Through the Fire

Imagine, if you will, that you are an Israelite in Jerusalem and the army of Assyria is encamped against your walls. All the nations around you have fallen. Jerusalem is the last city standing, your city, Zion, which God had promised to protect.

Isaiah 49:14 speaks of the people’s reaction:

But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, And my Lord has forgotten me.”

Forsaken by God. Most of us have felt that way at one time or another. Even Jesus experienced this emotion when upon the cross He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)

I have felt forsaken.

Tuesday morning, a day like any other. It was a beautiful fall day: the air fresh, the sun warm, and the skies clear. As always the children and I began with Bible study. The day’s subject was Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. In discussing the three being placed into the fiery furnace for their unwavering faith in God, I made the cryptic statement that no matter what happens in our life, even when we go through the fiery furnace, still we must follow the Lord. I did not know that at that very moment my own life would be put through the furnace and my words tested.

Flag over PentagonThe day was September 11, 2001. My life forever changed as my father was ripped from the world by terrorists. In that moment I felt forsaken. All that I had believed in, trusted in, was stripped out from under me. How could a benevolent God, a God who loves me, allow such a tragedy to happen knowing full well how this would wound me?

But hear what God spoke through Isaiah, the prophet:

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of My hands; Your walls are continually before Me.” (Isaiah 49: 15-16)

He has inscribed you on the palms of His hands…

This is not just taking a pen and writing your name on His skin. You have been inscribed, that is, engraved. He has taken a blade and carved His palm, wounding His flesh so that forever He will bear the scars of your name upon His hands.

Not only does He know our name, but He bears our scars upon His flesh—forever.

I have journeyed down a dark and empty road: alone, abandoned, and forsaken. But I have found something along this desolate way: a beautiful truth. My foundation is sure…and I am not alone.

I think the key is in the word “through,” for we do go through, we do not stay in the furnace. There is an end to our trouble. For even as the three young men stood within the flames of the furnace, they were not alone, but a fourth stood beside them.

We all face trials. We have difficult times. God never promised us otherwise. In fact, He told us that in this world we will have tribulation (John 16:33). But He did not leave us to travel this world without aid.

Listen what the Lord proclaims:

“I, even I, am He who comforts you.” (Isaiah 51:12)

“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

Though God’s protection is not always for our bodies, it is a constant for our souls. And in the end, it is our final home that is most important. This mortal coil, which we cling to so ardently, is not what it is all about. Yet when one that is loved is taken, we cannot help but look back at what has been lost.

“But I am the Lord your God, Who divided the sea whose waves roared— The Lord of hosts is His name. And I have put My words in your mouth; I have covered you with the shadow of My hand, That I may plant the heavens, Lay the foundations of the earth, And say to Zion, ‘You are My people.’” (Isaiah 51:15-16)

We serve a powerful God. An all-knowing God. So what then can man do to me? For the keeper of my soul watches me. We do not have a God who looks on from the outside as we struggle along the way. But we have a God who enters with us into the midst of the fire. He walks the troubled path with us, taking us through to the other side. He is our God and we are His people, engraved upon his hand: a perpetual covenant between the Lord and His chosen.

So as you travel the journey of this earthly life, remember: you are not forsaken.

Susan Van VolkenburghSKU-000524494_COVER



Oncology Nurse turned homeschool educator, Susan Van Volkenburgh is an award winning author of Christian fiction and non-fiction books. After the death of her father on September 11, 2001, Susan began speaking of her experience. Her book, SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (A 9/11 story), recounts Susan’s loss and subsequent spiritual journey.

Born too late to experience antiquity first hand, Susan spends much of her time studying and teaching ancient history. Therefore, it seemed only natural that she should draw from the experience of grief and trauma to write THE STONE OF EBENEZER, Book 1: Trilogy of Kings Saga, a story of faith and restoration through the medium of Biblical fiction.


Interview with #15minR@dio


“On September 11, 2001 at 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 plummeted into the Pentagon, taking the lives of 184 innocent people.

Susan Van Volkenburgh’s father was killed that day on Flight 77. At that moment, everything changed for Susan. Everything came crashing down. Her life began to unravel. Is there a place for faith when God has let you down?”

Tune in today at 1 pm CST for my interview with #15minR@dio.

If you miss the debut of this show, don’t worry. You can catch it on demand after it goes live.

And don’t forget to read my book, Silent Resolve and the God Who Let Me Down (a 9/11 story). It is a message of hope in the midst of tragedy.

~ Susan



Remembering September 11, 2001: Part 3

Bench at PentagonBlessed are those who mourn,

For they shall be comforted.

            ~Matthew 5:4

It is a lonely feeling, standing apart as a solitary figure entombed in the dismal shroud of anguish. No one around you can understand how you feel, why the pain is still so bad. At times, they grow impatient with the sorrow that surrounds you. Even though they may be too polite to say what is on their mind, their actions seem to say, “Why can’t you just get over it and move on?” or “What you need to do is put it all behind you.”

Get over it. I wish I knew how. Maybe it is not that we are to get over it, or even put it behind us. Maybe it is how we rise above it that matters; to feel the loss and accept the pain, incorporating it into our lives so completely that it becomes a part of us from which we draw strength. Can our own suffering really strengthen us? Is it possible to rise above the pain to something greater? Though I feel alone, am I really alone in my sorrow?

“The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous,

and His ears are open to their cry.”

                        ~ Psalm 34:15

The Lord hears our cry and lifts us out of our afflictions. He did not promise that there would be no troubles, that there would be no broken hearts. In fact, He promised just the opposite. John 16:33 says that in this world we will have tribulation. It is a promise. However we are not to despair, but be encouraged, for Christ reminds us that He has overcome the world. There is nothing too difficult for Him; even death cannot stand against His mighty power. So be emboldened and have peace within the midst of suffering.

In this world, we will have pain and sorrow. We are not called to live a happy, carefree life. We are charged to participate in His sacrifice. Jesus summons us to “take up the cross” and follow Him. (Mark 10:21)

For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ,

not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake.

                                    ~ Philippians 1:29

We are to forget those things which are behind, for who can put their hand to the plow while looking over their shoulder? (Luke 9:62) We cannot spend our lives dwelling on past hurts. If we do, our furrows will be crooked. We are all called to suffer in this world. We cannot constantly look back with regret as we count the cost. To be effective, we must trod ever forward. One could say that to follow Christ is to give everything or nothing. “Then He said to them all, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.’” (Luke 9:23) He did not say lay down your burden and follow me unhindered by the trials of life. He said, “take up your cross and follow me.” Our cross we must carry.

I am determined to struggle through to the other side. Many have offered me advice on how to deal with my grief and the trauma of September 11. I am often told that I have to let it go. I realize people just want to help me. It is uncomfortable for them to see me struggle, but I must go through the process. I cannot just skip over the elements of grief and be done. I have to wade through the muck and mire of it until I get to the other side. No one can fix it. No pill can relieve it. But I am not alone. I have a Savior who wades in with me and holds my hand. He does not build a bridge over the pain to free us of our suffering, for what do we gain in that. But He enters the struggle with us, supports us, and guides us to the far shore.

Edwin Hubbell Chapin wrote that “out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars; martyrs have put on their coronation robes glittering with fire, and through their tears have the sorrowful first seen the gates of Heaven.”

I have shed many tears; God has kept a record of them. He did not let my tears fall to the ground to be forgotten. The Lord has collected them and placed them in a bottle, to preserve them as a memorial to my sorrow, a lachrymatory of my grief. He keeps them close, for each tear is precious to Him. He will never forget that they were shed.

It is not wrong to weep, to pour out our sorrow in tears. The psalmist David cried. Jesus wept. (John 11:35) Christ mourned for the loss of His good friend. He wept for the grief Mary and Martha felt for their dead brother. Jesus wept, even though He knew He was about to raise Lazarus from the dead. This is not a God who has no compassion, who passes judgment on creation without mercy. This is a God who weeps for our sorrows.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the story does not end with the furnace. But I think the key is in the word through, for we do go through, we do not stay in the furnace. There is an end to our trouble if we stand firm. The fire had no power. For even as the three young men stood within the flames of the furnace, they were not alone, but a fourth stood beside them. They were delivered from the fire, their clothes were not singed, and there was not even the smell of smoke upon them. We are not alone. The Lord is not a God who hovers on the outside. He steps into the furnace with us. And so I say “even so” I will serve the Lord.

How beautiful it is to behold the torn veil, for we have direct access to the Father. Nothing or no one can deny us admittance before God. As we walk through the Holy of Holies, the Shekinah, the glorious presence of God, shines out upon us. The warmth of His proximity radiates upon my face. As His rays of power and light reach out to me in dark places, I hear Him say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

So what then can man do to me? For the keeper of my soul watches me. Though God’s protection is not always for our bodies, it is a constant for our souls. And in the end, it is our final home that is most important. This mortal coil which we cling to so ardently is not what it is all about. This world is not my home. I am just passing through on my journey home. In 1 Peter 2:11, the apostle calls us sojourners and pilgrims, strangers in the world, passing on to our eternal home, seeking a heavenly country. “You sojourn in the body; you are pilgrims in this world.” This land we seek is a better country, where the Father’s house is located, “for our citizenship is in heaven.” (Philippians 3:20) While we journey, we face many hardships upon the road. Thieves wait to ambush us, the weather of this world becomes harsh, and so as we travel we grow weary. But looking to the goal, we must endure if we desire to reach our homeland, a land where we will never have to labor again, and we will have rest from our journey.

For all that is in the world, all the evil that men do, all the selfish pride inflicted upon the innocent, is not of the Lord, but is of this world. Yet, do not be discouraged, the world is passing away, and the evil it holds will cease to be. But those who love the Lord and do the will of the Father will abide with Him forever. (1 John 2:16–17)

We look to meaning in the world of flesh, but God looks to the spirit. Our healing is spiritual. At times, it is our body that God heals, but His big concern is for our soul. For what profit is there if we save our earthly body and lose our very soul? For what then can be exchanged for our soul? (Matthew 16:26) Our concern is now and our present discomfort. God’s concern is for eternity. We want happiness and peace now. God wants us to share in His glory for evermore. The fires of life purify us. We are tempered in the flames of adversity.

Yet, who can know the mind of God? Man has no understanding of the purposes of God, striving always with His Power, being at variance with His Will instead of loving Him and allowing Him to guide them. God created man with free will, but this gift comes with a price. Man often uses his free will to choose evil. As long as we live upon this earth, the free will of man will touch our lives for good or for ill.

The Spirit moves, God does not leave us alone. Our heart stirs, but we do not understand. As Jacob did, so we too wrestle with God and our hip is put out of joint. (Genesis 32:22–32) If everything that happened to us were good, what example would we be to a suffering world? How could we relate to the common man? We all share in the sorrow of this world, of the products of Free Will. We should stand out as a beacon of hope, for we do have a Hope. Though all our plans fail and all our hopes fade, we can place our trust in Christ, for the Hope He brings us is a different kind of hope. It is a Hope based on the goodness and truth of God that does not disappoint. The flame of power we receive through the love of God is quickened in the heart by the infusing of the Holy Spirit that enlightens the soul with the peace that comes from our Hope in the Lord. (Romans 5:5) What seems to us to make no sense may one day appear as clear as glass, as we look past the trial toward the goal. There is still so much I cannot see, yet still I hold on and trust to Hope.

Sometimes the path is difficult, and we grow weary and we wish we did not have to face what lies ahead. No one can know our hurts and our sorrows. Yet the Lord knows, for He has walked this path before us. All we must do is follow Him. Though that path may be slick and we may stumble, the Lord has gone before us and marked the way.

There is a comfort even in tragedy if one walks according to God’s will. “For the steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord” (Psalm 37:23), therefore each step taken must pass before the sanction of God. With the Lord’s ultimate control, the fabric of His plan is woven, each of His children being a single thread. It is a strange comfort to know that nothing can befall you without God’s approval. “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) This is not to say that all things are good, but that they work to the good of our future, to fulfill the ultimate good of God’s plan, a plan of redemption for humanity.

It is easy to accept the good that God gives us, but can we accept the bad? When we become a Christian, we are to surrender our will to the Will of God. We are to be “living sacrifices.” (Romans 12:1) So then, are we willing to allow God to do with us what He will, knowing that this may mean being led down a difficult path? Can we say as Jesus did, “Not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) But we do have an assurance that all things will work together for good, we just may not always see that good for a time. Ultimately though, to be in God’s will is the best place to be. Remember, wherever we go, whatever we do, God is with us.

Life is for the living, so we move on. For joy comes in the morning. When the night of sorrow ends, we find joy. It is okay to have joy again. That does not mean the grief is gone. A part of me will always be back there grieving. A part of me died that day. But healing does take place. Years have passed, and though I look with hope to the future, I occasionally lapse back into the pit of despair. Then I seek my Savior. He is always there waiting to pull me out again. He is my Tower of Strength.

~ Susan

To learn more about my experience with September 11, 2001, read my book: SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story). You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, or your area retailers.

Silent Resolve and the God Who Let Me Down (a 9/11 story) – signed copies on SALE for only $5.00 for the month of September in honor of the victims of September 11, 2001. This special is only available through the Van Martins’ webpage:


Remembering September 11, 2001: Part 2

Vindicate me, O God,

And plead my cause against an ungodly nation;

Oh, deliver me from the deceitful and unjust man!

For You are the God of my strength;

Why do You cast me off?

Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

            ~ Psalm 43:1–2

Lone Flag

How do you look into the eyes of a God who let you down? How do you speak the thoughts that are in your mind? Wasn’t He supposed to protect us? Didn’t He promise to look out for us, to keep us safe under His wing? How then did we get caught up in this event? Why? No. It is too hard to look Him in the eyes, for then all my thoughts would be revealed, and the questions would come. Could my faith endure if I opened the floodgates? It is better to keep it hidden, locked away in the deep recesses of my mind. Just carry on …

I walked those first months after September 11, 2001 as though I was in a trance, feeling as though others led me, telling me where to go, what to do. I was afforded no consolation. My complaint remained bitter in my soul.

The groaning of my heart was not adequate to express the extent of my suffering. The grief was beyond expression. I languished in my bitterness. Oh, that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! I looked, but I could not find God. When I looked to the left, I could not see Him. When I turned to the right, He was not there. Where then could my help come from if I could not find the place of God? (Job 23:1–3; 8–9) I was in the desert and God was silent.

Shunned by God. Did He really turn His back on me? It seemed that way. Is this what it is to be truly alone? I felt an empty silence that followed me everywhere I went.

Where was the justice, where was the help? God had thrown me into this dark place and left me standing alone. I was lost and could not find my way. Yet, where was God? Though I cried out, my words fell on deaf ears and no help came, no comfort. My life is but a shadow, already it has faded. “He breaks me down on every side, and I am gone; My hope He has uprooted like a tree.” (Job 19:7–10)

Though God was silent, the American people were not. It was as if a band of brothers rose to lift us up. Those flags, those beautiful flags fluttering in the breeze, they were everywhere: lining streets, hanging from buildings and houses and overpasses. It was as though some hidden national pride awakened after the terrorists’ attacks. Solidarity. We Americans may fight among ourselves like siblings, but don’t mess with one of us or you will have to deal with all of us.

My father was a patriot. Often a tear could be seen tracing a path down his cheek when the national anthem was played. Forever the flag, those beautiful stars and stripes, will be etched into my mind as a symbol of loss, of freedom, of pride.

Flags flying, bold stripes of red and white,

Brilliant stars of freedom’s might,

Remind us all that freedom is

Bought with a precious price.

The terrible acts on September 11 demonstrate that freedom is not guaranteed. How fragile we hold it, knowing that its loss is but one generation away. We must never forget all who have sacrificed so much down through the ages, and those paying for our freedoms still.

Yet, when the cost is placed upon your own life, it is hard to bear. As we think upon the evil that runs rampant in this world, it is easy to rise up and cry out, “Why God?” just as the prophet Habakkuk did as the Babylonian army marched on Jerusalem in 605 BC. There Habakkuk looked out from the wall of the city and saw the forces of Babylon encircling Jerusalem. Already, other cities had fallen to Nebuchadnezzar’s strength. Despair filled his heart as he raised his voice to heaven and cried, “O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, ‘Violence!’ and You will not save.” (Habakkuk 1:2)

Long had the prophet called out to God, yet no change, no help had come. God’s eyes are too pure to look upon evil, the very sight of it is an abomination to Him, and He must turn away. Yet, here He looks upon those who commit evil and says nothing as the righteous are devoured. (Habakkuk 1:13) How can this be? Has God abused His patience at the expense of the righteous, the innocent? Is He not a just God?

Yet, all I can do is wait. There are no answers, no comfort, just silent waiting, frozen in place, looking into the darkness.

If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.

Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said,

Streams of living water will flow from within him.

                        ~ John 7:37–38 

A few days after September 11, as I was with my family in Virginia dealing with the aftermath of terror, words began to flow through my mind. “There is a river that flows from God above. /There is a fountain, that’s filled with His great love. /Come to the water, there is a vast supply. /There is a river, that never shall run dry.”  It was a song, one I did not recognize. How could I know the melody and words to a song I had never before heard? But there it was, streaming through my mind. I could not get it out. The song was with me the entire day, flowing freely through my thoughts and with me through my tears. I had no choice but to stop and listen. As I look back, I can see how God was reaching out to me, as a Shepherd who seeks after His lost sheep.

Water, water in dry places. I was in the desert, and here God offered me water, yet I could not see it. The hurt blinded me. I could not see His hand reaching down from above. He was offering me an endless stream of living water, clean, and fresh, and pure—water that would satisfy my wounded soul, not stale water that had been stored in a cistern, green with algae and waste. But water that is renewed daily as the stream flows down from above. All I need do was come. (John 4:14) Yet, I could not find my way. I could not understand the call.

My father’s death wasn’t an accident or an illness, somebody did this to him, and that makes it so much worse. My father had not done anything worthy of such hate, yet hatred killed him. He did not deserve to die in this manner. He was a gentle man, who should have lived to an old age then peacefully slip from this world into the next. Yet wishing it does not make it so.

Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life.

Can you give it to them?

Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement.

For even the very wise cannot see all ends.

                        ~ J. R. R. Tolkien

Even the very wise cannot see all ends … That thought resonates within me. We don’t know what the result of September 11 will be down through the ages. May it be that there is a greater plan than the pain we feel right now? Some greater good that will benefit some better cause upon this world?

There are no simple answers. You can’t just say, “It was God’s will.” That thought will not float anymore. It is patronizing and it answers nothing. Acceptance is easier if we understand why. But really, what answer could God give that would justify in our eyes the death of our loved ones. There is no answer good enough that we could understand to cancel the loss we feel. Yet, often we find hope when it seems that there is nothing left to cling to.

It was the face of Evil we saw that day. Do we let Evil rule that day? Evil certainly caused the day. But do we surrender to that Evil? Or do we lift ourselves beyond the ashes to new life? What happened was definitely bad. Can good come out of it? Evil caused the day, but Love ruled it. I saw Love in the eyes of those who watched in horror as the events unfolded; compassion shone on every face. I saw Love in the unity of the American people. I saw Love in every gift given to the families from the American people, in the teddy bears and homemade cards schoolchildren gave to my children. I saw Love in the memorial quilt sewn for me in memory of my father. I saw Love in the hearts of those strangers who held hands at the moment of their death. I saw Love as the people evacuated Manhattan Island in an orderly and calm fashion. I saw Love as those firefighters and police officers entered the burning buildings to help all they could, and I saw the Love they had as they laid down their lives for a stranger. Evil may have caused the day, but Love ruled it.

That December of 2001, we laid my father to rest. We buried him on a hill in the Garden of Time under a dogwood tree. It was an icy cold day, the wind whipped across our faces, biting us as the tears flowed. As the hearse drove into view, the finality of my father’s death settled upon me. The evidence stood before me. The flag-draped casket was carried from the hearse to the waiting grave. The numbness of shock had worn off. The full force of grief hit us as the brief service concluded at the graveside. A few words were spoken, then we were quickly whisked away to shield us from the cold. As I went to get into the car, I turned and looked again at the casket. Too fast it had been. I didn’t feel as if I had really said good-bye. We all felt hollow and unsatisfied. I felt as though I had been living a funeral for three months and now it was over, and I did not know how to go on from there. The journey was not over. I still had a long way to trod. Yet, I knew that God would be with me, for He had sought me out and I had found Him.

The Lord, He never rests, nor does He ever slumber. In His sleepless vigilance, God is always watchful. He will not allow our foot to slip, but preserves us so that we can hold fast. (Psalms 121: 1–3) The foundation of Christ upon which we stand does not move. Nero is gone, Diocletian is gone, Hitler is gone, even Bin Laden is gone, but righteousness lives on. They could not destroy it; they could not silence it. Love endures. They have no hold over us if we do not let them.

Love never fails….

~ Susan

The story continues next week…

To learn more about my experience with September 11, 2001, read my book: SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story). You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, or your area retailers.

Silent Resolve and the God Who Let Me Down (a 9/11 story) – signed copies on SALE for only $5.00 for the month of September in honor of the victims of September 11, 2001. This special is only available through the Van Martins’ webpage:

Remembering September 11, 2001: Part 1

Songs like trees bear fruit only in their own time

and in their own way: and sometimes they are

withered untimely.

                   ~ J. R. R. Tolkien

Pentagon Flag

Twelve years have passed since that terrible day. That day, my life as I knew it ended; I was forever changed.

It all began with a phone call. Sometimes I fantasize that if I had not picked up the phone, maybe, just maybe, my life could have gone on as though nothing had happened. But, I did answer the call and my world came crashing down on me.

September 11, 2001. It was a beautiful fall morning. The sun shone brightly. A faint breeze brushed through leaves painted with gold and red, whispering of autumn. The blush of day was still and silent, expectantly inhaling a breath and holding onto it, waiting to exhale. As though Nature knew something was about to happen. But I was ignorant of the turn my life would take. Ignorance is bliss. My innocence was about to be shattered.

As always, the children and I began our day with Bible study. The morning’s subject was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. (Daniel 3) In discussing the three who were placed into the fiery furnace for their unwavering faith in God, I made the cryptic statement that no matter what happens in our life, even when we go through the fiery furnace, still we must follow the Lord. I did not know at that very moment that my own life would be put through the furnace and my words tested.

Besides homeschooling my three children, I had just taken on the responsibility of running the children’s program at our church. I had planned to spend that beautiful September morning working, preparing the children’s church room. I was in the process of packing the car to make ready for the week’s activities, taking schoolwork for the kids, when the phone rang.

Everything changed after that.

“Where’s Daddy?” my brother asked, with urgency in his voice.

Confusion swept over me. My brother was in Rochester, New York. Why was he calling me? My father lived in Virginia. How should I know where he was at that moment?

“Turn on the TV. Don’t you know the world’s coming to an end?” he cried.

He told me he had tried to call our mother, but all the lines were down in Virginia. He couldn’t get through to her.

I reached for the remote and turned on the TV. Horror filled my eyes as the news broadcast the planes flying into the World Trade Center. Then, as the nation let out a collective gasp, the towers collapsed. A cloud of dust and debris filled the city. All those people. Tears streamed from my eyes, yet I had no idea that our family would be pulled so personally into this tragedy. Then word came that the Pentagon had been struck. My father often worked in the Pentagon. My heart paused.

Through his company’s headquarters in Virginia, my husband was able to get through to my mother. She told us that my father was safe, for his plane to California had left earlier that morning. That was when fear began to take me. While I calculated events as the newscast pronounced them, I began to realize that the timing of the plane’s takeoff might mean that he was not safe. I held my breath.

Just as my mother was looking up my father’s flight itinerary, the newscast stated that Flight 77 had been the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. My husband repeated my mother’s words as I entered his office to tell him which flight it had been. I heard him say those words, words etched in my memory. “Flight 77.” I took in a breath. I wanted to scream. No. It couldn’t be. God would not let this happen to my father, he was always okay. He was the one who always took care of us. Nothing could happen to him. He would surely call and say, “Guess what happened to me on the way to the airport?”

My husband looked sorrowfully into my eyes and with a broken voice said, “I’m so sorry.” Horror struck, I returned his gaze. My mother hung on the phone. He must have told her that it was my father’s flight that crashed into the Pentagon, but I do not recall what followed. I stood aghast, unbelieving. Then I thought of my mother listening on the other end of the phone. What do I do?

I ran from the room. I did not want my mother to hear me sobbing. My first thought was that life was over. In an instant, the culmination of all my hopes and dreams came crashing down. There was no need to go on. Nothing would be the same. I did not care what happened to me. Death could take me. That would be all right. My heart was hollow, echoing of loss, each breath a struggle, each moment something to endure. What was the point of going on? All was lost. It was over.

How strange to walk this earth after death had come. I had experienced death before. Working as an oncology nurse, I had often held the hand of cancer patients as they slipped from this world into the next. It has always struck me how surreal are the moments after death. How can the world and its people carry on as though nothing had happened? It is like looking through a lens, watching the events of life unfolding, yet without being part of it. In that moment, life stands still for the grieved, yet the rest of the world continues its pace through time uninterrupted. I wanted to shout, “What are you doing? Don’t you know someone has died? How can you go on as though nothing has changed?”

Well-meaning people would tell me, “Don’t worry, everything will be okay.” They would hug me or pat my back as though they could wipe away the sorrow. But how could everything be okay? Not everything can be fixed. You cannot undo death. How will this ever be okay?

How do you go back…

But there is no going back. You cannot, for you are not the same as you once were. You are forever changed.

You just sit and try to understand. But some things cannot be understood. Some paths are just too dark to see the other side, and once you have turned down the path, there’s no going back. It’s dark and no one can take the journey for you. There is nothing but forward, though you do it with trembling and uncertainty.

How like Job I feel (who lost everything, his possessions, his health, and even his children to death) as I “speak in the anguish of my spirit” and “complain in the bitterness of my soul” for “he who goes down to the grave does not come up.” (Job 7:6-11)  My father shall never come home again. I will never more see his face in this world. Therefore, I will not hold back, I will speak what is in my heart.

Life is hard. Just the breath we take in can become a burden. There were days when all I could do was think of the next moment, for to look beyond that next moment was overwhelming. I would go through the day saying to myself, “All I am going to do is unload the dishwasher. That is all I have to do. I will think of nothing but unloading the dishwasher.” Then I would swallow down the tears and unload the dishwasher. Then I would say, “Now I am going to load the dishwasher. I will think of nothing but loading the dishwasher…” Moment to moment was all I could handle. I wanted to throw the covers over my head and stay in bed forever. But I had a baby who needed me, so I got up and faced each new day, each day where no dawn could reach me.

How can God understand the hurt I am experiencing? Does He have eyes of flesh? Or does He see as man sees? (Job 10:4) Even worse, if He grasps how I feel, how could He let this happen knowing full well how this would affect me? If God is Love, how can He allow Hate to strike His own?

And the tears come. Will they ever stop? At times they take hold of you, grasping every fiber of your body as a fever produces rigors. Why do we cry? It changes nothing. Weeping cannot bring anyone back. Those tears, they are traitors, coming upon me unawares no matter where I am or what I am doing. A simple trip to the grocery store can become a release to a fountain of tears. A flood of emotion overcomes me as I reach for the Boysenberry jam. “Daddy always liked that jelly. He’ll never eat it again.” And the tears come.

Even now, when I tell someone for the first time what happened to my father, my heart begins to pound, my hands shake, and my breath becomes short. I can be moving innocently through my day, then a thought crosses my mind and the tears come. I never know when the sorrow will overtake me. People must look at me and wonder what is wrong with me. I can be listening to a sermon in church or watching a movie in the theater, and it hits me, that treasonous fountain of liquid grief.

All I know is that all must suffer loss and grief in this world. None has ever not walked this path. It is a universal truth that all have suffered and for each who has – his or her grief is the greatest. Yet when one who is loved is taken, we cannot help but look back at what has been lost. It is a glimmer of passing light, a deep breath in the torrents of life that helps us to linger, if only for a moment, on thoughts of those who mold us. For it is the love we share with others that makes us who we are. Time and torrents shape us, carve the image of the trials etched upon our lives, yet it is the love offered by others that preserves us against the erosion of life. So we pause, and wonder… Memories haunt our thoughts, they sneak up and jar us unawares, then the heartache grabs us and grief spills out as we melt into a puddle of emotion.

What strength do I have, that I should hope? (Job 6:11a) My mind is like a house filled with archways. I have no doors that I can shut against the grief. My sorrow flows freely into all aspects of my life. I can never escape it. I am not at ease, nor am I quiet; I have no rest, for trouble comes. (Job 3:26) And so the tears come as the loss overwhelms, like a wave that crashes into me and tosses me, threatening to drag me out to sea. Each new memory casts me back into the grief and loss. The emptiness consumes me, a fire that cannot be extinguished…

~ Susan

The story continues next week…

To learn more about my experience with September 11, 2001, read my book: SILENT RESOLVE AND THE GOD WHO LET ME DOWN (a 9/11 story). You can find it at Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, or your area retailers.

Silent Resolve and the God Who Let Me Down (a 9/11 story) – signed copies on SALE for only $5.00 for the month of September in honor of the victims of September 11, 2001. This special is only available through the Van Martins’ webpage: