Wednesday, September 11, 2013

9.1.1. (Twelve Years Later)

All of us. That's who remembers exactly where we were and what we were doing when we heard the news begin pouring out of televisions, radios, computers.

I was sitting at my kitchen table pulling worksheet pages for Garrett's 2nd grade teacher, watching the last few minutes of Good Morning America. Charlie Gibson was the first voice that let me know our world would never be the same: "We're getting reports that SOMETHING has happened over at the World Trade Center."

That SOMETHING would consume our thoughts for days on end; would take the lives of almost 3,000 people across three different attack sites--fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, friends.

It would give us new heroes, and new mottoes that captured the selfless courage of their last few seconds: "LET'S ROLL." "STAY CALM." "TELL THEM I LOVE THEM."

That day would change how we live as Americans--our liberties, our fears, our policies. The resulting "War on Terror" would still claiming...thousands more lives to prevent a "second 9/11."

As the mom of an almost-8-year old and 5-year-old soon as the horror I was watching on TV that day began to sink in, my first reaction was to jump in my van and go get my boys, and somehow try to keep them safe from this new terror-stricken world where we now lived. No one was sure that another attack wasn't imminent. It felt like it could happen anytime...anywhere.

Across America, planes were grounded. Buildings shut down. Schools closed. SAFE was a word that lost its meaning that September morning. How could anyone be safe from monsters who flew people-laden jets into towers and Pentagons?

People in New York lined up for blocks to give blood to survivors. Very little blood was needed. 

Few of us slept that night. We felt we needed to keep watch.

As the days wore on, churches across the country kept their doors open for people who needed to pray, talk, gather. We took up offerings and held fundraisers. We dug deep into our pockets. In Knoxville, we raised enough money to send a new ladder truck to a fire station in New York that had given so much and lost so many; we named it the "Freedom Engine."

Several days after 9/11, I was sitting in the stands at the baseball park with other nervous parents. We were trying our best to stay calm, or at least to put on a calm face in front of our children. As we sat there watching our ballplayers and retelling our stories, we heard the very first plane since the grounding fly overhead. We stood up and cheered! We waved up at that plane, with shouts of "Fly! Fly!" and "God Bless America!" (To this day, I wish those people on board could have heard us cheering their courage for getting on that plane and getting on with life.) Somehow, it gave us permission to try to do the same.

In the 12 years since that terror-filled day, life has gone on. But, in so many ways, our world...our lives...will never be the same. In the name of "security," many of our liberties have been taken away. (Perhaps the moral is that too many liberties take away security.) I don't know.

In these last 12 years, many of us have faced our personal "9/11s"--where life as we knew it collapsed, leaving wreckage that didn't make sense, questions that held no answers, events that caused the word SAFE to hold no meaning. They left us grief-stricken--questioning ourselves, our family and friends, our God and our faith in Him.

I've looked out at that kind of wreckage. I've asked those answerless questions. I've questioned my God and my faith in Him.

There isn't enough time to share all the stops made, setbacks encountered and lessons learned on this personal "9/11" journey I've been on. I can tell you that God saw it all, cared about it all, and has been faithful to lead of the wreckage that, for awhile, felt like it might swallow us.

For many of those months, I never...not one time...FELT this God I just gave credit to. My prayers felt as though they made it no further than the ceilings of the rooms where I prayed...begged... cried for God to somehow put this wreckage back together.

During those months, which also saw my mama suffer a series of strokes that destroyed her balance and began this downward spiral into Alzheimer's, I dryly but desperately clung to words I had once written about in a Bible study I had taught:
"Then Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom else would we go?
You have the words of eternal life.
We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God'.”
(John 6:68-69)

Was any of it God's fault? No.

Was God somehow punishing me with His "absence"? No. (I've learned that almost every follower of Christ experiences what Thomas Aquinas called "the dark night of the soul.")

What was/is His purpose? Well...I'm still discovering that answer; it keeps unfolding. But, I will tell you that my desperate seeking for Him has changed me. For one thing, I've learned that faith is not a feeling. Instead, it is (in the words of one of my favorite writers) "A Long Obedience In the Same Direction" (a book by Eugene Peterson that I encourage you to buy today and read, and then read again.) Or, as Pastor Doug would describe it, "Faith is faithful obedience to God's Word in spite of circumstances, consequences or feelings."

Last year, for my 25th anniversary to the man who stood beside me during all the fallout...the man who wakes up every day and keeps doing the next right thing for me, for our sons, for his employees and patients, for his family and friends... well...he bought me this silver bracelet. On the inside, he had the jeweler engrave the verse with these words:
"Lord, to whom else would we go? You have the words of eternal life."

That's the bracelet I wore this morning on the 12th anniversary of 9/11. They are good words. They are hard words. They were spoken in answer to a question from the One whom Peter followed, when so many disciples were leaving Him because of His "hard teaching." As He watched them walk away, He looked at those few who remained and asked, "Do you want to leave me too?”

I'll be honest. There were days when I did...want to leave Him. But "to whom else would I go"? Even through all the grief and never-ending questions, I somehow knew my heart belonged to Him...that to leave Him would only multiply my heartache. So I stayed.

More importantly...He stayed. He said He would. He promised to "never leave us or forsake us." But, sometimes, He asks us to believe that Truth...even when our circumstances and feelings shout at us to doubt it.

Then...just like that...the dark night is over...our mourning has become dancing...and He has restored the joy of His salvation to our hungry, thirsty souls.

And...if we're wise...we no longer take those moments for granted. We soak them up. Drink them in. Embrace. Dance. Laugh. Cry. Sing. Celebrate. Worship.

Late last September...when our hearts broke wide open again...I found these words. I believe the people who died on that 9/11 of 12 years ago would Amen them:
"The best way to honor those we have lost is to live fully in their place."
"Made Me Glad" by Hillsong has become my theme about this mourning-into-dancing journey: 
I will bless the Lord forever; I will trust Him at all times
He has delivered me from all fear;
He has set my feet upon a rock
I will not be moved, and I'll say of the Lord
 You are my Shield, my Strength
My Portion, Deliverer
My shelter, Strong tower
My very present help in time of need.

 Whom have I in heaven but You
There's none I desire besides You
For You have made me glad
And I'll say of the Lord
You are my Shield, my Strength
My Portion, Deliverer
My shelter, Strong tower
My very present help in time of need.
If you have 6 minutes to listen to this AMAZING song, here it is. It also includes "Through It All."