Sixteen Years Later

Scott Willens, who joined the United States Army three days after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, pauses while reflecting by the South Pool on friends he has lost while on deployment during anniversary ceremonies at the site of the World Trade Center on 11 September 2012 in New York, New York, USA. POOL/Justin Lane/EPA

I will forever remember where I was and what I was doing on September 11, 2001. It’s etched in my memory the way that November 22, 1963 is for the older generations or even December 7, 1941 for those few who are still alive to recall the day that will live in infamy.

I had just walked into the office of my job in the Recreation Outreach Center at Germantown Baptist Church. My boss called me into his office and pointed me to the television displaying the aftermath of the first plane having flown into one of the World Trade Center buildings.

Neither one of us knew what was happening yet. Most at that time thought it was a freak accident. It wasn’t until the second plane struck the other WTC building that it became clear that it was very much a deliberate terrorist attack on American soil.

After all the smoke and debris cleared, just shy of 3,000 people had lost their lives. As monumentally horrific as that was, it could have been so much worse. Most of the people who worked in those buildings hadn’t made it into work yet, and many were led from the second building to safety before the second plane hit.

In many ways, you can almost use it as a historical marker. You can point to life before 9/11 and life since then. Air travel has drastically changed in the sixteen years since.

Maybe one good thing to come out of the tragedy is that we can’t take freedom and liberty for granted anymore. It’s not a given that everyone is a fan of democracy and there’s no guarantee that what we have will last forever.

It’s just one more reminder that, aside from death and taxes, the only true constant in this life is God. Every day you get with your loved ones is a gift and a blessing not ever to be taken for granted.

Sixteen years later, we still remember.

On the Eve of 9/11

Fifteen years ago tonight, just under 3,000 people went to bed for the last time. None of them could have known that the next morning, two planes would crash into the World Trade Center and one into the Pentagon building, bringing their lives abruptly to an end.

None of them had an inkling that they were kissing their spouses and children for the last time. Most of them had dreams and plans far beyond that fateful Tuesday, plans that didn’t include having terrorist fly planes into the buildings where they worked.

I can’t believe it’s been 15 years. It blows my mind to think that the high school freshman will learn about 9/11 as history because none of them were alive when it occurred. Suddenly, I feel old.

I remember it vividly. I can still recall the details of being called into my boss’ office and both of us wondering what in the world was happening until the second plane hit the building.

I hope that each of those who remember that day will never forget what happened.

More importantly, I hope each of us will never forget to tell those close to us whom we love every day at every opportunity how much they mean to us and how much we love them.

I hope each of us will not put off until tomorrow what is in our power to do today– whether that’s chasing a dream of ours or helping others find their own destinies.

I hope we will choose to forgive those who hurt us and release them from the expectation that they can fix our brokenness (when only God can do that).

I hope we will be people who love boldly and extend grace boldly and evangelize boldly.

I hope we will live this and every day after like it was our last day on earth, knowing that tomorrow is not promised but that all our times are in the hands of God.

 

9/11 – Fourteen Years Later

“I will never forget this awful time, as I grieve over my loss. Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning” (Lamentations 3:20-23, NLT).

It doesn’t seem like it’s been 14 years. I do still remember where I was and what I was doing when I saw the second World Trade Center tower being hit by the plane. It’s forever etched in my memory like, I suppose, the memory of JFK’s assassination was etched in the minds of the previous generation.

Whenever I write down “September 11” or “9/11” on any form, my mind immediately flashes back to that day. I can’t begin to imagine what it must be like for those directly affected who are sharply reminded of those loved ones they lost in one of the WTC buildings or at the Pentagon or in the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania.

Although FDR meant December 7, 1941 when he talked about the day that would live in infamy, I think September 11, 2001 falls into that category. No one will ever remember any other anniversary other than this one.

I still believe that God can take the worst tragedies and turn them into something beautiful. He can work all things, even the worst of circumstances and events, for good.

Nearly 3,000 people ranging in ages from 2 to 85 lost their lives that day. That’s bad enough, but I think about how it could have been so much worse. Those planes could have been full. If it had been later on in the day, there would have been more people at their offices in the World Trade Center. That plane that crashed in Pennsylvania could have actually made it to the White House and done way more damage there.

I also wonder how many people’s eyes were opened to spiritual realities on that day. I wonder how many people cried out desperately to God and found out how close He was, ready to answer. Maybe more than a few eternal destinies got changed that day.

In a fallen world, tragedy seems inevitable. Suffering isn’t optional. Only what we do with these tragedies and sufferings is left for us to choose. We can choose to be bitter or we can choose to be better for it.

Or maybe we can look to see how God will turn the worst situation into the best possible outcome.

Snapshots of Grace

I went to a birthday party of a friend of mine tonight. She turned the big 3-0. Been there, done that, found out it’s not so bad.

She had helium balloons floating in one of the rooms with pictures tied to them. Each one was a picture of her at some point in her life, with some showing her as a kid, some as a teen, and the more recent ones showing her all grown up.

I was captivated by that idea. I think each of us are defined in many ways by defining moments in our lives– snapshots, if you will. Those are the events in our lives that we remember as if we’re looking at a Polaroid taken at that very moment.

For me, it was the moment I found out about my granddad’s passing. Or when my boss called me into his office after the first plane had struck the World Trade Center building on September 11, 2001.

I can also remember walking across the stage to accept my diploma in my graduation ceremony from Union University.

That’s just it. You don’t get to pick your memories. You don’t get to pick how many good or bad ones you’ll have. You do get to choose  what you do with those memories and how you look at them. How you look at life through them.

The old cliche is true. You can take the bad memories from your life and either let them make you bitter or better. You can choose cynicism and unbelief or you can choose forgiveness and faith.

Some of my best memories are of the friends I’ve made, including the friend who just turned 30. Others involve my family. More often than not– nearly all of the time– the best memories will involve people and not possessions or accomplishments.

I choose to believe the best about others and bring it out of them because that’s what Jesus did for me. I choose to trust that God can take the worst moments of my life and make them the first part of my testimony to how good God is and how He can turn a wreck into something beautiful.

I think I’ll have one more good set of memories after tonight.

Twelve Years Later on 9/11

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“In honor of all those who have come behind…. in honor of Christ who lived like that: Go into a hurting world and live your life as a First-Responder.”

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I still can’t believe it happened. Even 12 years later, it doesn’t seem real to me.

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I googled 9/11 images today and found hundreds of pictures ranging from patriotic and stirring to emotionally gripping and heartbreaking to chilling and disturbing.

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I still remember exactly where I was when my boss at the time called me into his office to witness replays of the first plane hitting the first of the World Trade Center twin towers.

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Almost 3,000 people lost their lives that day. And yet it could have been much more catastrophic. Thanks to the heroism of first-responders, many who sacrificed their own lives, there were far less fatalities than there could have been.

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The best in us rose to the occasion for when the worst in us showed its ugly colors.

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Yet around the world, many people still face on a daily basis what we faced on one day twelve years ago. Many will lose their lives today simply because of their beliefs, their ethnic origins, their gender, or out of pure evil. Many will see loved ones massacred in many horrific ways.

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I’m praying for us as a human race today. I’m praying for our nation.

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But I’m not praying for God to save us from extremist Islamic terrorists.

I’m not praying for God to deliver us from President Obama and the liberal agenda or the Tea Party and its right-wing policies.

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I’m praying this prayer today: “Lord, save us from ourselves. Lord, save me from myself.”

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imageI’ve seen in my worst moments what I could have been apart from grace, and it is not pretty. I can be petty and vindictive and selfish and lazy and hateful and rude. Left to myself, there’s no telling what I’m capable of.

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We as a human race are our own worst enemy. We have a worldwide pandemic raging through our population, affecting every single person who has ever lived called sin. Because of the Fall, we are fallen and broken people living in a fallen and broken world. Thousands of years of history has proven that we can’t save ourselves from ourselves. We are in desperate need of a Savior.

We have one. That pandemic called sin didn’t actually affect every single one of us. Jesus, the God-man born of a virgin, lived and died a sinless life and an atoning and sacrificial death on our behalf. He did for us what we could never do for ourselves– He came to save us.

So I remember 9/11 again on this day, but I also remember that one day Jesus is coming back to set all things right again, to restore what the locusts and the terrorists and the politicians and the narrow-minded pharisees have stolen. He’s coming to bring true peace and true joy and true life.

So I pray on the 12th anniversary of 9/11, but not just on this day: “Jesus, come quickly.”