Introducing Melinda: Blog #3

It’s still tornado season in Oklahoma. Time for the winds to come sweeping down the plain. Tornados impacted my life, because I was raised in Wakita, Oklahoma, a small town on the northern-Oklahoma prairie, the tornado capital of the world.

The movie “Twister” was filmed there. In the film, the home of the lead character’s stalwart aunt is destroyed by a twister. In reality, that home was a boarding house where my daddy lived while courting my mother. For the film, the movie crew blew up a piece of my pre-childhood.

When you grow up in the tornado epicenter, you have weird childhood ideas about tornados.

Storms Frank Blackson via Compfight

They have an “eye,” for instance. An eye. To a four-year-old girl that means they can see you. That’s what eyes do. I remember obsessively pulling down my white spring-loaded window blinds, so they all perfectly touched my bedroom window ledges, lest a tornado peek into my room.

Because they bounced and left erratic trails, I imagined them looking somewhat like enormous upside-down tomato plants run amok. Enormous, gray-black twisting-tomato-plant clouds with viney, sproingy arms swirling in every direction.

At the top of this cyclone mass was the eye, big and white like the cyclops. If the “eye” spied you, watch out! This was why little girls had to hide from them.

Pumpkin Cyclops Richard Paterson via Compfight

In the Oklahoma of my youth when the weather threatened, the men headed outdoors. There were no tornado sirens then. Someone had to spy where the nasty beast was headed. Meanwhile, the women gathered the children to head underground. 

My daytime tornado memories largely involve women and dank spider-filled cellars, perhaps with water around the ankles. The men all stood outside keeping an eye on the twister. If it was a direct hit, they showed up underground.

The water table is high in northern Oklahoma. During my childhood, there was only one basement in town that wasn’t full of water – our church basement.

Imagine a slightly-OCD imaginative little girl who has meticulously lowered her window blinds as she was tucked into bed. There I am, sound asleep, hopefully dreaming sweet dreams. Then I am scooped up, hurried out into the black and windy night, and stuffed into a car. From the backseat I spy writhing tree branches and feel the roaring strength of the wind. I hear my parents’ or grandparents’ anxious voices, hoping we get to the church on time.

We arrive!

They grab me up, and we dash into the safety of the United Methodist Church of Wakita, Oklahoma.

Safe! At last!

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I’ve written about the lifelong, positive effect of the stained-glass window (“Sacred Love”) and the loving people who worship in this church (“Stories to Tell”). But imagine the church being a safe haven in times of storm. Literally.

This church and these people shaped my view of what the church is to be on earth:

A warm home where you are truly known and can be yourself.

A welcoming family where your antics are viewed with a forgiving eye, because you are loved unconditionally by all those gathered.

A place where Jesus longs to cradle you on his lap and soothe your fears.

A safe haven when your world is blowing away and terrors chase you in the night.

The people in that church and the structure itself were my anchor, some of the strongest tools Jesus used to draw me to himself. This is where I learned what the church should be. O believers, that we would create such a place for the tornado-ravaged wanderers seeking solace today!