There are times in our life when we remember exactly where we were when something happened:
November 22, 1963 – I was only two months old, but from my mom’s stories, I grew up knowing where my mom was when she heard Kennedy was shot. She was in the kitchen cooking and I was there with her when she got the call.
January 28, 1986 – When the Challenger exploded, I was driving to Broadmoor Middle School in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I was student-teaching 6th grade science. When I arrived and heard the news, I remember audibly hearing the breath leave my body and walking into a classroom of crying 6th grade science students who looked to me, all of 22 years old to bring comfort. They needed me to be their solace and consolation during the time…. we had been following the science teacher Christie McAuliffe who was on that mission as we were going to follow her lessons plans from space.
January 17, 1991 – I remember being in the car headed home from the Collin Creek mall in Plano, Texas….when I heard over the radio that we had begun bombing Iraq and that the Iraq invasion had begun.
April 19, 1993 – I was eating pizza at Pizzeria Uno in Addison, Texas glued to the TV with Ron and one of our college friend’s John, when the Branch Davidian compound burned in Waco TX. I sang two months later at the UM Children’s home in Waco, where several of the children who survived that day had been sent.
August 31, 1997 – Ron and I were leading a family retreat for Foundry UMC in Washington, DC the weekend princess Diana died. After watching coverage on television from our rooms, we visited the spontaneous memorial in front of the British Embassy in DC.
August 29, 2005 – I watched the Hurricane Katrina coverage from a hotel room in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Thad was out with me playing the guitar and we kept yelling back and forth at each other down the hall between our rooms.
September 11, 2001 was a different experience because I was a mom and because I felt like anything could have happened that day . Less than a year prior, we had bought a home just outside of Franklin, Tennessee. I was sitting in the den rocking Max…. pregnant with Zach, only a month from delivering him. Our friend Ashley was there helping us with office work and with Max. I sat, like so many of you, and cried as I watched our day crumble right in front of us on every channel. An hour faded into the several hours. I became a news junkie. I wanted to do something. I called a friend within the hour and I remember her saying the name, “Osama bin Laden,” as if I knew who that was. I did not have a clue what kind of world we were all entering into — an age of terrorism and the fear of terrorism. As I watched President Bush speak from Barksdale Air Force Base only a few miles from our former home in Louisiana, I thought to myself, “anything could happen today.” And it wasn’t a hopeful thought. It was like the sky was the limit, but any bad thing, any crazy thing, any unthinkable thing could happen that day. And it did for so many.
One night while watching Diane Sawyer interview family members of a firm whose members were lost when the towers collapsed, she spoke with a mom and teen daughter. The teen was holding up a picture of her dad and looking straight at the camera and saying, “if anyone knows where my dad is, please contact us. We love him and we want him home. We want him where he belongs. Maybe he left the building and someone knows something. We want him back. Please call us.” I remember wanting to write the number down and to call just to say how sorry I was. I broke down and just wept for her, for her mom, for NY, for our country and for me, really for all of us. There are times when we want things back. We want something fixed. We want someone to call and say it is all gonna work out. I know. I feel it, too.
At some point, I had to turn off the television and start living. I picked up the phone and called Danny, a youth director in Ohio, whose group I had just been with the weekend prior to that Tuesday. One of the best memories from that weekend was their Saturday night tradition. The new seniors shared their wisdom, hopes, dreams and fears with everyone. Those words guided me in the days and weeks following and continue to guide me today. We laughed that evening. We cried. We hugged. We promised to be there for each other. We were reminded that we are not alone and we were reminded that the sky is the limit (of good things). Anything can happen. The unthinkable can come true and all for good! And when the unthinkable happens, when darkness washes over each of us like a violent storm; we will get through it. The sun will rise again.
Maybe as important as 9-11, were and are the days following tragedies. The days when we wake to the sun rising again and we rise to take our first steps forward – we hug our children a little closer, we are a little more patient and we realize how precious each moment is.
September 6, 2011 – I made a phone call and sang over the phone for my friend Marti, a pastor friend who I have had the joy to know for several years. She was in her last days of cancer, being cared for by her loving husband,Mac… family and a wonderful hospice group. I was flooded with all of the wonderful memories I had shared with her in ministry. She was all about …justice… and mercy. She reminded all of us that we each can make a difference. Her daughters have followed in her footsteps finding careers that bring healing and hope. Her love, her smile, her laugh, her presence — she was very real and a presence of goodness during our ministry together. I called to sing to her over the phone — “How Great Thou Art” and “Wonderful World.” I sang “Wonderful World” specifically because even though what’s immediately around us might at times cast a shadow on all the wonderful, we can choose to find the wonder. We can choose to dwell on the wonder filled world we live in — a world that so desperately needs us, needs our laughs, needs our hope, needs our us! Mack said she kissed the phone when I finished. Marti died on Sunday morning, September 11, 2011 at 4:30 am. I smiled thinking, “here she goes again reminding us to remember” — remember the life, not the death, remember the goodness not the bad and to be about forgiveness. The best way to respond to hate is simply to love; which is simple to write in a devotion, but not so simple to follow through on. I get locked up daily with all that weighs me down in life. And yet on some days I get a small reminder of what could be and about the difference I am making. A few days later, I spoke with Marti’s husband who called to say thank you. Thank you for the songs, thank you for taking the time. Thank you for calling when you did (I told him I almost didn’t, because I didn’t want to bug them.) Thank you for your love — it made a difference and it was enough. I kept thinking, I could do more. I should have done more. I can still do more.
September 18, 2011 – I had the chance to sing for someone else receiving hospice care. I had not met Mercy Elizabeth Whitfield who was born days earlier on 9/8/11 with Trisomy 13. She was sent home with her loving parents Rodney and Allison, and her siblings Grace and Justice. She has been surrounded by family, friends and church members, all loving that sweet baby during her limited days here on earth. As my guitarist friend Austin, and I entered their home, we were greeted by my friend Allyson George, the children’s director at Rodney’s church First UMC Richardson where he serves as an associate pastor. As I sang, Mercy was held by those who loved her and sometimes I could hear them singing along with me, like on “Jesus loves me” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Grace and Justice were put to sleep after rocking with their parents. Then the adults all just sat and listened to instrumental music of the guitar fill the room. As I prepared to leave, I took Mercy’s hand and leaned close and whispered, “I love you.” Her mom Allison was holding her and said to me, “you can kiss her” and I placed a soft kiss on her forehead and said, “you sleep sweet baby.” I got the news this morning that Mercy died around 2 am this morning. I believe that she is still held by loving arms. I am a witness to Mercy–love going the extra mile. Those parents and caregivers being in the moment, every second, knowing what they had was the right now. I loved that my friend, Marti paved the way for me to share with Mercy… and in Marti’s ministry… she loved mercy.
I am reminded that our time is precious. I am thankful I used my voice, as tired as it was and as uncertain as to how I was going to be able to sing for my friends. I gave what I had in that moment and it was enough.
I love you all and pray that today you know that YOU are the gift. You use your voice and live with the assurance that you too are surrounded by loving arms.
I’ll always know where I was on September 18, 2011, the day I saw the face of Mercy, in a living room filled with love in Dallas, Texas. I hope I never forget the impact it made on me.