by: Topher Wiles
“What can we do?” That question has been asked to me many times from kind-hearted people in the last few days since the EF-4 drastically changed lives in the Upper Cumberland. Last week was my eleventh tornado/hurricane to pack my chainsaws to in an effort to rescue victims, clear roads, and clean people’s properties. Wearing a big orange disaster relief shirt, having a big orange hardhat, and running a big orange chainsaw must make people think you know what you’re doing. So as a simple volunteer I’ve frequently been asked the question by other volunteers, church members, and friends from many states away, “What can we do?” For all who have asked me that question, I first want to thank you for your heart and your willingness to honor God by serving others.
Now that we’re more than a week removed from the initial hit of the monster that barreled from Nashville to Cookeville, my answer to the question is evolving from “pick up that log; tear down that wall; tarp that hole; donate money; say a prayer” to the simple words, “remember, reflect, and remain.” It was a tornado victim and friend of mine named Robin Embry of Henryville, Indiana who taught me the value of these three “R” words. Here’s the story.
It was March 2nd, 2012 when the EF-4 ripped through rural Indiana, causing damage and the loss of life late one Friday evening. It hit hard in the town of Henryville, Indiana a couple hours away from us in the city of Washington. Early Saturday morning, March 3rd, our church had a crew on site with a tractor and chainsaws clearing the ruinous roadways for ambulances and firefighters to use their skills where they were needed most. When we cleared a driveway leading to the basement of a home that was damaged, we became forever connected to Robin’s family and became a part of the story of their lives. Months later when Robin came to speak at our church he said, “There’s no way I can ever repay you for the kindness you all have shown, so today I simply remember and I thank you.”
Robin would remember us in a significant way soon. A year and a half later in November, just three weeks before my third son was born, Indiana saw 30 tornadoes spawn in one day, and one of them hit our city of Washington just before sunset. Can you guess who showed up with chainsaws and a generator to help just hours later? Robin, his wife, and church family were right there shoulder to shoulder with us helping and serving in any way they could. When the tornado hit Tennessee last week, guess who made contact with us through Facebook on Tuesday. You guessed right again if you said, “the Embry family.” Over the years, Robin and his family have taught me that we can continue to help others with three “R” words; remember, reflect, and remain. Here’s a message Robin sent me in 2017, five years after his home was hit by an EF-4 tornado.
“I simply want to say thank you! I encourage you to continue reflecting Him in all you do and seeking His plan for your life. It’s easy for us to say “God has a plan for me!” However, at times, it’s a challenge to live with a full commitment to actively find out all we can about His plan – through books, messages, videos, questions to those that know Him, and most importantly His Word! Continue to allow Him to guide you (as He is with this move) and remain faithful regardless of circumstance (as Joseph – whether in a pit, Potiphar’s house, prison, or a palace). May God bless you and your family richly! Let’s continue living out His plan wherever we are! As always, please let me know if I can be of assistance.”
Remember – Just as Robin remembered 5 years later through messages, I encourage you to mark the March 3rd Tornado in your calendars. Remember those who have lost homes or loved ones. Remember the kindness of the volunteers who swept through our great Volunteer state. Remember when the nation looked on and saw how neighbors help one another. Remember to pray for the victims next month, next year, and for the years to follow. Remember to go back and thank those who served you in the hardest times. If you were affected by the tornado, remember to serve others if their community finds itself in crisis one day. Remember God and the love He has shown us. Simply remember.
Reflect – Just as Robin said, “continue reflecting Him in all you do,” I share the same with you. Reflect God’s love as you continue to hug, hold, and listen to the hard stories that people have to share. Reflect God’s patience as people and services struggle in the aftermath of the disaster. Reflect God’s joy in the little moments such as when a wind blown photo is returned to an owner or when someone gets to move in again to their repaired home. Reflect Jesus’ servant nature as you continue to help in the long rebuilding process to come. Simply reflect.
Remain – Regardless of the circumstance, remain faithful to God in His Word and God will grant to you and those around you the peace that passes understanding in some of the toughest times of life. I want to personally say, “Thank you” again to all those who remained faithful in serving our neighbors affect by the tornados. May God bless you and your family richly.
“What can we do?” Remember, Reflect, and Remain.
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:6-7