Yesterday, my youngest daughter and I awoke from a short afternoon nap. She happily climbs out of bed and hurries to the living room to join her older sister with the LEGOs. My eyes still adjusting to the curtains being opened, letting in the bright hot sunlight. I check my phone as to the time - 3:35pm (Yay, Corey will be home in less than an hour -my favorite part of the day)! My oldest daughter timidly comes in to confess that she ate "a lot, but not A LOT a lot" of jello while I rested with her sister. Still groggy, I grumpily tell her she had better not have eaten too much. She quickly exits the room.
I make my way to the bedroom door and I lose my balance a little. The windows and furniture begin to rattle and creak. Earthquake. Before the words have a chance to leave my mouth, our helper throws open the front door, "Gempa!" (translated "earthquake"). My eyes scan the living room to find my children as I take a moment to assess the situation. Is it strong enough to get out of the house? Or is it like the other ones? My thought process is abruptly stopped as the shaking intensifies. "Earthquake!" I inform my oldest as I grab her hand and scoop up my oblivious red-head with my other arm. We hurry out the door. By this time we are swaying back and forth.
Where to stand? Away from house, yet also away from the power lines that are just about our head in the street. I choose the middle of the yard, there really isn't an ideal spot, but this one seems best. The rocking motion grows stronger and stronger, I look around at our neighbors and our house-helper. Their faces are terror-stricken and desperately gripping a tree in our yard. I see the fear from the last big earthquake they experienced being replayed in their minds. I attempt a nod of reassurance. I look down at the frightened eyes of my 6-year-old who is fighting to hold it together. She begins to cry in fear. "Is this happening because I disobeyed you today, Mommy?" I shake my head. I feel her trembling, it causes me to tremble too. I draw her closer and assure her of God's love for her. I ask her, "Who do we talk to when we're scared?"She knowingly replies, "Jesus." So, we begin to talk to Jesus as we watch the power lines swaying much farther than they ought.
Ella is squirming in my arms, not understanding the weight of the situation. She is kicking to get down. I tighten my hold on her. I assure her that Mommy has her and she can just stay with Mommy right now. I feel my leg getting squeezed tighter. My oldest is crying harder now. We talk to Jesus again. Her prayers are crying out to make the quake stop...it feels like 10 minutes, but it hadn't even been one. Her sobs are tearing at my mom-heart. My eyes meet hers and we ask God again to show mercy on this region. May they not experience another devastating blow again. I see my daughter's heart and courage strengthening. She looks at me with a half-smile, then her face changes into a question as if to ask "When is it going to stop?" I look around again to check that nothing is close to falling on us. The quake is still going strong. The power goes out. Phew...one less things to worry about...power lines.
Ella still struggling to get away. Desperately wanting to resume the two seconds of a Dora episode that she got torn away from before this began. Little does she know, the power is out and we're in the middle of a 4.5-minute-long earthquake. Catelyn grabs her sister's foot in comfort. Again, my eyes meet with our helper's. His are lost, confused, and hopeless. I nod again to assure him it should be over soon. And finally the shaking begins to lighten. I attempt, yet again, to juggle trying to hold Ella, keep Catelyn close, keep looking up around me to make sure nothing is falling on us, and try to call Corey at work. Can't get through. I try to text...hopefully it went. Catelyn sits down in the grass, "I think it stopped now, Mommy."
Our helper appears disoriented. I tell him to go home to check on his family. He leaves. I turn around to check on my neighbor and his family. They are fine, but scared. He said they are preparing to evacuate. The phone rings....it's Corey. He's fine. We exchange status information and are comforted...then the call suddenly drops. Motorcycles and cars are filling the streets now...it looks like a parade, except at a much faster speed. People have trash bags full of stuff and are quickly heading to higher ground. If only they believed that we were not in the tsunami-zone, we are too far inland for the water, if there were a tsunami, to reach us. My heart aches as I watch fear overcome the masses. I feel my body trembling with adrenaline.
I turn to our neighbors once more and assure them that there is no tsunami, the reports are saying if there is one it will be on the island of Simelue (far from us). He believes me. He and his family are sitting on their porch watching me closely - seeing how I react. One of them gets the courage to ask if I have ever experienced an earthquake while living in America. I nod. "Many,"I reply, "but nothing as strong as this one." He nods with memories that I can only imagine in his eyes. We part ways to tend to our families. My kids have long since run into the house to resume playing.
I enter the house and immediately item #7 on my To-Do list springs to the forefront of my mind:Prepare my "Go" bag. You know, the bag I was suppose to have already put together in the event of an emergency that would cause us to need to evacuate our home quickly. The one our friend here in Aceh had just recently reminded us all to prepare. Yep...that one; that item still was without a big fat red line through it. So, I begin to gather up items "just in case." As I move about the house, I feel a little warm body right behind me...it's my oldest with her beautiful big brown eyes looking up at me. She begins to unload her mile-long list of questions about the earthquake, why God causes them, does it kill people, why am I packing - whether the packing means that we are going on a vacation, and so on. I assure her that Mommy is only packing to help us in case something happens that causes us to have to sleep somewhere else. She looks puzzled, but relents. I turn on our generator to allow the kids to watch a video to keep them calm and allow me some time to gather things together.
I remember my other house-helper who had gone home earlier in the day. I text her to see how she and her family are. She responds about an hour later that they are all fine...at least that is what I translated from her phone's helpful auto-correct feature. Her text actually read: "Ok, but just ate a banana." Huh? She meant to type, "Ok, but a bit dizzy." Gotta love auto-correct for those high-stress moments in texting!
While I continue to stuff things into a bag, the rocking begins again. This time Catelyn finds me first. We feel it out for a second or two. Yep...it's getting stronger. I swoop Ella away from her beloved Dora once more. She is not happy about this one bit. The shaking intensifies more. This time, Catelyn is much more confident. She, too, is assessing the situation. She is reassuring our neighbors. She isn't gripping me as tightly as before. She looks up and says, "God is strong, Mommy." Ella still fighting to get down.
This quake lasted only about 2.5 minutes. But it felt like we were riding on waves of earth. Like a piece of driftwood on the sea. It made me light-headed. I turn to our neighbors, who are white-knuckled on their gate, and I nod again. I'm with them. We are experiencing this day together. We may not speak the same language easily, we may have very different backgrounds, but in this moment, we are the same. We are both weak and frail beings under the hand of an all-powerful God who, by the slightest touch of His fingertip, can make the earth quake. I look up to my Merciful God and praise His Name knowing that I am His and He sees me right here, at this very moment, in this very spot. I look down again to my daughter and reply, "Yes, Honey, God is very strong, isn't He?" The ground begins to settle.
We go back inside and begin to clean up the little messes. A little over an hour later, Corey arrives home from work. He battled the mass exodus as he drove a like-minded co-worker and himself home. They contrasted the difference of the passengers in those vehicles verses the passengers in his. Within those vehicles was fear, panic, and hopelessness. Within Corey's was awe, hope, and confidence. God was gentle, this time. He showed mercy to this region. Considering that we just experienced two strong earthquakes (8.6 and 8.2), there was minimal damage around the city. But His matchless power was displayed nonetheless, alongside His abundant mercy. And for this, we praise His Name.
Corey pulls into the driveway. He gets out and we embrace with comforted hearts and knowing eyes...our God is big, and He will make His glory and power known throughout the whole earth. The girls are thankful to see their Daddy...they are enveloped by the safe and comforting arms of their father. And so are we.