You know those 'after the disaster' photos we see on the internet after some catastrophic event? They hit you a little harder when they're photos of your hometown. Streets you take to church. Houses you pass every day. Stores you shop at.
Saturday, December 11th, a tornado hit my hometown in the middle of the night. The latest numbers of our city include 16 dead, over 500 homes destroyed, and close to 100 businesses lost.
Last week, we were warned for days that severe weather was coming Friday night. When the temperature is 30 one day and 60 the next, it's par for the course in Kentucky.
By bedtime Friday night the wind had picked up. I scrolled Facebook, hungry for information about where the storms were. I got Addy from her bed and brought her in with me so I could easily protect her just in case. I thought about the 'Hattie Loves to Be Held' post I've read, written by a dad whose daughter died in the Tennessee tornadoes last spring, and held Addy just a little bit tighter.
By 11:30, I felt assured that any danger was north of us and continuing to move north. Exhausted by worry, I went to sleep.
An hour and a half later, at exactly 1:00 am, the sirens started.
My phone started screaming that there was a tornado warning in Warren county. The COWS siren outside began shrieking. My phone rang, with my mom calling to make sure we were moving to safety.
I grabbed Addy, but Austen wasn't in bed with us. Already shaking with fear, I woke up Jersey. I dragged the three of us into our laundry room. Austen soon joined, woken from where he'd fallen asleep on the couch upstairs. At first, Addy slept on me, where we curled up against the dryer. Austen went to grab her crib mattress, and we laid on that, but so many changes woke her up, and she spent the next hour running around the laundry room.
The siren went off again. Austen discussed where we should position if the tornado hit our house. I anxiously scrolled my Facebook feed for updates about the tornado. Texted friends to make sure they hadn't been hit. Turned on the flashlight when the power cut off. Watched the live news stream until it dropped when our local news station lost power.
We waited. Waited some more. The tornado warning was until 2:15, so I was keeping us sheltered until 2:15.
And when the warning had ended, we went back to bed. Sleep didn't come, of course. I kept looking for updates on any more tornadoes. More friends checked in to make sure no one had been hurt. Addy, wired from the fun on the mattress, was ready to play. For hours, she and I rolled around in bed and waited for sleep to come while Austen snored beside us. Finally, around 4 am, we both fell asleep.
When we woke up, there was still no electricity. There was, however, one very tired and cranky toddler who didn't understand why the house was dark and we couldn't open the fridge.
The next few hours are a weary blur, trying to entertain Addy, watching social media for updates. Then, shock, as pictures of the damage started rolling in. Eventually, I buckled Addy in her carseat and started driving, desperate for her to sleep and my phone to charge.
Eventually, she slept. The power came back on. Our home was spared from tornado damage.
Many, many others were not so lucky.
That Saturday, people started showing up for our community. It hasn't stopped since. For four days, people in our city have organized cleanup campaigns and donation drives and GoFundMes and t-shirt fundraisers. Restaurants have donated tens of thousands of dollars in gift cards, high school sports teams banded together to clean up homes and roads. Search and rescue has had to turn people away because they have more volunteers than they can use. Two donation sites were completely filled with items.
That's not to mention the tireless work from first responders who have searched for the missing and helped direct work in damaged areas. And there's the brave linemen, who have restored power to over 20,000 people so far.
In a time of need, our community has shown up in unbelievable, unforgettable ways.
The support also include dozens of churches offering support. Relief aid coming from states away. Three blood drives because they had to turn people away at the first one. Almost $140,00 donated in two days to provide direct relief to families within our county school.
We can't forget the teachers and FAMILY RESOURCE COORDINATORS. I don't know when they sleep. Everyone in our school systems is incredible, and we already knew that. In these last few days, they have been THE advocates for families and students.
You could literally fill a book with stories of how people have shown up in the aftermath of the tornadoes. They've shared time, money, belongings, home, words of encouragement. It doesn't erase the pain that families are facing. It doesn't replace the family photos or Christmas gifts or feelings of safety.
BUT. It does offer hope. These stories are a beacon of light in a dark moment of our town's history. All because people have decided to show up for one another.
The same day the tornado hit, I got sick. Sore throat, headache, crying because my body ached. Addy had passed a bug to me and it hit hard. It was awful, but it could have been so much worse. In my own time of need, people SHOWED UP.
My parents took Addy so I could sleep without her crawling all over me.
My friends offered to bring food and medicine.
My husband made me dinner and brought me every single request.
I made it through a long night, grateful for my people. They were willing to show up in my time of need.
It doesn't need to take a natural disaster to show up for one another. It just takes the recognition of a need. Do the thing. Send the card. Say the prayer. Be the light of Jesus day in and day out. I promise you, just by showing up, you can change the world.
How can you show up for someone today?