On a scorching hot summer day, I tiptoed precariously into the dark walk-in closet in my bedroom where our eighth child had been peacefully sleeping since I lay him in his Moses basket there late the night before.
In one calamitous moment that felt like all four wheels propelling the trajectory of my life were screeching to a high-pitched halt, I came face to face with what my nightmares had been made of: my tiny baby boy was barely breathing, his eyes were rolled back into his head, his lips were blue.
Sometimes, God does that. He takes a mortifying moment and allows everything to come crashing down on top of us.
I’m reminded of a day several decades ago when my college boyfriend and I were enjoying the beginning of an early autumn evening when suddenly the walls of his fraternity house began to ripple and we heard sudden, clamorous crashes, whooping and hollering, and the distant boom – or three – of an earthquake.
That earthquake turned out to be the 1989 Loma Prieta, with a Bay Area epicenter 110 miles away from the university where I met and eventually married my college sweetheart. Both native Californians, that October evening earthquake wasn’t the first time we’d staggered over to a door frame and anchored ourselves there until the rumblings passed. But it wasn’t until the news of the destruction closer to the epicenter in the Santa Cruz mountains and the photos and footage hit the 6 o’clock news that we saw what a huge, big deal this one was. This one – with a collapsed major bridge spanning the bay, entire neighborhoods slipping into sinkholes and oblivion, and fire damage to cities up and down the coast – this one was life-changing.
Three years after the Loma Prieta earthquake shook the bay and neighboring cities, we moved into a five-story brick apartment building over a pizza parlor and across from a 1960‘s-era liquor store in the heart of downtown San Francisco. Much had changed since that October evening quake; neighborhoods like the Marina District were almost completely rebuilt, high rises were in the process of retrofitting, and San Franciscans were carrying on with their lives as if nothing but improvements had been made.
Which brings me back to God and His way of making improvements in our own lives. When the earthquake hits, we often can’t see anything except the momentary havoc playing out before our eyes. We can’t imagine that our world will be made right again, that the chaos can be augmented and reorganized, and we certainly cannot fathom wholeness ever again.
It isn’t until we have a few weeks or months or, more likely, years behind us that we begin to see the sun rising again over our story. The foundation is still there, but the rebuild is more beautiful than we could have imagined. Harder, perhaps. Punctuated by loss, for certain. But the light has filtered into the cracks where we had puttied the cement ourselves, smoothed over and filled in and made whole. Sturdy. Dependent on the one who filled in the cracks.
That morning when I found our baby limp and on the verge of death, I couldn’t peer down the hallway of time to get a glimpse of how this would end. I didn’t know how the nasty virus eating away at his brain and shutting all of his systems down would turn our world upside down and backwards, issuing one mighty quake that led to a thousand aftershocks, which, ultimately, led to our freedom in Christ.
Are you there? Staring at the baby barely breathing? Riding in the ambulance that is taking you to a future you cannot yet comprehend? Hugging the door frame as the walls around you shift and shake and roll?
Here’s what I can tell you: It might get harder before it gets easier. The walls might shake and the foundation crack and you may find yourself plunged into a sinkhole you could never hope to get out of on your own. It is in those troublesome seasons and situations when we either cling to God or reject Him, and our choices can mean the difference between beauty and destruction.
As we weathered more unthinkable trials even after our very sick baby boy was returned home to us, I found myself on a teeter totter that had up moments of trusting God with breathtaking abandonment and low moments when I yelled at Him and sunk into a black hole of depression that I could not find my way out of. All I could rely on was what I knew to be true of God, even if I could not see that character of His in my moments of utter despair.
These are the truths we have to whisper to ourselves:
“Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps His covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” Deuteronomy 7:9, ESV
“Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24, ESV
Because when we don’t see God in the middle of the earthquake, when the plates are crashing off the walls and the ceiling threatens to crush us, and the floor is unstable, we have to remember Who is calm, in control, and irrevocably faithful in the very epicenter of our personal fault lines. Trust isn’t easy; I remind my kids when they are feeling the shake of their own trials that this is why it’s called faith.
Can I help you, too? Help you to see where God has always been faithful? There’s power in counting your blessings, in mining the Scriptures for proof of His faithfulness, in asking the Holy Spirit to help you believe. There’s power in laying low, allowing the storm – the quake – to roll over, even as you feel you’re losing your grip on everything you ever knew to be true. Because in the end, the rebuild and the restoration is beautiful. In the end, we look back and see that God was there all along, and that what He has wrought is more than we could have asked for or imagined.
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