Joplin Missouri

It is hard to know where to begin.

Our town carries the scars of a battlefield.

Our church has been converted to a distribution center – bottles of water, toilet paper, diapers and clothing, people streaming in – feeling helpless – helping.

I find myself glued to the T.V., internet, radio – as though having more information will make me better prepared – for what, I don’t know.

For the first two days I told myself that I couldn’t photograph this.  I’m not a photojournalist.  I don’t want to intrude on people’s pain.  Yesterday, however, I had a change of heart.  I realized that although I am not an obvious choice to be of help – a nurse, a fireman, a trained relief worker – I too have a gift.  I have something to offer through my photography.  This is a story I am going to share.

First, the good news.

So far, all of our friends and clients are safe and accounted for.  There are many stories of “if the wind hadn’t shifted” or “if we hadn’t gone to church” or “if we had gone to Walmart last instead of first”, but in a sea of tragedy so many have found comfort in minor miracles.

For those of you not in this community, allow me to share some stories.  It’s easy for the destruction to seem far too big.  It’s easy to lose perspective.  Here are some people who will help you keep it.
This is little Connor.  He and his family lost their home in the tornado.  They were visiting relatives out of town.  When they examined what was left of the house, they discovered that the roof of the inner room they would have taken shelter in had been completely been blown away.  The Sweeny family also lost their home, but all are safe.Baby Hadley was born on Friday.  Jake and Lindsey lost their home on Sunday.You’ve seen these sweet boys on my blog for years.  The Ramseys house was also completely destroyed.
Several weeks ago we had the pleasure of photographing all the dancers from Miss Karen’s Dance Studio in preparation for their big recital.  The recital, a beautiful tribute held Saturday night, was in memory of Miss Karen, who died of cancer in January.  Her daughter has taken over the studio with such care.  So inspiring.  The studio was destroyed by the tornado.  And then there are our dear friends, Joe and Michelle, who just three weeks ago got married.  Today their home is gone.  As are the wedding gifts, the wedding dress – the guest book that held the wishes of over 300 friends and family.  What overcomes me again and again is the way, in the wake of such disaster, people can so easily focus on what is important.  Over and over again I hear people say in one way or another “We’re safe.  Everything else is just stuff.”  Or as a friend shared when he asked someone what they lost in the tornado, they replied “I lost my selfishness”.

Personally, I feel guilty.  Guilty that my community is hurting so much, yet I don’t have a scratch on me.  I have electricity. I have clean water to drink.  I can call my husband on his cell phone, knowing where he is and knowing that he will answer.  And I can tuck my children into their own warm bed and smell their hair and kiss their cheeks and know that tomorrow when I wake up I can do it all again.  For so many, this is just a memory.  I struggled in taking these pictures.  The destruction is so endless, and my lens is so small.  It is absolutely inadequate to capture the destruction.  The experience of this place is surreal. There are just no words.  I took a video of this area – not sure how to post it here but will have David put it on our facebook page – of a 360 degree turn.  It is every direction.  To the horizon.I could take a thousand pictures and not scratch the surface of this devastation.   I had passed on to me the same letter many of you may have already read from the preacher in Tuscaloosa to Joplin.  You can read it in its entirety here.  He has a power in his words that I don’t have in mine, so wanted to share this quote:

“One month from today, you will not be healed, but healing.

The scrap will be piled like bunkers alongside the roads, and eventually, even the choir of sirens will dissipate. One day soon, cars will once again outnumber ambulances, and in a few weeks time, you’ll see a child throw a Frisbee and for a moment, forget that anything more treacherous ever collected in the wind.”

Thank you for the prayers you have said for our community.  Please don’t stop.  We’re not done using them yet.

If you wish to contribute to the healing efforts of the victims, our church has set up a fund that will go 100% directly to those who need it.  You can donate at

If any of the stories of our clients/friends have touched you and you would like to make donations directly to them, feel free to contact me through our website or facebook page and I will give you information on how you can give to them directly.

27 thoughts on “Joplin Missouri

  1. neither words nor pictures can describe the sadness I feel in my heart for the community of Joplin. Just 60 short miles from my own home, I look at all the images and thank God for my family, my home, and our safety as this tragedy could have easily taken place in Springfield. Thank you Whitney and David for EVERYTHING you have done to help the victims of this tornado. May God bless you!

  2. Thank you for using your talent to show us another side of this tragedy. God is indeed good and His grace and love can be seen even in times of despair – sometimes possibly more so, since we are actually looking for Him. My thoughts and prayers are constantly flowing.

  3. Great job Whitney! I know you all were torn but I think you made a wise call! You definitely have a gift! Love you Friend!

  4. This is a great post. You have captured and shared images that shed light on such a dark time. So glad those smiling faces are not in memorial tribute. I found myself crying by the time I read about the dance studio. The children in your community are certainly learning about strength. Prayers and more prayers for the days and years ahead.

  5. Thank you, for sharing your God given talent with us. The images captured something truely beyond words and many brought tears, however, seeing a people over and over helping each other, showing love has been powerful, touching and maybe even healing in the midst of tragedy. Scripture reveals, God is the source of love.

    I grew up in Pittsburg and now living in California, I have felt so helpless and having the Mt. Hope Church of Christ as a place to send supplies needed for victims has been a relief. Thanks to you and for my brothers and sisters in Christ for reaching out with a loving hand in a community’s time of need.

  6. Whit I was hoping you would photograph, it’s what many of us need to see to become less selfish and more thankful for our home and family.

  7. Once again I am blown away by your gift if writing intertwined with your photos. We are praying for your friends and families and fellow Americans. Phil.1:3

  8. Both the photos and your words are perfect. There is so much destruction and so much pain and yet out of it has come an immense showing of love and humanity, this helps show that.

  9. Just beautiful. Your words and your pictures are lovely! I’d not realized about Karens dance studio, that pink wall choked me up. So many childhood memories to show my sweet babies are gone now. Thank you for sharing your view. And thank you to you and David for all you are doing for this community.

  10. Thank you for sharing these stories through pictures and words. I believe healing can come through knowing and sharing our stories. It also helps those of us that cannot be there to grieve with you. Thank you and will continue to pray.

  11. Thank you for sharing, this was beautifully written and makes the news reports human for those of us out of the area. Continue your blessing of photography during this effort, it will change the hearts of many and draw people together in a way that words cannot. May God be with you all.

  12. Although I am sure it was so hard to take the pictures of such tragedy, your pictures for sure captured so much! Two days ago after watching CNN, and other news coverage of the tornado, I started thinking about what it would be like to loose everything except the clothes on your back in just a matter of a few minutes! From this, I started thinking about the best way that I could give back to those in need…….Since starting our business “Girls Gone Junkin” almost 5 years ago, Deidra and I have been very blessed. We are not rich by no means, but we get to do what we love and have a passion for! We have decided next week for the 4 days we are open in Canton, that we are going to have a big jar on our check out counter, with a sign that we are taking donations for the victims and all of those who have suffered from the tornado in Joplin.
    I will get in touch after Canton Weekend to see where we can send a check……..Hugs…Cathy aka Girls Gone Junkin

  13. I have never left the west coast , I have never lived through a tornado. I actually was in San Francisco when the earthquake hit. I lived in Washington when Mt St. Helens blew. Those two are nothing compared to what I have seen on your pictures. Beautiful story, Beautiful photos. Thank you for telling it. I am praying for all of you. The bride and groom story made me cry. The inner strength and resilience of people is shocking. We are so much stronger than we ever imagine. Again thank you for sharing.

  14. Beautiful job…you have such a gift. It is so much more real to see the faces of the people whose lives have been affected. Our family is hoping to get up there soon to do our little part to help. So thankful that you and your family are well.

  15. Thank you for this. Lindsey and Jake are my cousins, and I’m so thankful for their safety. Your captions are tear jerkers, but its so nice to read a story with each picture.

  16. Whitney, I just got home (early tonight) and was crawling into bed and remembered to check this out. It’s incredible. Really, amazing. Thank you for sharing your talent to put names and faces with numbers.

  17. Joplin has been in my prayers ever since I first heard the news here in Texas that such destruction had hit that town. Then my awareness was heighten when I learned a family member had relatives lost after the tornado in Joplin. I was glued to CNN and TWC watching with sympathy and pain for all those people are going through. Sadly, I learned the dad and his two kids who were lost, had been at Home Depot and killed. My heart is heavy for all of the people around our nation who have lost friends and loved ones due to these tornadoes. Thank you for posting this blog and photographs. You did a marvelous job! Don’t stop posting. Prayers ascend!

  18. Whitney, adding the personal touch you added to these photos with thier stories must have been hard for you. But remember that it’s these type of stories and images that is so necessary. They take something that is so tragic and turns them into something else…something human and beautiful. Thank you for showing everyone how wonderful our communitees, towns, neighborhoods, Missourians and our county is..chartible, helpful, forgiving and most of all loving.
    No looting, not beaten, not defeated…You are inspired, determined, courageous yet couteous and helpful of others.

    St. Louisans who are proud of our neighbors, and ready to help.

  19. It’s so hard to put pictures and words into feelings, but you did it and I cried as I looked and read your words. It made me feel guilty at the blessings I have. Now we must all look for a way to give to others as we have been given. To whom much is given…much is required. Thank you Whitney for sharing with others the gift God has given you! I love you, Mom

  20. These photo’s and stories are very touching. It reminds me of what a great and mighty God we have. He takes care of His own. Joplin is in my prayers. Your strength and hope shines through.
    A. Wells

  21. WOW you did an amazing job and it will help people see the destruction that our town has gone thru and help people to see that we need volunteer help! great job thank you!

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