Sunday, January 17, 2016

When Lightning Strikes

Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken – Psalm 55:22

The following article was originally published in the Sunday School take-home paper, Seek, on September 9, 2001. Since I received notice of the story's acceptance long before the publication date, I didn't notice until just now that the date it appeared was two days before 9/11. God's timing amazes me. As I wrote about the “inconvenience” I went through when lightning struck my house, I didn't know the incredible and tragic “inconvenience” that would follow for our country. This question of dealing with unexpected events in our lives can be applied in many ways. I hope you find my experience a blessing to you.

When Lightning Strikes

Don't you know how inconvenient this is, Lord?

The question summed up my feelings as I watched flames lick at the side of my house. The stark honesty of my question caught me by surprise.

I wasn't dealing with fear or anger or distress. I was irritated that my day had been interrupted by a lightning strike.

My annoyance exemplifies the fast-paced, don't-get-in-my-way attitude of our culture. Perhaps I needed the self revelation provided by a lightning strike. More importantly, I needed to redirect my attention to God.

I had just settled down for a Sunday afternoon nap when the storm moved in fast and furious. My head had barely hit the pillow when a loud crack made me sit up and take notice. There was no doubt that lightning had struck close.

It had, in fact, struck just outside our kitchen window. Within minutes I saw smoke. I ran outside and was greeted by the sight of flames licking up the side of the house. They were only three feet away from two propane tanks.

Ideally this would be the time for a Christian to thank God for his protection. No one had been injured. There had been no explosion. And while the rain soon soaked me to the skin, it also served to hold the flames down.

Instead, as I waited for the fire department to arrive, I went through all the usual questions: “Why did you let this happen, God? Don't you control the weather? Couldn't you have redirected the lightning?”

And then came the other question. The one that revealed my true human nature: “God, don't you know how inconvenient this is?”

My dismay at the sight of flames shooting up the side of my house turned out to be nothing less than irritation that God had interrupted my nap. I was complaining.

It's comforting to know that I am not alone in my human condition. Some people aren't happy unless they're complaining.

Even the Psalmist complained – and quite often. David's most open complaints are found in Psalm 55. Granted, he had good reason to complain. His son and his best friend had betrayed him. He, the King of Israel, was forced to run for his life.

In verses 2-3 he gives in to his human nature and voices his complaint.

“Give heed to me and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and am surely distracted, because of the voice of the enemy, because of the pressure of the wicked; For they bring down trouble upon me, and in anger they bear a grudge against me.”

Absolam's coup was inconvenient. It was an interruption of David's life, and for a moment he took his eyes off God. The fear and anguish was more than he could bear.

“Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest” (verse 6, New American Standard Version).

Haven't we all felt like this at one time or another? I didn't want to deal with the insurance company and contractors. If only I could just go back to my nap and let it all go away. Like David, I had taken my eyes off God.

David didn't forget God for long. As he begins to pray for vindication, his eyes turn once again to the God of his fathers, and his faith is strengthened.

“As for me, I shall call upon God, and the Lord will save me. Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice” (verses 16 and 17).

My thought process was very similar to David's. After I got my complaint out of my system, I too, turned to God in prayer. That refocused my thoughts off the fire, and all the inconveniences it caused, and onto Him.

Now that my eyes were properly focused, my list of things to be thankful for grew. There was the quick response of the fire department. They doused the fire before it had a chance to get through the siding and insulation to the old farmhouse plaster walls.

Later we discovered just how much punch that lightning bolt had carried. Not only had it knocked out our phone lines (without damaging our phones), it had also traveled through the ground and followed the underground electric line to the barn. An outlet was fried, but the breaker tripped before the surge could reach the freezer.

By 9:30 Monday morning, the electricity to the barn and telephone service had been restored, the gas line repaired, and the contractor's estimate was on its way to the insurance company. The hassles I had dreaded never materialized. But it wasn't over yet.

By Thursday, we had no water. When the plumber pulled the line from the well he discovered that the lightning had followed the water line from the house to the well. It cracked the old lining in the well and sliced the water line in half. Apparently the secondary line was able to carry water for three days until the pump lost its prime. But thank God it had not damaged the pump.

The power in that single bolt of lightning was breathtaking. Without exception, every repairman said exactly the same thing: “I've never seen anything like it.”

Was God in control of that lightning bolt? He certainly was. Could he have kept it from striking our house at all? Of course, he could have, just as he could have prevented Absolam and Ahithophel from rebelling against David. But as a result of his experience David realized his dependence on God, his faith was strengthened, and we have one of the most beautiful promises in Scripture.

“Cast your burden upon the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken” (Psalm 55:22).

That verse, the result of David's own test of faith, has been a comfort to millions of Christians down through the centuries.

God had some lessons to teach me, as well. He revealed an area of my heart that wasn't surrendered to Him. And he showed me that He is in control, and in His sovereignty He still loves me enough to protect me on a Sunday afternoon in August.

The lightning was an inconvenience. It was an interruption of my schedule. But perhaps we all need to have our schedules interrupted now and then to draw our eyes and our hearts back to God.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Angels Rejoice

I tell you that in the same way there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents. – Luke 15:7-10 (NASB)

Within days of starting my new job I knew Claudia was the reason I was there. I didn't know specifics until a few months had passed and she started asking me questions. Not just questions - QUESTIONS. What do you do when your co-worker comes in Monday morning and says, “I read the book of Revelation over the weekend”??? She asked tough, theological questions, and many days I would hide in my office thinking, “Please don't let her ask me anything today!”

The amazing thing was, no matter what she asked, God gave me an answer. My mouth would open and words came out, and afterwards I thought, “Where did that come from?” I think the Lord taught me more through Claudia, than she ever learned from me.

Claudia didn't like Jesus. Her past had left a bitter taste in her mouth, and many of her questions were trying to reconcile Jesus and his place in the Bible. But God has promised that if you seek Him, you will find Him, and she was certainly seeking. After several months she went with me to a revival service and prayed to receive, Jesus. Satan attacked her with doubts almost immediately, and since she lived 35 miles from me and no longer worked at my office, it was difficult to encourage her. Her letters asked still more questions, but I could tell with each one that she was truly saved and the Holy Spirit was working in her life. When she was dying from cancer, she wrote me a letter in which she gushed about her love for Jesus. They were words I never expected to hear from her, and I was humbled to see what God had done in her life.

What God taught me through Claudia was to let Him work. I honestly had my doubts as to whether Claudia would ever get saved, but God taught me to get out of the way. Let Him do the talking, let His Holy Spirit do the work. Many years later I learned something else about how God works.

Since moving I've kept up with things back home by watching the online newspaper. A few weeks ago I saw an obituary that brought me up short. More than twenty years ago I worked with a man - we'll call him Brad – who obviously needed the Lord. I witnessed to him when I could, but it wasn't long before he moved on to another job. Still needing the Lord.

I hadn't heard anything about him in those twenty years, though often the Lord brought him to my mind, and I prayed for him. And then I read his obituary. The opening words led to an outburst of joy.

“. . . went home to be with his Lord.”

Seven simple, beautiful words. And I rejoiced.

Someone asked me how I knew it was true. After all, it could be just something the family put in. I told them, I knew it was true. The Spirit confirmed with my spirit that it was true, and there was no doubting the joy I felt. I had questions, though. Questions that will only be answered in eternity. How long had he been saved? For years? Or did he get saved during his fight with cancer that the obituary mentioned? How had the Lord changed his life?

I don't know the answers to those questions, but I learned something else about how God works: It's not on our timetable. I didn't get to see the results of my prayers, but that wasn't what was important. Brad's salvation and his eternal life in heaven were what mattered.

Then I started thinking about all the other people I have worked with over the years. I never hid the fact that I was a Christian and active in my church. To some I gave a testimony, but never saw the fruit. What about Norma or Marilyn? They were in their 50s at the time, and it's been 30-odd years, so they've probably already gone on. Did they come to know the Lord?

And what of the others? The ones I never gave a word of testimony to. They far outnumber the people I spoke to. They knew I was a Christian, but was my life an adequate representation of the Lord I served? In many cases – far more often than I would like to remember – I know that it was not. What of those people?

As much as my heart rejoices in Brad's salvation, it also breaks for the people I failed. What do I do about that? Paul – who hunted and jailed Christians and stood by while Stephen was martyred – wrote in Philippians 3:13 “. . . forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead.”

Just as I continued to pray for Brad over the years, I need to continue to remember the other people who have been part of my life in prayer and just let God work. Paul went on to say in verse 14, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Like the woman who looked for her lost coin, I need to also keep searching. For the next Brad or Norma or Marilyn or Claudia that God might bring into my life. The angels rejoice over the finding of these “coins.” Our hearts should break so much for their lostness that we do not rest until we have found them. And then we get to rejoice with the angels.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Good Neighbors

And He answered and said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” – Luke 10:27

Robert Frost wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” I would add, “Better yet, good neighbors make good neighbors.” And I've had a lot of them. Of course, when you live in the country, “neighbor” takes on a new meaning. I count as neighbors people who lived up to two miles away. As Jesus went on to explain in the parable of the Good Samaritan, being a neighbor is a state of mind. Or should I say, heart?

I spent a lot of time with my neighbors. We rode our bicycles around the yards, up and down the road, even to the local market one mile away. My best friend Holly and I often rode the 3 miles to Rockwood. It was uphill coming back, so we always made Dad come to pick us up and bring us home. We spent a lot of time on the road. It was a secondary road with little traffic, so it became our playground. Either my mom or their mom knew approximately where we were, but in those days it wasn't necessary to keep a real close eye on your kids. Although I do remember there was a kidnapping about 25 miles away, and afterwards my neighbor's mom made us practice screaming, “No, no, no!” and running away.

A lot of freedom came with life in the country. Jacy and Kellie Snyder and their niece Mandy and I spent a lot of time walking in the pasture and woods behind our barn. I don't recall ever telling Mom when we went off on one of our hikes. Those were the days.

The first leg of the hike was through open pasture. Somewhere along the way we would encounter the cows. When I was a kid we usually only had 4 or 5 cows, and they were quite docile. They stared bullet holes into us as we walked by and once in a while would follow us for a short distance, but unless we were offering food really couldn't care less about us.

There was that one time, though . . .

Cows can be dumb, but they do seem to have an internal clock, and usually headed back to the barn when it was milking / supper time. If they didn't show, someone would give a call, and it wouldn't be long before they would come strolling through the pasture. Every now and then, however, if they had an extra good patch of grazing or if they just decided to be childish and ignore us, someone would have to go find them. At that time my brother was milking 16 or more cows, and one day my nephew Glenn and I had the task to go get the cows. We found them at the far end of the pasture, nearly a half mile away. They needed some encouragement to head home, and Glenn “encouraged” them by running at them and yelling them into a stampede. Not a bad idea. UNLESS YOUR AUNT IS STANDING IN THE DIRECTION THE COWS ARE STAMPEDING. I had only seconds to react with my own yelling and arm waving and managed not to get trampeled.

But I digress. This is not a cow story.

More than half of our fenced-in pasture area was wooded. There was a makeshift road that could only be traversed by a tractor and farm equipment. Or a pickup truck if you're feeling brave. At the far end of the road was a large field that alternated between hay, corn and oats. We wouldn't be going that far, though.

But first we had to survive the “road.” There were two areas where runoff from a marshy area ran through. Depending on how much rain we'd had, these areas could have standing water, or more often 6 or 7 inches of sticky mud. At the side of the road some old boards had long ago been placed to cross the mudhole. The boards sank into the mud when you stepped on them, but they kept you from losing your shoes.

A short distance later there was a turn-off that led to the natural gas pipeline easement that went through our property. Then it was back into the woods and onto cow paths for the best part of the walk. If you've ever seen cows walking anywhere, you know that cows walk in single file (unless my nephew has stampeded them!). There's a designated leader, usually the pushiest one of the group, and the others dutifully follow. Whether it's in open pasture or through a wooded area, they almost always follow the same path. You would think cows would make a nice wide path. After all, look at the size of them. But their feet are relatively small, so the path might only be a foot across. It still made hiking much easier.
These are not my rocks (but I like the picture).
Unfortunately, we never thought to take pictures
of our little paradise.
Some tour guides we would have been.

From this point on, the path led down to a creek crossing. The cows waded through the shallow water, but our preference was to walk across the large rocks in the middle of the creek. We didn't always make it across. The rocks were the right size for several people to sit on and enjoy the sound of several miniature waterfalls. Really miniature: maybe only a foot drop, or several falls in a row of only a few inches. To us it was paradise.

On the other side of the creek and just off another cow path there was a gigantic wonder: a trailer-sized boulder jutting out from the ground. Years of rain and snow had made the top smooth, climbable, and a great place to have a picnic or just hang out. We thought our nature scene was so remarkable that we discussed having a park there and charging a fee for guided tours on the cow paths.

Many years later I looked for these magnificent vistas of my past. No cows had been in the woods for years, and the cow paths were grown over and barely discernible. I made it down to the creek and looked for my faithful rocks and waterfalls. The thing about running water, especially in a climate where the water freezes and thaws in the winter, is that it causes erosion. My rocks weren't so impressive now, and the waterfalls mere dribbles. And the trailer-sized boulder didn't seem so big anymore either. Are water and weather powerful enough to shrink my majestic rocks? Or was my memory playing tricks on me? People didn't carry cell phone cameras in their pockets in those days, and sadly I never thought to take pictures, so the only images that remain are those in my head - whether distorted or not.

I'd like to give a shout out to the wonderful country neighbors we always knew we could depend on for a helping hand. In many ways, though separated by several states, we know we still can. So here they are: the Snyder's, the Ansell's, the Berkey's, the Beener's, the Spangler's, the Schrock's, the Gerber's, the Pletcher's, the Lyon's. Many of the older generation, like my Mom, have gone on. In some cases total strangers now live in their houses, or the houses are no longer standing; but in my memory the houses still stand and the neighbors live on.

I have new neighbors now. Both the physical kind and the biblical kind. But the neighbors of my childhood will always have a special place in my heart. We had no need for fences.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

The Story of the Dead Dog

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou are with me: thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

There was a big, white dog that lived in my Mom's room for several months. I never had to feed it, never had to walk it, never heard it bark. In fact, I couldn't even see the dog. But Mom could. Many mornings I walked into her room to get her up, and she would tell me about the big, white dog. I told her there wasn't a dog in her room, but she would say, “Yes, there is. I see it.” After a while I stopped arguing with her.

Mom had her first serious stroke in May 2014. I think she'd had some small ones over the years, because she would lose certain abilities, often from one day to the next. But with the stroke in May, she lost her ability to feed herself, to stand on her own, and some ability to communicate. As the year went on the losses continued to grow.

She had other hallucinations, even before her stroke. They usually occurred when she was running a fever or fighting a UTI. Human instinct is to try to clear up the delusions. Some of the things she told me I thought might have been dreams that she thought were real. I tried to tell her that, but there was no convincing her otherwise. I found that the best thing to do was to change the subject. There was a lot of changing the subject after Mom's stroke.

Mom didn't always respond to us when we talked to her, but as we waited while she sat on the potty, I would talk to the family member who was helping me that day, and she listened. We knew she listened, because every now and then she would say something that was right on topic. Often if we were talking about needing to pick peas or beans or tomorrow, she would say, “I'll help you.” And we knew that if she were physically able, she would have.

That was probably the most difficult thing about Mom's illness. She was a hard worker. She loved to cook and garden and grow her flowers. I've taken over all of those hobbies. Working in the yard and garden during her illness was my therapy. I've also become the pie baker in the family, so when I get a craving, one or more of the other households reaps the benefits.

Mom lost most of her ability to express emotion with her stroke. It was months before she laughed, and the source of her amusement was her great-granddaughter. Nothing could brighten Mom up like a visit from McKayla, who was 1 ½ - 2 ½ years old during mom's illness. She came with her mom nearly every morning to help get grandma out of bed. She loved to push the button to lower the bed and learned to pull the blankets back. She knew the routine, and woe to us if we tried to depart from it. McKayla also learned that I usually had “lots” in the house. That was her word for chocolate, and she rarely left the house without asking for lots.

My favorite memories are the glimpses I got of the mom I knew before the stroke. When the children from church came at Christmas to sing carols, Mom sang with them! On another evening we had just put her to bed, and I was talking to my sister-in-law about making chili for supper. Mary Ann commented that my brother Ron didn't like it. I was surprised – I know mom made it often as I was growing up. So I asked mom, “Didn't Ron eat chili when you made it?” She said, “Sure, he did.” And it was her clear, lucid voice talking.

One other night after she was in bed I was looking for a band-aid. I couldn't find any in the bathroom, and knew there were some in her room, so I slipped in. When I saw she was awake I told her I needed to get a bandage for my thumb. She said, “What's wrong with it?” Again as clear as a bell. I told her I had a paper cut. She said, “Oh, that gets sore.” As the 11 months of her illness went on those moments became few and far between.

And the white dog? One morning it was dead. She told me when I walked in her room. “There's a dead dog in my bed.” After a few attempts to convince her otherwise, I told her I would call my brother to bury it. That seemed to satisfy her. When my brother came to the house, the first thing she told him was about the dead dog in her bed. He said, “I took care of it.” We never heard another word about that dog.

In February of this year I began attending a Caregiver's Support Group - Lunch with Ray. We don't really have lunch, but usually get some of Ray's delicious cookies. We meet at Sunnyside Baptist Church the 1st Wednesday of each month. At the moment the time is 10:30 a.m., but we're considering adding an evening meeting for people who work. It's a great ministry, and if you live in the Toccoa, GA area and are a caregiver, or know a caregiver who needs information or emotional or spiritual support, this is the place to be. Even if your loved one is in a nursing home or doesn't even live in the same state, you still have the burdens and concerns. We've received some great legal and financial information. Not to mention fellowship. Check the facebookpage for updates and information.

It's been six months since mom passed, but I continue to go to the meetings. It's a morning out, there are good cookies and great company. Most of all, it's an excuse to see Mr. Ray Whiten, our fearless leader and a beautiful saint of God. Even if you don't have any dead dogs in anyone's bed, you'll find the group worthwhile. We all need a helping hand when we're going through the valley of the shadow of death with someone we love.

Friday, September 25, 2015


Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Colossians 3:17

Whatever you do, do your work heartily as for the Lord rather than for men. Colossians 3:23

Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. Ephesians 5:1

It's a sure sign of the end of summer: Big Brother has crowned a winner, and Survivor has opened a new season. Best of all, The Amazing Race began tonight. I confess, I'm hooked on these reality shows. Add to these America's Got Talent, Dancing with the Stars and Hell's Kitchen, and you have a pretty good outline of my television viewing habits. You will not find any batchelors/ettes, Kardashians or housewives on my viewing list, however. I have to draw the line somewhere.

The reality shows are sometimes the only tolerable choices for the Christian viewer. At least for someone who only has antenna reception. Even these shows sometimes get on my nerves. I could hardly stand to watch Survivor the two seasons that Russell-jerk was on it. Why in the world didn't they vote him off????

There's something else that bothers me. Every season we can be assured there will be at least one token Christian on each series. I don't know that the producers look at it that way when choosing contestants, but it seems to happen. And every season I cringe at the behavior of the Christians. I remember one Christian mother and daughter team on The Amazing Race who were the most hateful, backstabbing, name-calling people in the race.

Several seasons ago there was a youth worker on Survivor. He played the game just like everyone else - the lies, the backstabs, the broken promises – and in the end when he was asked what the youth in his church would think of how he played the game, he was sure they would understand that this was “just a game,” and how he lived while he played the game was totally separate from his life in the “real” world.

This season of Survivor gives a 2nd chance to players who were previously voted out. On the season opener one Christian contestant said that after the first time she played, people in her church asked her why she didn't play harder, and they've encouraged her to do what she has to do this time around. So she says, “I'll lie and backstab like everyone else, and when it's all done I'll pray for forgiveness.” 

I'm not condemning these contestants. They may be totally committed Christians outside of the games they are playing. I do want to point out that if they (or we) start rationalizing one area of our lives, what's to stop us from doing it in any other area of our lives? Doesn't it give us a license to sin? Can't the spouse now say, I'm going to commit adultery, and then I'll ask for forgiveness? Couldn't the teens watching their youth leader interpret his example to mean, I can cheat when I'm playing football, because it's just a game? Can't people put a little box around their jobs and think if they lie or steal it's okay – that's my work life. It has nothing to do with my life in the “real world.”

I say everything we do IS the real world. Take a look at our focus verses at the top of the page. They say WHATEVER we do . . . Not just what you do at church. Not just what you do at home. Not just what you do when there are other Christians around. WHATEVER you do. The kicker is, of course, the verses that tell us to be imitators of God. Let me hearken back a few years and ask the question: “What Would Jesus Do?”

God didn't give us compartments in our lives, though most people try to create compartments. The Holy Spirit doesn't just dwell in the part of us that wants to live right. He indwells the Christian completely. The problem is, most of us have trouble listening to Him. And if we hear Him, we're even worse at obeying.

There's not just money on the line for participants in reality shows. For the Christian there is also the responsibility to live as Christ commanded us to live. If that means being the first person voted off, so be it. The example you set to a nation in that one episode might be worth more than a million dollars. It might be worth someone's eternal soul.
Not many of us will ever appear on national television, but we have the same responsibility to live our lives for God. Remember the warning Jesus gave to anyone who causes someone to stumble (if you need a reminder it's in Matthew 18:7). Non-christians know we're supposed to be different. In fact, they seem to know how a Christian should live better than we do. They have high expectations of us, and the world loves it when we fail. But as Jesus said, “Woe” to us if our failure, especially when it's deliberate, causes a non-christian to turn from God. And woe to us if it causes a young Christian to be misled to believe that it's okay to sin.
As Christians when we strive to “outwit, outplay, outlast,” we need to remember that we outwit using the Bible's wisdom. We outplay following the Holy Spirit's lead. And we outlast for all eternity.

Friday, September 18, 2015

The Flight 93 Memorial Chapel

This is a continuation from last week's Remembering 9/11. This article focuses on the Flight 93 Memorial Chapel near Shanksville, PA.

One month after the crash of Flight 93 near Shanksville, PA, Rev. Alphonse Mascherino, a former priest of the Catholic Church, was looking for a place to build a spiritual memorial to the fallen heroes. He chose Mizpah Lutheran Church, located about 4 miles from the crash site.

Mom's mother and father's gravestone
in the Mizpah Lutheran Church Cemetery.
I have childhood memories of being in the car as Dad drove past the old church, slowing down to get a good look, sometimes stopping to walk around the cemetery. Though we had family five or six miles from the church, to the best of my knowledge it wasn't really on our way to anywhere. Mom and Dad liked to take the scenic route. Mom often talked about how her grandmother would walk a couple of miles every Sunday to attend church there. The accompanying cemetery is the final resting place of many of mom's family. Her parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, a brother. The names are like an honor roll of my family heritage - the Mostollers, Stutzmans, and of course, Fiegs.

The church opened in 1902 and served a Lutheran congregation for 70 years. Then it was used as a seed warehouse. In recent years it had stood vacant. Vacant and waiting. Waiting for a new sacred purpose.

When news went around that the old church was going to be remodeled into a memorial chapel, we were thrilled. I love history and love to see old buildings with a story to tell repurposed, rather than demolished. Rev. Mascherino worked on the chapel himself, sometimes with the assistance of Boy Scouts or other volunteers. He nickel and dimed it with his own money until donations started coming in.

It was several months before Mom and I were able to visit the chapel, and the first time we met Rev. Mascherino he was in blue jeans and a work shirt. He was charming, charismatic and passionate about the work he was doing. And he loved Mom. No matter how many months went by between visits, he always remembered her and greeted her warmly, usually with a “How are you doing, Sweetheart?” I used to tease her about her “boyfriend.”

His vision was for a non-denominational place where people could come and find spiritual solace as they honored the lives of the 40 people who sacrificed so much. As the one year anniversary of 9/11 drew close, he wasn't sure he would have the chapel ready. Word of his work at the church spread, and people and businesses throughout Western Pennsylvania came together to raise "Thunder Bell" into its tower and to finish the remodel so the public could be received. (There used to be a website that told the many stories associated with the bell, the murals inside the chapel and so many other ways people became involved. I haven't visited that site in many years, and haven't been able to find it. I can only guess that without Rev. Mascherino it was not maintained.)

This was the Reverend's dream. He knew the National Memorial at the crash site would take years to complete. In fact, it took a few years just to agree on the design of the memorial. He wanted something on the ground ready for the public as soon as possible, and the one year anniversary of the crash was a milestone for him.

Over the years, the Boy Scouts and other organizations have placed little memorial gardens on the grounds around the chapel. Every time we went back it seemed something else had been added. My favorite place, however, was the little room just off the foyer of the church that had perpetual candles and photos and histories of each of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. I used to stand in that room surrounded by 40 heroes. I looked at each picture. Read each biography. Wondered what went through their minds during the last ten minutes of their lives. I stood in awe and wondered if I would have had their courage in the face of such an impossible situation.

(Photos of the room and other views of the chapel are available in a 2011 Post-Gazette article. Follow the link to also fine a more complete history of Rev. Mascherino. Note that the goal mentioned in the article of moving the chapel closer to the National Memorial never materialized.)
Flight 93 Memorial Chapel.
Thunder Bell in its tower.
The front right corner is where t
he car struck the building in 2014.

It's been several years since I visited the chapel. I watch the online local newspaper to follow a little of what's happened. In November 2014 there was a tragic car accident at the busy intersection beside the chapel, and a car slammed into the corner of the building where my favorite little room was located. Sadly, one person died in that accident.

Rev. Mascherino himself passed away in 2013. He made provisions before his death, and control of the chapel was turned over to the Catholic Church of the East. There's a new face at the chapel. I'm sure it's being well cared for. Organizations still use the facility. The anniversary of 9/11 is still celebrated. In many ways nothing has changed, but I can't imagine visiting the chapel and not seeing Rev. Mascherino's broad smile and weathered hands outstretched in greeting. He was the chapel's voice, the chapel's vision, the chapel's spirit. In my mind the two will always be intertwined.

If you plan to visit the Somerset area and the Flight 93 National Memorial, I would encourage you to make some time to visit the chapel, as well. It's not far from the National Memorial, but the route from one memorial to the other isn't quite a direct route. You won't regret taking the extra time, however. As I found out as a child, the scenic route is often well worth the trip.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Remembering 9/11

Fourteen years ago this morning the world changed. Most people over the age of 30 can tell you exactly where they were when they heard the news about airplanes crashing into the World Trade Center. Today memorial services were held in New York, Washington, D.C. and Shanksville, PA, and memorials have been built in those cities, as well as other cities across the country. The entire country was affected, not only because there were passengers on those four airplanes from all over the nation (as well as many from other countries), but because the audacity of the terrorists was so mind-boggling and the results of their actions were so utterly devastating that for a few weeks at least, we as a nation were united.

While the incidents in New York and Washington are usually thought of first when 9/11 is mentioned, and rightly so, the crash of Flight 93 hit me a lot closer to home. Literally closer to home.

I was at work in Somerset, PA that Tuesday morning. Does everyone remember it was a Tuesday? That fact is etched in my brain. The weekend before I had enjoyed The Farmers and Thresherman's Jubilee in my home town of New Centerville. The tractor and truck pulls, antique threshing demonstrations, and lots of good food, the sights and sounds and smells, always took me back to my childhood. Back to a simpler, more carefree time. I always felt sad when I left the Jubilee grounds for the last time late Sunday afternoon.

Two days later I went to work at a social services agency as usual. It was a slow day in the office, and I was just killing time until our 10:00 staff meeting. We had no radio, and I wasn't on the internet, so the first indication I had that something was going on was when Tanya ran into my office and told me that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. My mouth dropped open and two thoughts went through my head. First of all, I had to think for a moment what the WTC was and where it was. "New York" and "skyscrapers" was enough of a mental answer to know this was bad. My second thought was, “This was no accident.” One airplane crashing could be an accident. Two airplanes – no way.

Not too long afterwards rumors started floating around the office that the Pentagon was on fire. It was difficult to get accurate information, but we knew something terrible was happening in our country, and fear was beginning to set in.

Business still had to be conducted, however, so we gathered for our 10:00 meeintg. There were five of us in Diane's office, and our meeting hadn't been going on for more than fifteen minutes when police and fire engine sirens began to wail. Our office was located in between two major highways, and we seemed to be surrounded by sirens and the blaring honk of horns, pushing traffic out of their way. The sirens went on. And on. And on. There was a lull, and then more sirens sounded, as outlying fire departments began to respond. We all looked at each other and said, “WHAT is going on?”

Could these sirens be related to the events happening in New York and Washington, D.C.? Surely not. After all, this was SOMERSET. We were a rural community; probably not on a terrorist's “Top Ten Places to Hit” list. Which led us back to the question: What is going on?

That question was soon answered, though with the same hit-and-miss amount of information as the other attacks. Word went around that a plane had crashed near Shanksville, a sleepy little town less than ten miles away from us. Shanksville? If Somerset wasn't on a terrorist's hit list, I guarantee Shanksville would not be. Details were few and far between. How close to town was the crash? Was anyone killed? The local hospital put in action its emergency plan, calling in all off-duty personnel to prepare for the casualties they expected to receive. But sadly, no casualties came.

And as more questions came than answers, some panic began to set in. There were people who had children in the Shanksville school. Phone lines were overloaded, and in those days most children didn't carry cell phones anyway, so there was no way to contact the school or their children to check on their safety. My friend and co-worker Claudia asked me with fear in her eyes and voice, if the world were ending. I had no children, and I knew my Bible well enough that I didn't think the world was ending, but I still felt the fear and chimed in my voice with those asking to be allowed to leave and go home.

(Speaking of the fear that overtook us, I want to take a moment to remember a dear elderly lady who worked with me as church secretary several years earlier. Marilyn Hay passed away on 9/11. A fact that was probably lost on all but her family and close friends. I've been to her house, and I know that she always had the TV on, and my thoughts on hearing of her death were that she had been frightened by the horrible events she was witnessing and had a heart attack. I don't know that to be true, but it seemed more than a coincidence to me. Regardless, I want to pay tribute to this lovely lady who liked to eat her strawberries “barefoot.”)

We were granted permission to leave work early, and I stopped at a store on my way home. I didn't know how bad this attack would be or if more were coming. and there were a few things I wanted to get. I discovered that we were not the only business closing down early.

Meanwhile, my brother and his wife in Georgia and my niece (7 months pregnant with her first son) and her husband in Arkansas were desperately trying to reach us. All they heard on the news was the crash happened 9 miles from Somerset, PA or 60 miles east of Pittsburgh. Either description could put the crash right on top of our house. After a couple of agonizing hours they were able to get through to us. We weren't able to give them much more information than they already had, other than that we were fine.

I turned the radio on in my car, and listened to the first reports about Flight 93 as I drove home. At this point they didn't know how many passengers were on the plane. They guessed as many as 240 people. That drew a groan out of me. Could all this really be happening right here in Somerset County?

What a contrast to the beautiful weather of that day. I was struck by how clear and blue the sky was. Not a cloud anywhere. Only later did I realize there were also no airplane contrails.

The other piece of information I heard on the radio was the theory that the flight was intended to hit the Capital. Without hesitation I said to the radio, “They brought that plane down. Those people were heroes.”

Flight 93 Memorial Chapel. A privately owned memorial
not far from the crash site. More on this place next week.
As the facts came out, it became clear that 40 people on that flight were indeed heroes. Within days, a temporary memorial was built some distance from the crash site. When the forensics people were finished with the crash area, the temporary memorial was moved within view of the actual crash site. I visited that temporary site often. It was a wall on which visitors from all over the world left little pieces of themselves. A poem, a picture, a message, a cross. Benches were added by donors. Rocks engraved with messages or painted added to landscape. Tens of thousands of items that were left at the memorial have been catalogued and stored.

I haven't been to the new National Memorial. I'm sure it is wonderful, but a part of me wishes it could have remained as the spontaneous expression of a nation's gratitude that the temporary memorial provided.

Once home I found it difficult to leave the television. I watched in horror as the images of the airplanes striking the buildings was played over and over. And then the pictures of the collapsing buildings, the black, billowing clouds of dust that pursued people down the streets of New York. Stories were told of firefighters and law enforcement running into the burning building as others were fleeing. The estimate was given that more than 200 rescue workers had perished in the collapse of the buildings. It was overwhelming. I felt I should cry. Surely if any situation deserved tears, this one did. But tears would not come. The pain and the horror were too deep even for tears.

It's hard to believe that this present generation, children in elementary and middle school, were not even alive in 2001. They have no memory of life before 9/11 – before long lines in airport TSA checkpoints. Before heightened terror alerts. Before metal detectors in courthouses and other public buildings. The only memories they will have of the tragedy of that day are the ones we impart to them. We must share our stories. We must make sure they know and remember the heroes of Flight 93,
the hundreds of firemen and police officers who gave their lives in the line of duty, the children who have grown up without a father or mother or grandparent, the spouses robbed of a loved one, and the parents who have lived in loneliness after the loss of a son or daughter.

We must tell them, and we must never forget.