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.


  1. Hi there. I was really moved to read this. On the other side of the world, we hear about the disaster, but often we dont't stop to think about the aftershocks (literal and emotional). I can really relate to the process you describe of feeling distant from God at a moment of crisis and being unable to pray. So often I think we have an unhelpful myth that God feels most close at times of crisis - often that is not the case. I'm so glad to hear that you are beginning to feel the start of spiritual 'thawing' - hoping for further healing for you in his time. Thank you for your honesty and courage.

  2. Thank you for your encouraging comment Tanya.

    You're right that there are a lot of unhelpful myths about how faith works in crisis. I met some of them through my journey.

    One of the things that probably made a difference was that my whole community was struggling through the same crisis. I'd often talk about my feelings, and get a response of "yeah, me too", so I never felt like I was the only one feeling that way. I wonder if those who have more individual grief find it harder not having that shared experience. I pray that my journey might be able to help encourage some of those people.