Monday, November 06, 2006

Shaken and Stirred

I used to live in California, back in the day when I was young and big hair was still kind of “in”. I was in my glory then, as I have notoriously big hair and thus felt pretty hip. Nowadays I have to slather all kinds of cream and grease on it to get it to have that smooth, sophisticated style all the women seem to have. In a crowd, it’s easy to find me. Just look for the woman with the really frustrated hair.

I lived smack dab in the middle of the San Fernando Valley, a lovely part of Southern California, where all the Hollywood studios are and lots of famous people live. I lived, as fate would have it, just five miles away from a town called Northridge, and in 1994 Northridge was the epicenter of a very large earthquake. It was 6.7 on that mysterious machine all the scientists use to measure these things, the Richter Scale. It “hit” at about 4:30 in the morning, on Martin Luther King Day. It literally threw me and my then toddler daughter out of bed. We hit the floor, while the house shook and shimmied, and the floor rocked and felt somehow liquid-fied beneath us, and things crashed and banged and sloshed and rumbled for a period of about 15 seconds. During this 15 seconds I don’t remember much else except clutching my little girl to my chest and telling her again and again that I loved her. Because, you see, I really thought we were going to die and I wanted her to know. I think she knew, in retrospect, but at the moment it was very important that she really know. I’m sure you can relate.

When the quake finally stopped, it was chaos. For one thing, there was no moon that night. I remember that distinctly because of course the power had gone out and it was black as pitch. I can remember trying to climb over furniture that had fallen over, and broken glass, to get to my grandmother’s room next to mine and calling out to her in a panic. I remember the relief of hearing her call back, as calm as ever, “I’m alright…I’m alright…” There were, it seemed, tons of dogs barking and car alarms sounding off. I heard some people crying out and yelling. I do remember praying, especially when the first aftershock hit shortly after. An aftershock is like a mini version of the initial quake, and thousands of them happen after a big one. The three of us stood in an interior doorway, as any Californian is educated to do, while the aftershocks came and went, and prayed for daylight, and our family in the next town, and that, please God, just make the ground stay STILL.

Anyone who has ever lived through a major earthquake can tell you, it is devastating. When morning finally came, we marveled at the wreckage. We watched cars parked on the street rock back and forth slowly while the ground literally buckled with aftershocks. Our swimming pool, 30 feet from our back door, had almost emptied itself onto the back porch. My gram lost her china. A neighbor with a monkey wrench came by and turned off the gas. I remember thinking that he was very unselfish for leaving his own family to go house-to-house to make sure his neighbor’s gas was off. And I remember being grateful that we were safe. Time progressed, the power was restored, but the cities around us were broken and a lot of buildings were almost-rubble. The news gave us an accounting of the dead and injured and awful tragedies like the 3 story apartment building in Northridge that had “pancaked” into one story, flattening the people inside as they slept. A motorcycle patrolman on his late shift had driven right off the end of a freeway that had collapsed. The parks became full of families in tents who refused to go back to their apartment buildings out of fear of more quakes. We DID heal, eventually, and rebuilt. But that feeling of non-reality, and terror, didn’t leave me for a long, long time. Every time a truck would rumble by outside and shake the house, I would head for a doorway. In retrospect, I think I suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and I am sure many of us did.

I think about this experience when I read about the coming of the day of the Lord. Now, I’m not one to be expecting Him today or tomorrow (although, we are admonished to live every day as if His appearance were immanent and keep that lamp burning brightly.) I know no man knows the day nor the hour. But I read, in 2 Peter 3, a description of the Day of Christ’s return, from the New American Standard Bible:

8 But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day.
9 The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.
11 Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness,
12 looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat!

Natural disasters abound around us. Because of our ability to film and televise these events, we are given a first-hand look at what a Tsunami or an avalanche, a flash flood or an earthquake really is like. When the world around you is so shaken, so turned upside down, it reminds you of how very, very small you are and how large the earth is and that in reality you are in control of nothing. When we sifted through our belongings after the quake we noted what we had lost. Nowadays, I think about what I gained through this experience: humility in the knowledge that if I can’t control the ground beneath me, I had better get friendly with the Guy Who does.
When the Lord returns, it will be unexpected. The sky and the air around us will be on fire. The very foundations of nature will be burning, the foundations of all things will be melting with intense heat. To meditate on this is frightening. I am reminded of the feeling of the earth beneath my feet being dissolved into liquid, its solidity gone and gravity uprooted. I remember praying in terror that this not be the “big one” that scientists have long- predicted will eventually destroy California. I am both hopeful for Christ’s return and terrified of it, but I am, above all else, assured of it. And this fear does prompt me to be a better Christian and to cooperate with the grace given to me daily. Living through that earthquake awakened in me the reality that God “…holds in His hands the depths of the earth, and the highest mountains as well. He made the sea; it belongs to Him, the dry land too, for it was formed by His hands.”


Blogger Laura H. said...

This is such a great post. I will remember things such as these that you have shared during the Office from now on. There is definitely new meaning to the 'old' words. Thank you!

You've been added to my sidebar, btw.

2:10 PM  

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