September 11th 2001 and My Personal Faith Journey

I was required to write a 5-7 minute message about my personal faith journey for a class I’m taking for the Lay Servant Academy in the South Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. As the 20th anniversary of the September 11th, 2001 attack approaches, it felt appropriate to share how this event shaped my faith.

The crisp September air stings whatever skin is left exposed as I ride my motorcycle for the 25 minute commute to my office in Greensboro, North Carolina.  I got a late start this particular morning, I had worked past midnight troubleshooting a problem with a server.  I gulped coffee as I gathered my laptop case and bike gear, listening to the radio.  Really I was only half-listening – the radio provided some background noise to wake my brain up for the coming day. 

But wait, what was that I heard?  A plane crashed into a New York skyscraper?  Yes, the announcer just repeated it!  I thought maybe it was a stray Cessna trying to get altitude from takeoff and lost its way.  But then right as I’m about to shut the radio off the voice on the radio says it was a large plane – maybe even a commercial airliner.

As I rode to the office, I was wondering how an airliner could accidentally crash into a skyscraper.  It was something odd, for sure.  When I arrived at the office, staff was huddled around a tiny 13” tv in the coffee room.  A receptionist had tears in her eyes.  I had never seen her without a smile and a bubbly greeting.  She asked “Did you hear?” as she held back sobs and wiped back tears with a well-used tissue.

As the day wore on I saw many images of frightened people fleeing the dust-strewn streets of New York City.  I saw clips of desperate people flinging themselves out of smoldering buildings, and of abandoned fire trucks and police cars that would never be driven again.

I felt useless.  People were hurting, lives were upended as loved ones were unable to communicate with each other.  Many lives were lost that day, all in an instant. 

Papers from financial offices flew from thousands of feet in the sky where they were once protected in a file cabinet in a building that was now ripped open.  You couldn’t tell what the papers were.  Maybe it was a 401(k) statement that summarized 30 years of putting back for someone’s future.  Did that person have a future?  Were those years of work in vain?

It seemed silly, but I wished I could give each one of those New Yorkers a big hug.  And I wasn’t even a hugger.  No, it wasn’t so much as a hug as I wished I could give something that showed them that God loves them.  I didn’t know what to do.

The people I saw on my television were from many different backgrounds.  Not all of them spoke my language.  Many were from other countries, coming to the United States hoping to find peace and prosperity.  They were attorneys, bankers, window washers, cooks, and taxi drivers.  And they all were equally terrified, and equally in need of God’s comfort.

I prayed that night for the people caught up in the horror of that day.  I prayed that somehow, the God of all creation and the Prince of Peace and the Constant Counselor would dwell in their hearts, and soothe their souls.

I prayed for God to show me a new path.  I asked God to guide my feet so that I may be of more use to spread His love to the hurting.  I prayed that I would have an opportunity to share the Gospel message of love and the promise of everlasting life.

What a scary prayer!  After all, only a few years prior to that event someone had to get married or die in order for me to show up in church.  My parents stopped regularly attending church when I was 12.  I felt a strange call to go to church when I was on my own in my late teens and early twenties, but it felt weird when I’d visit alone.

It wasn’t until a pastor opened my eyes to the power of Grace that I felt at home.  I finally felt I belonged – not just to a church, but I finally felt like I belonged to God, and I belonged with God.  No matter where my feet had taken me in the past, no matter what I said or did before, God’s Grace is without end and Rev. Floyd Berrier taught me that God had plans for my life.

And so it was on that frightful day of September 11th, 2001 that my heart burned with desire and passion to share the love of Jesus Christ. Yes, I was a little afraid of where that prayer would take me, but it has been a life of blessing. 

My life has taken some unexpected turns.  I’ve been down roads that frankly I don’t ever want to travel again. Yet even in those detours I’ve found blessings.  Some people I’ve met on those detours I’ve been able to share a message of God’s love and hope with them.  Others I’ve met have shown me God’s love and hope, edifying me for further journeying.

I still ride a motorcycle.  Some of the best bike trips are ones where I take a turn down an unknown road.  It’s the same with my journey of faith.  I don’t always find myself where I had planned.  But I always find myself in a place where I can serve, and I always find God’s presence.  May it always be so.

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