It’s 6:45 pm and Gail and I are on our journey home from one of our favorite places in the world, New York City. I’ve loved New York City since the very first time I came out of a subway tunnel from Long Island into Times Square, thirty-nine years ago. The energy of the city has always invigorated me. In all of those years, the allure has never faded – not unlike the draw to my wife after thirty-seven years.
Gail and I first visited New York together during a “week of evangelism” from Johnson Bible College (now Johnson University) in our Sophomore/Junior years of college. We were not dating at the time and really didn’t know one another well. But, over the next two years, we would become friends, and eventually fall seriously in love with one another. Gail’s sister lived on Long Island at the time and we made trips there whenever possible. New York holds many fond memories for us. One of our favorite restaurants is on 44th Street, just off Broadway. Carmines is a large, loud, family-style Italian eatery where the chicken marsala and caesar salad are amazing.
Even more enjoyable than the city itself are the wonderful people who have shared the Big Apple with us. Gail’s sister, Bonnie, and brother-in-law, Jim, introduced me to the city. Jim was pastoring a church in East Northport, Long Island, and is the person mostly responsible for drawing me into church planting and ministry in the northeast. We’ve spent many hours walking Central Park and shopping at Macy’s. Our trip a few months ago was bittersweet though. After a couple of days of fun, Gail and I left Jim and Bonnie in the lobby of the hotel as we headed back to Harrisburg. As the taxi took us down the Avenue of the Americas, Gail looked out the window in tears. Perhaps this would be the last time she ever saw New York City.
I’ve been involved in planting new churches my entire ministry. I think it might be because I first found my way back to God through a new church in my hometown of Anderson, Indiana. I always wanted to plant a church in New York, but the Lord never saw fit to send me there. Instead, He has allowed me to serve on the board of the Orchard Group, a ministry rooted in New York, but is now planting churches all over the world. It has been one of the great honors of my life.
So, Gail and I got into the Uber from our hotel a block from the 9/11 Memorial and headed for Penn Station. It was rush hour and I got to enjoy one of my favorite experiences in the city – dodging cars and trucks, bicycles and pedestrians, and listening to horns blowing, as if a tooting horn would make some difference in the speed of the traffic. It’s like fast-moving video game and I love it!
We visited the memorial and went to the top of the new World Trade Center, Tower One. It takes 82 seconds to rise 101 floors, and the walls of the elevator actually depict the growth of the city through the years. It’s quite an experience, but nothing compared to the 9/11 Memorial. I think all Americans should visit this tribute to the thousands who died on this ground. There are hundreds of heart-wrenching stories, like the lady who would never fly on the same plane with her husband for the very reason she is now memorialized in death, while her husband, who flew separately that day, lives on with the painful memories of that day. But there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of stories of valor, sacrifice, and all that is best in humanity. The stories of the brave souls who either saved, or tried to save lives is a fitting tribute to the fact that evil will never prevail in this world or the next.
Gail and I sat silently in the back of the van. She, looking out the left side of the vehicle, and me looking out to the right. Only a few words were spoken. We unloaded our suitcases, made our way down the escalator under the famed Madison Square Gardens, and took our place with thousands of other travelers, staring at the train-loading screen. We would stand in the midst of this organized chaos for a while, watching every kind of human soul passing by in a hurry, scurrying home to their loved ones. I leaned against a large post, eyes fixed on the screen, until I turned my head a bit to the left and once again saw a miserable sight. My precious wife, now with beautiful short-white-hair, wearing her cute black hat and winter coat with gloves to keep her little hands at least somewhat warm; my precious New York City companion of so many years, was crying. Once again, this might well be the last time she will ever make this journey... and why would I want to go without her?
I cannot imagine the pain suffered by so many on 9/11, and thousands of times since then in a world overflowing with tragedy, but I’m getting a taste of their loss as I contemplate the possibility for me. But far worse is the pain I see in my traveling partner’s tear-filled eyes as she, like all of us eventually will, faces her mortality.
Lord, we are still waiting for Your mighty hand to move.