Twelve years ago today, about this time actually, I was heading out to an early class. It was my first year at college, and I was 1,000 miles from home on my own, attending an uber-strict, conservative Christian school. Radios and televisions weren’t allowed, so I didn’t get the news about the attack in New York until my mom called me. We all knew it was a big deal when the school decided to allow the few televisions there to be turned to news stations so we could all stay aware of what was happening in the world outside the protective bubble of the campus.
I remember first thinking it had to be some kind of accident because how could it be an attack? But when it became obvious that it was deliberate, when everyone realized what was happening, I remember the shock and the cold horror I felt, and I remember it clearly enough that it could have been yesterday. It’s hard to believe it’s been twelve years. And if you talk to a freshman in college now, they probably won’t remember it at all. I think that’s what shocks me the most. I mean, the average freshman in college is going to know it happened, but they won’t remember it because they experienced it as small children.
It’s strange how tragedy can unite a nation. The US hadn’t been that together on anything probably since Pearl Harbor. But human memory is short. And twelve years later, as a nation we stand even more fractured and divided and lost than we ever were before, because even the people who have a responsibility to remember have forgotten. If I focus on that, I get discouraged. If I think about what could have happened in response to 911, I get sad. But being sad and discouraged isn’t why I want to remember 911.
Today’s verses are Psalm 121.
I look up to the mountains—
does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth!
He will not let you stumble;
the one who watches over you will not slumber.
Indeed, he who watches over Israel
never slumbers or sleeps.
The Lord himself watches over you!
The Lord stands beside you as your protective shade.
The sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon at night.
The Lord keeps you from all harm
and watches over your life.
The Lord keeps watch over you as you come and go,
both now and forever.
Tragedy comes in all shapes and sizes and God allows it into our lives for many reasons, the most obvious being that it’s the only way we will search for Him (Acts 17:27). Twelve years ago today, we were attacked and 3,000 people lost their lives. But during the attacks and after the attacks, God hadn’t gone anywhere. Yes, He pulled back His hand for a moment and allowed the attacks to happen. That’s His sovereign right, but don’t think for a moment it was something He wanted.
When the dust settled, people wanted answers. They wanted it all to make sense. So they started reaching out for Him, and some of them found Him and held on. 911 changed everyone. And even though we have changed and our country has changed and the world has changed in 12 years, God is still the same. He will still do what is necessary to draw people to Him because He’s better than the lives they would choose to live on their own. And after we crawl out of the dust of the ruins of our choices, He will be there to help us pick up the pieces.
That’s what I want to remember about 911. Yes, I want to remember the people who died. I want to remember the people who sacrificed, not only in New York City but afterward too. I want to remember how the country stood united in a time a darkness. But most of all I want to remember that God didn’t leave us to deal with the tragedy on our own. He was there the whole time.
No matter what tragedy or difficulty you’re facing in your life right now, it’s not too big for God. You can know there’s a reason for it. Maybe the only reason is that God wants you to reach out to Him. That’s between you and Him. But no matter what you choose, no matter where you are or where you’re going, God is big enough to go with you and He’s strong enough to help you through any challenge.
The tragedies in our lives are only meaningless if we forget their purpose. I remember 911. I remember being scared and alone, and I remember God becoming more real to me in those moments than He ever had before. And ever since that day, I know when I’m going through something difficult, He will be there right beside me to help me.
So don’t forget.