Our late-night flight home from Waco, TX was tiresome, but by the time we settled into our Melbourne, Fla. home, it was also disappointing. After touring Baylor University with my daughter, we learned that Sara was nixing my Baptist Alma Mater from her list of potential schools. The time was 1:30 a.m., the date, September 11, 2001.
Six jetlagged hours later, I reported to the chapel for a normal workday at Patrick AFB. Within the next hour I stood wide-awake in terror watching news reports of madmen flinging planes into the World Trade Center.
Immediately, we got orders sending all “non-essential personnel” home until further notice.” While dispersing personnel is usually the best strategy when anticipating imminent attack, I still found the order ironic. In the opening salvos of America’s war on terror, I was hiding at home while my wife and kids remained sitting ducks in beachside schools.
While this is the story I tell when people ask me, “Where were you on 9/11?” I think the question “Where have you been since the attack?” is a more telling one.
It’s similar to the one asked by a group of brothers in an ancient story that is not only shared by three world religions, but is also the inspiration for the Broadway musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
In the story, Little Joe is a spoiled brat who taunts his brothers, claiming to be Dad’s favored son. His brothers respond by attacking Joseph and selling him into slavery. Then, they splatter Joey’s psychedelic coat with sheep blood and claim that wolves ate him. No CSI in those days, so Dad buys the story.
But Joe not only survives, he thrives and becomes a high-ranking bureaucrat in Egypt. Years after the attack, at the height of a big famine, the brothers go to Egypt to apply for food stamps. Whom do you think they meet there? Yep, it was Brotherman Joe, large-and-in-charge.
Hoping to delay their own beheading, the brothers ask Joe what he’s been up to during these many years. Sensing their fear, Joe surprises them with these reassuring words:
“Don’t be afraid. … Don’t you see? You planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good… you have nothing to fear; I’ll take care of you and your children.”
We couldn’t prevent the bombers from using their evil against us, but like Joseph, we are accountable for where we have been since the attack. We all have those “where were you when” stories. But God is more interested in, “Where are you now?” Have you progressed as Joseph did or are you stuck where you were?
Gratefully, a few days after the attack, we got the order to leave the safety of home and report for duty. I took that order seriously. I didn’t just report for duty, I went back to living my life.
For instance, I’ve probably made nearly a hundred roundtrip flights from our new home in Sacramento. I’ve safely deployed four times and been promoted twice. I’ve written a book and started work on a degree in creative writing. I put two kids through school. I celebrated both the birth of two grandsons and thirty years of marriage.
We’ve all have a story about where we were the day we stood frozen with shock, but hopefully, you also have a story about where you are now. This week, in the midst of telling and hearing all these “Where were you?” stories, I’d like to challenge you to add your “Where am I now” story. Email me at email@example.com .
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist, national speaker and author of No Small Miracles. He also serves as an Air National Guard Chaplain and is board certified in the Association of Professional Chaplains. You can call him at (321) 549-2500, E-mail him at Norris@thechaplain.net, visit his website at www.thechaplain.net, or write him at PO Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759.