May 22nd 2011, My Story…

Not a year passes that May 22nd doesn’t stir up all the feelings. Deep inside it still haunts me and sometimes I still find myself wondering if it is going to “break” again.

6 years ago today, we experienced something that changed us forever. I’ve blogged about the aftermath of that day a few times before, but I have never really shared about what happened in the moments before and at 5:41.

May 22nd, 2011 was a Sunday. I was 27 years old and had just quit my job to be a stay at home mom. Russ was 31, Marissa was 2 years 11 months, and our sweet Emily Elizabeth had just turned 3 months old.

The day started like any other Sunday. Church as a family, home for lunch, and me desperately trying to get caught up on laundry before the weekend was over and I was once again an outnumbered mama. I can’t recall how many loads of laundry I did that day but I know there were PILES all over the living room furniture and Russ had promised me we would get a grip on them together later that night. 

I laid Marissa down for a nap and left the house around 1:00 to attend a womens forum at church. I remember not wanting to go and being frustrated with the results of it, especially knowing how much work needed to be done at home. I finally made it back and went to put another load of laundry in the dryer, only to discover that it wasn’t working. I was so frustrated and told Russ that we HAD to have a dryer. I was ready to go to Lowes and by a new one on the spot but he talked me down. So I hopped in my car around 5:00 to take a load of wet laundry to my parents house. I threw it in their dryer and told my mom that I’d be back to get it soon…

When I came back home the weather was acting really weird. We had plans to grill chicken for dinner and not wanting to change our plans Russ put the grill under the patio and said we’d work it out. 

Then things start to get fuzzy. 

I remember being spooked about the weather so I decided to turn the news on while I sat down to nurse the baby. I remember Russ saying how weird the sky looked in shape and color. He was standing outside almost mesmerized. And I remember the guy on the television saying there was a tornado on the ground in west Joplin, the other side of town. He looked completely terrified and was frantically begging people to take shelter… and the tv went blank. 

At this point I started getting naively scared. I told Russ that maybe I should take the girls to the bathroom and get them in the tub just in case. I didn’t think to grab shoes, a diaper bag, blankets, my phone, or even my wallet. I just went to the bathroom barefoot with the girls. When I sat down in the tub I was doing it fully expecting to walk back out to our normal life within a few minutes. Russ promised he’d be on his way shortly. We hunkered in the tub, Emily in my arms and Marissa by my side, and we waited. Finally Russ made his way to the bathroom. Less than a minute after he closed the door it sounded like a car ran into our house. That’s when we realized this wasn’t like the times before.

I can’t even describe what the next few minutes were like. The noises, the emotions, the prayers for help. It seemed to go on and on forever, and it did. By the time the tornado hit the west side of the Joplin Metro it was rated and F5, the strongest tornado possible. It was one mile wide in size so you couldn’t even make out the distinct funnel, it looked more like a wall of black. Once on the ground the tornado moved at an extremely slow speed of only 20-25 mph, ripping the entire city in two, from one side to the next. Russ was on the outside of the tub and had to stretch out his leg and press his foot against the door because it was shaking so violently.

And finally it stopped. I remember sitting there shocked that we were still alive and completely terrified. We looked up and through the bathroom vent we could see the sky. We just sat there in shock, so unsure of what we should do.

After a few minutes I started panicking I had to get out of that bathroom. I begged Russ to let us out. When he finally felt it was safe he cracked open the door and immediately slammed it shut. He looked me straight in the eyes and said something to me that I will NEVER forget. He said “It’s really, really bad. But everything that is really important is inside this bathroom right now.” All I could do was nod my head okay with tear filled eyes. 

From that moment on I felt nothing but love and support from the closest of friends and family to complete and total strangers.

The front of our house. The orange marks were used to show that the house had been searched.

Our bedroom.

The backyard.

The tiny bathroom that kept our family safe. Notice the stuff all over the door. It was on EVERYTHING. It was a combo of insulation, dirt, splinters and mud. Less than a year earlier we had entirely gutted and remodeled this bathroom, covering up the old window that used to be in the shower.

Our garage. The whole thing was gone.

Living room. The piles of laundry were gone.

The curb. The city had said if you don’t want it, push it to the curb. Most things were left completely unusable because they were broken, water-logged, or full of glass shards and insulation. We ended up pushing our entire house to the curb thanks to some amazing volunteers from New Mexico. 

As much as the tornado sucked, Jesus didn’t go anywhere. He didn’t get blown away with everything else. He was with us in the bathroom, he was with us as we cried ourselves to sleep that night, and he was there through all of the baggage that we dealt with for months after the tornado.

May 22nd, 2011 may be a hard day, but I will always look back on that day and remember the good. 

May 22nd 6 years later. Telling my story on the blog #Joplin #Joplintornado #6YearsStrong Click To Tweet
  • Three boys and a girl blog

    Oh beth, this brought me to tears and gave me chills! I’m so thankful God was with you and kept y’all safe. Thank you for sharing such a personal post. I can’t even imagine what y’all went through!

    • Thank you so much for your sweet words Emily.

  • Lizzie Simantz

    Oh my gosh Beth, I had chills reading this! I cannot even begin to imagine how scary that day was! I’m so glad you are all OK and you can live to tell this story! xo

    • Thank you so much Lizzie. It is still so surreal.

  • Heather Bramlett

    WOW…Beth I am in tears. I can not even begin to understand. You are a strong woman, my friend. Thank you God that y’all were all safe.
    Thank you for sharing with us such a scary time in your life. But an awesome reminder of God’s love.

    • Thank you so much Heather. It is the best picture of Gods love that I could ever have experienced. We just felt submerged.

  • I too am in tears reading this – thank you so much for sharing! And, I feel like your hubby’s statement prior to letting y’all out of the bathroom was absolutely PERFECT. I don’t know what the heck I would have said! So glad your family is okay and able to share this story of His protection.

    • He is usually so quiet and sometimes struggles with what to say… not that day God gave him the perfect words to say in that moment. Thank you so much for reading.

  • I can’t begin to imagine how scary that day was for your family and town. Thank you for sharing your story and thank God you family is thriving now!

    • Amen! Thank you so much for your sweet words.

  • Every time I read your story it brings tears to my eyes. I am so thankful that God kept you and your family safe. A mile wide tornado… I can’t even imagine. But Russ was so right, everything that mattered was in that bathroom.

    • Yes he was. Thank you so much sweet friend.

  • Beth, I can’t even begin to imagine what you, your family, loved ones and friends went through. What an extremely scary time, but I am glad that you have told your story. You are an inspiration to others. God is good my friend!!

    • Yes he is! It’s just crazy because I always felt like these are the things you “see on tv” they don’t happen in your town. And then it does and it is nothing short of surreal. We are so thankful.

  • Oh Beth. I am so thankful for God and keeping you all safe. I cannot imagine how terrifying this had to be for all of your. Russ was so wise when he said “all that matters is in this bathroom”.

    • He was so wise! I have no doubts that God gave him the perfect words to speak at the perfect time.

  • Wow, Beth. Thank you for sharing this. So glad you came out safely.

  • I don’t even know what to say, Beth! I’m so thankful that the Lord kept you safe – and gave you a wise, calm husband who knew exactly what to say in that terrifying moment. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” Matt 24:35 Thank you for sharing your story – it puts such great perspective on an ordinary day when I’m tempted to be discontent. Hugs! <3

    Whitney @ Come Home For Comfort

    • Oh thank you so very, very much for that sweet comment Whitney. It really changed us in more ways than we ever could explain and the realization that this earth is not our home was never more real.

  • Lanette Fugina

    I will never forget that day! It was eerie… all the way up here in KC our power went out at almost the exact time the tornado hit, so we didn’t have the tv on or anything to let us know what was happening. We were actually outside cooking the enchiladas I had made on the grill since we couldnt turn the oven on when I got a call from my sister who was at home on the north side of town waiting to hear back from my dad who had gone in search of my mom who had been working at St. John’s hospital that afternoon. After confirming that my brother who lived near the path was okay, it finally hit me that your house was also likely in the path and I started texting everyone I could and making phone calls and stalking your Facebook page to make sure you were okay. It was agonizing, and I think it was sometime the next day before someone finally posted on your Facebook that you were okay but had lost your house.
    My mom had ridden out the storm huddled under the desk in her boss’s office and made it out uninjured. My dad had been able to park his car and walk a mile or so to find her and bring her home. My brother had minor damage to his car, but his house was fine and he had spent the rest of the day driving around searching for survivors; he still won’t talk about the things he saw that day. God bless you all who lived through such tragedy, and comfort those who lost so much! Love you, Beth!

    • And now I am crying.

      I went to Cunningham Park and sat at the memorial today with the girls. I couldn’t help but stare at people and wonder about their stories. What was on their hearts. “Where were you 6 years ago today… ” We were all affected, near and far. Love you too friend.

  • This makes me want to cry. Thank God for your bathroom. So scary!

    • Thank you so much Dara. Thank God we took the window out of that bathroom, lol.

  • I am forever grateful that God was watching over you, Russ and the girls. My life is more blessed because you are party of it!

    • You too friend. So glad God crossed our paths.

  • Wow Beth. I cannot even imagine going through a tornado like this especially with those two little sweet babies. So thankful you guys were all together and kept safe.

    • Thank you so much Shelly. It was such a surreal experience.

  • Holy. shit. I just want to hug you…even after having read these before…still so shocking!

    • And if you hugged me today I would probably cry. Your comment made me remember the post tornado hugs. Something about an experience like that makes you hug others tighter.

  • Oh my goodness. I can’t believe the damage to your house and how scary that was. You guys are soooo lucky. I’m so glad you were all safe. In one picture it looks like your neighbors house was completely gone. Thanks for sharing.

    • And looking at that damage we think about how we were among the lucky ones. Some homes were completely leveled. It is just so very, very terrifying.

  • God bless that tiny bathroom that saved all of your lives. You guys sure had your guardian angels watching over you that day. I just can’t even believe that you guys were able to walk out of that house completely unharmed, but I’m so grateful that you did. I’m so glad to know you, Beth. So glad. Thinking of all of you today.

    • Amen! God bless that remodel too. I can’t even think about how much worse it could have been. Thank you so much friend.

  • Whitney Jordan

    Oh my gosh!! Your story sounds like a movie. I had chills and tears reading your account of what happened to your family and how God protected you all. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve taken shelter because of tornado warnings and so I could totally picture that moment. Your pictures are unreal and Russ’s words after the storm made me cry. Thank you for sharing your story. I’m SO thankful you are all okay, that God protected your family and that you’ve been able to rebuild your life stronger than before. What an amazing testimony you have! ((( HUGS!! )))

    • I think I will always remember those words that he spoke to me. So much of that day and those moments are SO fuzzy to me… but not that. Thank you so much Whitney. The whole experience seemed so bizarre and felt like a dream… or a nightmare. But Gods love was abundant through it all.

  • Oh my goodness, my heart is racing reading this story. I had tears in my eyes when you showed the picture of the bathroom. So glad you were all safe.

    • Thank you so much. God was so good to us on that day 6 years ago.

  • I started crying while I read your story and it hit me even harder when I saw the pictures. I remember reading little snippets about it on your blog before, but never the entire story. What a terrifying thing to go through and thank GOD you’re okay!

    • I had never really shared it until today. I think anyone really familiar with me knew this was a part of my past, but they didn’t know the details. It felt so good to finally share that part of my life with others. Thank you friend.

  • Justine Y

    Oh my goodness, I can’t even imagine. Your story brought tears to my eyes and my heart was up in my throat. That moment when Russ said how bad it was and told you I’m sure is forever etched perfectly in your mind. I pray that nothing like that ever happens to your family again.

    • Forever and ever. So much of that day is fuzzy but that moment is crystal clear. I can close my eyes and see it perfectly. Thank you so much friend.

  • Whoa. So sad and scary. So thankful you were all safe! Russ is one wise man. And now look at you building your own house 🙂 I love happy endings.

    • Building our own house again at that. There were SO many happy endings. God is good!

  • Jessica

    Holy crap Beth!! I knew this had happened and have seen pictures before but wow. I have tears just reading and seeing more in depth. Thank God you were all safe. Hugs!

    • Thank you so much Jess. The whole thing and month to follow that day were just completely surreal.

  • whoa.. that is scary, crazy, terrifying..
    Your husband was right.. everything important you had with you right in that bathroom.

    http://www.henatayeb.blogspot.com

    • He really was right. Those words were exactly what I needed to hear in that moment.

  • I’m in tears here, Beth. I’d read your posts in the past and watched the video you shared (and even replayed it for my family). Yet, hearing your retelling of events here…I’m just speechless. So many things I’d like to say, but can’t begin to find the words right now. I’m soooo grateful to God for keeping your family safe. Love you, dear friend!

    • Thank you so very, very much. The whole experience will always be so surreal, but we really do feel truly thankful to have gone through it… which makes it even more insane. Gods love is unexplainable.

  • Oh friend. I am in tears reading this and reliving this with you. I cannot imagine what you went through emotionally. But, you are so right…Jesus was right there beside you guys through it all. And it sounds like through the scariest of storms you were able to still give God the glory! Thank you, Lord! Thank you for keeping this sweet family safe and thank you for that bathroom!! Love you friend!!

    • Thank you so much friend. It’s crazy to be so thankful for something so hard, but we really are. It isn’t often that you get to experience Gods love like that.

  • Beth, wow. I remember sitting at home and watching the news and the people’s stories, but your first hand account is powerful. Your husband is and was wise. Your family was safe and rebuild you did.

    • It is so surreal to have watched stuff like that on TV then to have it become your life. I can’t do it any more. I have since watched news coverage of devastation and it almost sends me into panic attacks. It just makes my heart ache so much.