September 2011

As we mark the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, your mind has probably returned to that terrible day of September 11, 2001. You remember where you were when you first heard about the attacks. You remember the shocking images you saw on television, and your horror at the billowing smoke from the Twin Towers and from the Pentagon. You recall your feelings of fear and bewilderment.

It was one of those days that is burned into the brain. Everyone has their own story about 9/11, and mine is of being stranded in Colorado.

I had flown there with three other men from FamilyLife for a meeting with our publisher for the HomeBuilders Couples Series®. I remember coming downstairs at our hotel on the morning of September 11 and seeing something strange on the television—the first plane had just crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

I went outside for a walk, and when I returned I saw that both of the 110-story towers were now on fire. “What happened?” I asked another hotel guest.

“Another plane crashed into the World Trade Center.”

And with that came the realization that this was no accident, but a planned terrorist attack.

Over the next 90 minutes I watched the stunning collapse of the two towers, saw the first images of smoke coming from the Pentagon, and learned that all commercial flights were grounded in the U.S. until further notice. The four of us went on to our meeting with the publisher, but everyone was so staggered that we didn’t accomplish much. It was one of those days when you couldn’t do any work—you just wanted to be with your family.

But how would we get back home? We knew it would be days before commercial flights resumed. What we did have, however, was a rental car; and we realized that the wisest course would be to just keep it and drive the 18 hours back to Little Rock.

I recall driving through the farmlands of Kansas, where everything seemed so clean and normal and American, and it somehow felt comforting. I recall the conversation in the car—about the future, about our families … it was one of those times when men let down their guard and really talk. And I recall the joy of returning back to “normal” life in Little Rock.

A reminder of priorities

Of course, life was not really normal for awhile. There were many who were touched by 9/11 in a deeply personal way—they lost a loved one; they participated in the cleanup; they lost jobs or changed careers or joined the military. Those are the stories we’ve seen in most television and print reports about the anniversary. But like most others, I was not touched by 9/11 so directly. I do know that America certainly felt like a different place for the next few weeks. It had been 60 years since we had been attacked (Pearl Harbor), and for most of us that was a new experience. I remember the wave of patriotism that swept across the country, and I remember tearing up when everyone sang “The Star Spangled Banner” at a high school football game.

There were two other ways that day affected me. Experiences like that have a way of stripping you bare and forcing you to focus on what’s most important to you–your true priorities. So the first thing I wanted to do as events unfolded that day was to connect with my family. It took me a few tries to get through to my wife, Merry—the cell phone companies were overloaded.

I realized again how blessed I am to have a wife who loves me and is committed to me. I wondered why it’s so easy to forget the importance of spending time with her and with my children. I thought of how fortunate I am that my parents are still alive.

God also used the events of that day to remind me how much of life is beyond my power to control. I need to turn to Him, trust Him, and remember that He is the Sovereign of the universe. As Jeremiah 17:7-8 tells us, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord … He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

This wasn’t a new lesson; it seems that I have to learn it over and over. But it sure struck home that day.

“Blessed be the name of the Lord”

Earlier this week I read a short article in Christianity Today by Matt Redman, a Christian worship leader and songwriter. He wrote that, after 9/11, he and his wife were wondering, “What could we sing to God at a time like this? It was as if our worship songs were missing some important vocabulary—the language of tragedy and struggle, of the valley at the bottom of the mountain—which I found surprising, as the Psalms are full of lament.”

Soon after, Matt and his wife wrote the worship song, “Blessed Be Your Name,” which leads and exhorts us to praise God in times of blessing and times of hardship. This has been one of my favorite songs for years, but now that I know why it was created, the words have a whole new meaning.

Every blessing You pour out

I’ll turn back to praise

When the darkness closes in,

Lord, still I will say

Blessed be the name of the Lord

Blessed be Your name

Blessed be the name of the Lord,

Blessed be Your glorious name

I wish I could say that 9/11 changed me forever and that I’ve never forgotten those lessons about priorities. In the last 10 years it seems like I’ve stepped back as much as I’ve stepped forward. But when I listen to songs like this, it helps me remember where real life can be found.

Copyright © 2011 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.