Healing in the midst of tragedy

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

In two days it will be the 17th anniversary of 9/11. I was 23 when I was at ground zero on that day.

I must say there is not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. I will never know why God allowed me to be there in the midst of the chaos, but I was there. I cried… I walked with thousands of people… I prayed. I screamed…

No one can get over that smell of death. I don’t think anyone can ever understand what I have lived through, and what I saw on that tragic day.

I will say this, though; I have been amazed at how God’s love and grace has carried me through the years. How his love went deep and, it is still going to the deepest places of my heart. Those places where fear and anxiety still grip me at times…

But alas, on this eve of 9/11 as I look up at the night’s sky, I am reminded of Psalm 30:5

“Weeping may endure for a night, But a shout of joy comes in the morning.”

What a beautiful scripture of hope, healing, and restoration!

I am still healing over that day, but I am glad God is with me through it all. It’s never easy going through a traumatic experience, but it has made me stronger in my faith.

May you find encouragement through my story, and may God’s love and peace comfort you as you remember the lives lost on that day.

Lord knows I am thankful to be alive to tell the story…

I was in a business law class, and it started out as a typical morning on September 11, 2001. A classmate walked in and said rather nonchalantly “Yo, a plane just hit the towers.” We sat there in disbelief, but continued the class. That’s when it started, the screaming, the running, and the evacuation.

I went outside only to see the second plane hit, and to my amazement and shock, I kept rubbing my eyes thinking, “Did that happen?” but it did. I stood there frozen while people panicked and ran. I ran to the nearest mall and tried to get to a pay-phone to call my pastor because if I didn’t make it, at least someone would know why. He told me that there were other plane crashes and that I should stay put where I was.

He prayed for God’s protection over me.

How could this be happening on such a beautiful day? I had just spent my birthday weekend at the towers with my brother and niece. I had just gone shopping a week before in the building where my father used to work, the first tower that got hit.

My mind went back to when I was a child, memories came rushing to my mind of the first time the towers were bombed in 1993. My twin sister and I were crying in front of the TV wondering if our father was coming home. He was an accountant in one of the biggest accounting firms there. As we prayed, my father walked in. We were ever so grateful that God spared his life. He told us that he was just getting on the train when the bombing happened.

It was those memories that had me wanting to talk to my father, wanting to let him know that I loved him. But to no avail, there were no cell phone signals.

But just when I thought it couldn’t get any worse, I heard a loud crash, and the towers came tumbling down. I was so worked up and was moving purely on adrenaline. I had to run, I ran for my life until I couldn’t run anymore. I thought about throwing my school books in the river, but I paid too much money for them to do that.

I met a couple that was on vacation in NYC. He offered to hold my bags; his wife walked beside me. Ashes came around me like a blanket but thankfully I wasn’t entirely covered in it.

We walked crying, praying, it was all we could do.

When they reached their destination, I tried calling my father again, but I couldn’t get through. I was utterly devastated until I met a classmate. We prayed all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge, we confessed our sins to one another, to Jesus and prayed that God would carry us through.

I remember wanting to use the bathroom, but I thought if I stopped somewhere, I would be trampled, so I kept on walking. I was crying and praying and asking God why I had to see this. Soon my classmate, and I parted ways.

I was alone and kept walking not wanting to look back. I hitchhiked on a truck into Brooklyn, and then saw a friend who took me the rest of the way home. As I walked, I cried and prayed and thanked God for sparing my life. I later found out that my younger brother was just walking out the tower right as that first plane hit.

After that day, I hid for many months and could not go into the city. When I finally did, all I saw was grief on the faces of those riding on the train. I grieved as we slowly passed Chambers Street-World Trade Center because it was no more.

I have thought about that day so many times, and the many months of illness I suffered because of it. Many nights I woke up screaming, calling for help. I did the only thing I knew to do, and that was to pray. As I prayed, the Lord took me to a hiding place of refuge where I found His peace and comfort, a place where I could find hope again. Those were the nights I prayed my most fervent prayers. I knew Jesus, and I knew there was nothing he couldn’t walk me through. I knew that he was with me in this valley of the shadow of death, and I didn’t have to be afraid anymore (Psalm 23:4). I could let go, and lean on him even when I felt like falling apart.

Jesus held me; he loved me with a love I could not resist.

Thinking about that day makes me reflect on how precious life is. I want to live my life for Jesus with all that I am because life is too short not to fulfill all that he has called me to do, too short not to partner with what he is doing in the earth.

I want others to know how much Jesus loves them, how he died on the cross for their sins, rose from the dead on the third day, and is coming back again. I want them to know that he desires a relationship with them and that he will stop at nothing to pursue them relentlessly with his love. He is always there waiting with open arms to receive them if they’ve strayed, he has never left their side and never will.

It has been a long time since I have talked about that day, and I have recently started to talk about it out of a place of healing.

I have learned that God walks with us even through the most challenging times and seasons of our lives.

I am so thankful that his love goes beyond the pain, his healing balm goes down even to the deepest wounds, that his grace is enough to carry me even now.

I am so grateful that even though I went through this, it has made me more compassionate for others. I pray for those who have lost loved ones; I pray for those who are still dealing with the trauma, I pray that they would find comfort in the God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 2:3).

He is the God of all comfort, and I can honestly say the memories do not haunt me anymore. The trauma no longer plagues me, and I haven’t had any more nightmares.

I rest in the arms of my Lord Jesus Christ who is there and who will always be with me. He is for me.

I have peace, and I pray that those who are remembering 9/11 never forget that they are loved and that He is near.

 


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