Finding Hope Beyond The Ruins

Wednesday, June 6th 2007
Sep/Oct 2002

Remember September 11th. Rarely have three words echoed back to such a dark moment in our national past or caused us more anxiety about our future. That Tuesday morning in late summer-a year ago now-made us a fearful global village, reeling to comprehend all that was happening. While many of our readers may be too young to recall where they were on the day that John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, virtually all of us remember our whereabouts when we heard the news unfolding in Manhattan, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Thirty-two-year-old Lisa Beamer was watching television with a friend in her home in Cranbury, New Jersey, that morning.

"I was standing behind my couch, I'll always remember, when I heard them say that was the United flight from Newark to San Francisco that just went down," Lisa told Stone Phillips of Dateline NBC. "And I said, 'That's his flight.' And my friend said, 'No he might be on a different one, he might not have made it on the plane.' And I just said, 'No, I know that's his flight' and I just said, 'no.'" Todd Beamer, an account manager for Oracle, Inc., a software company, had planned to leave the evening of September 10th for his corporate headquarters in San Francisco. He decided, instead, to spend one more night with his wife and two young sons at home. While Lisa Beamer, in characteristically modest fashion, calls her husband an ordinary man who was "extraordinary to me and my children," she also is proud of the role Todd played on that fateful day on United's Flight 93 where he recited The Lord's Prayer quietly for consolation. His now immortalized words, "Let's roll," as he and several other passengers tried to overpower the terrorists on board, have become part of our national memory.

Much of this story has been played and replayed in the news. However, what is woven behind the headlines, over the course of the year, is how Todd Beamer's faith sustained him in his final minutes and how Lisa Beamer's faith has buttressed her during a year of grief. Whether she is talking publicly with Larry King or Diane Sawyer or being quietly interviewed for this story, she returns repeatedly to the sovereignty of God in the face of September 11th. She also gives testimony to God's providence and the fact that he does powerfully preserve and govern "all his creatures, and all their actions," as the Westminster Shorter Catechism expresses it. "God knew the terrible choices the terrorists would make and that Todd Beamer would die as a result. He knew my children would be left without a father and me without a husband," Lisa says. "Yet in his sovereignty and in his perspective on the big picture, he knew it was better to allow the events to unfold as they did rather than redirect Todd's plans to avoid death." She adds candidly, "I can't see all the reasons he might have allowed this when I know he could have stopped it. . . . I don't like how his plan looks from my perspective right now, but knowing that he loves me and can see the world from start to finish helps me say, 'It's OK.'"

In the midst of the pain, you don't hear Lisa Beamer ever say that she has been left alone. Rather, she most often expresses gratitude for the God-given institutions-mediating structures-which have supported her during this year. These institutions are ways God providentially "preserves and governs" his creatures.

The Institution of Family

"I grew up in a Christian family and had no desire to pursue any spiritual path but a relationship with the God of the Bible as a young person. My parents were great examples to me of what being a follower of Christ looks like," Lisa says. At age 15, Lisa's father, Paul Brosious, an IBM research physicist, suffered an aneurysm at work and died the next morning in the hospital. Her mother, a sister, and two brothers-one only a toddler-were left without a husband and a father. "When my father died," Lisa says, "faith wasn't so easy anymore. The Sunday school answers didn't provide the real understanding that I needed. I spent five years asking why, expressing my anger, saying it's not fair, before God helped me realize that he is who he is all the time-in good circumstances and bad. He is all-powerful and all-loving, but that doesn't mean that as a citizen of this fallen world he protects us from every 'bad' event."

But Lisa also knows that God's providence is mysterious. "We also aren't privy to the perspective he has and shouldn't claim to know better than he does what should happen and what shouldn't," the young widow continues. "Faith means that, regardless of circumstances, we take him at his word that he loves us and will bring us to a good result if we just trust and obey him. Obviously, the ramifications of this understanding have been tremendous for me since 9/11."

Lisa underscores the importance of family when she considers her own nuclear family and remembers her relationship with Todd. Todd and Lisa Beamer met at Wheaton College, the evangelical liberal arts college in Wheaton, Illinois, but didn't start dating until after graduation. When asked what brought them together, Lisa replied, "Obviously our shared faith and purpose for our lives-to love God and show that love to others and to prepare for eternity with him-was the core of what we had in common." She adds, "God makes us each as individuals, though, and many of our characteristics meshed well. I am a relatively strong person and Todd could accept that, but not in a wimpy way. He respected my opinions but voiced his disagreements when he felt it was important. We also shared a strong work ethic, importance of family, love of sports (especially baseball), and a desire to build a few close friendships very strongly."

The Institution of the Church

John Calvin once described the church as "a hospital for souls." Underlying that phrase is the concept that all of us who enter the church on Sundays are wounded or hurting in some way. We come needing comfort and we leave hoping to comfort the needy. Lisa recognizes the helpfulness of this idea in her recent experiences. "The picture of the church as the hands and feet of Christ, with each person having a special gift, has been well portrayed to me these last months. In the beginning, it was immediate and practical help I needed-meals, child care, managing phone calls and mail. Now that we're out of crisis mode it is rebuilding help I need-counseling, encouragement, prayer." She adds, "The people of Princeton Alliance Church [in Plainboro, New Jersey] have been amazingly sensitive to the Holy Spirit's direction in providing just what I need when I need it. I can't thank them enough."

The Fraternity of College

The cover of the Autumn 2001 Wheaton College alumni magazine portrays a poignant photograph of a tear-stained Lisa Beamer, dressed in black, being comforted by an unknown woman in the days immediately following September 11th. In a feature article, entitled, "Hope in the Face of Hatred," Wheaton College president Duane Litfin wrote to the campus community on September 12th from where he was on sabbatical in England: "We grieve, but not as those who have no hope. Our hope is in the Lord, and we are asking him to comfort and bring healing to those who have borne the brunt of the attack, to their families, and to us as well."

Members of the Class of 1991, the year Todd and Lisa both graduated from Wheaton, gathered during Homecoming weekend last October to remember the life of their classmate. Dennis Hastert, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, read the following letter from President George W. Bush:

As you gather-members of a class and a community-our Nation stands with you in grief and gratitude. We feel grief for the loss of a husband, father, and friend-a man who was deeply loved by his family, his friends, and by God. We feel gratitude for Todd Beamer's example of courage and his wife Lisa's example of grace. On September 11, America saw terrible evil. We also saw how a man can face evil: soberly, directly, without flinching. Our entire Nation now knows what bravery looks like and we will not forget…. Today we thank God for a good man. We pray for his family and friends in a time of sorrow. And we affirm the faith in which Todd shared, knowing that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God's love.

The Magistrate and Divine Sovereignty

President Bush was profoundly moved by the heroic act of Todd Beamer and his co-passengers on September 11th. Besides saluting Lisa Beamer, who sat next to the wife of Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, during his address to Congress on September 20th, Bush wrote a gracious note to the young widow after the birth of her third child, on January 9th. It was addressed specifically to Morgan Kay, who's name is a combination of Todd and Lisa's middle names, respectively. "If I could have painted a picture of the perfect baby, it would be her," proud grandmother Brosious told People magazine. "She's the only one of Lisa's three children born with black hair and Todd had black hair."

When asked if her children provide needed consolation during these months, Lisa responded, "Children are an amazing source of comfort. Not only does the job of motherhood give me direction for each day-and for a lifetime-when direction can be lacking in other areas, but they also have an amazing ability to bounce between despair and joy." She adds, "We talk about Todd all the time, laugh about things we did with him, and cry about things we'll never do again. Usually within minutes of a crying moment, David or Drew will bring me a tissue and a toy and soon we'll be playing again and back in the present moment. They do acknowledge their loss, and will continue to in new ways as they grow up, but they balance that with a joy of what they still have. What a great reminder for me!"

When Marilee Melvin, vice president of alumni relations at Wheaton College, visited Lisa recently at her New Jersey home, Marilee said, "She met me at the door with baby Morgan sound asleep and draped over her shoulder. Lisa is exactly what you see on television-open, direct, transparent, but not naive; sharp." Melvin added, "Beneath her signature she writes Genesis 50:20." ("You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."). "Her disarming quiet confidence in God's purposes must be the reason Larry King has had her on his show eleven times."

An Institution Providing a Legacy

Among Todd's closest friends was Doug MacMillan who left his job in medical equipment sales to head The Todd M. Beamer Foundation. The foundation defines itself as "A non-profit organization whose mission is meeting the long-term needs of the children who lost a parent in the events of September 11th, 2001, assisting future victims of terrorism, and continuing Todd's passion for mentoring and equipping youth to make the same heroic choices he did throughout his life." When asked how a good idea turned into a growing foundation, Lisa responded, "The foundation started because, as the events unfolded, my family received more publicity than most, and the generosity of the American people flowed to us in the form of financial donations in the days and weeks following September 11th. I didn't feel comfortable keeping this for ourselves when there were many unknown families who should share." In fact, the New Jersey postal system reportedly received an influx of mail addressed simply to: "Lisa Beamer, New Jersey." The postal service knew how to route it to the Beamer home. However, Lisa discussed the seeming inequity of this kind outpouring with Doug. "[He] suggested starting a foundation to honor Todd and to ensure these monies and others which could be raised in the future went to the best use for all the families as well as continued Todd's legacy of concern for developing young people."

In response to a question about where the foundation stands now, Lisa commented, "Today we continue to receive donations and have a strong organization forming with a vision to ensure that the children left behind are provided with programs and resources that will provide some of the nurturing and positive character development that their lost parent would have provided. I hope one day to see the thousands of children who lost a parent on 9/11 as a unique group with a strong vision and capacity for character, faith, and courage which makes a difference in our world-and to know that this foundation contributed to a little part of that."

Hurt, Hope, and Comfort Following Tragedy

The Heidelberg Catechism begins "My only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ." Lisa finds these words very comforting. "This is the ultimate truth," she says. "We are so mired in our human lives and fallen world, though, it is impossible to understand and apply this concept completely. If we believe wholeheartedly, each moment, that our destiny rests in the hands of Jesus Christ-the one with ultimate love and ultimate power-what do we have to be concerned about? Of course, our humanity clouds this truth many times but hanging on to glimpses of it keeps everything in perspective."

Lisa is not sure what her future holds. Before September 11th, she planned to go back to work once her children were older. For a few years she was employed with Todd at Oracle as a telesales manager, directing a group of telesales people. "I loved working at Oracle and looked forward to going back into the business world someday when the children were older. We'll see."

What Lisa Beamer sees clearly is that in this life we must love God, as well as others, and prepare for eternity with him where "he will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces" (Isa. 25:8).

Wednesday, June 6th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Magazine Covers; Embodiment & Technology