The first thing I notice about Christchurch, New Zealand, is the construction. Everywhere.
There are buildings adorned with scaffolding, detours and road closures and various broken and demolished infrastructure nearly everywhere I look.
But I guess that’s what happens when the epicenter of a 6.3 magnitude earthquake strikes only 10 kilometers from the heart of a city.
I don’t have any experience with earthquakes other than a random small one that hit Virginia a few years ago, but when Natalie, Katy and I decide to go on a free walking tour of the city, I learn a lot more about the devastation and destruction they can cause.
“The earthquake that hit on February 22, 2011, killed 185 people,” explains Michael, our gangly, Kiwi guide. Our group of about 25 is gathered at the site where a building once stood housing several small businesses. “One hundred and fifteen of them died right here,” he says.
My mind races to thoughts of the victims, the families and friends they left behind and the emergency personnel who responded to the tragedy that day. I feel the heaviness in my heart. I can’t imagine what they went through, what they are still going through, but I assume that when an earthquake like that strikes, things are never quite the same.
While the breakdown of my marriage isn’t something that can be measured on a Richter scale, it also happened in 2011, and for me, it felt like an earthquake. The solid foundation I’d known, trusted and built my life upon was rocked. My confidence was crushed, my heart splintered and exposed and my hopes and dreams for the future cracked and weak.
Someone once told me that my experience doesn’t qualify as a tragedy. Maybe they are right. In the big scheme of things, I know that I am beyond blessed and my broken marriage is a drop in the bucket compared to what some people have to endure in this life. And yet, when something unexpectedly strikes your heart, there is damage, even if it’s not visible to the naked eye.
Five years ago my heart probably looked a lot like Christchurch after the earthquake. There was so much destruction, I didn’t even know where to begin. But I knew one thing: I wanted a quick fix. Either a wrecking ball to take it all out so I could start over again, or a whole construction crew to come in and tackle the repairs.
Turns out “heart work” doesn’t work like that. There was no giant crane or team of skilled men with hardhats and tools to sweep in and fix everything. While I had amazing support from incredible friends and family, I soon learned that what I really needed was only possible through God. I needed the divine Carpenter to work with me to clean out the brokenness and rebuild the fractured parts of my heart.
He did, and He is. It isn’t easy and it’s not always enjoyable. Sometimes the buildings I think are salvageable God gently lets me know are “condemned.” The choice is always mine whether to hold on or make space to build something new. Something good, safe and healthy. And though I don’t always immediately opt for God’s way, I’ve learned that it is always infinitely better in the long run.
Today, my heart is still under construction.
While there is a lot of work left to do, I’ve been intentional about seeking peace, cultivating internal beauty and allowing my creativity to shine. And when I walk around Christchurch I see that they have done the same thing.
I love the beautiful murals they have painted on the sides of buildings and continue to add.
The “tranquility parks” established around the city to allow space for people to relax and enjoy nature are brilliant.
And the “Dance O Mat” (an outdoor space where you can plug in your phone to a rigged up washing machine with external speakers and have your very own dance party with a laminated floor, lights and disco ball) is probably the coolest thing I’ve ever heard of.
These things wouldn’t have existed had there not been an earthquake. And while no one would ever wish for that tragedy, I can tell from the walking tour and the pride with which Michael shows us these things, that good has come from it.
The same is true for my life. I always joke that if God had given me a “brochure of life options,” I wouldn’t have chosen this one. But as Michael so eloquently puts it as he concludes the tour, “hope has made all the difference.” I couldn’t agree more.
On Easter Sunday, I celebrated my reason for hope – Christ’s victory on the cross.
It’s hands down my favorite holiday of the year. One that reminds me again and again that nothing is impossible for God. After all, if He can overcome sin and the grave, He can certainly repair my wounded heart and bring beauty from the ashes.
Today, as I enjoy the botanical gardens here in Christchurch, I have peace and hope.
I realize that while the earthquake had a tremendous affect on this city, it does not define it. Just like my divorce doesn’t define me. It’s something I’ll always remember, something that has shaped me into the woman I am today, but it’s part of my past.
I may still be a work in progress, but I’m also the beloved daughter of the Most-High God. I’m a daughter, sister, aunt and friend. Dreamer, dancer, doer. Ice-cream, popcorn and wine-loving world traveler. I don’t know what God has in store for my future, but I believe it will be exactly what I need to become the person He created me to be.
As I stop to smell the roses and I am thankful for the flowers and fruitfulness here and in my own heart.
I’m thankful for the falling leaves, reminding me that seasons change…
I’m thankful for the winding path I get to walk with those I love…
And the unknown adventure that lies ahead.