In the early hours of Tuesday morning, I woke up to sirens blaring in my neighborhood. I was disoriented and unsure of what was happening. I looked at my phone and saw an alert about a tornado. I ran down the hall to grab James, my two-year-old son. He screamed when I yanked him out of his crib and headed downstairs. Somewhere behind me, my husband flipped on the TV to find out what was going on. 

James and I huddled up in the bathroom as I pulled up videos on my phone to help calm him down. At that moment, I heard the fear and nervousness in the voices of the weather reporters as they say “the tornado is hitting Channel 5 right now.”

I trembled in the realization that the tornado was only a couple of miles from our house and could be on top of us in a matter of minutes. I yelled for Garth who was upstairs trying to carry our 80 pound dog down the stairs. 

I held on tight to James and pulled up some videos of our happiest moments together. I remember thinking that if these moments were our last, I wanted to focus on these happy memories. 

I don’t know if I had ever been so afraid. I had no control. All I could do was hug my son and pray. 

Moments later my husband gave us the all clear as he saw the tornado was heading east instead of south. 

We breathed a sigh of relief. We dodged a bullet as the storm never touched us.

Devastating Tornadoes Swept Through Nashville

But, that wasn’t the case for many people in Nashville and throughout middle Tennessee.

Within two miles of our house, entire neighborhoods are demolished. Many people’s homes and businesses were completely destroyed. Some even lost loved ones. 

At last count, 25 people, including several young children, lost their lives to the storms. 

It’s utterly and completely heartbreaking. There aren’t words to describe the heaviness and devastation of it all. You would be hard pressed to find someone in Nashville who wasn’t directly impacted by the storm or know someone who was.

My Closest Call with a Tornado

I grew up in central Missouri, so I have a healthy fear of tornadoes.

I can’t tell you how many times we filed into my school’s basement due to tornado warnings. As a kid, I even remember mowing the yard when the sky started turning green and I turned around to see my dad running toward our house with a funnel in the horizon behind him. Before I could fully process what I was seeing, I saw the tornado go back up in the clouds.

There was even the time in college where we were awoken to similar alarms and spent much of the night in our dorm’s basement as a tornado hit just a mile from campus.

I’ve had many close calls with tornadoes. 

But this was the worst. It was the first time there was a real threat of a tornado since my son was born. Holding him in my arms that night, I realized just how little I could do to protect him. 

Tuesday’s tornadoes were a huge reminder of just how fragile and precious life is––how it can be snuffed out in an instant with little warning. 

Nashville’s Resilience After Tragedy

Last week’s storms brings back memories of 10 years ago when historic floods ravaged much of the city. I’ll never forget walking a few blocks from my office downtown to see first avenue completely under water. I’ll never forget the images of Nashville’s historic landmarks ruined. Or, the countless homes and neighborhoods that were swallowed by the water.

But, I also remember the resiliency, hope and the spirit here. I spent one day volunteering in one neighborhood where homes were destroyed. And while there, I remember seeing trailers and cars pulling up with people from all over the country to help out. I was in awe of how much people in our city and around the country wanted to help.

The same is happening this time too. In the wake of such devastation, there is beauty too. There are stories of volunteers from near and far showing up to help pick up the pieces of broken homes and broken lives.

In some cases, I’m hearing there are almost too many volunteers. Organizations are overwhelmed by the willingness of people to jump in and help out.

I have to admit, this past week has been hard for me. Normally, I am one of the helpers. I want to roll up my sleeves and assist where I can.

However, I have spent the past several days at home taking care of my sick child. It’s been gut-wrenching to see my city in shambles, but not having the ability to pitch in and help out like I normally would. 

Responding to Trauma and Suffering

In the daylight hours following the storm, I remember feeling completely heartbroken and paralyzed by the heaviness of it all. All I could do was check on my friends who were in the path of the storm. I shared with our Facebook group that I didn’t feel brave, I felt overwhelmed and helpless.

I loved what several community members shared in response. 

So often we want to jump into fast response, but sometimes, we need to slow down and give ourselves permission to process and grieve.

As Reese Spykerman so eloquently said in the group:

“Whatever IS, I accept.

“That I don’t feel brave? I accept that.

“That I feel helpless? I accept that, too.

“I give myself permission for self care, even in the midst of others’ suffering. Because it helps me later then be strong and brave.”

It was really freeing for me to hear that it’s okay to take care of myself and my family instead of rushing in to be the helper. 

Whenever you fly on an airplane, the steward or stewardess instructs you that in the event of an emergency, you should put the oxygen mask on yourself first before assisting anyone else.

I think that is a good analogy for how to handle times of stress. You can’t help anyone else if you don’t have the oxygen you need to function.

I’m working on getting my oxygen back and hope to roll up my sleeves to volunteer soon. Recovery can take a long time and the people of Nashville will still need help in the weeks and months ahead.

How to Help Nashville Tornado Recovery

While I’ve not been able to physically volunteer yet, one thing I can do is use my voice. That’s why today’s episode is focused on the events that happened last week. I wanted to shine a light on the devastation that happened here and encourage you – wherever you are – to help out if you can.

One of the biggest needs for people affected by the storm is financial support. There are dozens of organizations raising money to support relief efforts. But, there are also hundreds of people who are now homeless. There are stories of people who are living out of a hotel until they can find somewhere to live. 

There are people whose landlords are not rebuilding their homes and now, they have nowhere to go. There are entire apartment buildings that are condemned. There are homeowners who have lost everything. There are people who are now jobless as the business where they worked was completely destroyed.

Organizations to Support for Nashville Tornado Recovery

Here are just some of the places where you can donate to support tornado recovery in the Nashville area:

Organizations handling relief efforts:

Image credit: Alexey Smirnov

My church, East End United Methodist, was hit directly by the tornado and suffered massive damage. The church is raising money for both the church’s rebuilding efforts and for the needs of the community. You can donate to either fund here.

You can also purchase items on this Amazon wish list for the McGruder Family Resource Center.

You can also donate to Youth Villages to support a young woman in their program for young adults who age out of the foster care system. Jasmine lives in North Nashville and is currently working to get her GED before the delivery of her son in May. Her housing was affected by the tornado and at this time she needs gift cards for food and water and new clothing. You can donate to Youth Villages here and designate “tornado relief for Jasmine” in the comments.

Individuals to Support for Nashville Tornado Recovery

Another option is to support individuals who have been impacted through the storms. You can look through all of the GoFundMe campaigns for Middle Tennessee tornado victims here.

The following GoFundMe campaigns were submitted to me by friends. All of these campaigns are for people that my friends know personally. If you want to help someone out, this is a good place to start:

If you’re looking for a way to help out, I encourage you to find a person or family to support. You never know how your $10, $20 or $30 can make a difference in their lives. If everyone pitched in a little, it can mean a family has a place to live while they look for permanent housing or that they have some income until they can find a new job.

If you are looking for a way to help, even if you don’t live in Nashville, giving financially is one of the best ways to do it.

Consider Financial Gifts Over Physical Items

I remember reading an article about other tragedies, such as the Houston floods or the Sandy Hook shooting, and how people want to send physical items – teddy bears for kids to hug or clothing for people who were displaced.

But, what happens is that the influx of these goods creates a logistical challenge––there’s nowhere to put it and not enough hands to distribute it. In fact, many of these items are not wanted or needed in the wake of a disaster and it just becomes one more challenge for relief workers to deal with. 

 The article talks about three questions that you can ask:

  • Is it wanted? Sometimes, people tend to give out of their excess. This shouldn’t be an excuse to clean your garage. Instead, it should be about giving things that are actually needed by relief workers. 
  • How will this stuff get there?
  • How will it be distributed?

Please take a moment to answer those questions before sending physical goods. 

If you’re considering donating stuff, I would encourage you instead to donate money – either to a charity or directly to the families who are in need.

In addition to your prayers, your financial support is the best way to help out the people of Nashville right now. I hope you will consider donating to one of the organizations listed above or one or more of the families needing support.

That’s the best way to help out the people of Nashville right now.

Image credit: Megan Stockett

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