One month ago, the Nashville area experienced a night of tornadoes, including an F-3 tornado that ripped through the city of Nashville. The tornadoes affected many of us at LifeWay, including Tanner and Ty who work on the Student Life team. One month later, we wanted to give them an opportunity to share what God taught them through the experience. We’re praying for those in Jonesboro, Arkansas, as well, as they recover from a similar storm.
Tanner: On March 3, a tornado left a path of destruction in Nashville, Tennessee. Within that path was my house. Around 12:35am, a Tornado Warning alert on my iPhone woke me (Tanner) up and I quickly jumped out of bed searching a weather Twitter account to see how close it was. Then I heard the unmistakable noise heading straight for me.
I threw on clothes as I ran to my roommate’s door, and before I could bang on it a second time I felt our house begin to rip apart, so I jumped into the bathroom. As I stood with my arms over my head, body tense with adrenaline and fear, I felt dust and pieces of our house fall around me. The sound was so deafening everything was silent. Helpless and powerless, all I could utter was, “God keep me safe.” After about ten seconds, it was over. Our house was gone.
Less than a minute and a half earlier I was sound asleep, and now our world had flipped upside down. By God’s grace, both my roommate and I were completely uninjured despite the walls and roof being ripped off of our house.
Ty: “If I move, I’m dead.”
Never have I had such clarity in the midst of chaos. I can’t explain it; I just reacted. I am blessed and grateful to have survived this event despite being in my house when it passed over.
I awoke to what I perceived to be machine gun fire racking my windows. As I opened my eyes, I saw my exterior wall buckle in and out. This is when I froze in my bed, unable to do anything other than cover my head with my sheets and pillow.
The next thing I knew, it was raining in my bedroom and my roof and walls were gone. Tanner was attempting to break down my door, but debris blocked it from opening. We worked together to pry it open and checked that both of us were okay. Praise God, no injuries.
The next moments were a blur of phone calls, texts, neighbors checking in, and sifting through pieces of our house trying to put together a bag of “things I absolutely have to have.”
Tanner: The following morning confirmed that we lost most of what we owned, though we were able to salvage much more than we anticipated. I still had my life and that was all I cared about. Praise God for His kindness and protection over me, my roommate Ty, and so many others.
In the weeks since, life has been a whirlwind. And lessons have abounded. In a world full of uncertainty, fear, and brokenness, I hope some truths I have learned can bring others comfort, encouragement, and a reminder of who we have in Jesus.
1. We Need Others
In the first week, the greatest challenge for me (Tanner) was simply accepting help from others. Literally countless people reached out genuinely asking if I needed anything or how they could help. My pride flared in a constant battle of not wanting to admit that I needed anything. After all, it’s pretty humbling to confess you don’t own any underwear when someone offers to buy immediate needs.
My whole life I heard Paul instruct us in Galatians 6:2 to “carry one another’s burdens,” but in order for others to bear a burden with me, I have to realize I can’t do it alone. The weight of everything going on should have been heavy. With so many people jumping in to carry it with me, it has felt incredibly light. We can’t walk through life alone; we need community.
Ty: The beauty in this tragedy has been that now I can stand as a witness to proclaim how great is our God. Not only because He rescued me, literally, and saved my life. But also because of how He has shown His love and grace through others: community and the church—palpable examples of how God can care for you through others.
The morning after the tornado I was digging through my home with eight members of my local church. Supervisors from my company drove me back to the site. They set aside time and canceled meetings to help cut down trees and dig through my home.
I have been blown away by the sacrificial love those in my life have given to me through this time. Whether it was a kind word, a room to stay, or funds to help rebuild, the evidence God is showing me that He has me in His hands and that I truly am a child of God is overwhelming.
I believed in community. I understood that we were built for community and built to experience life in relationship (with God and with others). But I had never truly understood what that could look like until this moment.
God took care of me even in the midst of the storm. He provided people to take care of me, friends to make me laugh, family to come alongside and give me a home when I no longer had one. God showed me what true biblical community felt like.
I have experienced community deeply since this time. Experienced deep relationships with those around me. God has shown me that I am loved, cared for, that my presence matters to others. These were all truths I struggled to believe pre- and, even now in the midst of all this, post-tornado. Yet all this evidence, which God didn’t have to give me, is staggering.
I am loved. I am cared for. I am in a community who wants to help me and be with me. It’s almost too much. Every wall I had built up in my heart, of shame, of guilt, of fear, of hurt, of isolation, God ripped down that night. In their place stands community and the church. Ever strong and ready to hold the weight as I move forward and heal from this experience.
2. Trials Are Necessary
Tanner: When the dust settled and I could take a breath, I asked myself, “why can’t I seem to catch a break?” Last year was the hardest season I’ve walked through, and life keeps punching me in the mouth. From my parents getting a divorce, to a breakup, to a stretching season at work, to small and normal disappointments of daily life, and then a tornado destroying most of what I own, it has been a season full of difficult moments.
But God continues to reinforce a lesson through all of it: be careful what holds your heart. Through various trials, God has reminded me not to place my hope in this world over and over again. Each time something I’ve held too tightly gets taken from me, I find Jesus to be enough.
Continually, He has proven Himself to be good and faithful. It’s one thing to conceptually know Jesus to be enough, and it’s an entirely different thing for that truth to sink deep into your soul. I would have said Jesus was my ultimate treasure (Matthew 13:44) and that I considered all else as loss in comparison to Christ (Philippians 3:7-8). However, without these painful trials there would be parts of my heart I still withheld from Jesus, even if unknowingly.
I’m not saying I desire another hardship, but I am saying my love for Jesus has increased through each one. And that is for my ultimate good.
3. Trust The Character of God
Ty: Church the Sunday after was the most powerful worship I (Ty) have ever been a part of. It wasn’t necessarily that the congregation was in sync that day; I’ve seen that and it’s breath-taking. It wasn’t even that the worship team drafted the best lineup ever seen (although our team is rather talented).
It was that I was ready to worship. I was in a posture to lift up praise to the One who saved me and who had blessed me all week time and time again. It felt like my own personal worship service. (For those of you who don’t know, I always sit on the front row, so that made it feel like no one else was there).
I didn’t even know how eager my heart was to sing out praise. I’ll attribute the tears to the rather timely context of the week. We sang “No Longer Slaves,” which has the line, “you rescued me so I can stand and sing: I am a child of God.”
I couldn’t hold it together anymore. This was our second or third song of the set and I broke into tears there in my seat. Then we sang two songs which had lyrics about walls breaking down. Ha! Even in that comedic irony, I saw the Lord’s hand.
Tanner: Though gratitude has been the pervading feeling, it didn’t prevent questions of why from popping into my mind. Trying to figure out the unknown mysteries of God and His infinite ways could drive me crazy with my limited understanding. Or I could trust in what I know, or rather, who I know.
When we face the question of why in life, we hold on to the trustworthy who of Jesus.
We know Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forevermore. He’s unchanging, constant, immovable, and unshakable. He is good, faithful, and true. The Lord cares for us and He is with us (Joshua 1:9; Matthew 28:20). Our Father’s steadfast love never ceases (Lamentations 3:22) and Jesus died so we would never be separated from His love (Rom. 8:39). There is nothing that can take us from His hand (John 10:28); not a tornado, or cancer, or the loss of a loved one, or COVID-19, nor anything else to come.
Tanner Brack is an Event Director for Student Life Camp. He grew up in Mount Pleasant, Texas and graduated from Dallas Baptist University with a Biblical Studies degree. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee.