Saturday, September 12, 2009

9/11 Thoughts

I meant to get this posted yesterday (9/11), but was delayed by a long and enjoyable dinner with my in-laws and teammates. It was our little way of saying THANK YOU to Kim, Lynne, Heath, Karen, Courtney, Clay, and Amanda for all they’ve done to make these first two weeks of Elsa’s life so wonderful. We enjoyed the tasty bagels and salads at one of our favorite local eateries. The agua del dia was even maracuya (passion fruit), which is just about everyone's favorite. Elsa did great on her first official non-doctor-visit excursion into the world beyond our little house. At one point Carter was asleep on Courtney’s lap (drooling on the table), Amanda was holding Elsa (who was staring up at her with those big eyes), and Emerson was on my lap (drawing pictures of sunshines and satellites on a napkin) and I just smiled a huge smile because THIS is what it means to be a family to each other down here on the mission field; this is why they say that it takes a village to raise a child. A beautiful moment. Okay, on to my 9/11 thoughts…


It’s hard to believe that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, possibly THE defining social/cultural/religious event of my lifetime, happened EIGHT years ago. Wow. Like many people, I have vivid memories of that day, which make it seem, in a way, like much less time has passed since that fateful day.

My 9/11 story is worth sharing because it was a pivotal moment in my life, career, and calling from God. I will never forget that day – for the obvious reasons as well as for some reasons unique to my own experience.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, I got up early and did something that I rarely do – I put on a suit. I can’t remember if it was my navy blue suit or my black suit, but either way the wearing of it was designed to impress corporate recruiters as I headed from my apartment over to Georgia Tech’s campus to the career fair being held at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. It was the beginning of my fourth and final year studying Industrial Engineering (in the top-rated IE program in the nation), and I was excited about both the present and the future.

The other big time-consumer in my life, beside classes, was my involvement at CCF – the Christian Campus Fellowship. Since my first week on campus as a freshman – well, actually, since even before that – CCF had been a big part of my life. And now, at the outset of my senior year, I was more excited than ever because I had been asked to be a part of the senior leadership group known as the “Big Saps”. (It’s a plant theme…) To be a Big Sap is a great honor, a serious commitment, and an intense experience. And it was just beginning. And I was embarking on this last part of my CCF student journey alongside 17 of my best friends. Little did I know that the bonds between us, already deep, would be so much more profound a few months later. These are my brothers, sisters, and friends for life, people whom, though many of us are now scattered across the world and don’t get to see each other very often, I know I could call if I needed anything and they would be there for me, no questions asked. (I can still name them all from memory – Mathew, Jana, Laura, Betsy, Rob, Chris B., Jeremy, Marc, Chris P., Tito, Tiff, Nancy, Terence, Taylor, Ivy, Lindsey, Matty B. – I love you all so much and treasure that year!)

So anyway, on the morning of 9/11, several of us were at the career fair, putting our résumés and mojo out there along with the horde of other hopefuls. Personally, I hate events like this. I despise the idea of “selling yourself”. And so I went less than half-heartedly to the career fair, reasonably sure that my job and career would result not from an attempt to capture the essence of me on a one-page document, nor from some five-minute conversation with a stranger, but instead from a random interaction, a family or church connection, a “God thing” moment in which doors just mysteriously opened. That’s kind of the way real life had always tended to unfold for me, and I had no reason to expect differently. But, in spite of that, I dutifully went to the career fair with my Dad’s words echoing in my head that there’s no reason to go around shutting doors prematurely, either.

I can’t remember how long I had been there – couldn’t have been more than an hour, maybe much less – when I noticed a handful people gathered around a TV monitor. As I walked by, I saw a building with smoke coming out of it. But for whatever reason it didn’t register. Maybe because I have been so desensitized to violence by movies and TV that it was slow to sink in that it didn’t fit the context for a bunch of career-seekers to pull off to the side and watch “Die Hard”, standing up, at 9 AM; or maybe because I was really, really focused on some corporate propaganda pamphlet in my hand – who knows?. But whatever the reasons, I kept walking.

Now remember, this is in the early days of cell phones. Few had them, and those who did used them sparingly because the minutes were expensive. But thankfully, moments after walking obliviously by the TV monitor, I ran into some of my fellow Big Saps and they gave me the news. It was Jeremy and Tito (David Jackson – but in my heart and mind he will always be Tito), and they said something like “A plane flew into a building in New York. It looks bad. Come on we’re going to the CCF house.”

And that was the moment.

It’s funny, looking back. The symbolism is rich. There we were, in the cutthroat environment of a career fair at a top school, seizing the day to compete for our piece of the pie … but when the proverbial poop hit the fan; when there was tragedy and uncertainty; when something much bigger than a career fair happened … there was no question in our minds what needed to be done. We hopped in Tito’s Jeep and headed to the CCF house. We high-tailed it to what was really our “church” during those college years – to the community of faith, to the place where we might together find comfort, seek answers, and prepare to respond in a Christ-like way, whatever that might end up looking like. I remember this vividly: It was like a two-second decision when I ran into Jeremy and Tito. “Something’s wrong. Let’s go.” And we went.

I know you all remember that day. It was filled with fear, anger, sadness, and so many other emotions, but overwhelmingly – at least that first day – the dominant feelings were confusion, bewilderment, and a type of shell-shock that just left us all spinning and questioning and waiting to learn more. Mostly, we just all stared at the TV. I remember that day at CCF. The staff and Big Saps met and made plans. We literally and figuratively opened the doors wide, put the news on the big screen, and just made ourselves available to the students. We prayed with people, helped people try to track down relatives on the phone, and mostly just listened and talked and prayed some more. It was so great, particularly on that day, to be a part of the community of God. So many people came to CCF that day because they just didn’t know where else to go. Because it felt like the right place to go. And this is one reason that I have faith. When the tough stuff goes down, people seek God. And as the Body of Christ, we must be there to help point the way to Him, even in, ESPECIALLY in, times like the morning of 9/11/01.

So like I said, that morning was a pivotal one in my life. Though I didn’t realize it at the time – even at the end of that year I was on the fence about working at CCF as an intern to further explore the call to full-time ministry vs. going out into the business world – it was a moment that clearly demonstrated the direction in which I was moving. A tragic event happened, and I had a choice – stay at the career fair or head to the ministry house – and it was a no-brainer.

Now I realize that everyone, even the most career-minded future engineers, the most dedicated recruiters, and even the most atheistic or agnostic among us, probably left the coliseum that morning and went off to contact their families and whatnot. What I’m NOT saying is that because I responded the way I did, I’m special or more qualified or called to occupational ministry. Tito, for example, like many of the others in my Big Sap group, went on into the business world, where he is being “salt and light”, following and representing Christ on a daily basis in his context. What I am saying, though, is that looking back, that moment on 9/11 reveals so clearly to me the direction in which God was leading me. Little did I know it at the time – and it continues to be revealed to me little by little over time; that’s how God’s calling usually works, after all – that He was saying to me “Nathan, I know this may come as a surprise to you, but I want you to be a pastor. I want you to be a missionary. Your particular role in the Body will not be, as you’ve always thought, to be the one staying around Atlanta and financially supporting a bunch of ministries and missionaries. Instead, I’m calling you to GO, and to trust me with things like ‘career’ and ‘finances’ and ‘family’ and ‘future’.” And, to the best of my ability, that’s what I’ve tried to do during these last eight years.

So that’s my 9/11 story. What’s yours?

I’ll end with a prayer for peace from the Book of Common Prayer:

“Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and forever. Amen.”

No comments:

Post a Comment