Tuesday, February 28, 2012

God in the Cracks


Beauty among the ruins
Photo by
Ross Becker, photographer

Anita asked me to do a guest post on Dreaming Beneath the Spires. Come on over and read my post there, as well as some other amazing stories from other bloggers.  Thanks for inviting me Anita!

24 February 2011, I was sitting beside a rural road near Christchurch, New Zealand, hugging my knees to my chest and trying to cry.

Two days earlier I had been running for my life as my city came crashing to the ground around me. For the first two days I'd been concentrating so much on survival – walking 2 hours home, part of the way barefoot, then boiling rainwater we'd collected for using in the garden so we had something to drink, walking 5km to the only supermarket that was open to buy milk and bread. On this day, the emotions finally started catching up with me.

I sat surrounded by open fields and empty sky, yet every time I closed my eyes all I could see was the wall of a three story building toppling towards me in slow motion. There is still gritty dust through my hair, ears and fingernails. There is still no water supply, so no chance to wash, only hand sanitizer.

Sitting beside that farm gate, my guts ached with grief. It was a raw, bleeding, empty kind of feeling, like some part of my soul had been ripped out. I was seeking solitude to cry and pray, but tears wouldn't come, all I had was an aching pressure behind my eyes and a tightness in my chest.

I tried to pray, but words wouldn't come, and all I could feel was the pain in my spirit. All my mind can do is replay again and again my mind replayed the jolty jerky feeling in my stomach as the ground lurched beneath me.

I remembered a day in my late teens, more than 20 years ago, when I had also sought solitude, this time walking and sitting beside a river. There I had prayed for the first time, “God, I can't do this. I've made a mess of my life, so I'm handing my life over to you.” A promise came into my mind “Don't be afraid. I will never leave you or forsake you. No matter where you go or what happens I will never leave you.

In February 2011 I couldn't connect to God's presence, but I held onto the promise that he was still with me, carrying me through this valley of the shadow of death. Everything else has stripped away, but I cling onto Faith.

Since September 2010, my city has been experiencing an on-going seismic event. Some 10,000 aftershocks, 41 of them have been greater than magnitude 5. The most recent “big” one was a magnitude 6 on 23 December 2011. Even as I'm writing this I feel a vibration rumble past beneath me. I inhale and my stomach clenches, then it passes. (That was a magnitude 3.4, at 3km depth about 10km south of my house). Prior to September 2010, there had not been any significant earthquakes in the region for more than a century.

The past year, I've experienced the anxiety of going about life, never sure when the “next one” will come. I would go into shopping malls, and scan around to work out where the best “safe place” would be. I avoid brick walled buildings, crossing the street if I need to.

I've experienced watching the cranes and diggers and “munchers” demolish my city. Nearly 1400 commercial buildings either have been or are being deconstructed, many of them heritage buildings. The Cathedral that was the heart of my City lies in ruins, as the debate continues among both believers and non-believers for its future. 6,500 homes in the suburbs have been abandoned, the land unable to be rebuilt on. Others still await the assessment of their fate.

As the days and weeks went by. The tears came in their time, and I learned to grieve and lament. But prayer remained beyond my reach. I offered my tears as prayers, but the emptiness within me remained. “I know there is more than this. I've experienced God's presence in the past, and I long to find that again.”

And the quakes kept coming.

Winter came, and our house was not weather-tight – our chimney had collapsed leaving us without heating, and our roof covered by a tarpaulin. Rainwater dripped through the ceiling.

I was so thankful that our chimney was replaced by a steel flue and our wood-burner repaired in time for the “once in 50 years” blizzard that hit mid year. A month later we lived through a “once in 70 years” snow storm.

I strived to pray. I tried to find my soul again, but the sense of connecting with God was simply not there. I still felt hollow, like a part of me was missing. Then I realised I was trying to find God with my own effort. It's like trying to pull myself up with my shoelaces. “Lord, I can't do this. Only you can. I'm letting go. I am here, and I trust you.”

I was burnt out and exhausted. I had run out of “cope”. I went to work, I looked after my children, then once they were in their beds I would curl up on the sofa or on my bed. I'd try to lose myself in reading fiction. Anywhere but the here and now. I didn't even want to log onto my computer. I stopped writing and blogging. Everyone else I spoke to in Christchurch was experiencing the same kind of fatigue.

Recovery has come slowly. It has taken over a year since that day beside the rural road. Counselling has helped, as has asking as many people as I can to please pray for me. The difference came as I found myself space to be quiet and still. As I stopped trying to pray, I just sat and waited. “I am here, Lord.” In the stillness, I started to feel the smallest flicker, no more than a whisper of life within my spirit again. I found that I could pray again, and feel the response within my spirit again.

2012 is the year my city will begin its rebuild. It will never be the same as it was before the earthquakes, and tears come as I write that sentence, but what it will be is stronger, and better. My life will never be the same again, but God has stayed true to his promise. He never left me, and I know I will come through this stronger and better.

How you can help Christchurch recover:

  1. Pray. Pray for those who grieve for the 185 lives lost on 22nd February 2011. Pray for the injured, who are still recovering. Pray for those traumatised, the emotional wounds that for many are still raw. Those burnt out and exhausted. Pray for those struggling with insurance issues, and uncertainty about their future.

  1. Donations can be made through:

  • The Christchurch Earthquake Mayoral Relief Fund provides funding toward projects that contribute to the rebuilding of the social and physical infrastructure of Christchurch following the earthquakes.

  • The Red Cross 2011 Christchurch Earthquake Appeal is focused on welfare issues providing emergency & hardship grants as well as bereavement grants.

  • The Christchurch Earthquake Appeal (NZ Government) will help rebuild those things that are at the heart of Christchurch communities, the places and services that make a city worth living in; community facilities which took decades of fundraising to put in place, such as sports fields, parks, community buildings and historic buildings, which were ruined within hours.

Friday, February 24, 2012

That Day

There have been lots of memories in Christchurch this week, as we remember the 2011 Christchurch Earthquake a year go.

(Video from http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/christchurch-earthquake-2011/12-51/videos/6410834/That-day)

(Those observant readers who know me personally might spot yours truly in this video too)

I attended the memorial service on Wednesday.  It was a different mood from the one last year, more reflective  than intensely emotional.  I've not felt "ready" to watch the movie "When A City Falls" which was screened on TV3 - but I have recorded it to watch later when I am "ready".  I would recommend everyone outside of Christchurch see this too.

I've been feeling tired again this week.  It feels like a physical tiredness, but I do wonder whether the emotional energy is contributing too.  I've been taking things quietly and I'll catch up with you all again next week.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

I have stilled and quieted my soul

One of my favourite Psalms when I’m not able to sleep is:

Psalm 131

1 My heart is not proud, O LORD,
   my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
   or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
   like a weaned child with its mother,
   like a weaned child is my soul within me.

My three year old son loves his cuddles.  He climbs onto my lap, snuggles his head onto my shoulder, and wraps his arms around my neck.  He doesn’t want me to do anything, he’s not trying to figure things out or have a long conversation with me, he just needs me to be there for him.

 (Given that this is the first time I've done any sketching in years it's not a bad first attempt)

It’s said that God speaks in a whisper.  It’s hard to hear a whisper until you’re quiet and still enough to listen.  I get so busy sometimes with doing and thinking I forget to take the time to still my mind so I can listen to my spirit.

And if I’m quiet enough, I can just hear the whisper of God.  He’s humming to me a lullaby.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Hope, trust and believe


A bulb looks dry and dead in the autumn.  There is no life all winter, then in the spring the smallest green shoot pushes through the soil.  But it still looks so small and vulnerable surrounded by such barren dusty dirt. 

Photo: http://greenjeane.blogspot.co.nz/2011/12/odd-timing.html used with permission.

The smallest spark as the flint strikes to light the campfire. The firewood is damp. I shield the smouldering tinder from the cold wind, and carefully feed it with what dry kindling I can find. I gently blow on the small flame, coaxing it to life.

I have seen the glimmer of life in my soul.  It’s as small and vulnerable as a small green shoot, or a smouldering flame

Lots of people I’m talking to in Christchurch are running out of cope. It’s hard to see the end of the grief and stress. But I hold on to Faith.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for. I am hoping for new life.  For restoration and renewal.

A lawn of daffodils. A warm campfire, roasting potatoes.

Photo: http://penelopepiscopal.blogspot.co.nz/2012/02/daffodils-redux.html used with permission.

Campfire New Years Eve 2009

A small trickle of a spring that flows into a river.

I hope, trust and believe for new growth, new life.  Healing will come. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012


It’s February.

And 11 days it will be the first anniversary of the fatal Christchurch Earthquake. 

So there’s lots of media stories about “one year on” and lots of remembering.

I’m finding it quite hard sometimes – some of my memories I’d sort of tucked away. At the time it hurt too much, so I pushed the grief down so I could cope. It’s now starting to resurface, just a bit at a time.

March 2011. A group of women sit around a table, sipping hot drinks. Candles on the table cast a soft glow of light over bowls of chocolates and platters of cheese and crackers.  The women are de-briefing, talking about their experiences.

Then one turns to me. “What about you? Where were you?”

“I was in Cashel Mall.”

“Oh.” The group falls silent for a few minutes.

November. It's my first visit to a counsellor. I look at the window without focusing on what's there. I'm trying to find the words to explain why I'm there.

“I expected that it would take time to recover after my traumatic experience.”

“Did you have a traumatic experience?”

“I was in Cashel Mall on February 22nd.”


I wrote a brief introduction to a Facebook group I’d joined.  “Was in Cashel Mall on Feb 22nd” 

The first comment in response was “Wow, Cashel Mall - HUGE hug” 

So apart from this blog, which I posted the following day when it was still raw and I was still in shock, I’ve not really had much chance to tell my story about what it was actually like in Cashel Mall that day.  Usually the listener hears “Cashel Mall” and nothing else needs to be said.

When I was approached by one of my readers to contribute to a video montage about the events of that day I was happy to do so.  I think it was the first time someone had told me to just tell the story of what happened that day, in my own words.

I’ve also been writing my story.  Maybe someday it might even grow from a baby story into something that might be publishable, but I feel like I have to finish walking the journey first.  In the meantime I’ve been writing the memories as they come back to me.  In some ways writing about the events of 22nd February 2011 hasn’t been as hard is remembering what it was like on the 23rd February, the 24th, the 25th, the next week, and the week after that.  The gut felt grief and pain aren’t so tangible, it’s harder to find the words to describe them.  As I remember, I feel again the emotions of that time.

Join with me in remembering at 12:51pm on 22nd February.  And for all of us who are still in the process of healing, of finding ourselves again,  let’s continue to pray for each other. 

Monday, February 6, 2012

Broken beer bottles are funny - YEAH RIGHT!

An open letter to the breweries:

Dear Sirs,

Smashing an empty beer bottle onto a school path is such a grown-up thing to do  ... YEAH RIGHT!

That broken glass will magically disappear before the kids go to school in the morning ... YEAH RIGHT!

It would be really funny if someone got hurt on the broken glass ... YEAH RIGHT!

Since beer drinkers can't be responsible with their empties, the breweries will switch to plastic bottles ... Yeah, right?

These photos were taken this afternoon at my local school.  I'm assuming the drinkers of this product were too intoxicated to consider the implications of leaving their broken glass mess for someone else to clean up.  Perhaps the producers of this product might consider taking some responsibility, and considering changing the packaging to something less hazardous.

I would appreciate seeing some action on this issue.

Yours sincerely.