But surely one of the highlights of the trip was our visit to One World Trade Center (aka The Freedom Tower) and the 9 11 Memorial and Museum.
My girls in front of The Freedom Tower (it's so tall, I couldn't begin to get the whole thing in the picture) on a very chilly, but beautiful March day--
And from inside the Museum--one of the steel tridents that remained standing in the 14 story high pile of debris from The Trade Center. The writing on the trident was made as they marked the heroic FDNY companies and rescue personnel who lost their men in the towers--
To say it was incredibly powerful and moving to see this museum would be a vast understatement. One cannot see this museum without shedding tears, not just of sorrow and grief, but also of profound gratitude and admiration for the brave souls who endured that terrible day--both those who gave their lives to save others as well as the courage of those who faced the very worst man could devise, and yet at the end, were thinking of their loved ones left behind.
Obviously, I could go on and on about this--so much to tell, so many tears, so many stories--but I really want to focus right now on one very simple--yet radically important--lesson.
Our tour guide shared the remarkable story of FDNY Ladder 3, which was one of the first on the scene. Their crushed firetruck is in the Museum, and all 11 of the men who came on that truck that day were killed when the North Tower fell. Normally there aren't nearly this many men on a shift. However, the first 911 calls occurred at the time the shift was changing, and men who had gone off duty immediately wanted to go and help as well.
Unless you were there, I don't think any of us can begin to comprehend the total chaos, confusion, and horror of what those men faced as they faced when they arrived at the base of the North Tower. Thick black smoke, fire, dangerous debris raining down, screaming and injured folks, bodies... I won't go on, but it must have been horrific beyond all words.
Add to that the total confusion about what was going on--so many calls were pouring in that the firemen couldn't get through to one another. Cell phones were jammed, walkie talkies were jammed. It was all noise and terror and chaos.
Yet these men immediately strapped on their 100 pounds of gear and began climbing the stairs of the North Tower in order to reach the top floors to save the folks trapped up there. Think of that--100 pounds of great and all those countless steps going up and up and up. Remind yourself how out of breath you get when you walk up a couple of flights of stairs. Now try it with 100 pounds on your back...and do it for step after step after step.
Meanwhile, as the smoke filled stairwells, terrified civilians rushed down...while those firemen rushed up. Other came down to safety, while the firemen climbed up towards death and destruction and danger. But that's what heroes do.
Apparently, the men of Ladder 3 desperately needed to get some information about what was going on up above them--30, 60, 90, and 100 floors above--as they climbed. But again, no one could get through. And so on the 35th floor, Captain Paddy Brown attempted to get through on a landline he found in an office, and remarkably, he was able to reach 911 dispatchers. They gave him all the information they could, and then Paddy said something incredible under the circumstances. In the midst of such unimaginable, hellish horror, he simply said, "Thank you."
Our tour guide specifically and movingly pointed that out--"This man said thank you."
And then he closed out with the last words ever recorded by Patty Brown, "This is 3 Truck and we're still heading up."
I wept. Both for the courage--knowing the terrible danger, the raging inferno, the thick smoke, the awful uncertainty, they kept heading up. Why? Because they were determined to save lives. To save as many lives as they could.
These firemen went up to save souls...and Jesus came down to save all the world.
Thank You, Father, for such brave, good men who gave their lives in order to save others. And thank You for the Lord Jesus--the bravest, the best, the perfect Son of God--who gave His life in order to save any and all who would come to Him by faith. What heroes these men were. And what a glorious Savior our Lord is. He is the ultimate Hero of Heroes.
But secondly, I wept for that simple phrase--"Thank you." To somehow manage a thank you in the midst of such hell, well, I couldn't help but think, what on earth is our excuse? How can we not be relentlessly grateful people? God has given us so much--our nation, our homes, our families, our friends, our daily blessings of food, sunshine, strength, laughter, music, dogs, books, health, strength...and on and on.
How dare we not be daily, continuously thinking and staying, "Thank You!" Thank You, thank You thank You, Lord!
"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly light, who does not change like shifting shadows." (James 1:17) "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." (I Thess.5:18) "I will extoll the Lord at all times; His praise will always be on my lips." (Ps.34:1) "Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever." (Ps.107:1)
God's Word is filled to overflowing with commands to praise and give thanks.
So let me ask you, as I've asked myself, what's our excuse? Are we relentlessly thankful people...or consistently complaining people? Are we quick to remember and give thanks...or do we tend to forget or take for granted or feel entitled? Do we look for reasons to give thanks...or search for excuses to grumble?
The example of the brave men of Ladder 3 should surely convict us that there is no--absolutely no--circumstance that justifies an absolute refusal to find at least some reason for thanks.
Today, will you choose to be thankful? And will you express that thanks both to someone else and to Your forever faithful Father? With Him, you always have infinite ammunition for gratitude.
Lord, we give you all, all, all our thanks and praise. For You are infinitely worthy. And to You, our God, be all the glory.