The Waco Tornado remains the worst tornado in Texas history and up until the Joplin, Mo., tornado on May 23 of this year, it had been the 10th worst in the nation.
On May 11, 1953, at 4:20 p.m., my mother stood waiting for a bus in downtown Waco, Texas.
Fifteen minutes later, an F5 tornado touched down in the town to begin a 23-mile path of destruction that took 114 lives and injured 597 more. What happened in those intervening 15 minutes is the subject of this column.
Waco was my mother’s hometown. On the day the tornado hit, she’d just finished her final exams of her freshman year at Waco’s Baylor University. She’d also begun dating my father that semester.
My father came to Baylor that same year as an eighth-grade dropout to tell the Dean of Admission in a West Texas drawl, that “God called me to preeech, and I’m gonna need me an education.”
In Southern Baptist academia, my father’s “calling” easily gave him provisional admission.
My mother’s parents vehemently protested their 19-year-old daughter dating a 27-year-old veteran, but their objections were nothing compared to the twister that tore the heart out of the downtown.
It came at the end of the workday, so the biggest loss of life occurred in the commercial district where my mother waited for her bus: 61 dead in a single city block.
But, it was what happened approximately 15 minutes beforethe tornado’s touchdown that changed my destiny.
As my mother stood awaiting her bus, watching the gathering clouds and holding her skirt down in the finicky winds, my grandmother casually pulled her car alongside the bus stop. Through her open window, my grandmother called her daughter into the car.
Fifteen minutes later, now driving though blinding rain, they heard the radio bulletin announcing that a tornado had devastated the downtown area.
This story is part of the family lore I grew up hearing. My grandmother always would claim that she made the 15-mile drive from their farm on “a premonition.” My father often would tell me, “God saved your mom from that tornado.”
But I had questions for my family. Difficult ones. Had God really picked my mom out to live while allowing other would-be parents to die at that bus stop? Tough questions always have come easy for me; easy answers, not so much.
The most common two answers I hear people give are: “God wasn’t finished with you yet” or “We can never understand God’s ways.” Both answers contain a piece of the truth, but when it comes to solving why some people die and others live, we are selfish; we want the big picture.
The truth is we’ll never have the big picture, only God has that. The Apostle Paul observed that, “We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright!”
So, I choose to focus on the part of the picture I know.
For you see, one might easily conclude from reading this story that my grandmother changed my destiny that day, but I’d rather think love changed my destiny.
Because two months after the tornado hit, my parents married; it would be love, not a premonition or a twist of fate that brought me into this world. And at the end of the day, love always will remain the miracle that trumps them all.