Outside the house the wind is howling and the trees are creaking horribly. This is an old story with its old beginning, as I lay me down to sleep. But when I wake up, sunlight has taken over the room. You have already made the coffee and the radio brings us music from a confident age. In the paper bad news is set in distant places. Whatever was bound to happen in my story did not happen. But I know there are rules that cannot be broken. Perhaps a name was changed. A small mistake. Perhaps a woman I do not know is facing the day with the heavy heart that, by all rights, should have been mine. ~Lisel Mueller “In November” from Alive Together
It does not escape me~
(I wake every day knowing this)
the earthquake happened somewhere else,
a windstorm leveled a town,
a drunk driver destroyed a family,
a fire left a house in ashes,
a missing child finally found at the bottom of a cliff,
a flood ravaged a village,
a devastating diagnosis darkens
someone’s remaining days.
No mistake has been made,
yet I wake knowing this part of my story
has not yet visited me,
the heavy heart
that should have been mine
The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.
For thus says the LORD of hosts, Once more in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land. I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts. Haggai 2:6-7
In March 2012, we stayed with our friends Brian and Bette Vander Haak at their cabin on a bluff just above the beach at Sendai, Japan, just a few dozen feet above the devastation that wiped out an entire fishing village below during the 3/11/11 earthquake and tsunami. We walked that stretch of beach, learning of the stories of the people who had lived there, some of whom did not survive the waves that swept their houses and cars away before they could escape. We walked past the footprints of foundations of hundreds of demolished homes, humbled by the rubble mountains yet to be hauled away to be burned or buried and scanned acres of wrecked vehicles now piled one on another, waiting to become scrap metal. It is visual evidence of life suddenly and dramatically disrupted.
This was a place of recreation and respite for some who visited regularly, commerce and livelihood for others who stayed year round and then, in ongoing recovery efforts, was struggling to be restored to something familiar. Yet it looked like a foreign ghostly landscape. Even many trees perished, lost, broken off, fish nets still stuck high on their scarred trunks. There were small memorials to lost family members within some home foundations, with stuffed animals and flowers wilted from the recent anniversary observance.
It was a powerful place of memories for those who lived there and knew what it once was, how it once looked and felt, and painfully, what it became in a matter of minutes on 3/11. The waves swept in inexplicable suffering, then carried their former lives away. Happiness gave ground to such terrible pain that could never have hurt as much without the joy that preceded it.
We want to ask God why He doesn’t do something about the suffering that happens anywhere a disaster occurs –but if we do, He will ask us the same question right back. We need to be ready with our answer and our action.
God knows suffering. Far more than we do. He took it all on Himself, feeling His pain amplified, as it was borne out of His love and joy in His creation.
Now five years later, on March 11, beautiful Tohoku and Sendai, and its dedicated survivors are slowly recovering, but their inner and outer landscape is forever altered. What remains the same is the tempo of the waves, the tides, and the rhythm of the light and the night, happening just as originally created.
In that realization, pain gives way. It cannot stand up to His love, His joy, and our response.
“When the oceans rise and thunders roar I will soar with You above the storm Father you are King over the flood I will be still, know You are God” from “Still”
During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn
Before going to bed After a fall of snow I look out on the field Shining there in the moonlight So calm, untouched and white Snow silence fills my head After I leave the window.
Hours later near dawn When I look down again The whole landscape has changed The perfect surface gone Criss-crossed and written on where the wild creatures ranged while the moon rose and shone.
why did my dog not bark? Why did I hear no sound There on the snow-locked ground In the tumultuous dark?
How much can come, how much can go When the December moon is bright, What worlds of play we’ll never know Sleeping away the cold white night After a fall of snow. – May Sarton, December Moon
Near midnight, a 4.8 earthquake centered off Vancouver Island occurred only 30 miles from us.
Friends a few miles away were jolted awake in their beds yet I was still up and felt nothing whatsoever.
Like nocturnal secrets that happen routinely outside our windows without our awareness,
we miss amazing things if we’re not paying attention.
We sleep our lives away
or we can stay tuned.
Why did the dogs bark in the night?
Could be a cat or raccoon walked by,
or an intruder,
or the moon was just so compelling
there was no other rational response.
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?” J.R.R. Tolkien, Samwise Gamgee waking to find his friends all around him in The Lord of the Rings
“The answer is yes. And the answer of the Bible is yes. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue.” Pastor Tim Keller’s response in a sermon given in an ecumenical prayer service memorial in Lower Manhattan on the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11.
In our minds, we want to rewind and replay the events of a tragedy in a way that would prevent it from happening in the first place. We want to bring the dead and injured back to health again. The major devastating earthquake becomes a mere tremor, the flooding tsunami is only one foot, not over thirty feet tall, the terrorist hijackers are prevented from ever boarding a plane, the shooter changes his mind at the last minute, lays down his arms, disables his booby trap bombs and calls someone for help with his distress and anger.
We want so badly for it all to be untrue. The bitter reality of horrendous suffering and sadness daily all over the earth is too much for us to absorb. We plead for relief, beg for a better day.
Our minds may play mental tricks like this, but God does not play tricks. He knows and feels what we do. He too wants to see it rewound and replayed differently. He has known grief and sadness, He has wept, He has suffered, He too has died. And because of this, because of a God who came to dwell with us, was broken, died and then rose again whole and holy, we are assured, in His time, everything sad is going to come untrue.
Our tears will be dried, our grief turned to joy, our pain nonexistent, not even a memory. It will be a new day, a better day–as it is written, trustworthy and true.
May it come.
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. Revelation 21: 4-5
For thus says the LORD of hosts,
Once more in a little while,
I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land.
I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations,
and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.
This could have been anywhere on the earth–and it has been at one time or another over many millennia. We happen to live on uneasy soil. Most recently the devastation has been in Chile, Haiti, Sumatra, Philippines. It could have been right here in the earthquake prone and long overdue Pacific Northwest. I tread carefully across the yard, wondering if with the next step, the earth will rise to meet my foot, alive and seething.
This time it happened near one of the largest cities on earth, right where people most precious to me in all the world live and work. It just happened, whisking away thousands of people in a matter of minutes.
There are many interpretations about what this might mean. Some imply it is judgment. Some dismiss it as simple relief of seismic pressure, building since the last major earthquake in the area in 869 A.D.
I believe it happens “once more, in a little while.” It is a reminder we are only along for the ride; we don’t do the steering, and we’re not in control of the itinerary or the timing of the destination. We are shaken awake, not out of judgment (which has already convicted us all), but with the shattering realization that our rescue is at hand.
We must reach out and hang on tight, once more, in a little while.