Can Good Come from Bad in Joplin?

I am tired this morning, and can make no sense of the words that whistle across my wife’s lips. Something about wind gone mad in the heartland. Cars stacked like dominoes. Homes gone through a blender. She looks down at me, where I am lying in bed and states the facts again. One-hundred and sixteen dead in Joplin, Mo. A city cut clean in two by a half-mile finger of death.

“We should call my parents,” she adds.

Yes. And every friend we’ve known for half our lives in southwest Missouri.

I swing my feet onto the carpet. The pain in my right shoulder clears the brain-haze. I am 10 days out of rotator cuff surgery and have my own ailments to think about. But Joplin banishes those childish thoughts quickly.

It’s a funny thing, pain. We rarely see it coming. Even as I type these words, my 51-year- old body reminds me of this fact. 

“Thought you’d still be dunking a basketball past mid-life, did you? Think again, old man.”

I am a legacy of pain. Touch yourself somewhere. Go ahead, touch any part of your body ... I have broken that. 

Eight screws in my right hip from a head-on highway collision when I was 22—on a first date, no less. The girl was impressed. No feeling in my left side. Blood clot in my leg.  One in my lung, too. Three hernia repairs. Pectoralis major ripped right off the bone. And now this rotator thing.

Moan. Moan. Moan.

Me. Me. Me.

But Joplin. ... Well, now I don’t have much to complain about, do I?

To be honest, I am lending secondhand testimony to firsthand despair. It was the worst tornado this country has seen since 1952, and I wasn’t even in the same state when it struck. I am comfortable here in my Denver office as I type, clinging to memories of my home in Missouri—all steam-ferry and paddlewheel, huckleberry and boot heel—while the subjects of this article sift through their lives in the rain.

Here is the question: Can good come out of bad? Can it be dug out of the rubble, like a favorite ragdoll gone missing in the storm? Some think so. And I am one of them. Christians have always believed this. Not just because it sounds good, but because it is good. This is why rescue teams keep searching in the tangled mess for anything of value that might be buried. 

I suppose the best of treasures usually come buried, don’t they? I don’t mean this as a platitude. I really mean it. 

The diamond inside the lump of coal. 

The chunk of gold behind a wall of stone. 

The crude oil deep down underground.

James, the half-brother of Jesus, once said: “Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you might be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” 

There’s the treasure. Endurance. Perfection. Completion. Lacking no good thing.

Somewhere in Joplin, there is a treasure beneath all the pain. Some father will discover a photograph of his son under a mountain of lumber, the son he has been estranged from since the kid was in high school. He will drop his pride and make things right with his boy. Some mom will come across a broken picture frame with her wedding vows fluttering from it. She’ll remember the words she said at the altar so many years ago and recommit herself to them. All over town, there’ll be signs of new life springing up from the chaos. 

Harmony where there was discord.

Closeness where there was distance.

Blessing where there was curse.

Good from bad.

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How do I know this?

Ask the girl who was with me on that “first date” I mentioned. It took me three months to talk her into that date, and she broke 16 bones because she made the mistake of saying yes. But maybe it wasn’t a mistake. Maybe the pain was worth it all.

Thirty years later, she’s my wife. Our sons are in medical school and seminary. Our nest is empty. Tonight, when I get home from work, we will take our usual walk with one another—I on her left side, so I can feel her hand. She with a slight limp. We will laugh. We will talk about the next restaurant we’re eager to explore. We will plan a June hike in the mountains.

And we will pray that no treasure goes unturned in Joplin.

Will Cunningham lives in Denver, CO, with his wife, Cindy. Together they have two grown sons. Will spent 12 years as a professional marriage and family counselor, directed Christian athletic camps for Kanakuk Kamps for another 14 years and is currently the Dean of Students at Valor Christian High School. He is the author of five books, three of which are novels. His most current book is How To Win A Family Fight.

8 Comments

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Andrew commented…

There is hope in Joplin, and more optimism than you would ever expect. The whole community has banded together, there is no way you can mistake God's presence in that place.

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Sarah R. commented…

Good can also come when the church gets off their lazy behinds and actually acts like the church- donates, drives there, listens, loves, works, prays..... We as the church can say more than just "I'm sorry." We have a hope to offer!

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Davidp commented…

Being physically broken is a terrible thing but pales in comparison to missing out on the treasure that is Christ. What William writes is truth. The treasure buried in Joplin is Christ. The treasure is not the assurance that others will help rebuild; the treasure is not comfort thinking "God has us all in his hands;" the treasure is not hope that the city will be built back stronger (because cities will always perish); the treasure is Christ and that Christ calls our affection towards Himself thus making our joy complete (not lacking in anything, as it were).

I failmiserablyin this regard in that I have a fickle eagerness to be stricken so that my affections for Christ increase--but it is withoutequivocationthe mostvaluableprize one can find.

Missing limbs and dying children are heart-aching; they remind us of total human depravity but they offer hope because we have Christ, and He is better.

Go, pray, help those stricken so that Christ may be glorified, but those who go in Christ's name need to know why they're going--not to help rebuild lives and cities but to make Christ famous and serve asinstrumentsdirecting fame and affection towards Christ.

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Davidp commented…

It's a slippery slope. My generation idolizes social justice and restoring the world (be the hands and feet of Jesus) at the expense of actually doing the world a favor. Yes, donate, serve, pray, empathize, but do not forget to actually share the real hope that is Christ.

Rebuilding cities, homes, and consoling families are worthless without the explicit intention of turning affections towards Christ. With affections turned towards Christ all pain dissolves and our joy is made complete in Him.

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Abiandcm commented…

Hi Will, a friend shared this blog with me...and I read it with great interest. The Thursday after the storm, I began the FB page, "Joplin's Found Photos", which has turned into a massive mission of hope. The photos are what people want back and I had no idea when I created the site what it would turn into. I definitely recognize your name, but I did not realize you were in your 50s...my entire family has spent about 35 summers at kamp, and I thought you were nearer to my brother, Josh Putnam's, age (he is 41).

Anyway, I just wanted to mention how much people are holding on to things such as one family photo being returned to them. It means the world. I have been humbled and honored to be able to return these items to them. Warmly, Abi Putnam Almandinger

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