It’s April 25, one year after the earthquake that shattered Nepal and claimed the lives of thousands. Since then, Nepal has faced multiple struggles in rebuilding, significant movements in religious freedom, vast amounts of political pressure, and too many devastating aftershocks and secondary quakes to count. In the past two weeks, massive earthquakes have also hit Myanmar, Japan, and Ecuador. Our world is hurting. Let’s remember.
Experiencing and living through an earthquake of these proportions has repercussions that make an impact for the long term. Trauma comes in many forms and extents. Each journey to healing is unique, and the way each individual either chooses or is required to convalesce will be different. But a universal truth that applies to each person effected by trauma is this:
I am not the same.
Sometimes I wish that wasn’t true, and sometimes I want to scream it out. Trauma changed me.
But I don’t have the slightest clue how to explain it.
Because when someone asks, I’m probably not going to tell them that it took me three whole weeks to even shed one tear or identify any feeling at all because of the shock. I’m probably not going to tell them that every time I’m sitting in class and someone slams a door anywhere in the academic building, I tense up at the near-indistinguishable tremor. I’m not going to tell them that every time I hit a rumble strip on the highway I have to fight to hold back tears. I’m not going to tell them that thunder triggers uncontrollable emotional responses, that my back still flares up under stress, that I’ve spent months beating myself up because I can’t just get over it, and that I hate having to admit that a full year later I still struggle.
Because, if we’re being honest, no one wants to hear that. People want to hear victory stories. Stories of how I experienced a devastating earthquake and managed not to die. How I was stranded in an electricity-less airport in a foreign country and miraculously got out on my original flight. How my team leader somehow remembered enough Hindi at the last minute to get us into the airport at all. People want to hear “how God showed up” or “how God came through”.
They don’t want to hear that I’m not “over it” yet. They don’t want to hear that it still hurts. They don’t want to hear that no, healing isn’t complete.
We’ve been trained to think that our struggle implies the absence of God.
And we don’t like those stories.
But, in this struggle, I have found that God is, in fact, nearer. His faithfulness is closer to my heart. Because my emotions, my struggles — they are unpredictable. They change. But Jesus? He does not change. His character never changes. He is my steady constant, my rock, and my hiding place. My psychological, emotional, and physical trauma do not negate the presence of my Savior.
But that does not always make dealing with the pain easy, and it is vital that the people around me respect that.
Let’s Run Together.
I’ve found that my healing comes most tangibly when I pour into serving others. There is a remedial agent found in encouraging those in harder places than I, or in lifting in prayer those with much more desperate situations and diagnoses. All one has to do is open one’s eyes to see the brokenness of an enslaved world groaning for the return of Christ and the redemption of creation. Living is hard. But we were never promised it would be easy. We were promised that Yahweh is faithful. And there is immeasurable hope, satisfaction, and joy in that knowledge which fuels the desire to share it in practical ways. In my own journey, searching out Christ-centered ways to pour into others results in progress regarding my own mental and and emotional health. I think that is beautiful, how God designs us as relational, communal, members of one body — orchestrated to grow and learn and heal together in his name. However, as much as I don’t want you to know that I’m not strong enough on my own, I also need others to pour into me.
The road of trauma recovery has, for the most part, been deeply lonely.
Within the body of Christ, this is how we love and this is how we care: by being present. By being intentional. And sometimes, by staying “stuck” with each other. Telling me to move on accomplishes nothing, because trust me, there is nothing I would rather do. But hugging me and looking me in the eye with no judgement? That loves. Skipping the card instructing you to act out an earthquake in the middle of a game of charades? That loves. Recognizing that watching films with realistic portrayals of natural disasters most likely has much larger emotional impact on me than on you, and respecting that? That loves. Listening instead of rolling your eyes when I tie it in to a topic of conversation again? That loves. Speaking up on my behalf when I shy away from speaking up for myself? That loves.
I don’t expect or want everyone to know my story. I don’t expect or want my identity to be wrapped up in a brief experience that happens to have shaped me impactfully. I don’t expect or want every conversation to center around that experience. I don’t even expect or want you to care as much about my situation as I do. I do not expect or want my story to be as important to you as it is to me.
But, I do not want to navigate my story alone.
Trauma is hard. It’s a heavy burden to carry. Healing is hard, and often painstakingly slow. I know this part of the story probably isn’t something you want to hear. It’s not exactly something I want to tell, either.
But, dear ones whom I hold close to my heart, I urge you to look around you, see the broken, and, in love, do these three things:
1) Remember. Remember the stories and shared experiences with which you have been entrusted.
Immediately following the quake, still huddled against tremors, my team members and I passed out Jelly Beans to the children around us. Yesterday, my team leader quietly gifted me with a bag of Jelly Beans and a note. She remembers with me well.
2) Respect. Respect how experiences have impacted the stories of those around you.
When hiking last summer, our group stepped out onto a marshy plot of ground connected to land but floating on top of the lake. Naturally, several people began to jump (and I don’t fault them at all!) but I immediately tensed up. Noticing my stiffened shoulders and wide eyes, a sweet friend spoke up and asked that the bouncing stop until I had retreated to solid ground. She respected me well.
3) Run together. Recovery is a marathon, and having a team alongside past the first couple of miles and through the whole agonizing process is invaluable.
A year later, my sister will still reach for and hold my hand whenever we hit a rumble strip on the highway. She runs with me well.
Thank you for listening, friends, and for walking with me on this journey. Thank you for pointing me to Jesus more and more. I love you dearly.