28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a]have been called according to his purpose,” Romans 8:28
April 27, 2011 was a typical Wednesday afternoon in Tuscaloosa, AL. The clouds had been a bit overcast, and there was a certain humidity in the air that was a little unusual. But hindsight aside, I had no idea that this day would alter not only my life, but thousands of others as well.
I was a sophomore at the University of Alabama, and it was the week before finals. I had pulled an all nighter studying the previous evening and was exhausted, with more studying ahead.
My mom sent me a few texts about the weather during the day; apparently tornado warnings were in effect all over the state, but as any young, naïve college student such as myself might have told you before April 27th, tornado warnings in Alabama are as common as pop quizzes.
As the newly selected News Editor of the student newspaper, I planned to head to campus to edit the day’s stories. But, when I called my assistant editor around 2 p.m., I distinctly remember him saying, “Amanda, do not drive over here right now. We are all about to die! ”
I figured he was exaggerating, but the wind had picked up a little and I could hear it through my bedroom window in my second story apartment. As I sat down on the bed to finish sending some emails, I heard a tornado siren. My roommate came in and asked me to go downstairs with her to wait out the storm. I remember becoming a little frightened at this point, and this was the first time I uttered a quick prayer, “Lord please keep us safe,” I silently thought while trying to devise a plan to finish all of the work that loomed ahead after the storm passed.
I quickly grabbed some sandals, a jacket and my cell phone. When we got downstairs, our neighbors were watching the local weather. I saw a huge funnel cloud on the screen that was clearly picking up speed as the meteorologist described the storm’s path across Tuscaloosa. My heart began to beat faster. All of a sudden the power went out, and the TV went black. Simultaneously I saw a huge bolt of lightning through the glass doors to their balcony.
I texted my boyfriend and told him I was really scared, as I hustled to get inside the closet with the others. There were about 9 people in total, squeezed into the narrow space. We huddled together on the floor sinking as low to the floor as possible. I was fervently typing text messages, but nothing would send due to lack of service. I was still trying to text, and then I heard the roar of a tornado. It was as if everything happened at once.
My body became paralyzed with fear. I could no longer read or type. I hunkered down in the closet and prayed for dear life. I could hear my roommate whimpering beside me, as the air pressure intensified, and glass shattered. It was as if all of the air was being sucked out of the closet. My ears popped from the pressure. I thought the tornado was going to suck all of us up into it at any moment. I knew I was going to die. And then just as suddenly, it was over. We slowly ventured outside and found broken tree limbs scattered about. One girl found a chair inside her car. All around us, trees were down. Pieces of siding and roofing had come off of some of the buildings. But, that wasn’t the worst of it.
A few brave souls ventured out onto 15th Street, which was a main area of town populated with restaurants and businesses. They came back almost immediately. “It’s all gone,” they were saying, incredulously. “Everything across the street is completely flattened.”
As I walked to the edge of the complex, I saw the stop sign was almost lying down, and the apartment’s gates twisted sickeningly inward. The car dealership next door had collapsed in on itself, and across the street, the homes and trees that made up the skyline were simply gone. It was so deadly quiet. The verse, “Be still and know that I am God,” from Psalm 46:10 encompassed my spirit, and I knew at that moment that despite the total wreckage and decimation of a city, He had a plan for my life and the lives of those around me. He would again form beauty from these ashes.
I later learned there were 64 fatalities that day, six of whom were UA students like myself. One person died just 250 yards from where I lived. For a while, I struggled with why I lived when so many others perished. I have had faith since I was a young child; I was baptized at age 5, as the youngest person my pastor had ever baptized. But, I didn’t understand the purpose in this yet. But, then again, I didn’t have to. I just needed to trust God to work something even as ghastly as this for His glory. I then accepted that God has a purpose for my life, and know with 100% confidence that I am alive for a reason.
In the aftermath of that horrific day, I made a renewed commitment to share Jesus with all of those around me in my words and my actions. April 27, 2011 reaffirmed for me the brevity of a human life. Even when it seems that you have the whole world in front of you, and nothing but time ahead, everything can vanish in the blink of an eye or in the roar of an EF-4 tornado. A near death experience helps you take less for granted and realize that in that final moment of your life truly nothing else matters–not a career, not family, not friends, nothing, but your personal relationship with the Savior. As long as you have that relationship, you can release that paralyzing fear of death once and for all through the knowledge that your final destination is already mapped out. I find comfort knowing that even though I don’t know the number of my days, God does, and He has a purpose for each and every one! Keep your eyes on the prize, and you will find Him there, beside you, every single time, when chaos reigns, when tragedy strikes and when nothing else matters but the cross.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD. “plans to prosper you and not to harm you. Plans to give you a hope and a future.” — Jeremiah 29:11
**Note The tornado photo credits are not my own. I pulled them from a news site several years ago, and I cannot remember which one currently. The story ran all over The Associated Press for over a week and in local news for much, much longer. Our student team of Crimson White reporters won awards for diligent reporting in the aftermath of this tragedy, and I was proud to be part of the team writing some of the stories that we were never supposed to have to cover and were by far our hardest, most emotional to ever write.