It’s hard to believe that 15 years have gone by since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, with planes crashing in New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania.
On that day, the world changed in different ways for different people, including Jennifer Sands, who lost her husband, Jim.
Sands, now a Christian author and speaker, will share her story and reflections during a 9/11 Remembrance service at Seymour Christian Church on Sunday. She will be speaking at both the 8:30 and 10:45 a.m. services. The event is open to the public.
She applies Scripture, specifically Genesis 50:20 to the events of 9/11. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Sunday is the 15th anniversary of 9/11.
“For me, it seems like it just happened yesterday,” Sands said. “Naturally, I reflect on 9/11 with a heavy heart and a sick, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I lost the love of my life that day, and I was left with a broken heart, broken dreams and a broken faith.”
But from the trauma and turmoil of that day and ever since, Sands said God has brought her countless blessings.
Although she believed in God before 9/11, her spiritual life was very limited, she said.
“I believed in God and I had heard about Jesus, but my knowledge of them was very superficial and shortsighted,” she said. She prayed each morning that God would keep her husband safe on his daily 2-hour commute from their home in New Jersey to his office in New York.
Sands’ husband, Jim, was a computer software engineer for Cantor Fitzgerald. His office was on the 103rd floor of Tower One or the North Tower, which was the first one hit, she said.
She describes Jim as “brilliant, funny and romantic” — not only her husband, but her best friend. They had been married for five years.
“We enjoyed doing everything together, especially scuba diving,” Sands said.
They were both advanced level divers and Jim also had a talent for underwater photography, she said.
‘End of my world’
Sands had worked as a pharmacist at a retail store and was off on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001. But she had worked the previous night.
“About 9 a.m. I called the pharmacy, just to check in with them to see if they had any questions from my work the night before,” she said. “That’s when I was told that a plane had just hit Tower One.”
“I couldn’t believe what I heard,” she said. “Then I turned on the TV and couldn’t believe what I saw. It was like the end of the world. It was the end of my world.”
Sands recalls the days and weeks following the attacks as “hazy.” She remembers her house always being crowded with people.
“I’d have sobbing fits, then I’d wander around my house in a brainless fog, in shock and disbelief, then I’d go into screaming fits of uncontrolled rage,” she said. “It felt like I was in slow motion while everyone else was rushing by me, like trying to swim against a strong current.”
There was so much going on around her, with people coming and going and phones ringing, but Sands said there was nothing she could do.
“I was virtually dysfunctional. I felt completely helpless, unable to join the efforts to find Jim,” she said.
Angry at God
When Jim never returned, Sands said she was both devastated and angry at God.
“I definitely questioned God’s goodness and His power. And I reacted to Jim’s death with anger, although my anger was not directed at the terrorists,” she said. “After all, I didn’t pray to the terrorists every morning — I prayed to God every morning. So when He didn’t answer my prayers the way I wanted, my anger was completely directed at God.”
But after the months went by, Sands said the anger and bitterness faded thanks to the people God put in her life.
“They showed me God’s love, and they helped me to realize that being angry with Him was proof that I still believe there is a God,” she said.
Sands began to read the Bible and learn about God and Jesus, about herself and the role that suffering plays in life.
About a year after 9/11, Sands became a devoted follower of Jesus Christ.
“I made the decision to trust Jesus Christ with my life and my eternity,” she said. “It was the greatest decision I ever made.”
It was her and Jim’s passion for diving that played a significant part in her healing after 9/11 and in the development of her writing and speaking ministry, she said.
“Each anniversary is an emotionally difficult day; but it’s also a reminder of how God can bring triumph from tragedy,” she said.
She had submitted some of Jim’s underwater photography to “Scuba Diving” magazine, which featured his story and published the photos in March 2002. About six months later, the magazine’s editor contacted Sands and offered her a publishing contract to write a book about her first year after 9/11 and her new life without Jim.
“Writing became one of my greatest forms of therapy; it forced me to confront the details of that day and the issues of my faith,” she said. “It was cathartic and painful, but it brought forth emotional and spiritual healing.”
“Sometimes, in order to get through something, you have to face it — head on, full force,” she added.
But she attributes her passion for writing and speaking to a higher power.
“It was definitely not my idea — God orchestrated the whole thing,” she said.
Her first book “A Tempered Faith” was released on the second anniversary of 9/11. It was followed by “A Teachable Faith” in 2006 and “A Treasured Faith” in 2009.
Sands quickly became sought out as a speaker for churches, organizations, conferences and retreats. That’s how she got connected with Seymour Christian Church.
Source of encouragement
Love Lockman, children’s pastor and wife of head pastor Bill Lockman, reached out to Sands to come speak at the church. All three of Sands’ books will be available for purchase at the services on Sunday or on her website www.jennifersands.com.
Sands wants to serve as a source of encouragement for those who need it.
“I want to give hope to those who have none. I want them to know that God always has our best interest in mind, even when it doesn’t seem that way,” she said. “Even when it appears as if He took the day off on 9/11. Or when it seems as if God turned his back while tornadoes and earthquakes and hurricanes level entire cities.”
“Or when you pray so hard for something, but the answer you want just doesn’t happen,” she added. “When God is silent, it’s very disturbing and frustrating.”
But God is not responsible for the evil acts of mankind, she said.
“There are consequences to our actions. And as drastic as it might seem, God sometimes allows a person, or an entire nation, to suffer, with the intention of awakening their faith,” she said.
“I want them to understand that when disaster strikes, it’s our human nature to ask why,” she said. “I asked why a million times after 9/11, but then I discovered that those answers are not nearly as important as the answer — Jesus.”
What: 9/11 Remembrance Service, featuring Christian author, speaker and 9/11 widow Jennifer Sands
Where: Seymour Christian Church, 915 Kasting Road
When: 8:30 and 10:45 a.m. services
Open to the public