Jay Lowder was taking a nap after school one day in 1979 when his mom woke him up by screaming at him to get in the car, no questions asked. He was in a daze but made it to the family Cadillac just in time for his dad to start driving out of town.

At first, Jay thought the neighborhood was on fire, but he would later find out that a mile-and-a-half-wide tornado was on top of his city in what would later be known as Terrible Tuesday.

Jay’s father started driving through the town, but the tornado was already bearing down on the city, making it hard to know where they were going. At an intersection, his father asked his mother which way to go. She told him to turn right. But as his father turned the steering wheel in that direction, he felt a strange pull to go left and spun the wheel at the last second.

Jay doesn’t know why his father changed his mind. But if they had gone right, they would have driven straight into the eye of the storm.

“It felt like someone had a bungee cord on the bumper,” Jay said. “My dad was pushing the gas pedal, but at the same time … the car was heaving forwards and backwards…You’re somewhere between hopelessness and terror because you don’t feel like there’s any way to escape.”

The family was able to outrun the storm, but they escaped with only their lives. Yes, the Lowder family broke the first rule of tornado safety by getting in their car, but it saved their lives. The innermost room of their home — where experts tell you to take cover — was completely gone when they got back. If they had obeyed that tornado-safety rule, none of them would have survived.

Jay’s childhood home was gone. A dumpster sat into the space where his bedroom once stood, blown there by wickedly strong winds. The rest of the structure was demolished, along with all of their earthly possessions.

“It’s probably the most helpless, lonely, confusing feeling that’s all wrapped up in one,” Jay said. “It’s kind of a gumbo of feelings because there’s a fear, but then there’s an uncertainty, but then there’s a hopelessness. You just don’t know where to go or what to do. Everything that you know, every bit of security, all of your belongings, things that are important to you are missing.”

Peace After the Storm

Several years after the tornado, part of Jay’s hometown flooded in another weather emergency. While the Lowders weren’t living in the flooded area, because of what they went through on Terrible Tuesday, the whole family jumped into action.

“There is nothing that breeds compassion, relatability, like going through something that somebody else has already been through,” Jay said. “All of a sudden a compassion is cultivated once you see people enduring a pain that you’ve already lived through.”

A lot of people would chalk dealing with pain up to what should happen after another one of life’s tragedies, but not Jay. He took his experiences in natural disasters and turned them into a ministry for people who are going through similar things.

“I have been through a flood … a hurricane and a tornado. So, just by the irony of having been through all of those scenarios, there’s relatability on a pain scale that has kind of enabled me to have a voice to help people who have been through similar scenarios,” Jay said.

After a tumultuous young adulthood, Jay went into ministry and started Harvest Ministries in Texas. They do other things, but Jay still uses his memories of surviving natural disasters to reach victims.

His first brush with hurricane outreach as a minister was when Hurricane Katrina hit the Louisiana and Texas coastlines.

Jay had friends in Baton Rouge, so he called them to see what they needed. The answer was simple: air beds. Jay and his son bought every air bed they could find in the area and drove them across Texas to deliver them in Louisiana. He was also able to get medicine for those who needed it and even stayed to help people clean out their homes after the levees broke.

What to Say When Disaster Hits

Giving out supplies is just one way to help storm victims. Jay says what is equally as important is just being there to provide a listening ear.

“The first thing is not telling anybody anything, ironically enough,” Jay said. “People think that that really is the first response, but it’s not. The first response is nothing more or less than listening.”

Listening will eventually lead to finding ways to help, but immediately after a tragedy, people only need someone to hear them out.

The second way to help is to give people a way to contact you. Whether it’s a phone number, email, Facebook or other outlet, giving someone a means to reach you at any time helps them talk about the disaster in their own time.

“It’s basically putting yourself at the disposal of someone else,” Jay said. “It’s basically surrendering to inconvenience for the convenience of others.”

If you know someone who is dealing with the aftermath of any kind of natural disaster or tragedy, Jay has some online resources available to help you help them so that one event doesn’t spiral into depression.

You can find those here.