Today is September 11, 2012. Eleven years ago, terrorists hijacked four planes and targeted the centers of American government, defense, and global economics. This is a day that we remember and honor by asking each other:
Where were you?
While that's the question I'm asking today, I'm not looking particularly for your standard answer. I'm not asking the American coming-together question of collective remembrance that places each of us in our own little niche of the world, glued to a television screen, a computer monitor, or heaven-forbid, trapped in a tower or pacing by the phone. While I believe in sharing these stories and the sense of community that we build by that, there is another question coming out of 9/11 - even eleven years later - that has yet to be answered. That question, of course, is:
Where were You?
Whether you were in those towers, on board those planes, sitting in an airport, sound asleep, just waking up, commuting to work, having breakfast - whatever you were doing that morning, the resounding question coming from the hollowed places where the towers fell was: Lord, where were You?
We're a nation of seekers, a nation of questioners, and in a moment of absolute tragedy and disaster, our question was all the louder. I was there; Lord, where were You? And I don't believe it's enough for the Christian community to respond with platitudes. That seems to be the only answer we've given to a hurting world who longs to know what God was doing in all of this. "I don't know," we tell them. I don't know why your husband didn't make it out. I don't know why it took hours for your brother's call to come through. I don't know why you had to wait, why you had to lose, why you had to suffer, why you had to grieve. "But God has a plan."
Ugh. And for the record...UGH. And further for the record, can we just throw this phase out of our collective conscious altogether? Because at no time nowhere in the history of the world has "God has a plan" brought any comfort to any hurting heart. Period. Nor does it paint an honest picture of our God.
But the question remains: Where were You, Lord? And I think it would be cool if today - right now - we could start to answer that. Because we - you and I - wherever we were that day, know where we saw Him.
I was in a makeshift study hall in my high school auditorium. A junior, I had an unexpected free period while other students took the yearly standardized tests. It was a Tuesday morning; the night before at high school Bible study, we had begun our work through the Experiencing God study and I was determined (for the first, but not the last, time) to wholly throw every part of my aching, searching heart into God and discover what was so great about this Jesus everyone else in youth group seemed to know so well. I was still new to the church, just a year after baptism, and I was determined to find God in a tangible way. That Tuesday morning, I opened my EG study book as soon as the bell rang and dove in, determined to answer the questions honestly and without thinking about anything but that moment.
As I drew to the end of chapter one, the courage of my own answers had convicted me, and I needed to talk to God. I put the book down in the floor, bent over as far as I could in that auditorium seat, put my elbows on my knees and my head in my hands, and started praying to God in the dimly-lit room...and all else seemed to fade away. Fifteen, twenty minutes later some noise finally broke through and I looked at my watch, surprised at what time it was. I'd been praying that long? It felt like I'd only started.... And there stood the teacher as someone from the front office left the room. She called for everyone's attention and in a quiet voice said, "There's been an attack on the World Trade Center. You are welcome to go into the cafeteria and watch the television coverage if you so choose."
Kid filed out of the auditorium en masse, a little too loud for the circumstances but I don't think at the time, anyone really understood the impact. Me? I put my head back in my hands and continued praying until every bit of my heart that I had to pour out was out of me and I felt like God had it all and I felt like I had a little bit of God. I remember my prayer that morning lasted just over 45 minutes - my first real prayer in my whole life, and it just so happened to be on a morning that I didn't know it yet, but I needed to be praying.
Then I joined the others in the cafeteria and watched the news. I watched the replays of first one, then another plane hitting the towers, listened to the rumors and reports of two other planes in two other locations, and the more I watched, the more I couldn't help but think about my dad, who had died just slightly less than a year earlier. Dad had been an air traffic controller at the midwest regional facility, and I knew there were men and women still in that control building - whom I had met and whom I may likely have known well - who had at least one of those planes on their radar. Who were talking to at least one of those pilots. That brought the moment closer to home for me because, and the FAA may not want to know this, but my dad had let me talk to the pilots, too, when I'd "worked" midnight shifts with him over the years. I knew what it would have been like to have one of those guys in your ear, and the helplessness of it hit me. I didn't know what to do, so I prayed again. And again and again and again.
The rest of that day is a blur of breaking news coverage, nonstop video replay of tragic moments, live footage of the aftermath, interviews with the hurting...and kind of this guilty feeling that my heart was still more drawn to an hour I'd spent with God that morning and all I could think about was getting more time with Him.
Then I see these people, and they are crushed and they are hurting and they are grieving and the whole nation is in shock and everyone's asking, "Where is God? God...where are You?"
The answer, so far as I know, is that He was in a high school auditorium in Franklin, Indiana talking with a girl just looking for a little bit of Him.
But I know that's not the full story. I know that you know where He was, too. So I invite you to share with us. Share with us where God was that day, where you saw Him...because I think if we can put Him here, on this planet, in this place, with us at that moment - even if it doesn't seem all that connected to New York City or Washington, D.C. or Shanksville, we'll start to answer that question of where was He. And we'll start also to answer the question of where is He for the hearts still seeking a God who ought to be here.
If we were looking for God that morning, where would we have found Him? Please share where you saw Him in the comments. (I know a lot of you love to inbox me or respond on Facebook, but let's use the comments here this time and put this story together as best we can. And invite your friends. We need to know where God was.)