When your world shakes

When the earthquake began I was on the ninth floor of a large building with four friends. I was sitting on the couch with one of the other staff members here when we suddenly realized we were moving. Although I couldn’t tell you who it was now, someone in the apartment yelled, “It’s an earthquake!” After taking several seconds to accept that indeed, this was really happening, our Ecuadorian friend with us said we needed to get out.

As the building wobbled in a way I have never felt before (it’s still insane to me how much a building--made from cement and metal--can move) we ran down the stairs as the lights flickered on and off. I prayed, “God, please protect us” over and over. And then, somewhere around the second floor, the shaking stopped.

We continued down the stairs and outside, joining the people who had already flooded outside, all equally bewildered. As I looked around I realized we were fine. We were alive. Not only that, but all around us there weren’t any buildings falling down or cracks in the road. We were really really okay.

It’s strange: to feel the ground move beneath you, to wonder, “Could I die right now?” and yet to be fine. It brings a very immediate satisfaction of surviving. But not everyone was so fortunate.

Although we didn’t know it then, on the coast, hundreds died from the earthquake. Thousands of people have been injured. Buildings have crumbled with people trapped inside. Near the epicenter towns have been almost totally decimated.

It’s strange, too, that I can write about this from my almost completely undisturbed apartment in Quito. (There is one very tilted picture on the wall, but that’s it.) It’s odd to think I felt the same shaking that has totally altered so many lives. I don’t know what to do with it.

And perhaps, wherever you are, you are in the same boat. You are okay in spite of the terrible things that happen each day in our world. We are used to hearing bad news. We see people in plight and know it’s horrific, but sometimes--perhaps most times--we can’t actually comprehend the magnitude of these catastrophes.

So what do we do? How are we supposed to feel and act in these situations? How much sympathy can be extracted from us?

Well first of all--and this will require a change of tone in this article I suppose--it’s good to turn our compassion towards those who need it and not simply ignore all of the bad news. And while it’s possibly easier to feel guilty about not having anything bad happen to us than to actually do something to improve the situation, that guilt doesn’t help anyone.

So here are some ideas:

1. Pray

Someone once said, “Do what you can, not what you can’t.” This is not my original idea, but I think it makes a lot of sense. We can’t fly to every location in the world where they need help. We can’t give a million dollars. We can’t know every story of every person in pain. But, at a minimum, we CAN pray. And that matters. God knows what people need more than we do and sometimes this is the most important help we can give.

2. Donate

BUUUUTT.. most of us can also donate. You can donate food or time or money (and the nice thing is, you can pick!) I know it can feel like so many places are asking for money, and that’s probably because so many places are asking for money. But there is real need. And you may not be able to give much, but you can most likely give something. Heck, you can donate the money you would have spent on just one coffee to donate somewhere and it is still doing something. Even if it’s a little something.

I like how The Message words 1 John 3:17: “If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God’s love? It disappears. And you made it disappear.” This is the time where people need to see God’s love more than ever.

3. Go

While donating and praying help immensely, we think sometimes it is also important to take action. Due to the impact this tragedy has had on the country, we feel it is only right to do all we can to help, and so this June we will be combining the efforts of the Submerge team with anyone who is willing to spend ten days in Ecuador helping to rebuild, restore and bring hope to those who have suffered from the effects of the earthquake. If you want to help us in our efforts, please CLICK HERE to join our relief team.

4. Be okay with not feeling okay

There are several problems that come with tragedy, but the biggest is that tragedies don’t make sense. I doubt they ever will. We live in a world full of problems with people hurting and sadness and, try as we might, we can’t stop it.

We ask in these times the questions people have asked for ages: Where is God? Why did these things happen? Why didn’t he stop them?

There’s a book’s-worth of thoughts I could write about this--as I’m sure many people already have--but it’s not going to make anyone instantly feel better. What I will say is that I do believe God is still good, even when these things happen. And if you feel you don’t understand why these things are happening, I only encourage you to talk with God about it. Regardless of the “Whys?” God sees far more than we can.

5. Live today.

This has been on my mind quite a bit recently, but I don’t think it can be said too much. Today, now, is the only time we have. We cannot live in the future, and to live in the past only ruins today. Jesus said tomorrow will worry about itself. Ask what you can do today.

And so, I’ll leave you with the words of Christian writer Frederick Buechner:

“Much as we wish, not one of us can bring back yesterday or shape tomorrow. Only today is ours, and it will not be ours for long, and once it is gone it will never in all time be ours again. Thou only knowest what it holds in store for us, yet even we know something of what it will hold. The chance to speak the truth, to show mercy, to ease another’s burden. The chance to resist evil, to remember all the good times and good people of our past, to be brave, to be strong, to be glad.”