Thursday, March 28, 2019

My Watershed Moment

Yesterday marked the 55th anniversary of the watershed moment that changed the direction of my life. The Great Alaska Earthquake, also known as the Good Friday Earthquake, interrupted my freshman year at Seattle Pacific College on March 27, 1964.

Seward, Alaska, before the 1964 Earthquake

Seward after the 1964 Earthquake
My family the Christmas before the earthquake
(I am front left)

I grew up in a missionary family in Alaska in the fifties and sixties. We lived by faith on my dad's meager pastor’s salary. My personal faith grew as I experienced many answers to prayer. Feeling called to fulltime Christian service, I wanted to attend a Christian college, where I hoped to find a godly husband.

When I graduated from William H. Seward High School, I knew I couldn’t expect financial help from my family for college, but with a scholarship and money I’d saved from hundreds of hours of babysitting and ironing, I enrolled at Seattle Pacific College, an accredited Christian college closest to home.

Oil storage tanks burned for days
That memorable Good Friday in 1964, clocks stopped at 5:36 p.m. when the largest earthquake ever to hit North America struck Southcentral Alaska. Measuring 9.2 on the Richter scale (the Japan quake a few years ago registered 9.1), the quake centered in Prince William Sound, along the northern edge of the Gulf of Alaska. It generated tsunamis and devastated every city, town, port, connecting highway, and railroad in the region.

Railroad cars tossed like toys by the tsunamis
Horrified, I watched coverage of the destruction on television. Seward, a small port city just south of Anchorage, where my entire family lived, had been hard hit.

The docks were swallowed up by Resurrection Bay. Oil storage tanks ruptured, belching flames and black smoke for weeks. Homes were destroyed. Bridges were stranded 8-12 feet above shredded ribbons of highways. Several tsunamis carried burning debris inland, setting everything on fire. Many people were killed. For a torturous week, I didn’t know if my family had survived.

That summer, I returned home to a very different landscape. Miraculously, our church and parsonage had survived, but everything south of us was gone—many homes, the docks where my father had worked as a longshoreman to supplement his income, the shrimp cannery where I had pulled several night shifts while in high school.

Ninety-five percent of the industrial area had been destroyed. Family men couldn’t find work, let alone a single college girl.
And no one needed a babysitter.
Ninety-five percent of Seward's industrial area obliterated.

As that jobless summer progressed, I prayed and tried to have faith, but I knew it would take a miracle for me to return to college that fall. In July, evangelists visited our tiny church. We agreed together to make it a matter of special prayer, and my faith increased.

The first week of August, the local librarian asked me to help her catalog new books. She could only promise me babysitting wages (50 cents an hour at that time). It wouldn’t pay my way to college, but it was something useful to do!

While I was working at the library, a bulletin from the Ford Foundation arrived announcing an “Earthquake Relatedness” Scholarship for those who had lost a family member, property, or employment due to the earthquake. It would cover up to full expenses according to need. I was eligible.

But there was one catch. This scholarship was only for students attending universities in Alaska. I could not use it at Seattle Pacific College.

Although it was not what I’d hoped for, I knew this was God’s answer to my prayers. I immediately applied to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and felt peace. At least I would be able to continue my education.

The week before school started that fall, I received my letter of acceptance and a scholarship covering full expenses for the year. It even included money for books, a fur parka essential to living in the interior of Alaska where the thermometer reaches 50 and 60 degrees below zero for weeks on end, and spending money. And all of my credits transferred. When I graduated three years later, the scholarship had covered all of my expenses for all three years.

But that’s not all. Not only did God meet my needs, He gave me the desire of my heart.

The first week of school that fall of 1964, I met a young man at Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. We married three weeks after our graduation in 1967. We will celebrate our 52nd wedding anniversary in June.

I often laughingly say, “God had to send an earthquake to introduce me to my husband.”

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Singing--Part 7: Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

"Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus," a song that has become well known and well loved, was written in 1918 by singer/songwriter Helen Howarth Lemmel and has been included in most evangelical hymnbooks ever since. I grew up singing the chorus of this song often in church in the fifties and sixties as part of the congregational song service, and it became one of my favorites:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus;
Look full in His wonderful face;
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of His glory and grace. 

One night in my dorm room my freshman year of college, this song became especially dear to me. Feeling the pangs of unrequited love, I lay on my bed in the dark and came to grips with the fact that a summer relationship with a Christian young man had been simply a friendship, not a romance.

Me in college
My roommate and I had turned out our lights and were lying in our beds sharing our struggles about boyfriends. I knew she was hurting. 

To show her I understood, I mourned aloud how hurt I felt that I had not heard from this particular young man. I was shocked when she began to taunt me with words something like this: "You're always talking about trusting the Lord. Isn't this one of those times?"

Those words cut me. Hurt and tearful, I quit talking. But I couldn't stop thinking about what she'd said. Even though it hurt, she was right. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the song, "Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus," popped into my head. 

As I sang it over silently, I felt as though I were literally looking into His wonderful face. And the things of earth grew strangely dim as I was lifted "into heavenly places in Christ Jesus," (as the Apostle Paul described in Ephesians 2:6).

The hurt was gone. I could cherish that special summer friendship. From it, I had discovered what I would look for in a husband. And I found that special someone the next year.

Now, when the challenges of life become overwhelming, I close my eyes and begin to sing, "Turn your eyes upon Jesus; look full in His wonderful face..." and He lifts me up to see life from His perspective. He gives me grace and strength to carry on. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Singing--Part 6: His Hands

Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, forty days of prayer, fasting, and penitence leading up to Easter. While our church does not observe Lent, I don't need Lent to be reminded daily of the sacrifice of the Lamb of God offered to take away the sin of the world--my sin.

Although I had probably heard the story of the Crucifixion prior to the age of five, I was five when I realized that I had sinned and that Jesus had died for me. It was in children's church on a Sunday morning in the church my grandparents had pioneered in Juneau, Alaska. I don't recall the time of year, but I remember clearly asking Jesus into my heart and life at that young age.

A song we often sang in church became very meaningful to me then and throughout my childhood and teens. I haven't heard it sung in many years now, but I still remember it:

He showed me His hands that were marred by my sinning;
He showed me His feet that were nailed to the tree;
I then saw His brow and His side deeply wounded;
And now I love Jesus, and Jesus loves me.

That chorus always speaks to me of how much Jesus loves me. That He would go through so much suffering for you and for me demonstrates the depths of His love for us.

I remember a story of a young orphan boy who was up for adoption. Several men had applied and stood before a judge to present what they could offer the child. One offered him wealth. Another promised him a good education. Finally, the last man, not as well dressed or as well spoken, came before the judge. 

"And what can you offer?" asked the judge.

The man held up his terribly scarred hands. "I offer him myself and my love. I may not be as wealthy or as well-educated, but I love him. I am the one who saved him from the fire that killed his parents."

A hush fell over the courtroom. The judge, choked with emotion, finally spoke. "This man has already proven his love for this boy. He is awarded the right to adopt him."

Jesus' nail-scarred hands prove His love for us. As 1 John 4:19 says,

How can we refuse such love?