It’s been ten days since the earthquake. There have been over 3,000 aftershocks so far, with, according to the local news :: “no end in sight.”
The morning it happened was a normal morning. We were FaceTiming with my sister and nephew (they got to witness a few seconds of the chaos until the power went out, disconnecting our call), getting ready to head out the door to take the girls to school. Thank God I was holding Oaken and had the girls right by my side when it happened.
The shaking began, and for a split second I assumed it was just a normal earthquake (we get a lot of them up here, usually just small shaking, the girls hardly ever even notice them). Immediately, though, we knew this one was different - it was LOUD. It sounded like a train pummeling through our house. On top of that sound, everything began falling off the walls and crashing to the floor, so the noise got even louder. The shaking was HARD. We could barely take steps without falling.
The kids and I scrambled around trying to figure out what to do. We ducked under the kitchen island counter and I screamed to Rayne, “What did they teach you at school?!?!?” to which she replied, “for what?”. Guys, Rayne has been doing earthquake drills all year. She knows exactly what to do in an earthquake. The only problem was, she didn’t know what an earthquake was.
That thought has stuck with through the week.
I think Christians live that same way. Christians spend their lives preparing for heaven. Checking off boxes of salvation drills. Sinners prayer, check. Baptism, check. Church on Sundays, check. And so on. But in the middle all those drills, all that preparation for the kingdom of heaven, we completely miss it.
Richard Rohr writes ::
“Jesus clearly says the kingdom of heaven is among us (Luke 17:21) or ‘at hand’ (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). One wonders why we made it into a reward system for later, or as someone called it, ‘a divine evacuation plan’ from this world. Maybe it was easier to obey laws and practice rituals for later reward than to actually be transformed now.”
Eventually, the shaking stopped - it lasted for almost ten minutes (we later found out that this was the initial 7.0 followed six minutes later by a 5.7, with aftershocks happening simultaneously). It was dark. The power had gone out and since we are in the heart of an Alaskan winter, that means cold and dark. We buddied up with neighbors and stayed in community all day (really all week) long.
I was so thankful that Ben got to us a couple hours after the earthquake. He had been playing hockey at an ice rink in downtown Anchorage. They felt the shaking, but not as intensely as people who were inside did. The power went out and they saw green lights exploding around the city - transformers going out. For a confusing couple of seconds, Ben didn’t know whether it was an earthquake or war. When he couldn’t get through to me by phone, he jumped in his car and came straight home. His normal 30 minute drive was a couple of hours, but if he had waited any longer it would have been 5+ hours. He made it over the bridge to our house moments before they closed it (I told him he should have never even considered driving over the bridge and he told me it was a “calculated risk” he was willing to take to get to us).
So here we are, ten days later. The girls back at school today for the first time. PTSD game strong. Every sound, every movement, every truck that drives by, and especially every earthquake sends me back into fight or flight mode. Bradlee woke up screaming with night terrors twice last night. We’re finding new cracks in our walls that are either appearing with the aftershocks or we just didn’t notice initially. We’re putting together “go bags” with water, food, blankets, and flashlights. We’re realizing how lucky we were and how unprepared we were for an event like this.
But what about that transformation, that kingdom-now experience that Richard Rohr referred to? I remember in the middle of the shaking, the loud chaos, the darkness, I held onto my kids and looked around the house and thought to myself, “God’s not here. I’m completely alone.”
I have a choice now - I can choose to stay in a constant state of fear, believing I am alone, or I can allow myself to receive transformation.
I’m aware of the timing of all of this - last week was the first week of Advent as well as Hanukkah. My mother-in-law wrote these words that have stuck with me ::
“The message [of Advent & Hanukkah] is the same - the miracle of Light! Hope and Light in the midst of our chaos. Light that reminds us that we are never alone. Light that reminds us to find and love the light in others. Darkness can not overcome the Light and the Life of all.”
My memory of those moments is filled with darkness and hopelessness. But there’s more to the story, more that I couldn’t see. If you’ve experienced trauma, and want to find the light, don’t give up. It’s there.
As I receive my own transformation, I want to share some powerful ways I have begun to see the light in the darkness. Ways that even my memory of the event itself is being transformed from fear and loneliness to hope and love.
My friend and mentor who has walked through her own trauma, gave this beautiful advice to start off with :: “Give it a hug. In other words, deeply accept that this happened; that God allowed this in your life for His glory and your good; embrace it in the inner parts of your being and stop questioning/wondering/rejecting it/fighting it. It is now and forever part of your story.” Once you’ve accepted it and allowed it into your story, transformation can begin. Not all at once, and not quickly. But piece by piece, God will transform each bit of fear into faith.
Address the physical anxiety. PTSD is real, and you don’t want to ignore it. Our bodies aren’t designed to go into panic mode this much. Close friends and family sent us such sweet gifts to help with this - a weighted blanket, gift cards for groceries and new dishes, chocolate bars, essential oils and more. There are so many ways we can address self-care on our own after a crisis, but don’t discard seeking help from a counselor or doctor. Therapy (and play therapy, for kids) is an important part of the process after any traumatic event.
Take note of the “treasures” as you think back to the event. It’s easy for our minds to retain negative feelings and thoughts, but we have to work harder for joy and gratitude to stick. It’s so important to think back and acknowledge the good that came from a bad experience. For me, this is acknowledging that we were SAFE during the earthquake. We were together - in fact we were huddled together in a little hug, sticking together like honey, which just happens to be our Winship family motto! We grew closer with our community - our neighborhood banded together and has continued to be there for one another in the days after the earthquake.
Embrace normalcy without ignoring that it happened. Getting back to routine was helpful for us, but we made it a point to talk about the earthquake (and remember those treasures!) and look for how it affected the community. We looked at broken houses, cracks in the road, fallen trees - we saw how the earthquake was big and affected everyone, but we also took note of how people worked together to overcome the trials.
As time goes by, bit by bit, begin to exchange the lies and negative emotions for truth and peace. This isn’t a quick process - it takes time. With each negative emotion (fear, sadness, loneliness, guilt, etc.) that pops up, take time to dig and discover what lies you are believing about yourself and God that are preventing you from feeling full peace. We have access to kingdom truth - we have access to transformation now.
The news says there’s no end in sight. But there can be an end to the fear. An end to the anxiety. An end to the flashbacks of those horrible moments. There can be a redemption of my memory of the earthquake - there’s more than darkness and hopelessness that was going on.
There was protection.
I told the girls later that day that I felt scared when we were huddled under the table. I told them that I felt alone and even wondered if God was there and why I couldn’t find him. Bradlee looked at me with a calm, consoling smile and said, “If you had just looked you would have seen Him.”
“Where would I have seen Him baby?”
“He was with us, huddled under the table with us!”
// Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel, God with us.
This Christmas season, may you find the Hope and Light in the midst of your chaos.
Love, the Winships aka the Honey Family