After Trauma, There Is Life

I heard a broadcast recently where young businessmen were talking about the pandemic. It’s the first time they’ve had to deal with disaster recovery and business continuity. I could hear the fear and uncertainty in their voices. I wished they were in front of me so I could give them hope that one day we will be on the other side of this and it will be okay. 

I was in their place once. I was a young business woman in NYC during 9/11. I too experienced daily fear and uncertainty in the aftermath of that tragedy. For those who lived through it, there were days, weeks, months when it felt like we’d never have peace or hope or life again. But eventually we did. And that’s what I wished I could have told those young men. It does end, and we will not be in a crisis forever. 

I’m an “old lady” now, and from my generation to the younger folks, I just want to share comfort and hope that we will get through this. Because I’ve seen it happen. I’ve been through the kind of crisis that tears your world apart, and come out on the other side to experience joy and laughter again. 

I also want to share how Jesus provides incredible healing from trauma, even right now in the midst of it, if we just ask Him.

On that note, I want to share this link to the book I wrote about how God healed me from the trauma of 9/11. Maybe you or someone you know could use some trauma healing, and this book will show you how that’s possible. It’s available on Kindle, and I’m told it’s a quick and encouraging read.

With love and prayers from an “old lady” who knows there is life on the other side of trauma. And that God never leaves us or forsakes us.

When All Is Lost: A Personal Story of 9/11 Trauma and the Healing Power of Christ by [Janet Lynn Eriksson]

When All Is Lost: A Personal Story of 9/11 Trauma and the Healing Power of Christ (Janet Lynn Eriksson)

Praying for an Unborn Child

I learned today about unborn twins – one of them died in the womb, the other survived and was born. My heart broke. Not in a way I’ve felt before. I’ve wept for unborn or newborn babies that died, and I’ve wept for their moms and families. This was different. I wept for the twin that lived.

Imagine being the little one in the womb. Just a few months old. One minute God breathed life into you; the next, you are living in this place you don’t understand. You’re helpless in a way none of us can imagine. You feel and hear everything around you. And you’re not alone. You have another little one living right there with you. You’re growing together and that little one is the only one you know who’s familiar. Mom and dad are distant voices. Through generational curses, the enemy tries to wipe out any memory you have of God who created you.

But you have your sweet little companion in this strange, close-quartered, fluid world.

And now your companion stops moving; stops breathing; stops growing. And dies.

There you are – alone.

Can you imagine the terror? The sadness? The longing?

Will mom or dad – a friend – someone – on the outside know to invite Jesus to come to you, to talk to you, to comfort you? Will someone know to pray trauma off of you? To affirm you and call you to life?

Our kids in the womb feel everything. We’re human; we’re not perfect; sometimes we do or say things to upset their little hearts, and sometimes life is cruel and hurts them in ways we never intended. But Jesus can heal them. They won’t carry those hurts into their lives if we invite Him to heal their wounds, right there in the womb.

We have to pray over our kids in the womb. We have to ask the Lord for discernment of things that might be affecting them. Some things – like the death of an unborn twin – will be obvious. At other times, we’ll know that when we raise our voices, or express doubts about our ability to care for our unborn baby, or feel afraid, or think unpleasant thoughts … we have to be sensitive to how those things affect the child, and we need to catch ourselves being human and apologize to the child – repent, ask forgiveness, tell the child how much we love him or her and how glad we are that God created the little one.

Godly Remembrance

Recently was the anniversary date of a difficult situation. It’s been years since I had to deal literally with that circumstance, but the anniversary still affects me. It’s not conscious. I may not even remember the date or think about it. But when I start to feel the spiritual and emotional impact, I remember, and I’m aware of how it affects me. That’s an area where I need to do some praying, so it will no longer have that affect on me.

Anniversaries of difficult moments, especially the death of a loved one, continue to leave an imprint on our hearts. This is not always a “bad” thing; often it’s a natural and important part of grief. I have no doubt that the anniversary of my mother’s death will always be a day that affects my heart deeply. I continue to miss her and to celebrate her life and the memories I carry in my heart.

However, if an anniversary has trauma locked into it that keeps us oppressed and blocks us from the joy, peace, and fullness of life God has for us, then prayer will help. We can remember what we need to remember, without being stuck in that moment.

As for my recent anniversary, it is not something I need to remember in a negative way, and it’s not a place where I need to be stuck. I need to pray and ask the Lord to pour His healing into my heart, where I am stuck in the trauma of that moment, and ask Him to lift out the pain and replace it with His peace.

God doesn’t erase our memories or the significance of our anniversaries. But He can pour His presence into those places of pain, so we can walk through our difficult anniversaries with godly remembrance and with newness of life.

Saved from Drowning

I’d like to shift gears and share a little about summer again. This summer I had a wonderful time tubing and kayaking in the river with my friends. We went on several river outings and each one seemed more wonderful than the last. We always prayed before we left, and it’s a good thing!

On one outing, we had a group of adults and children in kayaks. Our river is very calm, which may sound boring to white water explorers. But for us, that is part of the attraction. There are a few small rapids to keep things interesting, but mostly we can just relax and have fun.

About a quarter of the way into our trip, one of the children got stuck behind a fallen tree. Her mom was right ahead of me. She steered over to help unlodge her child. In this placid river, there turned out to be a strong eddy behind the fallen tree. In this small place of no more than two feet around, the current was crushing. The mom’s kayak flipped. I was right behind and trying not to hit her head with my bow. In trying to steer away, I flipped too. I was sucked under the two kayaks and the tree.

I’ve been in an undertow before, in the ocean. This was worse, because my head was at least a foot below the surface. It happened so fast I didn’t get a breath, and the force of the water was strong. It kept pulling me down. I grabbed hold of “something” and started climbing. I didn’t realize the “something” was the stomach of my friend who had overturned. She had stabilized her feet and was able to get a grip on my bathing suit. She hoisted me to where my mouth was just about the water and I could breathe.

I continued to grapple with the tree until I could get my whole face above the water. I started to panic, because the force of the water felt crushing against my chest. I thought it would drag me under again. Then I took a moment to just breathe and be calm and realize I was going to be okay.

My friend told me to climb out along her kayak (firmly plastered against the fallen tree) while another friend, standing on a beach in the middle of the river, told me to climb out and jump in, and let the current carry me down the beach. At first, the thought of jumping back into a current was frightening. But as I edged closer, I saw that the main current wasn’t violent like the eddy. I jumped in and let the water carry me to safety. A few minutes later, my friend got her boat turned rightside up and got her daughter unwedged. All people were safely on the beach and all equipment was gathered.

I walked up to another friend, who is a prayer minister, and told her our other friend had just saved my life. Being a prayer minister, she knew to pray for God to lift all trauma off my body and mind. The trauma prayer was so powerful. Immediately it calmed me (I had been shaking and gasping for breath until then). I was able to get back into the water and swim around a little in the current, to see that my fear was gone. By lunchtime, halfway through the trip, I was bodysurfing in the current along with the children, and having a great time.

I left the river with a couple minor injuries – I had a palm-sized bruise on my thigh and something wrong with the arch of my foot, from grappling with the tree. That was small in comparison to being alive! I thank God for helping us that day – and for lifting off the trauma so we could continue to enjoy His beautiful creation in safety and fun. Since then, my bruise has healed, and my foot (after receiving a lot of healing prayer) is feeling much better. Go God!

I’m leaving tomorrow on a much needed vacation. I will see you back here Monday, October 8. Thanks for reading! 🙂

Dog Fear … Gone!

When I got home tonight, I discovered I’m no longer afraid of the dogs. I rent a beautiful apartment on the property of a wonderful family. They have three dogs. One is very docile and always greets me with a friendly tail wag when I arrive. He never seems to bark. The other two always bark, and sometimes growl. One of them still wags her tail but she tries to act ferociously.

I’ve lived here two and a half months now, and so I’ve tried to make peace with them. I can tell they’ve gotten somewhat used to me, but they still come running and barking. I try to talk to them in a calm manner and tell them I won’t hurt them. I also pray, every time, for God to help me with them. A few times I’ve felt scared, especially when they get too close with their growls.

It’s not these dogs that causes my fear. Back in 1997 I was serving as a volunteer university lecturer in Siberian Russia and I was attacked by a rabid dog. I have always loved dogs but it took a while to get over that. However, with the passage of time, I’ve felt safe with dogs again and continue to love them. It’s when they growl, though, that I still get chills up and down my spine.

About a week ago, I realized how much this still bothers me. I wondered if I needed to bring it up in a prayer ministry session and get some healing. I prayed once again and asked God to help me get past my fear. We’ve worked on every other fear … why not this one! I’m having a couple prayer ministry sessions in the next week; in the back of my mind, I’ve thought maybe I’ll ask Him.

Tonight, however, I walked up to barking and growling … and it didn’t shake me at all. I felt no chills, not even a twinge of fear. Just peace. God does that sometimes. Just sovereignly heals us … just because He can. It’s His grace.

Sometimes we need to pursue our healing, and confess our sins (yes, fear is a sin) to one another. At other times, He just takes care of things. Tonight, He showed me that my fear of dogs is gone. Praise God!

9/11 Healing (Lenten Day Apart)

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

Isaiah 43:18-19
• 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
• Why?
• Isaiah 43:18-19
o Able to apply externally, like poultice
 How I survived
o But not internally (heart)
 Needed to thrive

Trauma
• What happens (trauma v. pain)
• Jesus completes process!!!
• v. 19 – Jesus re-establishes channels to connect with joy center!!!

Practicing presence
• 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
o How
• 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)

Trauma Prayer

Song – “Here in Your Presence” (New Life Worship)

Scripture Verses (NKJV)

Isaiah 43:18-19

1 Peter 1:8

John 14:27

John 15

Galatians 2:20

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.

Seeking Healing from 9/11 Trauma – Inner Healing Ministry Session Notes

Following is my recollection of the inner healing ministry session where I sought the Lord for healing from the trauma of 9/11 – ten years after the event (August 24, 2011).

***

We opened in prayer. Then I began to share with my prayer minister how I felt, coming up on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy:

“A week ago, I decided I am sick and tired of feeling shut down as a writer. Writing with God is one of my greatest desires, yet it’s been nothing but agony for years. So I finally asked God, ‘When was the last time I felt joy and freedom as a writer?’ He showed me it was right before 9/11. That’s when I had shut down.

“As the Lord showed me that, I started to feel a spirit of terror rising in me. I realized it was time to deal with my total 9/11 shut down. It was time for healing. But I asked God to put a lid on all those emotions until I could get ministry.

“At that point, I realized it was almost the 10th anniversary. I would like for once not to shut down, not to hide. I would like to be healed. But I feel like this is too big, even for God. There is a lot of dark stuff shut behind those doors. I’m afraid to open them.”

I didn’t go into details of the event. I just identified all the emotions I had felt – on the day, and for years afterward.

My prayer minister invited the Lord’s presence. Then he asked me when was the last time I had felt the Lord’s comfort after grief. (Through the Lord’s leading, he had identified grief as the key emotion we would be dealing with.)

I told him, “Never. In my whole life, despite so many losses, no one has ever comforted me in my grief. Consequently, I have no idea what it is to feel God’s comfort.”

He asked the Lord to help me feel His presence and comfort. With my eyes closed, I waited on the Lord. The first thing I saw was the side yard of my childhood home. There was a lemon tree in the middle. It was my favorite yard – I loved to roll in the grass. The Lord showed me standing in the yard for a moment, and then He took me inside the house. He showed me as an infant, being picked up and held against His chest.

As I told my prayer minister what the Lord was showing me, I used the words, “It’s like I’m a baby being held against the Lord’s chest.”

My prayer minister said, “Is it like you’re a baby? Or are you the baby?”

I said, “I’m not the baby. I’m watching from a distance.”

My prayer minister is aware, from previous sessions, that I have trouble allowing the Lord to hold me, because that has not been modeled safely for me throughout my life. I have the experience of being suffocated and crushed by someone who was supposed to model safety and love. That experience affected how I see God. Slowly, gently, God is bringing healing. But He will not push, and He will not try and hold me that way until I’m ready.

My prayer minister invited the Lord to help me experience His presence in a way that felt safe for me.

The Lord shifted the scene to the side yard again. This time, I was lying in the sunny grass near the lemon tree. I felt comfortable. I sensed Jesus carefully scooting up next to me, as if He were lying beside me. Gently, He took my hand. I could handle His presence next to me, in this way, and I moved as close as possible. I told my prayer minister what was happening.

“Do you feel safe with Jesus this way?”

“Yes.”

He triple-checked that I felt the Lord’s presence and that I felt safe with Him. (I realized he was making sure of this, prior to any exploration about how I handle grief. I made sure to wait until I felt completely safe, and felt that Jesus wasn’t going anywhere, because I knew I’d need His presence for whatever would come next.)

My prayer minister asked me, “How did you generally deal with grief, prior to 9/11?”

“I stuffed it. That’s the way I was taught. Don’t feel, just stuff. I’ve always stuffed it.”

“Where did you stuff it?”

I pointed to my heart. “In here.”

“Lord Jesus, would you show Janet where You were, all the times she was stuffing her grief in her heart?”

The Lord gave me a visual of myself, stuffing grief, like little shreds of paper, into my heart. Stuff, stuff, stuff. I was cramming so much in there, and I was so intent that I didn’t look up. Suddenly, I sensed the Lord’s presence and looked up. He was sitting opposite me. I was crying at this point (in the vision and in the natural) and Jesus said, “I’m here.”

There was a revelation deep in my heart – a brand new truth. He’s really here. He really cares. Jesus was so intently focused on me; on every shred of grief that I was stuffing into my heart. He knew about it? He really knew about each shred of grief? Such a revelation to my heart.

It had never been modeled to me, in my life, that anyone cared about my grief, or about what I felt in moments of sorrow. Here Jesus was, showing me that He was focused intently on what I felt, and that He really cared about every bit of it. That He had been sitting with me the whole time, every time I grieved, throughout my life.

To reaffirm that revelation, the Lord held out His hands, and immediately I recognized that He was holding Fluffy, the plush green bunny rabbit that had been my favorite stuffie as a child. I always brought stuffed animals and other toys to the park across the street from my home, but I’d never brought Fluffy, for fear of losing him. One day, I decided to bring him. My mom warned me that if I brought him, I would lose him. Sure enough … I mourned that green plush rabbit. I beat myself up for years over that lost stuffie. I cried and cried. Here was Jesus, holding Fluffy, who looked brand new.

I started sobbing. I told my prayer minister, “Jesus has Fluffy!”

My heart melted at the thought that Jesus loves me that much. That He really, truly cared about all of my moments of grief. Even a 7-year-old girl’s grief over a lost green bunny (and a very special grandma who had died not long before).

My prayer minister said, “Lord Jesus, tell Janet how You feel about her stuffing all that grief into her heart.”

The Lord held out His hands and said I could give all of that to Him instead.

“Are you willing to give that to Him?”

“Yes.”

This was not easy. I started shaking as I reached, symbolically, into my heart to give Jesus the first piece of grief I had stuffed. I handed it to the Lord, and I felt that He took it. I reached for another piece; and another. There was too much in there, and I started to cry again. But soon, the emotion shifted from fear to relief. I suddenly couldn’t get the pieces out fast enough. I mentioned that to my prayer minister.

“Would you like Jesus to take all of it, at once?”

I nodded my head.

“Ask Him.”

“Lord Jesus, would You please take all of this for me?”

I felt the Lord lift my heart gently in His hands, and I felt His light surround me. He shook all the grief out of my heart. There was so much. I was sobbing, but I felt like I could breathe again.

The Lord made sure my heart was empty of every last shred of grief, and then He brushed off my heart and kissed it, and gently put it back into place. Jesus kept His hand on my heart, and I still had the strong sensation that He was watching me intently; that He really cared.

“Lord Jesus,” my prayer minister said. “What’s your response to all the grief Janet just handed over to You?”

I still struggle for words to describe what happened next. I felt that the Lord came and put His arms around me, and held me close to Him (and this was safe for me; I wanted this). I felt that He was reaching down into the depths of me, and identifying with every moment of grief and trauma I had ever experienced; and at the same time, His head was above the clouds, in His glorified, resurrected state, looking over the New Earth, and all that is to come, rejoicing in my future, where there will be no more tears.

Jesus held me like that, for the longest time. He was a bridge between all I had experienced, and all that God promises for my eternal life with Him. Jesus stood between heaven and earth, holding me, linking me to Him, letting His strength seep into me. At the same time, He fully identified with every single moment of grief I had experienced, and He held every one of those moments in His heart. He was holding me and telling me, “I’m so sorry,” and He was fully present in that place of sorrow with me – even as He was also fully present in that new place of hope, and pointing the way to what will be.

I was reminded of the drawings I’ve seen of Jesus, in heaven, holding someone who is newly arrived – welcoming them, comforting them, yet all the while surrounded by the glorious promise of a new life.

Jesus felt, to me, so powerful, so strong, so able to bring comfort, so filled with hope, and with authority, the everlasting King – and yet so completely at one with me in my sorrow and grief; so willing to take the time to hold me and recognize all that I’d been through.

When I had absorbed all of this into my heart, I felt that I had to share it with my prayer minister, but I struggled for words. I asked him if I could demonstrate it using a prop. He said, “Yes. You need to be able to express this, so you can claim it.”

I walked over to a chair, picked up a pillow, and walked back to the couch. Using the pillow, I showed him how Jesus had held me, and what I felt – the Lord coming into my place of sorrow, while He was at the same time pointing with hope to my place of future promise, and holding me all the while. In the process of demonstrating this, I literally squeezed the stuffing out of the pillow. (My prayer minister later pointed this out, and it made me laugh, but it also showed me what the Lord had been doing with me and all that I had stuffed.)

My prayer minister recited from Isaiah 53:3: “He was a man of sorrows.” He said, “Jesus identifies with us in our sorrows. Now you’ve experienced that with Him.”

My eyes were closed again, and the Lord shifted the scene. Jesus was inside a barn. It was a brightly lit barn. There were people from all over the world. Each of them had experienced some type of horrific trauma. Jesus was on the floor of the barn, sitting in the straw, bringing comfort to each one. There was a depth of understanding that passed between Jesus and each person, that they shared a heart understanding of deep pain and sorrow.

For a moment, I watched all of this through the barn window. Then Jesus brought me inside. I began to feel the same depth of understanding (beyond words) that the others had exchanged with Jesus.

I said to my prayer minister, “I feel like I just met Jesus for the first time.”

He said, “You did – a part of Him. You’ve never known this dimension of Him – the man of sorrows. You now have a more complete picture. When you were looking through the window, you saw Him in two dimensions. Now you see Him in three. Now you are part of the fellowship of His suffering.”

Until now, I had “known” with my mind how Jesus felt about sorrow and grief. But now I finally had that understanding in my heart. And now I began to feel His heart for the others inside that barn. I was not alone anymore, in my grief. I was part of Christ’s heart, and part of all those around me who had suffered. I was able to feel their grief, because I knew that Jesus had felt mine.

My prayer minister said, “Now, what will you do in a time of sorrow?”

“I will run to Jesus. I will go straight to Him.”

As I said the words, I felt a deep peace. I felt that I could actually bear whatever more sorrows would come my way in life, because I knew where to turn. I knew that Jesus would truly hear and feel my sorrow, and truly understand. I also knew that in that place of sorrow, I would be in fellowship with Him, at a deep heart level, and be able to share with Christ, in my heart, the grief of others as well.

“Now, we’re going to ask Jesus to meet you in that place of grief and sorrow that you felt after 9/11. Ask Him to meet you there.”

“Lord Jesus, where were You on 9/11? I’ve had all this grief in my heart for years. Meet me in that place in my heart.” (For years, I had been so scared of inviting this moment that I hadn’t dared to seek healing. When the moment arrived, I felt a lightness of spirit and a strange sense of anticipation for Jesus to meet me – because now I knew what it felt like to share in the fellowship of His suffering.)

In that moment, Jesus showed me standing in the middle of the street between the World Trade Center and my office building. Chaos swirled in every direction – not just the chaos of the day, but everything, all that happened in the next year, in the rebuilding effort, and for years after. Every painful image, every painful thought, every painful moment was all there, in one big funnel cloud that covered the ground to the edges of Lower Manhattan. All of it. I was standing right in the middle, with my heart bursting in pain.

I looked up, and from the next street over, Jesus entered the scene. He came running straight to me. My pain, my grief, was written all across His face, and I could literally see the heaviness He carried in His heart. There is a depth of understanding that you share with a spouse, where you don’t have to exchange any words. That’s similar to what happened between the Lord and me in this moment. He came straight to me, and with one glance exchanged between us, I knew that He knew everything I felt – and I knew that He felt it too. I knew that my sorrows were His. I knew the disaster all around us struck both of us in the very same ways. I knew the grief I carried in my heart was exactly the same as what He felt.

Without a word, but with a glance that said everything, Jesus took me in His arms. He held me. He cried with me. We cried the same tears. We poured the same grief out of our hearts. We felt the same devastation and loss. And as I shared my grief with Him, He shared His with me.

I stayed in that moment with Him for a long time. Jesus didn’t lead me out until I knew that I knew that I knew that He understood. And that He would carry my grief for me, because it was His grief too, and it was too much for me to bear.

I opened my eyes and I felt a deep peace that I’d never known before, not ever in my entire life. I told my prayer minister that as crazy as it sounded, I didn’t want to leave that scene, because Jesus was there, holding me. For 10 years, I hadn’t been able to go to that place in my mind. I hadn’t allowed myself to picture Ground Zero. Yet here I was, lingering in that place because of Christ’s presence in the midst of my greatest sorrow.

My prayer minister said, “The place of my greatest sorrow has become the place of my greatest attraction … because Christ is there.”

I closed my eyes again, still in the same scene. Except now, the chaos was lifting, and familiar buildings and streets and shops and cafes were coming into view. Like dawn breaking through the darkness, the entire scene transformed into a place I remembered fondly. For the first time since the tragedy, I began to remember all the things I had loved in Lower Manhattan before that day. I had blocked them out all this time, and God was restoring them to me.

My prayer minister asked me, “What will you do now in sorrow?”

I said, from a deeper place in my heart than even a few minutes earlier, “I will go straight to Jesus.”

“Are you afraid to be in that place of grief and sorrow?”

“No. I’m not afraid. Because Jesus is there.”

“Now you can step into your sorrow instead of stuffing it away.”

“Yes. Because Jesus is there.”

Since that moment, just over three weeks ago, I have had peace, and my grief has subsided … not just from 9/11, but all the grief I had stuffed away all of my life. On the drive home from that prayer ministry session, I pulled up at a stoplight behind a white truck. All over the back of the truck were 9/11 FDNY stickers depicting the towers. I looked at the stickers, that previously would have made me run and hide, or burst into tears, or struggle to breathe. I looked at the stickers now, and I stared into the scene, searching for Jesus. I had peace. I knew He was there, and that He understood.

From that day, until the 10th anniversary two weeks later, whenever I heard 9/11 discussed … I was filled with peace. All those overwhelming emotions had subsided. I still knew the enormity of what we all lost, but I was able to move in that and not crumble. I was able to remember the sorrow without becoming overwhelmed. I knew Jesus was the one carrying it now; not me. I knew I could put my hand in His anytime I wanted, and find real and lasting strength. I knew that the core of my being was made up of His deep peace.

A few days after my session, I shared my testimony of healing briefly with one of our pastors, and she told me that God seemed to be nudging her to ask me to share on the anniversary day. She asked if I would be all right. I knew without a doubt the answer was “yes.” I also knew that God had orchestrated my healing to take place before the day, so I could share with others that Jesus brings genuine peace, even in the midst of our worst circumstances.

The biggest testimony wasn’t the words I shared. It was the fact that, finally, I could share. It was the peace of Christ that was visible in me. That was my testimony.

And on that day, after I shared, I was able to listen to the stories of others, as they had been impacted – by 9/11 or by other things. I was able to listen and truly hear their hearts, because my own grief wasn’t standing in the way. Through the heart of Christ in me, I was able to listen to their struggles, and to offer them assurance of the peace of Christ that is available to all.

After I shared my testimony on the 10th anniversary of 9/11, the Lord spent the rest of the day giving me one wonderful surprise after another. It turned out to be one of the most enjoyable days of my life. It wasn’t until that evening that I finally realized what God had done. He had restored that day for me.

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.” – John 14:27 NKJV

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7 NKJV

If you would like to read the testimony I shared in church, you can find it at The Peace of Christ – My 9/11 Testimony.

Six months after sharing that testimony, I shared more about the healing from this trauma at the United Methodist Women’s “Lenten Day Apart.” You can find the text of that presentation at 9/11 Healing (Lenten Day Apart)

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.

The Peace of Christ – My 9/11 Testimony

On the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I was asked to share my testimony in church. I had only recently received healing through an inner healing ministry session, and so I felt able to share. Following is the draft from which I gave my presentation.

*****

For 10 years, I worked across the street from the World Trade Center. Many of you don’t know that about me. I was a business manager at a global investment bank. 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. There were so many unique places to explore. My friends and I had our favorites – favorite shopkeepers, favorite café owners, favorite park benches. But 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 little 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 again. My heart was torn into pieces.

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’d 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.

For a short time, I found solace by diving into the Lower Manhattan rebuilding effort. This was our chance to come together and plan a future even better than what we’d known before. But in the end, corruption took control of the process, and my dreams for a new hometown were shattered. I was disillusioned and angry, and I gave up.

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.

Four years ago, I began to actively seek the Lord for healing in other areas of my life. But I wasn’t ready to ask Him for healing concerning 9/11. There was too much stuffed behind that door. It was dark and painful, and I would just as soon keep that door closed.

But then something happened. Three years ago, I took a job as a language arts parapro at Eagle Ranch, a group home for at-risk teens. On the 7th anniversary of the tragedy, I walked into the classroom to find that the teacher had assigned the children to journal about the event. That huge ball of emotion came rushing to the surface. I had to leave the room. That’s when I realized it was time to seek healing. The children had been 7 years old when the towers were hit. 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.

I spent that whole day in prayer. One of the images that had haunted me the most were the people who jumped from the towers. They were just like me. Their offices faced mine across the street. They came in that morning, got their coffee, sat down at their desks … and 10 minutes later they had to make an unthinkable decision. I asked God to show me where He was in the midst of that. He spoke to my heart, and showed me they were lifted by angels and carried into His loving hands. That was the beginning of healing for me, and of comfort. But I still didn’t have peace.

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.

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.

As our pastor was preparing her message for this day, she felt the Lord nudging her to ask me to share. She was worried, at first, that this might be too hard for me. That’s when I shared with her the peace Jesus brought to my heart in that inner healing session three weeks ago. And while I will never forget that day 10 years ago, and the lives that were lost, and the lives turned inside out, I’m standing here now to tell you: “I’m okay,” because Jesus has given me His peace.

I don’t know what your sorrow is. It may be connected with this tragedy, or with other moments of pain and grief that you’ve experienced. But I invite you today to let the God of peace touch your heart – with His peace, that surpasses all understanding.

*****

If you would like to see the notes of my inner healing session, I have included those here: Seeking Healing from 9/11 Trauma: Inner Healing Ministry Session Notes.

*****

Six months after this presentation, I gave another talk at Homer United Methodist Church for the United Methodist Women’s “Lenten Day Apart” retreat. In that presentation, I included more details of how the traumatic event affected me, along with a scripture-based discussion of trauma healing. You can find my draft presentation at 9/11 Healing (Lenten Day Apart).

*****

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.

 

His Strength in Me

I think one reason it’s so easy for me to write novels is that my life reads like one. When I think of all the different kinds of trauma and crisis I’ve been through; my life reads like a work of fiction. How could any one person deal with so much!

All the “big things” that psychologists talk about that are so stressful to deal with, well, I’ve had them all, and not just once, I’ve had them numbered like the stars. I’ve suffered through them and kept on surviving, and even though I’ve cried out to God for help, I’ve never really voiced a complaint until earlier this week.

With 4 more major crisis-level “things” falling down on me, all at once, when I was barely back on my feet from the previous ones, I found myself saying, “Lord, I’ve been going like this for 43 years, when is it ever going to stop?”

I told Him, “Though You slay me, yet will I trust You,” and yes, I meant it. I’ve surrendered my life to Him. I’m His to do with as He pleases. But I mean HONESTLY!!!!!!! How much can one person take!

I stayed at Eagle Ranch this past week, because we had student graduations every night, and the commute from Dahlonega would’ve been a lot. It was an emotional time anyway, the end of the school year, being thrilled to see the kids graduating and at the same time torn up to see them leaving and thinking how much I’ll miss them. Aside from that, I was feeling the pounding from these 4 crises I’ve been dealing with.

It was on the afternoon of the kids’ fishing trip that I was in the pavilion helping one of the teachers get lunch ready. She was flipping burgers and I was confessing how I was feeling. Just that morning, it was like it hit me for the first time how many different kinds of trauma I’d been through, and I was reeling from that realization.

I gave her the 30-second overview of how many kinds of trauma I’d been through, and what I’m going through now, and she said, “The Lord has really allowed you to be very strong.”

Out of habit, I said, “Well, if I’ve had any strength, that would be God, not me.”

She rephrased: “The Lord has really allowed you to have a lot of His strength.”

You never know when God will use you to speak a much-needed word of truth to someone. He really used that teacher to speak to me. Just one word of wisdom that she spoke while flipping burgers, and the Lord spoke to me through it, and got me out of the dark place I was starting to slip into this morning. See, it didn’t hit me until this morning, the meaning of what she said.

When I look at all I’ve been through, I think, How can one person go through all this? Well, exactly. One person can’t. Only God can. It’s His strength that He’s given to me that has gotten me through everything. When we are weak, He is strong in us. I’ve always “known” that, but what it really means did not sink in until now.

I guess I’d always tried to understand that scriptural truth by human logic. See, human logic would say that if I’m weak, then God has to pick me up and use His strength to carry me. In other words, human logic would say that the Lord uses His strength to “make up” for whatever I’m “lacking.” As if I’m calling the shots, and He’s merely responding to me.

What if I look at it differently? See it the way God sees it. When I’m weak, when I’m suffering, I have the opportunity and the blessing to be filled with HIS strength, because I have none of my own. To the degree that I’m weak, by that measure I get to have His strength in me!

Do you get that? We have the privilege of receiving all the strength of the Creator and Lord of the universe. And the weaker we are, the more of Him we get to have poured into us!!!!!

Don’t look at it by what you don’t have (don’t look at your weakness) … look at it by what you DO have: THE STRENGTH OF GOD HIMSELF, OVERFLOWING IN YOU!!!!!!!

When that really hit me, it blew me away. Instead of saying, “Lord, how much more do I need to endure?” I’m saying, “Lord, how did I get so blessed and privileged to be so beaten down by life that I get to have THAT measure of YOUR STRENGTH in me!!!!!” Woohoo!!!!!

See, if you let Him into your life, then what you don’t have, He gives you. Whatever you need, you can get it from yourself, from the world, or from God. Because of all I’ve been through, I’m blessed to have what I need from God Himself. My own strength ceased to exist about a hundred crises ago. I’ve only continued to pull through because of God’s strength in me. And that means I HAVE GOD’S STRENGTH IN ME … in abundance, overflowing.

I think of the Scripture verse (I think it’s in Corinthians) about being glad when you suffer, because you receive comfort from the Lord that you can then use to comfort others. I used to see it that we share what we receive, as if it were up to us to receive comfort and then share it. The way I see it now, it’s not about anything we do, it’s about what God does. When we are hurting, if we allow Him into our lives, He gives us His comfort. He pours His comfort into the empty places in us, and there HIS comfort, of its own power and love, moves around (without our help) and brings healing to us and overflows us, and is available to all those around us. Not because of anything we do, but because of God pouring Himself into us.

It’s the same with weakness and suffering and enduring trauma and crisis. When we are weak, He pours His strength into us, and HIS strength in us is available to us and to those around us who need it. Again, it’s nothing we do. It’s just there, because He puts it there, and it moves by His power and His love.

The Beatitudes came to mind as I was thinking about all this. “Blessed are they who (mourn, suffer, are oppressed … fill in the word)”… Blessed are they simply because they have become vessels for God to fill. In other words – Blessed are the weak, because God will pour His strength into them.

Do you hear that? God’s not saying, “Just suck it up and put on a happy face, because you have Me.” (As if we could do that!) He’s saying, “Where you’re hurting, My power is in you, and that (having My power in you) is a blessing beyond all blessings.”

The Apostle Paul said it’s a privilege to suffer for the Lord. I know that’s true. But not because it’s something we’re “supposed” to do. It’s just simply because when we suffer, His strength flows into us and is all over us, and is available in abundance to us and to those around us.

Thank You, Jesus.

Why I Wear a Cross

A few days ago, someone asked me why I wear a gold cross around my neck. Well, I’ll tell you why.

Have you ever been madly in love with someone, and they give you something – a ring, a bracelet – that will always remind you of them? That’s why I wear this cross around my neck. Someone very special gave it to me, and it will forever remind me of him.

You know, people don’t believe in heroes anymore. But I do. I was rescued by one. He’s the guy that gave me the cross.

I still remember that night. Things were bad – as bad as they’d ever been. Not that things had ever been great. Ever since I came into this world, all I knew was that the world hated me. I was told I was worthless from day one. Rejected, abandoned, beaten up. I felt guilty for breathing the air. I should never have been born. I soon discovered it was way less painful to go ahead and beat myself up before anyone else did.

The world was a very dark place. Brutal. I stumbled from one battle to the next. Finally I ended up living in the middle of a war zone in New York City. I lived in a prison cell; it felt like a cage, which was where I belonged. There was violence and hatred all around me. And inside of me. I had no idea which was worse. I really don’t think it matters.

It’s not like I sat through it without a fight. Nah-ah. I fought like crazy to get out of there. Every time I tried, I got kicked back down, knocked out. More chains, more prison bars, more whips, more lies. The sounds of explosions growing louder outside, shaking the earth.

Still I fought. (It’s just who I am.)

One night, I had enough. It was a very dark night for me, because I never thought I could give up fighting. But I just couldn’t do it anymore. I didn’t have anything left.

So I gave up.

As I sat on the floor of the prison in the dark, my body and my heart ripped apart from the battle, all I could think was, “Why was I ever born?”

“I’ll tell you why.”

I looked up, startled. I thought I was alone. But there was this guy standing there. He had a key to the cell. He opened the door, came in and knelt down in front of me. I would’ve backed away from him, because I was scared. But I had nothing left. I just sat there and stared, praying that if he was gonna do something bad to me, he’d just get it over with.

Instead, he reached for my hand. He gave me this look I’d never seen before. I can’t even describe it. It was so beautiful it made me cry.

“I’ll get you out of here.”

I shook my head. “You can’t,” I whispered. I looked at the chains that held me to the wall.

“I’ll get you out. You have to trust me.”

“I can’t move.”

“Will you trust me?”

I wanted to. Finally I nodded.

Within seconds he unlocked every chain. He helped me to my feet, but my legs were too wobbly.

“Grab on,” he said.

“I can’t.” I fell to the floor.

“Come on, grab on.” He pulled me to my feet again, then he helped me up on his back. I wrapped my arms around his neck.

We went out the same way I’d come in. Right through the war zone. Gunfire, red hot explosions on all sides, the ground shaking beneath us, shouts of “Kill her!” echoing off the city walls. I saw one of the monsters who hated me the most. He snarled at me, his eyes glowing blood red. He had a grenade in his hand, and he hurled it at me. I cried out and closed my eyes, buried my face against my rescuer’s shoulders. The ground rocked. I felt the heat of the explosion, heard the pounding of rubble. Then a horrific scream. I thought it was mine.

When I realized I wasn’t dead, I opened my eyes. My attacker was sprawled on the ground, buried under the rubble he had caused. Another ran up, and I watched as my rescuer beat him to a pulp. He took out 10, 12, 18 at a time. I’d never seen anything like it. He moved so fast it made my head spin. They never knew what hit them.

Over and over, he beat back everyone who tried to kill me, all the way to the end of the war zone. We broke free, and left the fire and debris behind us. We traveled on through the night. Somewhere in the darkness I fell asleep. When I awoke, the sun was up. It hurt my eyes, it was so bright. For the first time in my life, the air was clear. I started to choke, because I could finally breathe.

When I could speak, I whispered to him, “I don’t ever want to go back there.”

“You don’t have to,” he said. “You’re free.”

“But … ?”

He shook his head. “You’re free.”

Then he handed me a gold cross on a chain.

“Thank you,” I whispered.

I could hardly keep my eyes open. I was so tired. I fell asleep again, safe in his arms, grasping the cross in my hand. I’ve never let go of it since that day. I will never forget the way he got me out of prison and carried me through the war zone to freedom.

***
I grew up in the church, as a “Christian.” But I never really knew who Jesus was. I never knew who God was.

I didn’t become a true Christian (“a follower of Christ, a lover of Christ”) until that dark night when Jesus opened my prison cell, and carried me out through the hell that surrounded me. I didn’t become a true Christian until Jesus told me how the world had lied to me. He told me I was not worthless. He didn’t just tell me. He showed me by his actions.

And he beat the crap out of the enemy on my behalf.

I never knew how fierce Jesus was – how fiercely he fights, and how fiercely he loves – until that night.

That’s why I’m a Christian. That’s why I wear his cross around my neck. That’s why I will go wherever he is. I just want to be with him. I can’t survive in this world without him.

There are lots of “nice” reasons to become a Christian. I didn’t become a Christian for nice reasons. I became a Christian for one reason only: because of Jesus.

There are lots of “nice” reasons to wear a cross around your neck. I don’t wear my cross for nice reasons. I wear it because I remember what it was like to be in prison. I remember what the war zone was like. And I know who rescued me. I know who cared about me when no one else did. I know who truly loves me.

And I know who is strong enough and fierce enough to protect me.

What Jesus did for me, he will do for anybody.

It’s like he said: “Trust me.”