On the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, members of Seymour Christian Church gathered to remember the nearly 3,000 lives lost that day.

They came together Sunday morning to pray for first responders locally and across the nation; those who dedicate and sometimes give their lives to protect others.

And they reflected on how each of their own lives have changed since 9/11.

Joining them was Jennifer Sands of New Jersey, whose life not only changed but fell apart and crumbled down around her, just like the World Trade Center did on that Tuesday morning 15 years ago.

Sands, now a Christian author and speaker, lost her husband of five years in the attacks.

Jim Sands was a computer software engineer, and his office was on the 103rd floor of Tower One or the North Tower, which was the first one hit. His remains were never found.

“When the towers collapsed, so did I,” she said. “My whole world came crashing down that day, literally.”

But out of the ashes of her sorrow, her grief, her anger at God for allowing her husband and so many other innocent people to die in such a violent attack, Sands said she also found her salvation, which was a blessing far greater than the pain and loss she endures.

That’s why Love Lockman, children’s pastor and wife of Seymour Christian’s head pastor Bill Lockman, reached out to Sands and invited her to come speak to the church.

“I spoke at a conference in Pennsylvania, and she had spoken there the year before,” Lockman said. “So when we were planning a 9/11 service, I thought of her.”

After hearing Sands speak Sunday morning, Lockman said she better understands why she must trust God.

“Only he can bring beauty out of the ashes,” she said.

Sands never believed she would recover from losing her husband, be functional again or laugh or smile again.

“I never would have believed anything good could have come out of 9/11, and that this is the path my life would take,” she said. “God used that tragedy to bring me to faith in Jesus Christ, and he brought many people to me in that first year after 9/11 to show me his love.”

Before 9/11, Sands was not a believer in Jesus and only had a very limited knowledge of God. She went to church sometimes, never read the Bible and considered God to be a “vague, impersonal force,” she said.

Sands never thought she needed Jesus in her life. She assumed if she was a good person and believed in God, that nothing bad would happen to her.

“Tragedies take us to a fork in the road of our faith,” she said. “They will either make us turn away from God or they will draw us closer to him.”

Brenda Papin and her husband, Pat, a Seymour firefighter, agreed the tragedy of 9/11 made an impact on everyone, regardless of where they were physically and spiritually.

“I remember we had been to D.C. just two weeks before and my son lived there, so when I heard the Pentagon had been hit and with everything else that had happened, the only thing I could think about was I had to get a hold of (her son) Matt,” she said.

But with cellphones and communications down, that wasn’t possible.

Hearing Sands speak and talking with her afterwards, Brenda said she thought about all the important people in her own life, including her children and grandchildren.

“It makes you realize how blessed we all are and that we need to live each day and enjoy it,” she said.

Papin said she remembers being at the former Seymour Health and Fitness club working out when she learned of the attacks.

“It was just awful, unbelievable, and that’s from seeing it on TV,” she said. “I can’t begin to imagine what it was like being there.”

For Pat, seeing the devastation of the towers made him sick. He worried and feared for his fellow firefighters and all first responders and their families.

“I had a sick feeling deep in my stomach, because these guys didn’t have a chance,” he said of those stuck in the towers and those who raced to rescue them.

Before 9/11, it was easy to take things for granted, including their faith in God, Brenda Papin said.

“I feel like God has gotten so much stronger in our lives over the last 15 years, and I’m so grateful and thankful for that,” she said.

For Larry Rumph, Sunday’s 9/11 remembrance service made him think about that day in a new way thanks to Sands.

“I got a lot of inspiration out of it,” he said.

When the attacks happened, Rumph was working at Costco in Columbus and remembers going into his boss’s office and hearing it on the radio.

“It made you realize how vulnerable we are,” he said. “And that there is a lot of bad going on in the world.”

But Rumph doesn’t blame God for the bad.

“The only thing we can do is carry on and trust in God,” he said.

January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.