On March 17, 2012 I gave a talk at Homer United Methodist Church in Homer, Georgia for the “Lenten Day Apart” celebrated by United Methodist Women in the Gainesville District. I was asked to share specifically about my 9/11 healing, and to work with the Scripture theme of the event: Isaiah 43:18-19. Following is my draft from which I gave the talk, along with my outline for this presentation. The Scripture from Isaiah 43:18-19 is amazing. Read that if nothing else!
DRAFT VERSION FOR PRESENTATION
• Alive for me through 9/11
• v. 18 – don’t have to stay locked in painful experiences
• v. 19 – God promises unspeakable joy! (1 Peter 1:8; here: v. 19)
• Pre-9/11 – head not heart
“Do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I will do a new thing, now it shall spring forth; shall you not know it? I will even make a road in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” – Isaiah 43:18-19
Isaiah 43:18-19 tells the story of God’s promise to bring healing from trauma. I have walked the path of trauma healing with Jesus. For the first 45 years of my life, trauma marked every mile. No more. I’ve been healed.
God tells us in verse 18 that we do not have to stay locked in painful experiences. He tells us to not remember the former things, that He is doing a new thing. While that may be easy to grasp with our minds, it is not easy to get this into our hearts, especially when we have lived through trauma.
In verse 19 God promises unspeakable joy. This promise is echoed in 1 Peter 1:8: “Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory.” If you have ever walked through a desert – physical, emotional or spiritual – you know the joy of a river springing up in a barren place. You cannot wait to jump in and splash around. Is that really possible after trauma? Yes. After years of crawling through the barren desert of trauma, I am splashing with joy.
Over the past five years, I have experienced how God brings healing from trauma. The healing started a little at a time, as I allowed it. Even though God’s healing power began to change my life inside and out, I still would not allow Him access to one place of trauma: my experience during and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on New York City. In my heart, I felt that was too big even for God. I had too much stuffed behind that door. Better to keep it closed.
Then in August 2011, in a prayer ministry session, I finally was ready. I asked God to heal me from the trauma of 9/11. In response, He brought Isaiah 43:18-19 into that place.
The 9/11 trauma had affected me for 10 years following the event. When I brought it to God in prayer ministry, He healed me. The healing was instant and complete. In the same moment, He pulled up the taproot of trauma that had marked my entire life. I now have a depth of freedom and peace I never thought was possible this side of heaven.
My experience with trauma did not begin on September 11, 2001. It began in the womb with a near-ectopic pregnancy. Trauma continued through lack of proper nutrition in the first few months after birth, followed by a relentless series of early childhood illnesses and injuries.
Premature deaths in my family made things worse. From age 2, I visited a funeral home every six months. This continued through the sudden death of my father when I was 15. Weave in emotional neglect and abuse, fear, and self-hatred, and you have a picture of the worst side of my early years; there was a good and blessed side as well, but trauma punctuated the bad side.
Fast forward to my adult life, filled with difficult challenges and unexpected circumstances: more abuse, injuries and other traumatic experiences. The human body, mind and emotions can only cope so far with trauma. After a while, everything begins to shut down.
Each new trauma is not a separate event. It compounds what has happened already. When I experienced a traumatic event last spring, on my 45th birthday, I was not experiencing just that event. I was experiencing all of the traumatic events, all the way back to the near-ectopic pregnancy and everything in between.
When the “trauma tank” gets overfilled, and there’s no healing to drain it, each new trauma becomes unbearable. Even minor incidents turn into traumas. A ridiculous inconvenience, like a squirrel running into the living room when I was trying to clean a friend’s house, would send me into a tailspin of tears and cries of, “I can’t do this anymore!”
God understands trauma and He knows how to bring healing. It is my privilege to share how Jesus healed me of all those years of trauma. I’ll start with a glimpse of my 9/11 story, then share how it affected me for 10 years. Then I’ll show what Jesus did to bring healing.
A Glimpse of My Life in Lower Manhattan
For 10 years, I worked across the street from the World Trade Center, in two different buildings. I worked for two global investment banks. I lived my life in and around those towers.
During graduate school, I had a quiet study nest on the top floor of the North Tower. After I began my career, I attended weekly classes in the towers, along with many conferences. I had friends who worked there. Many were from war-torn countries. They had come here, hoping to find a peaceful life for their families.
I interacted daily with vendors in the towers – we exchanged laughter and stories, and I grew fond of them. My friends and I spent hours in the World Trade Center shops and cafes. We especially loved the summer outdoor cookouts on the plaza. I went in and out of the subway stations and walked across the footbridges every day.
The World Trade Center was just part of a larger community. Lower Manhattan was its own world, different from the rest of New York City. I loved it there. It was more than skyscrapers. A lot of life took place in and around those buildings. I loved to walk at lunchtime along the waterfront, with its unique places to explore.
My friends and I had our favorites – favorite shopkeepers, favorite café owners, favorite park benches. We also delighted in new discoveries, just around the corner. We even had a sweet little grocery store where we could pick up a salad and go eat at the marina park, and watch the kids play. In the midst of the big, noisy city and corporate frenzy, we carved out an amazing home in a vibrant community with some of the most wonderful and loving people I’ve ever known.
Ten years ago, all of that changed. In one moment, the ground was ripped out beneath us. Friends died. Our community crumbled. Our lives were turned inside out, and we would never be the same. My heart was torn into pieces.
September 11, 2001
It was a Tuesday morning, September 11, 2001. I had been sick since Friday but kept going to the office. Tuesday morning, I awoke with a horrible migraine. I was under a lot of pressure to keep going to work, no matter what – that was the nature of our company and my role in it. But the headache was so bad I just couldn’t do it, so I called and left a message for my boss that I was staying home.
I lived in New Jersey, but my life was in my Lower Manhattan community. I spent most of my waking hours there, from early morning until midnight. The apartment in New Jersey was a place to sleep.
I went back to sleep but kept my cell phone next to my pillow. My phone was an umbilical cord for everyone in our office, for all our clients, and for our entire global team. If I was ever out of reach – you’d think the world had ended.
Sure enough – it was just before 9:00 a.m. when the phone rang. I growled. “Can’t they let me rest for just an hour before they start calling?” My head was pounding.
I saw the number of the caller. Anna was one of my closest friends. Although she and I worked together, she wouldn’t disturb me if I were sick. I figured it must be a pretty big problem if she were calling, so I answered.
Anna was crying and her Romanian accent was thicker than usual. It was hard to understand what she was saying. Something about a plane hitting a building and debris falling everywhere.
“There’s fire and rocks, everything is falling, I’m so scared, what do I do, what do I do? It’s terrible! I’m so scared!”
I was in shock just from hearing her. She said she was running down the street, between the World Trade Center and our office building, and could not get away from the fire. I tried to calm her, but I was already in a panic myself, and disoriented. I didn’t know what was going on, but one thing I did know – she needed to get out of there.
“Can you get a cab?”
“It’s crazy, people are running everywhere!”
“Anna, listen. Find a cab. Tell the driver to take you to the Bronx. Get your son from the daycare and get home.”
Finally she found a cab, got in and let me speak to the driver. The man was clearly stressed. I told him, “Just go to the Bronx. She’ll give you the address when you get there. Just get out of Downtown, now.” I had no idea of the magnitude of what we were dealing with, but it never takes much to shut down Lower Manhattan. I had been there during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and already those memories were resurfacing.
As I spoke, I was fumbling with the dial on the radio (we didn’t have television in our apartment) and trying to hear what was going on. I heard a reporter say a plane had flown into the World Trade Center. I thought it was a small plane that had gotten off course. At that moment, he shouted, “Oh my God, there’s another plane!”
I heard it through the cell phone. When the second plane hit the tower, the impact shattered the windshield of the cab.
Dear God in heaven.
At that moment, my cell phone went out. I had a Manhattan phone number and the service ran through the transponders on top of the World Trade Center. Just like that, service was gone.
So many thoughts. What if Anna couldn’t get out of Manhattan? How would I know? Where were the rest of my friends? Would I ever see them again? Where was Nick, my husband? He was invited to a conference in the World Trade Center that morning. He usually blew off conferences but … I tried to call his office on the landline, but of course nothing was going through. Would they bomb something else? Was there going to be a full-scale attack against our country? Even though the radio reporters hadn’t said the words yet, I knew it wasn’t an accident. I knew it was a terrorist act.
I turned on the computer to email Nick, but I could not get a dial-up connection. I paced around the living room, listening to the radio, feeling nauseous from the migraine and the shock, fighting off panic attacks. I stopped every five minutes and tried to call … someone, anyone. Nothing went through.
Two hours later, I was still pacing and panicking. The landline phone rang. I screamed and grabbed the phone. It was my sister in Florida. She had been trying to call for an hour and finally got through. I cut the call short, told her I had to try again to call Nick. I still couldn’t get through to New York City, so I called my mom in Florida to tell her I was okay. An hour later, I got a dial-up connection and sent an email to Nick.
Another hour went by before I got a response. Nick was in his office in Midtown. He had decided not to go to the conference at the World Trade Center. Some of his team went; some of them died. One of his friends was the last person out of the South Tower. Against the advice of security guards, he started shoving people into an elevator. As the doors closed, he looked at his co-workers standing in the hallway. He never saw them again.
Nick said he was going to stay overnight with a friend in Midtown, that it would be too difficult to get home. As unrealistic as it was, I wanted him out of Manhattan. I was afraid of more attacks, and also afraid of what toxins might be covering the city – by this time, even the radio reporters were asking questions about bio-warfare. But Nick had made up his mind to stay.
I spent the rest of the day worried about everything and everybody, and felt totally helpless to do anything or to know what was going on. It felt like I was in prison in the middle of a war.
Later in the day, I finally made contact with two co-workers after they managed to literally walk out of Manhattan – there was a mass exodus across the bridges and up the east and west sides by foot, and it took some of them six hours to walk home or walk to the nearest public transport that was running. Most of the trains, subways and buses were shut down. The airports were closed; all flights were grounded.
I found out that two of our co-workers were killed – one in the South Tower, and the other by debris falling in the street. One of them was my favorite security guard who made my day, every morning, with his laughter, encouraging words, and smiles. He had worked so hard for his family after they came to this country. Like many people who were killed that day, he had left a country where warfare was common. He thought his family was better off here. What would they do without him? It was too much to process. I could not understand that he was gone, that he would never joke with me again, that I would never see that big smile again.
Finally I got in touch with Anna. She was at home in the Bronx with Miko, waiting for her husband to get home by foot. She was nearly shut down with anxiety. Her cab driver had taken the long way around, crossing the Brooklyn Bridge to get out of Lower Manhattan. They shut the bridge down right behind them.
Anna told me she had talked with our friend Carlos, who was walking to the office as the planes hit. He had to walk through the bodies of people who jumped from the towers. Dear God. I was devastated for him. Carlos is one of the gentlest men I have ever known. Why did he have to witness such a nightmare? No one should have to see anything like that. I did not know how he would get over it.
I could not get the images out of my mind, and I never even saw them. (We had no television, remember, which also meant no closure for me). All I could think was – they came to work that morning, fixed some coffee, walked over to their desks, sat down – and within half an hour, they were jumping to their deaths out of 100th-floor windows. It was either that or burn to death. What does a person think in a moment like that? How can you process that? What about their families? Those images haunted me for years. How could God allow this?
That afternoon I found out that my cousin, who I had always adored, was on call as a paramedic in Manhattan. No one had heard from him since he responded to the second plane hitting the tower. I sent an email to everyone I could, asking for prayer. People assured me the only reason we had not heard from him was the chaos, but I was still scared.
Later that night, I got word that my cousin was safely home with his wife and kids. Thank You, God. A few days later, he and I emailed each other. He told me he was held up in a traffic jam as he responded to the call. If not for the traffic, he would have been in the South Tower when it collapsed. As it was, he arrived minutes before it fell. He dove under his truck, under the Liberty Street footbridge. It took a full hour before he and his partner – who had been standing right next to him – could find each other in the rubble.
Meanwhile I received an email from a friend; we had worked together several years earlier, in another building next to the World Trade Center. We had taken night classes together on the upper floors of the World Trade Center towers. She had since moved out of state. She said a friend who worked in the World Trade Center was missing, and she didn’t know if he was alive. Later, we found out he and his wife were on vacation in Europe when the plane flew directly into his office. All of his co-workers were killed.
It was strange. On one hand, I had an overwhelming sense of what happened that day, to the point that I was terrified and numb all at once. On the other hand, I had lost touch with reality. I kept thinking at most we would take the next day off and then go back to work.
I did not understand that our office building was structurally destroyed from the impact of the explosion and debris coming in the windows, and from the black mold that grew quickly, and that it would never be occupied again. That this would take a toll on our company that would lead to massive layoffs a year later. That it would take my friends and me a year to even begin to put our lives back together – and we would never be the same. That I would see city government corruption at its worst, as we met in citizen groups and tried to rebuild Lower Manhattan. That I would live with nightmares and anxiety attacks for years.
And that only God would be able to bring healing.
My life changed completely that day. It would take the next several years to understand all the ways it changed. I was in shock and survival mode for months, really for the first whole year, just trying to get by and deal with each next new thing. Otherwise, it was all too overwhelming.
For the first year, I was one big ball of emotion. Deep emotions tore at my heart like knife wounds, over and over. Shock. Hurt. Anger. Terror. And Grief – deep, unending grief, with nowhere to turn. I had horrible nightmares. I couldn’t breathe; I couldn’t swallow. I was paralyzed with fear. It took a year just to put some of the pieces back into place, to even begin to think how to live again. And still, no peace. I began to purposely forget all the good things I had known in my life in Lower Manhattan. I began to shut out life. It was easier to stuff everything and just go through the motions.
I remember bits and pieces of that year.
My department had no office for two months. The company kept us on salary (others weren’t so fortunate), and we worked from home on disaster recovery and trying to plan a relocation to the company’s Midtown office, most of which was up to me to orchestrate. I was numb the whole time, just going through the motions. It was like a bad dream that I still had not woken from. Nick kept going into the City every day, but I stayed in New Jersey. I could not handle the thought of going into the City until I had to; it was easier just to be on the other end of a computer.
Once we had our date for moving to Midtown, I asked Anna if I could come to her place in the Bronx, spend the night, and ride into the City together, the day before move-in, to check everything out. I just couldn’t handle doing it alone. I got on the train the night before to head up to the Bronx. I will never forget approaching the Hudson River tunnel, looking down the west side to where the towers had stood, and seeing … nothing.
For years afterward, my eyes and my mind would try to fill in the towers where they were missing from the skyline. Each time, I would fully expect to see them there, like it had just been a bad dream. My mind could not accept that gaping hole and the overwhelming loss of life it represented.
At the Midtown office, the company stuffed us into a conference room – two departments, 30 people, 30 computers, half a dozen printers and 3 fax machines, all in one conference room with one open door. We sat around a long table, squished together. This went on for eight months. It was a terrible working environment. People started getting really sick.
I kept going up the chain of command, trying to escalate our relocation to regular office space. I got nowhere. I kept persisting, despite threats that I was “stepping on toes” and that it would reflect negatively in my performance review. When people all around you are getting headaches and nosebleeds and breathing toxic air – forget the performance reviews, especially when one of the floors in the building is half empty, and garbage dumpsters occupy good office space.
I finally went to our company’s head of real estate for our global region and threatened an OSHA lawsuit. A week later, the garbage dumpsters moved out and we moved in. My performance review read “Stepped on toes” but even my new boss privately thanked me.
And yes, by then I had a new boss. Within a few months after the World Trade Center disaster, the company laid off my former boss – and Anna – as part of downsizing. A year later, the rest of us were downsized. Even though I saw the handwriting on the wall, during that year I did what I could to help the company get all the records squared away – it became a mission for me, probably a way of channeling my anger and grief at the tragedy that had turned our lives inside out.
We had lost all our original documents in the old office, and trying to square everything up was a nightmare. I worked long hours at this and was often there until midnight. Late hours were nothing new, but what a change. A few months earlier, my co-workers and I loved to be there at all hours, because the work was exciting and the clients were amazing. I loved my job. Here I was, a few months later, simply trying to reconcile computer records with missing documents, and with hardly any new work coming in.
At one point, after being double-billed by a client, I was so determined to reclaim our records that I signed up to go back into our old building and locate whatever documents I could. The building was closed off and strictly regulated. To go in, I needed several levels of clearance, a ton of paperwork, a physical exam, training, a hazmat suit, and a Marine guard escort.
My new boss went in shortly before I did. He was a different person after he came out. He got really quiet and depressed. One of the things I will never forget – he seemed in shock as he spoke about it – was that he walked into the old conference room, where he and some clients had been meeting on the morning of the attack. He found his old orange juice sitting where he left it, along with a pad of paper where he had started taking notes from the meeting. At the top he had written “Tues. Sept. 11” – just another ordinary day.
It was August, almost a year after the attack, when I went into the old building. It was blazing hot, so I wore an ice vest under my hazmat suit. I could hardly breathe, much less see anything, but what I did see devastated me. Before the Marines took over, the place was pilfered. All the electronics were stolen, and so were many personal items.
My friends and I had spent more time in the office than at home, so it was like a home to us. We had more personal things in our office than we did at home. The sight of our desk drawers and boxes turned upside down, personal items scattered and missing … seeing Miko’s medical records strewn across the carpet … I felt so violated. And angry. People ran for their lives that day; people died. Others saw it as an opportunity for looting.
A friend wisely reminded me, as I talked about what I had seen, that the looting was symptomatic of our everyday tragedies, and that these are just as devastating as a large-scale terrorist attack. That people, seeing no other way out, had looted as an attempt to save their lives. It was a reminder of how we are still so scattered from each other, as children of God. And a reminder that the enemy of our souls relies on terrorist tactics every day.
Not all of the anger I felt that day in the office was mine. I was always burden bearing, emotionally and spiritually – I did not learn until many years later that I was burden bearing in the wrong way, not in the way God intended. I absorbed emotions and spiritual burdens like a sponge, and I manifested all kinds of feelings for others; it was worst when I was in crowds. What I picked up in that building was horrible, and unfortunately I carried it out with me; it affected me severely.
I had already been picking up and absorbing heavy emotions and spiritual burdens in the City for months. Union Square, where the families of the missing held vigil, night after night … I could not walk through the square for a year afterward, without being overwhelmed with burdens and emotions that were not mine. At Newark Airport, I had trouble breathing, trouble swallowing, and I would sob, out of control, for no apparent reason; what I felt was just too much.
And of course, at Ground Zero … I could not stand being there. I felt it all. It was not until the first anniversary of the tragedy, when the City held a memorial service there, and a giant wind rushed through the place and ripped the flag off a building – after that, a lot of people, myself included, felt a lifting of some of that spiritual and emotional heaviness from the area. We equated that wind with the Holy Spirit and thanked God for His grace.
But we still had to live with our personal grief. The recurring nightmares continued, night after night … visions of looking out a window, seeing a plane fly toward me, fire everywhere, people jumping … I would wake up screaming, choking, unable to breathe. I spent day after day sinking deeper into depression.
I never sought help, never sought counseling. Partly this was because my husband forbid it. Partly it was because I wanted to reserve the counseling for those who “really needed it.” Instead, I got involved in the rebuilding effort, figuring I could help others and participate in restoring the community we once had.
I joined something called the Sunflower Project. We met one afternoon every week and walked around Lower Manhattan, planting sunflowers and watering the ones we had already planted. We then hung out at a local establishment for coffee or dinner – the small businesses in Lower Manhattan were starting to die out, and we wanted to support them, to rebuild our community. I also got involved with a lot of other volunteer counseling and rebuilding projects.
In the process, I changed my PhD dissertation to focus on the Lower Manhattan rebuilding effort. I was a PhD student, in the dissertation writing stage, and my work in investment banking was paying the bills. My hope was to finish my PhD and get an academic job that would also allow me to do hands-on work with social organizations that supported community building.
My hope was stirred when the City invited citizens to participate in rebuilding discussions. We had our first meeting at a high school, 10 blocks from Ground Zero. I had heard that the students were getting headaches and nosebleeds. Officials were denying environmental hazards, but we could see it in the air – just walking by Ground Zero at night, with the floodlights pointed skyward, we could see the heavy debris floating there. We were breathing it inside the high school auditorium.
I had been fighting environmental illness for years, so I was used to the way it felt. But Nick, who never reacted to anything, and always down-played illness, saying he never believed people were really sick … he started freaking out when his skin and eyes started to burn in the high school auditorium and he could not breathe. If it bothered him so much that he had to get up and leave, what was it doing to the kids every day in school?
After that initial meeting, we were offered many promising and creative forums where we could discuss and vote on the rebuilding process. We put a lot of effort into planning ways to make our community better than it was before, to fulfill our dreams for Lower Manhattan, and we started to see hope in the process. We learned so much more about each other too. In the end, the mafia and a few greedy officials overruled us and their fellow government officials, the ones who were really trying to make the community a better place.
After that, I walked away from the PhD program, disgusted. I had studied social science because I love people and I love community. I became disillusioned with how local government was played out in the community. Rightly or wrongly, I no longer saw a future for myself in academia or community building.
I did not ask God whether I should stay with my work in local government and academia, or leave. I was still too hurt and angry. My anger was not really toward the officials overseeing the rebuilding process, or even toward the mafia. Instead it was a symptom of deep trauma that I could not express any other way. Through anger, I was attempting to cling desperately to life, as I felt myself sinking into a black hole.
For me, the good that came out of this rebuilding effort were the connections I made among some wonderful individuals who were as hopeful as I was. I will never forget them; I thank God for them and the work they did to help people through those difficult months. I hope that in the years since then, they have found some help for themselves too, and found peace.
Other things happened during that first year as we tried to piece our lives back together. I lived every day on the verge of being terrified by the least little thing. It was partly reassuring and partly unsettling to see the huge concentration of National Guard soldiers in the train stations and on the subways during my morning and evening commute. Military weapons became a common sight.
Whenever the train broke down or the subway stalled, I would get nervous. Traffic jams sent me into a panic. The first time I flew in a plane after the tragedy, I stopped at the airport bar first. I had been flying my whole life (I grew up in an airline family) and had never thought to have a drink before boarding a plane. But it seemed the only way to board a plane after the tragedy.
I remember sitting next to a man on the train one morning, and he kept looking at his watch. The woman across from us kept looking at hers. Suddenly I heard a beeping noise and they both looked at each other. I tried to tell myself it was nothing, but I got up, grabbed my bags and walked to the rear of the train. I fully expected that when we reached the next station, the train would blow up.
It was too easy to be anxious and paranoid. It was too easy to burst into anger. When the two combined … I remember we had a fire alarm in the Midtown building one evening, and rumors started flying about another attack. Everyone was in a panic. We could hear sirens out in the street. The guards were forbidding us to use the elevator to leave. They wanted us to wait until it was safe to use the stairs, and even regarding the stairs they seemed confused about the protocol.
Remembering what happened with Nick’s friend in the World Trade Center, I called for my co-workers to join me as I pushed past the guards and into the elevator. We waited out in the street. It was a false alarm. The stress was too much. I stood in the middle of Sixth Avenue, sobbing, and screamed at the top of my lungs that I wanted our government to kill every terrorist, that they were destroying our lives, that we could not keep living like this. From long-time human rights supporter to screaming militant – I hated what was happening to me.
It was not until a few years later that I remembered something else, something the World Trade Center tragedy completely wiped from my mind. The week before the attack, after years of hard work, I had reached a new level with my novel writing. I was a heartbeat away from getting my first novel published. I stopped all my personal writing projects after the World Trade Center disaster and dropped out of my writing classes. I just could not do it anymore.
After my department was laid off, I was encouraged by an outplacement counselor to pursue writing full time. I could not bear the thought of picking up my novel again, or writing for the joy of it. So I compromised. I went into freelance writing and ghostwriting books for others – anything to avoid writing my own pieces. In later years, I would make a few stabs at picking up my writing again, but every effort was in vain. It was painful, it was agonizing, and it did not last. I created every excuse possible not to be a writer anymore.
The Beginning of Healing
In the years following 9/11, I threw myself into my work, wiped all thoughts of New York City from my mind, avoided the place as much as I could, and forced myself (with a lot of internal fighting) to stop panicking at airports and on airplanes and trains. I stopped watching the news and conveniently forgot the initial reason our country went to war. I stuffed all of those feelings, including all of those burdens I had carried wrongly, deep inside myself and decided to forget. My health deteriorated, resulting in cancer; my marriage disintegrated; and my life became miserable.
For the first few years after the tragedy, God allowed me to keep myself locked away. Whenever someone mentioned 9/11, I would leave the room, and spend the next hour crying, until I felt numb enough to be around people again. On the anniversaries of the tragedy, I would hide. Eventually God airlifted me out of New Jersey and into a much better life in north Georgia. He gave me grace for two more years, where I did not have to think about what happened on September 11, 2001.
Then, because I had begun to seek Him for healing in my life, He began to stir in me a realization of how much I had stuffed inside myself and how much I was living in denial. I realized that in all the time since 9/11, even though I had prayed for others and for myself, my pleas were lobbed heavenward without bothering to listen for a response. I had never asked God to show me where He was during the tragedy and the aftermath, or what He felt, or what He carried.
As I started to ask Him to walk me through healing from 9/11, I began to feel a greater peace. I could talk about it – a little – and get some healing each time. But I had just scratched the surface. It was still mostly avoidance and managed behavior on my part. I still did not trust God enough to “go there.” I knew, in my mind, that He would not hurt me in the process of healing me. I knew He would not make me relive the memories. I knew He would take me through the healing Himself, and that He would lift me out on the other side of the Cross. I knew all of that in my mind, but I did not trust Him fully in my heart.
Then, on the 7th anniversary of the World Trade Center attack, things started to change. God started to give me a glimpse of the healing that was available for me. I did not fully dive in but I waded in at the healing waters’ edge.
The 7th anniversary was the first time I had to look 9/11 square in the face, in public. I had just taken a job in a school at a group home for at-risk teens. That morning at school, the children were journaling about 9/11 for an assignment, talking about it, asking questions. A huge ball of emotion rushed to the surface. I had to leave the room. That was when I first realized I needed to seek healing from this trauma.
The children were seven years old when the attack happened. They might remember it much in the way I remember hearing my mom talk about the Kennedy assassination, or the attack on Pearl Harbor. It was part of their history that they needed to learn. I needed to get to a place of healing where I could share with them, and not hide.
Not only that. The pain that started to surface as they talked about the event, and my reactions to it, were a far cry from where I wanted to be with God. Fear, anger, and bitterness take away from the wonderful gift of life He offers. And I want His best.
I took my painful reactions to the Cross. For the first time, I asked God to show me where He was on September 11, 2001. He took me through all the scenes I just described. He showed me His presence, His power, and His love.
As I looked at the picture of Ground Zero that the children were journaling about, I started to remember the stories of phone calls made from the air, words of love and assurance, courage and peace. I felt led to pray for the families who lost loved ones, to pray for a continued outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit into the empty places in their lives, so they are filled with more of His love than they’ve ever known. I asked God where He was as people jumped from the 100th floor. He showed me how they were carried in the arms of angels, and landing safely in His hands.
I started to heal that day. I still did not have peace, but I began to feel comfort. In that comfort, God prepared me for the deeper healing and peace that was to come.
Why was it so hard to find peace? Why, with words like those found in Isaiah 43:18-19, was I still locked in the pain of the “former things”?
Shut down – 10 years
• Isaiah 43:18-19
o Able to apply externally, like poultice
How I survived
o But not internally (heart)
Needed to thrive
• What happens (trauma v. pain)
• Jesus completes process!!!
• v. 19 – Jesus re-establishes channels to connect with joy center!!!
• Available to all
• We all need deeper peace (John 14:27)
• In His presence, God fills us with HIS peace (not the world’s)
o And He shows us what’s blocking
• “Lord, I make a heart invitation for You to be here with me. Help me to perceive Your presence and establish a living, interactive connection with You in the present.”
As Jesus says in Scripture, the peace He offers is different from the world’s peace. Some situations are too big to find resolution or understanding. Sometimes our grief is so overwhelming there is nothing the world can offer. Only Jesus can meet us in that place.
You might not know this about me, but I’ve been a writer all of my life. I’ve written articles and books. I used to have such a passion for it. Lately, I’ve wanted to start writing again, but it’s been such a struggle. A month ago, I asked God why. I asked Him, “Lord, when was the last time I felt joy and freedom in writing?” Instantly He showed me – it was the week before the tragedy. When the towers were hit, I shut down as a writer. I had forgotten this, but the Lord reminded me that I had made a vow never to write again.
We were also coming up on this 10th anniversary, and I realized I’m tired of hiding from all of this. Between that, and the desire to write again, I went to an inner healing session three weeks ago. Honestly, I thought this was too big even for God. But I went by faith. I knew the depths of healing God had brought to my life, and I know what His Word promises. So I went by faith, asking God to heal me. In the end, God not only showed me that my 9/11 trauma wasn’t too big for Him to heal. He also poured healing into me far greater than anything I could have imagined.
My 9/11 Healing
• Inner Healing session (started with “heart invitation” prayer)
• Jesus knows MY pain
• After session – Looking for Jesus at Ground Zero
o “The place of my greatest desolation has now become the place of my greatest attraction” (v. 19)
• 10 years shut down – complete healing in 45 minutes
o Exchanged old ways of coping (v. 18) with new ways of truly living in His presence (v. 19) (also John 15)
In that session, my inner healing minister prayed with me, for Jesus to meet me in my place of deepest sorrow. The Lord is so gentle when He brings healing. He doesn’t make us relive old trauma. Instead, He surrounds us with His presence and brings comfort and peace. The biggest thing that happened to me in that inner healing session was that Jesus made me aware, deep in my heart, that He felt every single thing I felt; that He intimately knew my pain and my sorrow; that He was holding me and crying with me; and that the comfort and strength of His presence was real and solid and deep.
In that place of deepest sorrow, where Jesus met me, I found peace. Real peace; lasting peace. The peace that only Christ can give us. It is His peace in us that brings healing, and new joy in life. My sorrow cannot be resolved by my mind, by my experiences, by anything the world can offer. But the peace of Christ, that now fills my heart, allows me to live, and have life, and have joy again, in the aftermath of unthinkable grief and sorrow. I will never forget. But now I can live. And now, I can also remember fondly all those joyful times I had shut out.
Here I shared recollections from my inner healing ministry session six months earlier, where I received tremendous healing from the 9/11 trauma. If you would like to read those session notes, please visit my post, Seeking 9/11 Healing.
What Does This Mean For You?
• We all need more of His peace
• Learn to practice presence
• Everyday life – where’s Jesus?
o Little girl at barbecue
• Praying for those who’ve had trauma
o And praying as it occurs (accidents, kids, pets)
• What if you haven’t had major trauma?
o When you’ve lost all, you have to draw from God
o He invites us all to do this (Galatians 2:20) – dying to self, depending on Him alone
Fellowship of suffering (1 Peter 4:13) – authentic
• And we all have trauma of some sort, just by being alive
o It’s often the little things that block us most from God’s peace and from a deeper relationship with Him.
If you would like to read the original testimony I shared in church on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, please visit The Peace of Christ – My 9/11 Testimony.
· Praying for those who’ve had trauma
· What if you haven’t had major trauma?
· And we all have trauma of some sort, just by being alive
5-Minute Silence (Practicing God’s Presence)
Song – “Here in Your Presence” (New Life Worship)
Scripture Verses (NKJV)
1 Peter 1:8
1 Peter 4:13
My book When All Is Lost: A Personal Story of 9/11 Trauma and the Healing Power of Christ will walk you through how God brought healing for this trauma. There is nothing too big or too small for God to heal. Talk to Him.