Firm Foundation Amidst Chaos
Updated: Mar 4, 2021
My Dad was in New York City on September 11th, 2001. This was my lesson on hope in the hours where we wondered if he would be coming home.
I was in fourth grade on September 11, 2001. I was very excited to wear a purple floral ensemble that was typically reserved for Sundays, and my favorite hot lunch was on the menu that day at Rolling Green Elementary. I remember specifically having the thought, “This day will be great, even if I have to sit next to a boy!” Blissfully enjoying my pop tart, I didn’t pay much attention to the news that was on our extremely rad rotating cube-shaped TV in our kitchen. I heard my mom gasp at 8:46am, seeing American Airlines Flight 11 crash into the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The explosion looked like a movie and I could hear the level of concern in the voices on the news, but my thoughts did not veer from my recent re-reading of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. At this point it seemed like this was probably a terrible accident, an enormous miscalculation by the pilots. Then the second hit changed everything. This was intentional.
The second plane careened into the South Tower at 9:03am, and I began to realize my dad might be in danger.
Having recently published his second book, my dad was in Manhattan doing a promotional tour. Between the first and second towers being hit, my mom looked to see if we could find written down anywhere where my dad was staying. He had traveled for his job for my whole life, and recently it had been about half the time that he was gone. It was such a normal rhythm for our family that we didn’t pay too close of attention to his specific, ever revolving location. When we finally tracked it down, we realized the address he left was about 11 blocks away from the World Trade Center.
The wheels in my mind were rapidly turning. I was in a full-blown panic by the time I got to school at 9:30am. My teacher had been in a staff meeting when the towers were hit, and heard me talking to my neighbor about what I had seen. She asked me clarifying questions and soon my whole class listened as I described what was now being called a terrorist attack. I spent the rest of the day in a mixture of worry and blissful inability to process the enormity of the event. My brain bounced from word problems about baseball (Yes, my math homework from that day is crystalized forever in my memory) to the images of tiny dots falling from the collapsing towers—people jumping to their deaths (my third grade mind wondered why they didn’t simply take the stairs). The intercom announced that we would have no evening activities and the PTA meeting was canceled, and my friend wondered aloud what New York had to do with our Junior J-Hawk Cheerleading practice.
I got home from school and sat on the floor of the living room with my mom and older sister. Mom had been trying all day to reach dad, but all cell phone towers were down. All flights had been grounded, so he was probably trying to drive home.
She didn’t verbalize the rest of it pressing loudly in our minds, “…If he can. If he is okay.”
My sister and I peppered our mom with questions, trying the best we could to wrap our nine and eleven-yer-old brains around what had happened. Never one to hide the truth from us, my mom admitted we might go to war with another country. I looked out the window to the sunny street of my suburban home and pictured foreign military marching down it, freely firing on my neighborhood.
My dad arrived home safely the following afternoon. A message was sent to our school, but in mistake it was only delivered to my sister and not to me. I don’t remember the moment I saw my dad and knew everything would be okay, but I remember sleeping very soundly after the previous fitful night. When the four of us were all together again, my dad shared his experience.
His press events had gotten switched and his co-author had taken the meeting that morning 11 blocks from the World Trade Center (he was fine as well). My dad had been out jogging when the first tower was hit and saw the coverage on TVs in the lobby coming back. He had dismissed it as election noise and gone up to his room to shower. He flipped on the TV while packing to come home when the full scope became clear to him. Flights had already been grounded, so he rushed to see if he could rent a car.
The woman at the desk of the car rental place was apologetically explaining to a man that they were completely out of cars, but my dad flashed his VIP member card to her and she signaled for him to wait. He ended up getting one of the last five cars from a different rental location and drove the almost 24 hours home. He described the feeling he had driving home like he was being held up in his seat, almost floating. He had the energy and clarity to drive straight home, stopping only minimally for a bit of food and gas. The Holy Sprit sustained and upheld him, and he made it back to us.
There was so much I could not understand about the events that happened that day, and I was mercifully sheltered from the true horror of it by my youth. As I grew I experienced the sensation of having walked very close to the edge of a cliff and only now, in delayed time, realizing how precarious it had been. I have since visited the World Trade Center memorial twice, and each time I am overwhelmed by the same thought—God protected my family. While so many said goodbye to their loved ones that morning and never got to see them again, mine got to walk me down the aisle and meet my children. Two emotions come with this, intense gratitude and unsettling guilt.
There it is, the big question: Why did God let so many lose their family that day when I got to keep mine?
Although it is not always clear why God allows a specific tragedy to occur, the Bible is clear about two things. First, God is always near to us in tragedy . Second, God uses all trials for our good to refine us, grow our perseverance, and draw us nearer to himself . Scripture is rich with examples of a believer praying for deliverance from a catastrophe, the catastrophe happening, then it being used powerfully for goodness and grace. The greatest example of all is Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane for the cup of his death on the cross to pass from him . God answered his only son with no. But Jesus prayed for his Father’s will to be done and the tragedy of his humiliating death on the cross was transformed into hope for all mankind. It is when we align our desires to be those of the Lord’s, as Jesus did, that we experience true peace. John 14:27 says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”
We are freed from the constant grating of “what-ifs” and the spiral of fear when we remember that hope is firmly anchored in the gospel.
The death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ gives believers the promise of a glorious eternal inheritance, as well as life to the full here on earth . Even if God allowed the unimaginable to happen to my family on 9/11/01 (or today, or tomorrow) his grace and provision would carry me through, and my eternity would still be sealed forever in Heaven. This truth is the firm foundation for my feet when the very earth I am standing on is thrown into chaos.
“Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint,” Isaiah 40:31.
 Psalm 34:18
 Romans 8:28
 James 1:2-4
 Matthew 26:39
 Ephesians 1
 John 10:10