position ourselves means very little; it is what we do that defines us.
  • Completely destroying something so that you have to rebuild it isn’t all bad. You should see some of the new buildings going up around Joplin. The new high school they’re planning will be state-of-the-art, St. John’s (Mercy) hospital is going to be bigger and better than what it was, and even my church is getting a new balcony so that we can welcome an additional 200 people on Sundays. If you were to tear down some aspect of your business or personal life and start from scratch, how would you do it differently? Could you do it better and if so, what kind of impact would that have?

    Artist's rendering of the future Mercy hospital
  • Focus on what matters. My wife was in charge of contacting people in our church right after the tornado to see if they were okay and to find out what kind of help they needed. Many times the answer was, “We lost everything, but we are okay, help someone else that needs it.” It took us awhile to figure that one out, meaning here are all of these people that lost everything they owned and they are saying they don’t need
    Artist's rendering of Saint Paul's

    help. It’s because for most of them it was all just stuff. My friend Barrett Satterlee told me his story about being in his basement during the tornado knowing that his son was in a car with the boy’s great uncle trying to get home before the tornado hit. The storm passes and Barrett comes out of his basement to see his house completely gone, as well as every house on his block. In that moment, he realized that it would be very hard for someone to have survived the storm in a car. He got on his bicycle and took off in search of the car carrying his son knowing the general vicinity of where they were. The car was destroyed and there were some minor injuries, but his son was alive. Everybody in the car was alive. Barrett could care less about his home and everything in it because his perspective changed in a big way. Don’t let it take a tornado or a bad diagnosis to get you to a place where you have that perspective in your own life. When it comes right down to it, people matter. Those quality relationships are the key to it all so don’t let that reality slip past you.

Take time today to celebrate what you have, give some thought to tearing down and rebuilding something that can make a difference, and prepare yourself for the incredible journey that lies ahead. In the words of my good friend and pastor Aaron Brown, today in Joplin, LIFE WINS.

Read my post written the week the tornado hit here: The Unforgettable Sunday.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not represent the thinking of the company I work for, or anyone else with whom I am affiliated. Except my wife of course, who is good at telling me what not to say.

One thought on “Lessons Learned One Year After the Joplin Tornado

  1. Amazing when life happens how our perspective shifts and nothing looks the same. And a year later? My hope is that all of your friends and neighbors can access that ability to shift perspective…it’s crucial.

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