Friday, September 11, 2015

September 11

If you're over the age of twenty, you likely have some memory of this date in 2001.

I suppose it's similar to the people who remember the attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of JFK. Those moments are seared into our memories because, in a way, the world stopped. We all froze in horror, wondering how such a thing could have happened.

My  mother said she remembers doing the ironing on November 22, 1963 when she found out that JFK had been shot. My dad was in the Air Force and my guess is that she was ironing his uniforms. My parents had barely been married for three months when the president was assassinated.

I spoke to my grandma about the Pearl Harbor attack. She told me a very simple story, but it demonstrated how her 1941 world reacted to it. My grandpa sat up in bed - perhaps it was after a Sunday afternoon nap - and turned on the radio. After hearing the somber news, he muttered, "Them sons of bitches." I can hear my grandpa's voice in those words, even though it was years before I was born.

I watched some of the September 11 footage again today and my kids asked me, "Why are you watching that? It's so sad! It makes me sick to my stomach." It is sad, but I'm not afraid of sadness.

I'm afraid of forgetting.

The morning of September 11, 2001, I was home with a baby and a toddler. I turned on some TV for them to watch morning cartoons while I got ready for the day. As I flipped through the channels, I caught sight of footage of an airplane that had crashed into a skyscraper. Assuming it was a tragic accident, I briefly thought, "How sad," and kept flipping because toddlers don't tend to be interested in current events.

A few minutes later, my husband called from work and said, "Turn on the news now. There appears to be some terrorist attack on the World Trade Center." In just those few short minutes from seeing that one plane engulfed in flames, embedded in the North Tower, most the world was probably with me in thinking it was a terribly unfortunate accident. Then suddenly we were all plunged into horror as we slowly, sickeningly realized that this was a terrorist attack.

I numbly went upstairs and found my father-in-law, who was staying with us for a few weeks, and told him, "Apparently, there's been a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center."

For the next several minutes, we sat and watched the gut-wrenching footage unfold. We watched the South Tower collapse in real time, as did millions of other Americans - and thousands watched it in real life. We sat there, speechless, until he finally mumbled, "All those people." Then the North tower went down. What else could we do but sit there and watch in dread as thousands of people died before our eyes.

Eventually, I realized that the kids also had their eyes glued to the television. Even though they were very young and couldn't really understand what was happening, it didn't feel right to sit there and let them watch. I called a friend and we got our three girls together at McDonalds PlayLand for lunch. The kids played and my friend and I sat there, numb. I kept thinking things like, "I'm sitting at McDonalds and thousands of people just died." Or "I'm shopping like it's a normal day and our country is under attack."

It was the most terrifying day in my life.

I might be tempted to say that the day Al had his stroke was the most terrifying - and there were certainly moments of intense fear in those first few days - but we were swept up by a wave of grace and had an inexplicable trust in God's goodness in spite of what was happening to him.

On 9/11, however, I literally felt like the world had just crumbled under our feet. It felt like evil had won. And it felt like God had abandoned us.

I was afraid of what was going to happen next: Were we going to war? Was our country being invaded? Were there more planes that were going to be hijacked? Were there terrorists planted throughout the country, waiting to strike? Where else had the terrorists infiltrated our borders and our security?

I was frightened of what my children's future would look like. Would they live in a war-torn country when I'd grown up in a predominantly peaceful time? Would there be another collapse of the country's economy due to war and hardship?

My terror gradually dissipated as I remembered, "God is still here. He's still in control."

A friend of mine spoke to my broken heart as I thought of all those fathers who would never return to their families, daughters who would never call home again, sisters, brothers, friends and co-workers simply vanished from the earth. She said, "We just have to remember that Christ was there, in each of those places, when those people died. He was with them, giving them courage and strength."

I think that simple reminder did something in my heart. God never leaves us or forsakes us. He promises that! In a moment of fear or terror, we are not abandoned. He reminds us of this in Deuteronomy 31:6, as well as all throughout Scripture. "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." 

I experienced that in a very tangible way when I faced the very real fear of losing my husband. God was there, right in it with me, not far off and unavailable. I have to choose to believe that the same was true for all who came face to face with terror on 9/11. 

For those grueling hours, watching the chaos unfold, it looked like the terrorists had won. Nineteen men led an attack that killed thousands. But what happened in the midst of chaos and for days and weeks afterward was a testimony that while we were shaken, we as a nation, as a people of God, were not defeated. God lived and breathed in the rubble as people risked their lives, even after escaping, to look for survivors. God gave firefighters and police officers courage to do their duty, even as many of them perished in doing so. God inspired many with a spirit of kindness and generosity around the world to create a new solidarity, one that said, "We will not be terrorized."

After Jesus had died on the Cross, it looked to his followers like evil had won. It seemed like what they were living for had indeed died. But it wasn't long before they saw the Risen Christ and what that told them and all of us was that Jesus Christ indeed conquered death! Once and for all!

Evil didn't win on September 11, 2001. Yes, it was an incredibly tragic event that shook our foundations. I believe that every single person who perished was given the opportunity to accept Jesus somehow in the moments before their death. Christ is always victorious; he will never let evil overpower Him. I think of all the acts of courage, selflessness, compassion and hope that came in the days, weeks and months following 9/11, and I can see that God is still alive in us.

That's why I don't shy away from the footage of that day. It was indeed terrifying.

But because of Christ, I refuse to be terrorized.