When I called her, the old woman was preparing to leave southern Kansas at sunrise, bound for western Kentucky, where the recent tornadoes hit.
It all started for her yesterday evening.
“I was praying for Kentucky,” she said, “and God just told me to go.”
So that’s what she decided to do.
She packed an overnight bag, made sure her house was locked, and hired a cat-sitter. She activated the timer on her Christmas lights. She plugged in the life-size inflatable Nativity scene in her front yard.
A seven hour drive awaited her. She had plenty of coffee in her thermos, and CDs to listen to.
“I don’t mind long drives,” she said. “It’s kinda relaxing.”
Before she pulled away, she opened the tailgate of her F-150 one last time to make sure it was all there.
Inside her truck bed were a few hundred bags of groceries. She spent a lot of money buying them. She bought things like diapers, Saltines, Wonderbread, JIF, ramen noodles, toilet paper, Folgers, crossword puzzle books, socks, and baby formula.
The old woman slammed the tailgate shut. “I got so many groceries in there I could start my own village.”
Then she crawled into her half-ton and drove off.
We continued our phone conversation as she sailed along Highway 400, past hamlets like McCume, Cherokee, and Atlas, edging eastward. I asked what her plan was with all the groceries.
“Plan?” She laughed. “Ain’t got no plan.”
So she will simply drive. And somewhere outside Springfield, she’ll catch Highway 60, and keep driving until she hits western Kentucky and sees the heart-crushing damage.
“Then I’ll just pray for signs,” she explained. “God’ll tell me what to do next.”
Sixty-six years ago, the old woman went through the worst tornado in Kansas history. She was a child, living with her aunt in Udall, Kansas.
The year was 1955. It was a different world. The bumper stickers read: “I like Ike.” The price of gasoline was 29 cents. Lucy and Ricky were on TV.
Udall was a fleck-on-the-map town about the size of a bathroom rug. A tiny place with some grain elevators, a water tower, and a few perspiring preachers. A town so small that both city-limit signs were nailed to the same post.
One spring evening the town was leveled by an F5 tornado. Not “damaged.” Not “decimated.” Leveled.
Pickup trucks were found wrapped around trees. Entire homes were thrown across pastures. Half the population was killed.
“I was just a girl. I was in my bed, sleeping, then my ears started popping and my hair got all staticy. My aunt thought Jesus was coming back.”
The description is eerily similar to what happened a couple nights ago in Kentucky.
For those who have been living on planet Jupiter, a tornado-spawning weather system recently tore through the Midwest and the South, drawing a straight line of devastation across six states, starting in Arkansas, and finishing its hellish journey just north of the Kentucky border.
One tornado moved through places like Benton, Princeton, Beaver Dam, and Breckinridge County. Its path stretched over 220 miles. An estimated 100 are dead.
The official number of deaths keeps growing every few minutes. In some places, rescue efforts have become more like community burials.
The town of Mayfield, Kentucky, is half gone.
Kentucky governor, Andy Beshear, said, “One of our challenges is… Most of our morgues aren’t big enough, so our coroners from all over the state are coming in.”
Right now, approximately 50,000 Kentuckians are without power. Thousands are without water, cellphone, or internet. In Graves County, many are homeless, some are missing children, spouses, pets, and loved ones.
There are people wearing borrowed clothes and eating emergency food. There are children sitting in shelters, still coming to grips with the fact that Mom and Dad aren’t coming back.
And one anonymous old woman is making a road trip to Ground Zero.
“I can’t do much,” said the old woman, “but I got a little money saved up, so I can buy groceries.”
As she drives, she listens to music from a CD her son gave her. It’s an Oak Ridge Boys album. During our conversation, “Just a Little Talk with Jesus” is playing on her radio. She is traveling five miles under the speed limit.
The rural woman does not know how she will distribute her groceries. Maybe she’ll find a local food drive. Maybe she’ll happen upon a shelter and drop off the groceries there.
“Or maybe,” she said, “I’ll find someone just wandering around and I’ll just say, ‘Here. Take this. God bless you.’”
As you scroll through your feed today, maybe seated before the glow of a Christmas tree, or within the warm company of loved ones, one elderly Samaritan from the Sunflower State has a message for you:
“Don’t forget to pray for Kentucky.”
🇿🇦 Norma Den - December 14, 2021 7:11 am
Our country occasionally had a minor tornado so we are shocked seeing to total devastation they cause. Our hearts go out to the people suffering such enormous heartache & loss. God bless those like your old woman who rush to assist. May God hold the survivors, homeless, lost & injured in His loving arms & send angels of mercy to comfort & help as Christmas looks very bleak for them. Prayers for all from South Africa. 🇿🇦
Melody - December 14, 2021 7:29 am
Praying for Kentucky, Illinois, Arkansas, this Lady, and all of them. I grew up across the river from Kentucky in Illinois. Been to a few of those towns and my Dad’s people are from the area. So much, too much. 🙁
Janice Dendler - December 14, 2021 7:53 am
Leland Locke - December 14, 2021 8:00 am
Oh, Mr. Sean, I won’t forget to pray for Kentucky. Or for that wonderful woman delivering those groceries. If she needs help, tell her to contact me: email@example.com. I’ll help distribute food & diapers & formula.
Denise Webb, Taylorsville, Ky - December 14, 2021 10:36 am
Sean, Thank you for writing this and God bless this woman! My daughter lives in Bowling Green and the devastation in her neighborhood and community is incredible. Although her home was spared, there are no words for the emotions I’ve been feeling as the news unfolds about the vast devastation caused throughout the state—yet you’ve expressed those feelings perfectly in your writing. I know that God is working in this terrible tragedy and will bring out the best in us as we continue to pray, pray, pray, and take action to help… in the coming days, weeks, and years it will take to rebuild. #kentuckystrong #prayforkentucky
Elizabeth McPherson - December 19, 2021 4:32 am
Sean we are amazed by many people who are being the hands and feet of Jesus all over Kentucky. Thank you for writing about the damage and loss of life from such strong storms.
Gail True - December 14, 2021 11:29 am
It takes a village!
Karen+Erwin-Brown - December 14, 2021 11:54 am
Sue Rhodus - December 14, 2021 12:19 pm
Thank you for prayers..from Kentucky ❤
Joy Jacobs - December 14, 2021 12:19 pm
Penn Wells - December 14, 2021 12:57 pm
Joplin 2011: my wife and I accompanied a semi full of peanut butter donated by the industry. It was a scene I will never forget. I’m sure this one is just as bad, or worse. Words & pictures cannot describe the devastation. Humble peanut butter, by the way, is a Godsend in such times: jars can be shrink wrapped and palletized for easy mass distribution, high in protein, requires no refrigeration and almost anyone who has no allergy likes it. But we are all humbled at times like these.
Kris Bair - December 14, 2021 1:15 pm
I suspect Greensburg was the worst tornado event in Kansas, at least right up there with Udall. We also took some of the credit for the Martin City, Missiouri, one, since that tornado set down in Kansas and moved east. And then there was the one that almost took out the capitol building in Topeka. The devastation is shocking and humbilng. And if Tornado Alley is relocating to the east of us, no Kansan will complain.
Jan - December 14, 2021 1:16 pm
Praying for Kentucky and all those affected by this horrible event. Praying for this kind woman who listens when God says “Go”!
Karen - December 14, 2021 1:31 pm
My prayers are continuing for for the folks of Kentucky. I am grateful for the first responders and the many volunteers. This sweet lady is in my prayers also.
Suellen - December 14, 2021 1:36 pm
I live on the Indiana side across from Louisville KY. I stayed up all night watching tornado coverage online. Ryan Hall streamed live for over 11 hours. We watched the strongest line come out of Arkansas and then when it got to Kentucky he just sat speechless. He said that was a textbook example of a super cell one that he had never witnessed before. Frantically asking people to share to make people aware. He said if they don’t take cover no one can survive that type of tornado. Then I sat praying for the people of Mayfield knowing they were experiencing unspeakable damage but he had to go on because the monster was bearing down on other communities. That cell was coming straight for us but then miraculously some kind of something something flow coming out of Indiana was pushing the storms to the south. Good news for us but bad news for all that were left in it’s path. It started dissipating pretty soon after Mayfield and was thankfully weaker as it gave Bowling Green a direct hit. I was praying for Kentucky that night and have not stopped. Our high school graduating class is collecting money. My church is collecting money. I just wish I was young enough to do more.
Teresa - January 10, 2022 12:10 pm
Suellen, I live in Benton Ky, my home was damaged by the tornado, leaving a great mess we have yet to get under our control. Tonight was the first time I’ve had a few moments to read and experience the outpouring of love and prayers from people I will sadly never meet but feel as if I know I’ve been reading for nearly two hours, tears riding my lower rims but never crossing the white line. That is, until I read your comments which elicited a clear visual for me. I saw myself watching the same weatherman you were, and calling home and telling my stubborn spouse to get out now. The power went out, we lost cell service. I was in a nearby town sheltering the storm while caring for my terminally Ill sister and aging mother. Trying to focus on getting them to a safe place, I kept seeing the weatherman’s face on tv, that look on his face that read I hope I am wrong but am frightened that I’m not. That expression he wore that made me frantically call home yelling, “ I’m not kidding, it looks like it’s about to come up our road.” We found a hotel room, booked by my niece in northern Kentucky as soon as she saw the same broadcast, the message of our rooms traveled west via relatives until a niece in the next town from us got the message and drove over to tell us power would be out for days but we had a room. She showed us pictures of mayfield and Benton. I recognized my neighbors place in one of the photos she had downloaded. All I knew was within 150 feet from my home there was nothing but splinters. Without cell service there was no one to answer my questions. Later that evening, I met a volunteer at the hotel who had been helping to clear my road. He said the chainsaw noise was deafening. He asked where my house was and when I answered a cloud veiled his eyes and he fell quiet. I’m sorry mam, I don’t think there’s anything left on that hill. Do you know if everyone up there made it? He couldn’t answer the question. A few hours later, the hit and miss cell service allowed a few text messages from home to find me. The message read, l thought you were being paranoid so I turned on the tv and this weatherman was saying he’d never seen anything like this before and never would again, you called and I heard you say get out now, and decided to listen for once. As He drove his truck into the building he took shelter in he saw the tornado heading towards our road. Then the power went out and cell phones quit working. I never cried, not for fear nor loss, until I read your post. I could picture you watching Ryan hall just like I was. I saw you praying for Kentuckians, praying for my neighbors, my family, and me. It hit me then, the tears finally fell. But my tears are warm, full of gratitude and love for the woman who cared enough to pray. I believe God heard your prayer while we watched the broadcast together so many miles apart. I believe your prayer made a believer out of My spouse and very likely saved his life. While you wish you were young enough to do more, I want to thank you for doing enough, I can live without a lot of conveniences, I can make do, but I don’t know if I could have or would have wanted to without him, the stubborn man only the strongest of prayers could move. Thank you for your strong prayers. I have been blessed because of them.
mccutchen52 - December 14, 2021 1:41 pm
Amen Sean Amen
Lori - December 14, 2021 1:50 pm
Our aunt and cousins live in Mayfield – they are ok but their life has changed forever. Indeed pray – god bless all those able to help those communities being the hands and feet of Jesus.
Tammy S. - December 14, 2021 2:28 pm
Joan Vibert - December 14, 2021 2:29 pm
Stacey Wallace - December 14, 2021 3:37 pm
Thanks, Sean. Praying.
Kathleen I Smith - December 14, 2021 3:38 pm
My hometown of Washington, IL had a F-4 tornado hit on November 17, 2013. It wiped out over 1,000 homes and 3 people lost their lives. Luckily it hit on a Sunday morning and most of the citizens were in church. The tornado zig-zagged across the Western end of town, missing 3 churches, the nursing home and the community center. Our community was very fortunate that the death toll was so low. My family was born and raised in Washington, and it was so hard to drive out of town and see all the homes that were just gone! All of the homes have been rebuilt and our community has healed from the horror of that day, but we will never forget how the nation reached out and helped. People came from so many states to help clear the debris and help in any way that they could. Donations poured in for the victims. It was so heartwarming.
My heart aches for the people in Kentucky, especially Mayfield, and my prayers are with them as well as the people in Illinois & Arkansas. I want them to know that there is hope at the end of this dark tunnel. God will lay it upon many hearts to help their fellow man, woman & child. The children are so precious and to have this happen right before Christmas is so heartbreaking.
God will also bless the woman that bought the groceries, packed up her pick-up truck & headed to Mayfield. It is that kind of love for your neighbor that this country thrives on!
Keep the faith, Mayfield. God has this!
Kim E Simpson - December 14, 2021 4:32 pm
Thank you Sean…from Bowling Green, KY!
Ann - December 14, 2021 4:33 pm
God bless this woman and all the other Samaritans🙏🏻🙏🏻
Beth Mitchell - December 14, 2021 4:46 pm
Thank you, Sean. Bowling Green, Kentucky loves you right back.💙
Ruth Mitchell - December 14, 2021 5:19 pm
Thank you, Good Samaritan. Believe me I am praying. 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻
Shelton A. - December 14, 2021 5:42 pm
That woman has courage and strength of convictions. She’ll find a way to use the groceries she bought and make someone’s day a bit brighter even in the midst of disaster. God will help her as she told you and she will be a blessing to many. Thank you for a story that cuts right through to the bone of faith. God bless you, strengthen you, and give you peace. May you have safe travels to Kentucky and then back home. Thanks, Sean and God bless you, Jamie, and the hounds.
Jeanie - December 14, 2021 5:48 pm
Such unbearable heartache. I cannot even begin to process. God be with them one and all. 🙏
Shelton A. - December 14, 2021 5:49 pm
Prayers for all that were hit and those who are coming to help clean up. Prayers for all those who survived and need the help that is coming. Prayers for those who lost loved ones and friends. May God watch over all those who are in devastation right now.
Becky K - December 14, 2021 6:16 pm
My heart is with this kind of giving… When God speaks let’s listen! We don’t need a plan to start. He will continue to guide us step by step, and we just can’t go wrong showing love!! God bless each one with His gentle nudge to do… Merry Christmas!
Patricia Gibson - December 14, 2021 6:26 pm
Amen and God bless her! Prayers for all those affected by the tornadoes 🙏❤️
Linda Moon - December 14, 2021 6:40 pm
I love it when God just tells us. I love cat-lovers and good cat-sitters. So your writing let me to a good place, and I kept reading to long road-trips, coffee, and CDs…for lots of good memories I’ll never forget. Then, the very harsh reality of the Kentucky tornado reminded of what the Samaritan told us. Thank you for sharing her message. We won’t forget, and neither will she.
Crabby Cakes - December 14, 2021 7:02 pm
Thank you so very much, Sean!! Our place was hit hard. Everyone is alive despite it. We are so very humbled & grateful for the prayers & support. Our town, Dawson Springs, is 70% gone. We still have each other. We still have wonderful people all over the world praying & helping any way they can. We feel the love & we thank you for it.❤
Tracy Paitz - December 14, 2021 7:36 pm
It’s heartbreaking to see Mayfield this way. Half of my family is from Mayfield and relocated to the St Louis area about 50 years ago. I spent most of my summers there as I was growing up. I still visit this town on my annual family reunions to Kentucky lake. My thoughts and prayers to these poor residents of the small community.
Jan Hilton - December 14, 2021 7:48 pm
Is there any way you could do a follow up with this lady and let your readers know who received her generous bounty? Thanks.
Diane - December 14, 2021 9:09 pm
A doctor took my peace of mind recently because I let him. He told me I will probably get cancer. He told me we have lots of big tests to do after Christmas. I haven’t rested well since he gave me this Christmas to relax. Seeing what happened to the people all over this country, but most especially in Mayfield, who knew bad storms were coming, but went forward living their normal life on that fateful night has awakened something inside me. Maybe it is God’s strength giving me a little more courage, or maybe it’s gratitude for what I have TODAY. Either way I am more thoughtful and less spastic emotionally now. I am thinking and praying for others. My heart is full of compassion for them all.
MAM - December 14, 2021 9:25 pm
I must admit, I always wonder what God’s plan is when things like this happen. But I also am sure that He will take care of everyone in the way that only He and His helpers like this woman can. Prayers for all.
Linda Moon - December 15, 2021 1:18 am
The English teacher in me must correct myself: your writing “led” me, not “let” me….but it did let me go to a good place of prayer and good will for all those folks where the tornado hit.
Debbie g - December 15, 2021 2:31 pm
God bless 🙏🙏
Kathy Duncan - December 15, 2021 10:57 pm
As a fellow KY native, this precious story warmed my heart!! Prayers for all those involved, both victim and volunteers!
Karen Snyder - December 16, 2021 5:05 am
May God bless them all, the hurting and the helpers alike. ❤️🙏🏻
Julia - December 16, 2021 6:46 pm
Not sure who your “Old Woman” is but I know plenty here that would answer the call. I currently live in Udall. Great rural community with super people. Prayers for all.
Frances Lester - December 19, 2021 7:22 am
Instead of paying to mail heavy stuff like fruitcakes and books, we are sending contributions to UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief), Salvation Army, Samaritan’s Purse and Habitat for Humanity. And love and prayers for all.