Losing everything is shocking, and I don't mean that from the standpoint of making a bad bet at the casino, or making a poor life decision. I mean, when mother nature literally destroys everything you own in a matter of 90 seconds, and you go from living comfortably, to being homeless, with literally only the clothes on your back to your name.

That happened to so many families and businesses in southwest Michigan this week when tornadoes rolled through SW Michigan, and claimed dozens of homes and businesses. Effectively, it left more than 100 families displaced, and hundreds more without a job, or any kind of immediate income. It also happened to me 20 years ago this month.

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In 2004, my family's home was hit by a tornado. We lived in southern Kansas, and at the time, myself, and my parents were all at our part-time jobs. My brother was dismissed from his lifeguarding job early that night because of the incoming weather, so he was home alone.

Our house was about two miles south of the small town I graduated high school from, so not QUITE in the country, but rural to say the least.

Right around dusk, storms moved into the county, and my brother and dad stayed in constant contact while watching the radar. Unfortunately, my mother and I picked up part-time jobs at a movie theater in the city, and it didn't allow us to keep in contact, or watch a radar. But our boss was a family friend, and kept my mom in the loop as to what was happening.

Then it happened. Mom came and got me, told me we're getting our coats, and heading home, because a storm was bearing down on the house, with my brother in it. We didn't even stop to meet my dad, who let us know he was trying to call the house, but wasn't getting an answer... "but it could just mean the power was out, or the phone lines were down."

But 20 minutes later, we knew it was much worse than that.

Below is video taken by storm chasers on that day, and for some perspective, they were about three miles south of the storm. At about the 9:40 mark, where the tornado is at its largest, approximately 3/4-1 Mile Wide and crossing the highway... That's the moment we lost everything. We took a direct hit, and it took out our neighbors to the south as well, who were about 1/4-mile away.

As we made the curve out of the south of town, and looked up the hill where our house should have been, there was nothing. The Sun had set by then, and it was dark, so I had to blink a few times to truly believe what I was, or rather wasn't seeing, but a few flashes of lightning in the background confirmed, there was no house on top of the hill anymore.

In an instant, everything we had was gone, aside from our work clothes, and the two cars we took to work.

The home was obliterated. Nothing left but the concrete walls of our walk-out basement. Furniture, appliances, clothes, photos, and memories, all gone, and torn to bits, and splintered across our five acres.

Kansas Tornado 2004

We were in shock. Nothing looked recognizable aside from a few boards sticking out of the mud, and my dad's rifle, the barrel buried about 5 inches into the hard-packed shale ground we built the house on.

The only moment that night that woke us from the shocking reality was when our neighbors pulled up with my brother in the back of their pickup, still wearing his swimsuit from work, a tank top, and no shoes.

In that moment, and for at least another day, we felt kind of hopeless and in shock. Emotion was actually hard to come by, there was just... amazement that this even happened.

But once it finally settled in that this really did happen, we got to work, and with the help of our friends, our family, and our neighbors, we put some order to the mess that was left, we put a plan together, and two years later, my folks built a brand new house on the exact same basement foundation, in the exact same spot.

Now, we can't even hardly remember a time when we weren't living in THIS house... which... we also happened to have added a concrete shelter and panic room under the front porch.

Kansas Tornado 2004

So when I tell people in Portage, and other affected areas from Tuesday's storms, that I can speak from experience, and know how they feel, I really mean it. In that moment, following the storm, you can be completely overwhelmed. It's a lot to take in, and you realize how much you just lost.

But I'm here to tell you, that feeling of being overwhelmed will fade, and normalcy will be back in your life again. Once you start the cleanup, you'll find some humor and some smiles in the things you find. You'll be amazed that everyone survived, and what awesome things mother nature's fury is capable of, and it will CERTAINLY make you respect severe weather a little more.

But one day, down the line, when you're in your new home, watching the local weather stations cover storms in the area, it'll hit you that everything around you was once gone. And here you are now, surrounded by four walls and a roof again, your family safe and sound with new clothes, new appliances, and the knowledge that IF it were to happen again, those same people who came to your aid before would be right back on your property to lend a hand.

So to those affected, I literally know what you're going through. Things might seem tough now, and all the insurance paperwork, and phone calls with the banks and claims are going to be the bane of your existence for a while. But one day, the calls and paperwork will end, and you can continue on with your life again with the knowledge that, if you can survive losing everything, and come back out the other side OK, then you can survive just about anything.

Surviving something like this isn't easy, but one day, you'll feel normal again, I Promise.

I'm glad everyone is safe and sound, and I'm thankful for the community of Portage, the businesses and organizations offering aid and shelter to those displaced, and to the people who are offering to help with the cleanup. We grow stronger as a community when we come together in times of tragedy, and I'm sure this will only make Portage, and Kalamazoo stronger in the long run.

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