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“I Am Not Afraid” with Meredith Leatherwood, Mother of Children Who Attend The Covenant School

She says that she is closer to God today than she ever has been. Mother of 3, Meredith Leatherwood, joins Sarah Taylor to talk about what she walked through going through her worst nightmare – the shooting at The Covenant School. She talks about the hope, the healing and how God has shown up.

Photos Courtesy of Meredith Leatherwood

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Meredith [00:00:12] You know how like you go through something that’s your worst nightmare but instead of it being this horrific thing, it, like, makes you stick your stake in further in the ground for the Lord? He’s more real to me today than He was four weeks ago.

Sarah [00:00:29] I’m so happy to introduce you to Meredith Leatherwood, a colleague of mine and a mother of three who attend the Covenant School. And I asked her recently, “Would you share the way that you are seeing unity and hope and healing and the love of God happening in your community?” And she graciously agreed. Meredith, do you want to share a little bit about why we decided to have this conversation?

Meredith [00:00:55] You know, as a parent, there’s nothing more scary to any of us, right, than like our children being hurt. And as a parent, we don’t want our kids to walk through anything hard. Our nature is like to not want our kids to suffer. And if you have to hold that in one hand, but hold the other thing that is part of our job is to lead them to Christ and to what the Bible says. For them to know that when they suffer or when they walk through fear, or when they walk through anxiety, that the Lord is there to carry them and to hold their hand, and that they can do hard things and we can do hard things even as parents because of Christ. Because we live in a hard world, we don’t live in a perfect world. We would love our world to be perfect. As parents, I think we, you know, we try our hardest to make our world perfect for our kids. And some of our kids have to learn at a younger age than others that the world is very broken and very evil. But we can do hard things because of Christ.

Sarah [00:01:56] And so with that goal in mind for our conversation, would you share with us where you were in that moment when you first found out something was happening at your kids school?

Meredith [00:02:06] Sure. So I was actually it was a very normal morning at my house. I was sitting at my desk. I was actually on a work call and I got a text from a fellow friend who a teacher at another private school, and she said, “Are your kids okay?” And I looked at the text and it didn’t even you know, it just seemed like a weird text to send. And I wrote back, “Why wouldn’t they be?” And immediately she said, “There’s a situation at Covenant.” And right after that, my husband called me and he’s good friends with someone who works for the governor. And he said, “There’s a situation at our school and it doesn’t sound good.” And from that moment. It just became honestly a blur of me getting to the school as best as I could. Parents are arriving from everywhere, and one of the main memories I have is just praying on the way there and SWAT teams and ambulances and sirens passing me on the way and from there getting to where the roads were blocked off and finding a way on the back roads to get to the church where they had the reunification center where we were were all sent to hopefully be reunited with our kids. There was probably a good 2 hours there before we knew that our three kids were safe. And so one of those real feelings where you just you look back on it and I don’t even know if I can remember exactly everything I felt. I just remember being in such shock and shaking. It truly is a situation that you just never believe you’d find yourself in.

Sarah [00:03:40] You say 2 hours. Did that feel like the longest eternity?

Meredith [00:03:46] Yes, the longest eternity. There were a few parents who lived closer to the school and were able to get to the fire station where some of the kids had ran. We have a fire station right at the bottom of our hill of our school, and that’s where a lot of the classes escape to. And there were a few parents who were able to get there, and they were kind of able to text a few parents and say, I see your child and I see your child. But getting in the final like we knew pretty soon, within 45 minutes that our oldest was okay. And my husband ran up the hill to the fire station and of course, out of safety, the fire station had the doors locked and parents were not allowed in because technically the area still wasn’t secure. They didn’t know exactly what was going on still. And my husband went up to the window of the fire station in the garage area and put his face to the window. My daughter saw and ran over and she couldn’t hear him, so he typed on his phone, “Have you seen your sister and her brother?” And he held it up to the window and she, like, motioned to him. “I’ve seen Pressley Grace, which is our middle child, but I don’t know where Rhett is.” There were of a lot of moments where you were like, I think that means our second one’s okay, but we don’t know for sure. We didn’t find out about our son until much later because their school class was out on the playground that day. By the grace of God, I believe truly that God blinded that shooter. There was 50 kids on the playground and she walked right in the door that past that playground. And so his class escaped down the hill, through the forest, across the creek and out into like a main road. And a lady across the street who lived in a townhouse opened her door and let the whole class come in. So they were at a different location. So it just took a while for the school to be able to figure out where everybody was and where different classes had gone to. And so that was part of why it took so long.

Sarah [00:05:50] Can you tell me what it was like to embrace the three of them?

Meredith [00:05:54] Oh, my word. There is a moment I can tell you when they started busing the kids over from all the different places that they were to this church that we were all meeting at. We weren’t allowed to be with them for about even 3 hours after they arrived. They took them downstairs and we were upstairs in the sanctuary because there was so much like legality and stuff that they had to do. But I looked out the window and my husband called me over and there was my daughter hanging out of the back window, waving and just seeing her face. The tears just exploded on my face, just seeing her face and knowing that she was okay. And then a few minutes later, another bus came in and we saw our son get off. And I just…In those moments, you just realize so quickly, like, it’s all that matter. That’s all that matters. And as a wonderful and as incredible as it was in that moment when we knew our three children were safe. The truth of the matter was, we were in a room with all the parents from our school, and the news had been released that three adults and three children had died. And so we knew that there was incredible loss and we just didn’t know who and could be in a room of parents where everybody loved their children so much. To know that there were three families that were going to be devastated was just devastating. We’re a small school. We have a very small student body. And so, you know, you’re pretty tight with your community and you kind of know each other. Now, the three children who died were in third grade. They were not in the grades of my children. And so we weren’t super close with their families, but knew them, of course. And as any parent can imagine, just heartbroken, just completely heartbroken. A pastor of Covenant Church lost his daughter. You know, there’s no words for there’s no words to even understand, like the pain, whether you’re that family or whether you’re the family that knows the incredible suffering they’re going through. The only hope and all of that the only hope in all of it is that these families know the Lord. One of the things that the pastor shared at his daughter’s funeral for Hailey was these children are not ours. They belong to the Lord and God gives us our children. And while our desire as parents is to raise them and to have them for years, they truly belong to the Lord and they’re a gift to us. He gives them to us and for some it is a shorter time than others, and that we have to hand them back to Him because they belong to Him. To hear the incredible faith and hope that they have, even in the midst of their worst nightmare, is just so encouraging and just shows you the truth of the Holy Spirit and the reality of the Holy Spirit and the power that God brings and the strength in those moments. One other thing I will add about, I think something that is incredibly for me, awespiring about this whole thing is…we walk through life and the Lord walks with us and the Holy Spirit dwells among us. But when you walk through truly the valley of the shadow of death, or you walk through suffering or you walk through something traumatic, you feel the power of the Holy Spirit and peace truly brings a meaning to the verse that says that He gives the peace that surpasses understanding. Because one of the things that my husband and I can attest to over the past four weeks is we have felt His presence. We have felt, if you would have said this to us a week before it happened, I would have said that’s a parent’s worst nightmare. That’s the most horrific thing I could imagine happening to our school. While it is horrific, while it’s incredibly traumatic, and while we are just grieving for the loss of the six people who were incredibly a huge part of our community, the Lord has sustained us truly. And the thing that I find on fire about that is that it’s actually like the tangible presence of a Holy Spirit. There’s no other explanation for it because it’s not something the world can offer. It’s only something that can live in the heart of the body of Christ. And I’ve told a million people I could not be more humbled by people’s prayers for our family because we feel them like we feel them in our hearts. We feel them in the peace that we have. Sarah, I don’t feel fear. The first thought I had when I got in the car on the day drive into that school on March 27th, when I didn’t know if my kids were alive, my first thought was, If my kids are alive, I will never send them to school again. I’m going to home school from here on out. “Lord, I promise I’m not sending them again.” In my mind, I was just like, “It’s too dangerous. This is it. From now on, they will be with me.” And I can tell you very shortly after that day, the Lord replaced the spirit of fear with the spirit of peace and of rising up and in knowing that the Lord does not call us, He doesn’t even give us a spirit of fear. He gives us the spirit of victory, and He promises that He will be with us. And that’s one thing that I just I really don’t want to miss in this moment of passing on to my children is that we can do hard thing because of Christ and only because of Him, only because of the peace He gives, only because of the strength He gives us. So as we walk this road, I don’t feel fear and I don’t feel anger. I know that there might be moments and days where I have moments of, you know, in the morning when I send my kids to school and pray over them. I have moments of anxiety because the moment feel more precious now. But I can tell you that the Lord has sustained us in a way that is unimaginable. And I just wanted to say that because I think it’s so important for us to realize that God gives the daily bread in the measure that we need each day. The measure that He has given us is different than the measure He has given the families who lost their loved one and is different. The measure that He has given these third graders every day who experience incredibly traumatic things in their classroom. So it’s such a beautiful thing that the Lord gives us each the daily bread that we need for that day. All measure it out for exactly what we need to sustain us.

Sarah [00:12:37] There was a moment, and I know that you weren’t physically present for it, but you heard about it. It was when the parents were going back for something. It was the first chapel back.

Meredith [00:12:49] Correct. So they hosted our first chapel for our community to be back at the church in the building. And they wanted to, you know, one of the most amazing things that I felt like the church wanted right away was get people back in here as soon as we can. Like, this is the Lord building and this isn’t a place of fear and it’s for His purposes. So they hosted a chapel for the families to come back. Unfortunately, we had to miss that night because we had other things that we had to be at that. As you probably saw on social media and most people saw God just put this incredible rainbow in the sky. They came out of chapel and it was just completely on display before everybody. And when I saw it and when I heard about it my heart just said, That’s for the Lord. It’s just so the Lord is almost like Him saying, my covenant with you still stands. And I don’t even know any other way to explain it other than to say we just all knew the Lord was saying, “I’m with you. I’m with you even in this.”

Sarah [00:13:58] Yeah, I must have watched that that video like 20 times on a loop, because it wasn’t just a…It was a double rainbow and it was brilliant colors.

Meredith [00:14:09] Brilliant.

Sarah [00:14:10] How are you helping your children process? Have you seen some Holy Spirit wisdom come out of them?

Meredith [00:14:17] One of the first things that we have an incredible group of counselors in Nashville called Daystar Counseling. You may be familiar with Dave Thomas and Sissy Goff? Their national speakers, and they specialize in children’s therapy and counseling, and they came very early on that week to speak to us parents. One of the first things that they said to recognize is that grief and trauma in children is transient, meaning like an adult, we carry the heaviness with us at all times. It’s always on our mind, it’s always on our heart. We understand the depth of it. But with kids, they will be a child one second laughing and playing, and then the next second they may say something that is so deep or sad or profound that kind of catches your breath. I’ve found that really to be true as we’ve walked the road since then. They have been normal children at times, and at times they have asked some really hard, hard questions about their friends that they lost and the fear of Is our school safe now? Will this happen again? Does the shooter have a friend that’s going to come to our school? What about our other friends in the city? Are they safe? A lot of hard questions about were were our friends afraid, The ones that they lost. Were they afraid when they saw the shooter? Did Jesus take them straight to heaven? That’s a lot of hard questions that you just don’t envision having with your young children. But the thing that I have really not wanted to miss with my kids is trying to focus in on the truth of scripture that applies to not only their life in the sense that their life was spared and they were protected that day and they were safe to live another day, but that the same truths from the Lord apply to sweet Evelyn and little Hailey and little Will their friends. That when we live in Christ, we die in Christ. And that truly, Sarah is all we have. And if there’s anything that this has brought more into focus for me is that that is truly all that matters. One of the verses I feel like the Lord’s given me is Psalm 116:15, which says precious and of great consequence in the sight of the Lord is the death of His godly one. So He watches over them. That’s given me just so much peace as I’ve prayed over these families who lost their babies, who lost their mom, who lost their dad, who lost their their wife and their siblings. I just thought, you know, we see life from an early perspective and so we see the great loss on this side. But when we think of it on the perspective of the Lord to live and the body of Christ to live with Him, and today is also to live with Him. So I’ve tried to take those truths for my children and remind them that they are here and they are here with a purpose to serve the Lord. When the Lord determined that that purpose was done on that day, they will go to be with Him, too. So I really am just trying to confirm what God tells us in Scripture with them, that He is gracious, He’s consistently righteous, He’s compassionate, He protects us. The verse I prayed when they went back to school was Psalm 3:3. “But You O’Lord are a shield. My glory and my honor and the one who lift my head.” And like we can lift our head because the Lord truly walks before us and He puts his hand of blessing on us. And we know that because of that, that He’s going to heal hearts. He’s our shield and He’s our healer. So the only healing that can come out of this and the only beauty that can arise from ashes can come from Him.

Sarah [00:18:10] So many people say that I can’t believe this happened at my school. Right? Like you hear about it on the news, but it happened at my school. Do you say that? Are you surprised this happened?

Meredith [00:18:20] This is going to maybe sound weird, but I’m not surprised that this happened. I’m extremely surprised it happened at our little school. You never think that the things that you see on the news and that the tragedies that happened maybe around the world or across the nation. You of course never think that that’s going to be in your in your own community or in your specific school. But, Sarah, I’m not surprised that happened. I feel like we live in a world that is so broken. I feel like isolation is so big with people and I feel like there is such a lack of hope that people have to live for. When I think that this has happened, it still is shocking and it has taken me even even until now to process that this really happened, that this really happened at our school. But I feel like immediately I thought of what the Lord says in John 16:33, which is, “I’ve told you these things so that with me, you may perfect peace. In the world you will have tribulation and distress and suffering, but be courageous because I’ve overcome the world. This is not a story that I would have wanted for my children. This is not a story I would have chosen to have to explain to them at the ages that they’re at. My kids are ten, eight and seven, and so I would not have wanted to have to answer the questions that are asking or dealing with the issues that they’re dealing with. But something that gives me great peace Sarah is that the Lord has known that this would be their story. The Lord has known that this whole school community would walk through this. That was not a surprise to Him. Like when we started at the school five years ago, the Lord knew what the future would hold. One of the neat things is the school song. But the kids all know that we’re a beacon on the hill, shining God’s light. And if you know anything about Covenant here in Nashville, it’s up on this hill, kind of in the middle of green hills. You can kind of see it from a lot of places because it’s up on this hill and you can see the steeple. And I just thought, “Lord, if if there was any community that You wanted to raise Your bacon and raise your light like let it be ours.” Let it be ours. Our children are obviously going to walk a long road of healing and our children are going to carry this as a part of them. But they’re also going to carry the story of the way that God can take true beauty and bring it from ashes. He’s the only one that can take bad things and allow them for good. And that’s just something that I remind my children, like, “This was evil. This was tragic. There is evil in the world. There is brokenness in the world. But Christ has overcome this world and we already have victory in that. And so we carry that banner forward and we carry His Word forward.” As many days as He gives us on this earth. We raise up His name because He is the hope and He is the way and He is the truth and He is the light. If there’s anything that I can share with other parents and encourage them and say we don’t need to hide the fact that they’re scary things in this world, we don’t need to hide or shoulder our kids from the reality of the brokenness we live in. Obviously age appropriate, but to constantly point them to Christ and say, He is our reason, He is our reason for living. He will someday be with us when we pass on from this world. We’re going to carry his story in whatever way He asks us to. We’re going to carry forward.

Sarah [00:22:07] You’re actually already doing that as a community. Talk to me a little bit about some of the ways that you are all healing. I know I’ve seen therapy dogs at the school and you have some other things to talk about on that first day back. And then even with your own dog, that is the cutest dog we do.

Meredith [00:22:26] Her name’s Lottie. Oh, she has. So she is a big, fluffy wuffy sheep dog. And Sarah, I have to tell you, the day that we finally got reunited with our kids on March 27th is about 3:15. We were on our way home, and the first thing our kids said to us was, “We cannot wait to get home to Lottie.” The first 2 hours after we got home, my girls laid on our bed upstairs with Lottie, as they told me step by step about their day and everything that had happened. They just, they laid on top of her and just snuggled with her. The Lord has made animals to bring us joy and peace. I believe it so firmly. We have these incredible organizations that have come to Nashville since the shooting, and many of them are therapy organizations with dogs, and they have brought their puppies all different breeds and have brought them to our school. And they are there all day at school with the kids. They’re just such a calming presence. And there’s been several times where teachers have even shared with me that, like our kids have been triggered by something or been upset about something and they just have the dogs come in the room and the kids sit on the floor with them and they just pet on them. There’s something like tangible about the peace that an animal brings. Like there’s all kinds of like…I haven’t studied any of the research on it, but like, there’s like all these research studies on it that there’s something about that, like a tactile, like stroking of an animal’s fur and that it can be very grounding in the midst of anxiety. So we’re really grateful for our dog, and I’m so grateful to the organizations that are at our school and that will be at our school for the rest of the year, just allowing our kids to live on animals and still feel comfort and they bring a lot of smiles. Even to the parents. Even to the parents. We love them, too.

Sarah [00:24:22] Speaking of animals, I also know that your daughter rides horses, and I think that’s like next level therapy.

Meredith [00:24:29] She does. I’ll tell you what the past few weeks have been like…One of the things that she’s looked forward to the most is just going out to ride with her horse and even just one. The week that it all happened, she wanted to go out there and she just gave it a bath. She sat and closed it down and rubbed it down. I think her just being able to be on her horse and take care of the horse just filled her with such peace and joy. It’s something that takes her mind off of everything that’s happened and allows her just to just to be in that moment with that animal. There’s just a beauty and the empathy that animals have almost almost like they can feel her sorrow and they just, you know, they just bring up peace. So she does she loves she loves to be on a horse anytime she can.

Sarah [00:25:19] So that’s your kids. How has the body of Christ come alongside you and your husband with support?

Meredith [00:25:26] Sarah, I will be humbled the rest of my life and the love and the support we have seen for our school community within the city of Nashville and then across the nation to see then, even like between me and you and our colleagues in this industry and the love, the support, the prayers. I want to say one of the things that’s just been so incredible is seeing the love of churches in Nashville and the community and the way that they have supported Covenant. For example, just just as this one example on Easter, there was a group of ladies at a church who decided to put together Easter baskets for all the Covenant kids so that the parents wouldn’t have to run out in the midst of all of this and try and plan Easter baskets for their kids. They dropped the Easter baskets off at the door for every Covenant kid. And they were incredible baskets, not a typical basket with just that I would do with some chocolate eggs in it, but it’s targeted specifically for the child and Legos and just it brought so much joy to our children to see them receive that. So I’ve just been blown away. We’ve been blown away by organizations and our community. We’ve been blown away by churches in our community. The school that our children are finishing the year at their space has been offered up by a church in Nashville who just said, “Come on in here.” That’s just an incredible gift. And then our law enforcement, on our first day back to school, Sarah, the Nashville policemen came and had their horses and they lined up in front of our school. And it was just this moment when we turned in to school to see the policemen on their horses all lined up in honor of the kids coming back. And it was just this feeling of camaraderie and safety and protection. I just I don’t know, I’ve never felt so proud of our community in like, just the way that people have poured out their love and support.

Sarah [00:27:33] It makes me tear up when you talk because I can see that picture.

Meredith [00:27:37] When I turned in the school that day, which was a really anxious day for everybody, and it tears just like streamed on my face because to see these incredible first responders who came to our school and to see them on horseback, and then there were several more who were there with their dog and just to see the way that they love our city and the way that they love our kids and the way that they put their lives on the line literally every day to protect them. I just I don’t know. I will be humbled the rest of my life by the incredible people. And one of the things I tell my kids over and over is, “Yes, there is evil in the world, but there is more good. There are incredibly kind and loving people in this world. And when something horrific happens, they wrap around you.” I’ve been so grateful for that.

Sarah [00:28:29] Well, I’m so grateful for you sharing so much of this. I hope that and I know you do as well. I just hope it breaks the chains of fear for anybody listening. Do have any final thoughts before we go?

Meredith [00:28:40] Only God can bring beauty from it, you know? He’s the only one that can bring good out of it. We are going to hold Him. We are just trusting His Word on that. And so that’s what He says in Scripture. We’re going to trust that.

Sarah [00:28:58] Thanks so much for being here today on The Passion Meets Purpose podcast. We’re going to talk again in two weeks. But in the meantime, if you want to do us a huge favor, obviously you know this by now. If you leave a review, it really helps others to find this podcast. It also helps us to make it better and then you can contact us anytime at purposely podcasts. Until next time. Thank you.

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