September 11: God in the Midst of Terror
In April of 1996 I visited New York City on a band trip as a high school junior. We took pictures of the Twin Towers and the impressive city skyline with our crummy cameras. We played our band instruments at the Statue of Liberty and got pooped on by a flock of birds. We saw a broadway show and went to the symphony. We ate excessively tall cheesecake and stayed in a hotel that was surrounded by gang members and barbed wire. All the while the towers stood. Blending seamlessly into the fabric of the city. We didn't pay any special attention to them. I had no idea that was the only time I would ever see them.
On September 11, 2001 I was a junior in college. I know it's hard to believe, but none of us had TV's in our dorms. We didn't even have cell phones. I got a call to the land line from my fiance to hurry up and get to the student center. It was packed with anxious and confused students. I had to weave through the crowd to get close enough to the TV to see the smoke against that clear, blue sky. The words "terrorist" and "attack" did not compute in my mind.
After the second plane hit we all had to leave for chapel. The man in the pulpit spoke in a shaky voice, and tried to share reassuring words about our country like "defenses" and "powerful". We didn't know exactly what was going on, but it was apparent that today was not like any other. We prayed that God would bless our nation. That He would comfort and guide us through whatever would come next.
We learned that there was a Christian schools conference going on at the White House that day. A girl in my dorm said her dad was there. We began to feel the impact of these events more personally. Would a plane hit the White House? Would people that we knew lose their own parents today? Would other U.S. buildings be targeted? The uncertainty
was magnified by the intensity of the media coverage.
Hundreds of students packed into the student center watching events unfold that no one fully knew or understood. So much speculation. So much hysteria. Too much reality on the screen. Women in torn skirts covered in white powder with blood running down their foreheads. Men with tear streaked faces looking shocked and lost in their expensive suits carrying useless briefcases.
I remember the day of the Oklahoma City bombing. It was the day after my fifteenth birthday. April 19, 1995. We were vacationing at Carolina Beach with our entire extended family. The big hole in the ground was smoking and black. It was the first time I felt scared about the world. Scared of what people are capable of. Scared of the lengths people are willing to go to be known. To be right. To inflict pain in the name of justice or religion or misguided pain.
On September 11, 2001 I felt the same nauseating, gut clenching feeling in my stomach. Terror is a much more powerful concept than fear or distrust. Terror is horrific. It's appalling. Unreal. Shocking. Acts of terror change us bit by bit until we no longer trust our world. Will someone blow up my school? Will someone shoot me as I'm walking or hurt my family to prove their point? Anything is possible, anywhere, at any time.
At school we practice for lockdown situations. Ever since Sandy Hook we've been rebuilding our school entrances to provide a double lock, leading our elementary age students through conversations about what we would do in the case of an intruder. They ask innocent questions like, "why would they come to our school?" "Why would someone try to hurt us?" They are already fearful just pondering the possibility. I long for the good ol' days when I was alarmed by a tornado drill. When that was the worst case scenario. Natural disasters not premeditated ones.
It's a good thing that God is still on the throne. Whew.
Psalm 103:19- The Lord has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all.
It's a relief that no matter how horrific the world becomes, God has not lost control. Someday He will intervene and prevent Satan from unleashing pain and suffering upon the world. Someday He will establish a new Heaven and a new Earth. No more pain. No more tears. No more terror.
I don't know all the reasons that God allows painful, horrible things to occur. Divorce. Death. Alzheimers. Mental health struggles. Addiction. Terrorist attacks. But I have seen first-hand how God can use for good what Satan meant for evil.
I'm not just saying this because this is what I'm supposed to say. I sincerely believe that God redeems the worst of situations and grows us in His image through these circumstances. My ex-husband left and never came back. God allowed him to walk out the door and my life was never the same. After 9-11 things changed. After Sandy Hook. After the Oklahoma City bombing. People realize in these moments that our time on Earth is fleeting and we need a Savior. We hurt, but we have hope.
We hope in the steady hand of God that reminds us what is good and what is special about human life. Relationship. Empathy. Hope. Love. Community. Humor. Music. The ability to create and to cultivate beauty.
When I think of September 11, 2001 I remember symbolic photos of firefighters and police officers holding up flags and helping survivors. I think of the way we were drawn together as a nation. How we focused more on what was really important. Family. Friends. Kindness. God in control and involved in the rebuilding of our anxious and fearful hearts.
I for one feel safer having made the deliberate decision to trust that God can use terror to bring good. We are His children and when we hurt, HE hurts. He doesn't bring the terror upon us, but He does bring hope from despair and healing from brokenness. The scars remain to remind us that we are different. We're stronger. Wiser. More capable listeners and thinkers. We're more complete in Him than we were before the terror because we know where our hope lies.
Psalm 3:4-6- But you, O Lord are a shield about me, my glory and the lifter of my head. I cried aloud to the Lord, and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah. I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me. I will not be afraid of many thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.