Our lilacs bloomed late this year, but that didn’t detract from their delicate purple, violet, and lavender hues or their captivating aroma. After snipping and arranging a bunch in a crystal vase on the dining room table, their fragrance permeated the entire house. Ahh! There’s nothing as wonderful, as fresh, as organic, as this springtime flower.
However, a few days later shriveled petals accumulated on the table, and their signature scent had morphed into a sour odor.
Though I’d filled the vase with cold water, added a few ice cubes, and kept them in a cool room, something went wrong!
Jesus said “… for without Me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5b, NIV)
When we’re cut off from the vine, acting under our own power, groping for happiness from any other place than the Giver of Life, we might look and smell sweet for a time. But the blush will wear off, the fragrance will depart, and we’ll soon wither and die.
Before the petals begin to fall, before we lose our salt, before our aroma sours, let’s plug back into the vine, renew, and rejuvenate. Let’s not only consider but cling to the source.
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“He comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any kind of affliction, through the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Cor.1:4, NIV)
Several weeks ago we said goodbye to Barkley, our almost 12-year-old Goldendoodle. To say it was or has been easy would be a lie. Anyone who has experienced the loss of a furry family friend would say the same.
But, I promise, this post is headed in a hope-filled direction.
I want to share with you an amazing glimpse, unbelievable moments of contrast, the Lord allowed us to see with Barkley’s passing.
After weighing the alternatives, my hubby and I decided to relieve Barkley’s future suffering. What was that moment like when Jesus decided to leave Heaven to relieve our suffering? His decision cost Him everything. Yet He willingly gave up His life to save ours.
We lovingly, attentively stayed with Barkley and whispered our love for him while he slipped away. Jesus lovingly, longingly whispers His love for us, not willing that anyone would slip into eternity without Him.
Barkley lavished on us unconditional love. Even after we had scolded him for polishing off a two-pound bag of brown sugar we had foolishly left on the kitchen island, he flashed those luminous big brown eyes and extended his paw to us. Jesus lavishes on us His unconditional love. No matter what sin we’ve committed. No matter how far we’ve strayed or missed the mark. No matter how often we’ve rejected or refused Him. He opens His arms, extends His nail-pierced hands, and whispers His love and forgiveness. All we have to do is accept Him.
We left the vet’s and drove away without Barkley for the first time in 12 years, awash in the experience, reminded of the joys that were and will never be again. The sense of loss and emptiness became overwhelming. Is that what Jesus feels each time we refuse His love? Each request for a relationship denied, each knock on our heart’s door unanswered, each gift of salvation unopened?
Barkley’s better now. He loved us well and gave us so many joy-filled, warm memories. Our lives are better because he was a huge part of every day!
Know what? When we accept Jesus, our lives are better because He gave His life for us. Every day on Earth may not be sunshine and rainbows, but as we allow Him to become a bigger part of our lives, He makes us whole. Better.
Will life ever be the same without Barkley? The jury’s still out. But please don’t spend your life, or eternity, without Jesus. Nothing is better than Heaven!
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(From Part 2: “Hammett. Hammett.” Bile burned in my throat. Thunder rolled in the distance, or did the noise reverberate from the television? I raced into the living room and sank to my knees. “Oh, dear God, no!”)
The North Tower crumbled to the ground. Glass and metal hurled through the air. Frantic people scrambled in every direction only to have ash and soot swallow them. The TV screen became a gray-black blur. The camera shook as the crew darted for safety—their nervous voices lost in the melee.
Someone screamed, her shrill, loud voice filled the room and pierced my ears. Her tears flowed down my face into trembling hands. Pieces of priceless pottery sailed through the air, their broken shards less hysterical than she. I had to stop her before she lost complete control.
The wet carpet under my face became my first wake-up call. Too weak to push myself up, I laid there. Garbled voices from the television drifted toward me spewing words that ran together. A third plane crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania, its destination shy of its goal. A man wrung his hands and mumbled about the Pentagon but the information didn’t fully register.
I forced myself to read the words on the screen. “America Under Attack.” Voices narrated their impromptu speculation. Eyewitnesses reported chilling accounts. Some commented about children in a nearby preschool whose parents would never pick them up.
No one tried to explain why my husband had to die in the attack. Time lost its meaning. I don’t know how long I laid there while television commentators continued their analysis. Heat, humidity, and smoke wafted through my open windows. Damp hair stuck to my face.
A blinking red light caught my eye, and I thrust myself off the floor. Cell phone plans were expensive, and I’d only given my number to a few people. I racked my brain but couldn’t imagine who would’ve left a message.
Engaged in a dizzy dance, I staggered like a shipwrecked sailor into the bedroom and snatched the phone from the desk. Before I flopped on the bed, I grabbed a coverlet. Curled in a fetal ball, I clutched the phone. Spent nerves prevented me from listening to the message.
My mind replayed conversations Hammett shared when he’d headed the safety committee. He equipped the offices with fire extinguishers and carried out routine fire drills up and down the thirty-seven flights of stairs. No wonder he stayed in great physical shape. Hope flooded my thoughts.
I blew out a long sigh, pushed the button, and retrieved the only message.
“Hi, Mom, it’s Maddie. It’s about 8:37 on Tuesday morning, September 11. I don’t have to be to work at the hospital until noon today. These twenty-four-hour emergency room shifts are brutal, and I haven’t seen you guys as much as I’d like. I picked up some bagels and cream cheese at that deli you two always rave about. I’m gonna take them up to Dad’s office, and wondered if maybe you could join us.
“By the way, I got bored at work Sunday and weighed myself. Big mistake. So, before I eat these bagels, thought I’d take the stairs up to Dad’s office. If it doesn’t kill me, maybe I’ll lose five pounds by the time I get there.
“Okay, I’m about to enter the stairwell so I might lose reception but I’ll count off the steps for as long as I can. Ready? “Two, four, six, eight, ten, twelve, fourteen, sixteen . . .”
People often ask why I’ve left this story unfinished. Well, let me ask you – if this were your story, your life, how would it end?
Claire had no idea how radically her life would change on September 11, 2001. She and Hammett seemingly had it all: the penthouse, the money, the future . . . or so they thought. Though they’d planned for their financial goals to the last penny, they’d neglected their eternal destination. Maybe more time would’ve helped, but it’s the one commodity none of us can buy.
Unlike the fictional characters in my story who had to comply with how they’re written, people have free will. We choose where we will spend eternity.
The Bible tells us that God sent His Son Jesus into this fallen world to provide a way for us to go to Heaven. Since Jesus lived a perfect life, His death on the cross paid the penalty for our sins. You might think being a good person is good enough. Well, if that were true, Jesus wouldn’t have had to die for your sins.
What’s sin? Sin means to break the law, go against a moral code, to miss the mark. If we’re honest, we’ve all missed the mark. When we ask Jesus Christ to forgive our sins, He comes and lives in our hearts. He makes us a new person. We trade our sin-filled life for a new one . . . that’s what “born again” is all about.
We’re all given the opportunity to choose to live for Jesus. Our choice makes the difference between the hope of Heaven or the horror of hell.
We all remember the tragedy of September 11, 2001—the images we saw, the news accounts we heard, the stories we read. Maybe you had a relative, close friend, or an acquaintance who died in that horrible attack.
Ready or not, the day will come when we, too, breathe our last breath.
Like the characters in this story, perhaps you’ve succeeded in achieving your financial goals.
None of that will matter if you haven’t chosen Jesus and secured your eternal destination.
To do that, simply ask Jesus into your heart today. Read His Word, the Bible, and let Him lead you home.
Please see the special page created on this website entitled “The Penthouse” where you can post questions about this story, your thoughts about the 20th anniversary of 9/11/2001, and your memories of that day.
This is an original story written by eMarie.
To leave a comment, please click on the title above THE PENTHOUSE – A 9/11 STORY (Part 3) and scroll down. Thank you for subscribing and inviting friends to this website. God bless you! 🙂
(Repeat from part 1: Hammett and I grieved in different ways. He poured himself into his work and allowed it to consume him.“Can’t we talk about this?” I’d pleaded. He shrugged, undressed, and fell asleep the second his head hit the pillow.)
To cope, I skipped meals. Lots of them. If Hammett and I were invited out, I sometimes pretended to eat. Other times, I’d polished off my plate like a ravenous wolf. When my stomach rebelled, unable to handle its contents, I excused myself to find the nearest restroom.
My friend Jessica noticed my weight loss and unhealthy eating patterns. She invited me out to lunch. Instead, she took me to meet with her therapist.
After several sessions, I suggested Hammett go with me.
“Don’t ever ask me to go to one of those shysters. It’s mind over matter. You think they’ll help you, but all they do is take your money.” He pointed his finger at me. “Besides, I’m not the one that needs help.”
In five weeks, I’d gone from a healthy 152-pound, 5’6” woman to a lethargic 129 pounds. I knew I was out of control when I caught a glimpse of my skin-taut rib cage in the mirror. It didn’t surprise me when I woke up in a hospital bed, disoriented and bewildered, with tubes and monitors all around me.
Hammett stroked my hair. “I found you passed out in the bathroom. I’m so sorry. I should have done something . . . I.” His eyes met mine. “We’ll get counseling. The two of us. We’ll get better.”
We did get better. Hammett made it a rule—he’d be home by dinnertime every workday, and he stuck to it. Over time, our therapy sessions went from twice a week to once a month. We learned so much more about each other, and as Solomon had said, we began to appreciate what we’d taken for granted.
By now, our daughter Madilyn had graduated medical school and joined a small emergency medicine practice in the City. Our daughter-in-law visited often with our grandson, Oliver. He lit up the room and kept us young. We enjoyed spoiling him with toys, books, clothes, and electronics.
A shiver crawled along my spine. I glanced at my watch, stunned that I’d daydreamed on the balcony for so long. I hurried to clean off the table and brought the breakfast dishes to the sink, then turned on my favorite TV morning show to accompany my mundane chores. Water splashed over my hands. I hummed and scrubbed the plates.
“We interrupt this broadcast to bring you. . .” I turned toward the television—its picture captured my attention. The camera lens zoomed in close, as if I rode on the wings of a misguided jet. The commentator’s words pricked my ears. Sirens and horns blared outside and in the background while the TV newscaster narrated the uncertain reality. Clear blue skies above the Twin Towers blackened with billowy smoke. Again and again, images of the plane as it flew into the North Tower appeared on the screen. I flipped through the channels. There had to be some mistake, maybe some sick reenactment of War of the Worlds.
I hurried to the balcony and looked toward Manhattan, to the steel towers that graced our view. “God, help us.” Dark smoke rose into the air until it entombed the silvery tower.
Back inside, I grabbed the phone from the receiver, relieved I still had a dial tone. Before I pushed a button, the phone slipped from my sweat-drenched palm. My breath caught in my throat. The TV camera tracked another plane soaring at low altitude on approach to the South Tower. My body crumpled to the floor and my heart hammered as flames erupted through the tower’s jagged opening.
The newscaster’s voice faded away. Eerie figures fell from the windows of the north building, surreal and horrible. Frightened people dotted the street, too stunned to cry. Their confusion matched my own.
My cell phone rang. I leaped off the floor and raced to my desk, then read the number on the screen. “Hammett, where are you?” For a nanosecond, everything moved in slow motion before rocketing forward. Shattered glass and noise rumbled in the background. Desperate screams almost drowned Hammett’s words. I dug my nails into the desk. “Hammett, I can’t hear you.” I yelled over the chaos that probably surrounded him.
He sniffled. “You were right. I shouldn’t have come to work today.” His words came between stilted breaths.
I gripped the phone so tight my hand ached. I could only imagine what Hammett saw, how he felt at that moment, the thoughts going through his mind. I wanted to say something of comfort, something to encourage him. “Hammett, I can’t live without you. I don’t want to.” The words left my lips and, oh, how I wished I could take them back. They weren’t helpful or what he needed to hear.
He sobbed. Hard. And I’ll never forget the grit in his voice as he gasped and choked out these words. “You’ve made my life so happy . . . I wish I had . . . a million more. Take care of . . . Madilyn. Suzanne . . . and Oliver. I’ll . . . watch over you.”
The line went dead.
“Hammett. Hammett.” Bile burned in my throat. Thunder rolled in the distance, or did the noise reverberate from the television? I raced into the living room and sank to my knees. “Oh, dear God, no!”
Part 3 of this original story by eMarie will be posted Friday, September 10, 2021
To leave a comment, please click on the title above THE PENTHOUSE – A 9/11 STORY (Part 2) and scroll down. Thank you for subscribing and inviting friends to this website. God bless you! 🙂
The morning began like most others. Hammett hurried onto the balcony while securing the knot in his tie. After forty-two years, the fit of his black suit and crisp white shirt still stirred butterflies in my stomach. I poured two cups of black coffee as he buttered the toast, our usual pre-work breakfast. Between bits of conversation I followed the movements of a jogger plodding his way through Central Park, a view we’d paid dearly for.
As September mornings go, humidity already presented a challenge, but the pale blue sky and mid-60s temperature offered Hammett a perfect seven-mile bike ride to his office in New York City’s Twin Towers.
He pushed his plate away and gazed toward the tall green trees. An occasional hint of autumn splendor painted the leaves. Hammett leaned back and clasped his hands behind his head.
I enjoyed him this way, relaxed, with a slight upturn in his lips. “Are you sure you have to finish out the week?” If only I’d bitten my tongue. Instead, the words rang like an alarm clock.
Hammett looked at his watch then sprang out of the chair. “I promised Julia I would.” He bent down and kissed my forehead. “Just three more days.”
He touched my shoulder, and I held onto his hand. I stared into his deep blue eyes—the worry lines in his forehead more pronounced than I’d ever noticed. I held back words I wanted to say. Words like, you don’t owe her anything; I’ve always admired your dedication, but it’s such a beautiful day. Let’s ride the ferry. Deep inside, I knew it wouldn’t help if I said them.
We’d married two years before we graduated college. Hammett began his career as an intern and continued to work for the same marketing firm for forty years. I stayed home and raised our two children. Hammett climbed the corporate ladder until he’d earned a place at the table—chief financial officer. With our debts paid, children’s futures secured, and nothing preventing us, we sold our home in the country and bought a penthouse on the upper west side. Our wallets took a wallop, so I accepted a part-time job as an at-home editor. After ten years, we achieved our dream. We paid off the mortgage and breathed easier. We owned the penthouse free and clear.
Though we had means, we’d chosen to live with fun and frugality in mind. We’d gone on a few cruises but stayed in hostels when we toured Europe. Our friends bought yachts, we rented kayaks. Skiing in Aspen never made it on our radar. The nearby Poconos filled that need.
Several months ago, we met with our investment banker. A month later, Hammett signed his retirement papers. At the firm’s request, he agreed to work as a consultant on an occasional basis, and at his discretion.
That afternoon we went through our scrapbooks and picture albums. Every page told the story of our lives. Days, weeks, months, and years passed before our eyes. Though I hadn’t voiced the thought, I wondered how many more years we’d have together.
As if he read my mind, Hammett took my hand. “It’s the beginning of the rest of our lives. Whatever time we have, we’ll make the most of it. You and me.” A tenuous smile spread his lips.
The sun warmed me as I stood at the edge of the balcony and waved to Hammett, his bike pointed toward his trek to work. He leaned over the handlebars, his satchel slung on his back, the path through Central Park a little busier now than thirty minutes ago. He stopped pedaling long enough to throw me a kiss, something he hadn’t done for years. I pretended to catch it and threw one back to him.
He smiled and rode down the sun-dappled pathway.
No longer able to see him, I lingered on the balcony, absorbed in the moment. Hammett’s words from months ago, “the rest of our lives,” flashed through my mind like a shooting star.
Somehow, the thought took me back several years when our daughter-in-law and son, Solomon, an administrator at Cedar Sinai Hospital, traveled to Haiti. Unable to conceive, they adopted a newborn in Port-au-Prince. Solomon returned a changed man. “Mom, Dad, you’ve gotta go there. We take everything for granted. They have nothing, yet they’re the happiest people I’ve ever met.” A week later, Solomon lay in a hospital bed with fever, severe abdominal pain, and diarrhea. Diagnosed with malaria, he slipped into a coma. A few days later, he left our lives forever.
Hammett and I grieved in different ways. He poured himself into his work and allowed it to consume him.
“Can’t we talk about this?” I’d pleaded. He shrugged, undressed, and fell asleep the second his head hit the pillow…
Part 2 of this original story by eMarie will be posted Friday, September 3, 2021
To leave a comment, please click on the title above THE PENTHOUSE – A 9/11 STORY (Part 1) and scroll down. Thank you for subscribing and inviting friends to this website. God bless you! 🙂
-“Could a boy this young use that kind of phrasing?”
-“Dave, pineapples were unknown in the Middle East during the iron age.”
What did I learn about the Lord during my writing journey?
I learned critiques from the Lord’s friends are gold.
On Mt. Horeb, the Lord told Elijah that Elisha would replace him. Yet after he threw his cloak over Elisha, the Bible says Elisha followed him and became his servant.
So which part of the Bible was right? Replace or Serve?
Sorry I could not travel both and be one traveler, I opted for Replace and left Elisha out of the story until the final chapters.
A writer of fun, logic-defying romances, asked, “Why isn’t Elisha following Elijah?”
When I told her, she replied something like, “If you leave him out, readers could think you didn’t do your research.”
I grit my teeth. Research? Hey! Elisha can’t both replace and follow. So I helped him make up his mind.
But her comment wouldn’t go away. A couple of weeks later, I fiddled with those chapters and let Elijah keep his “replace” idea while Elisha followed and tried to serve him. The resulting conflict gives those chapters a ton of fun which I would have missed if not for a critic of gold.
When we’re impressed with someone else’s something, we might ask where they got it. “Where’d you get that dress; that purse; that car; those shoes; that recipe.” Here’s a few questions to add to the list:
Where’d you get that sound?
Several years ago, movie-goers thrilled to “Walk the Line,” a film based on the lives of June Carter and Johnny Cash. At one point in the movie, June asks Johnny “where’d you get that sound?” Johnny served in the military and then, like many struggling artists, he worked odd jobs with the hope of breaking into the music industry. Fortunately for him, his “sound” took him to country music stardom. The question June asked Johnny in the film, begs another question about sound.
What does God sound like? Elijah heard the sound of a mighty wind and an earthquake, but recognized God was in the sound of a small voice. On the day of Pentecost, those gathered in the house praying heard the sound of a rushing wind. So, when we pray, do we wait to hear the sound of God’s voice?
Where’d you get your passion?
During the pandemic last year, a friend introduced us to Pastor Jack Hibbs, Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, CA. Though we watched him on television, his passion for God, His Word, and His truth came across loud and clear. Pastor Jack is by no means a casual Christian! His love for the Lord sizzles the airwaves. He’s inspired us to draw closer to the Lord.
How does Pastor Jack keep that level of passion and zeal for the Lord burning so bright? He’s said time and time again, he prays and stays in the Word. Do we live with that level of commitment? That passion for the Lord?
Where’d you get your courage?
Fear and uncertainty’s icy fingers claw at us from every direction. That said, perhaps we can all agree – we’ve never sat in a lions’ den praying for dawn’s first light. Most of us have never, under penalty of death, brazenly opened our windows and prayed. Nor have we told a king, sure, if you want to throw us in a fire, do it.
Where did Daniel and his friends (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) get that kind of courage? Could the answer be as simple as prayer? We read that Daniel prayed at least three times a day—as often as we eat meals! Is that how often we pray?
Where’d you get your wisdom?
Solomon’s fame is tied to his wisdom. The Bible records that at Solomon’s request, God gave him a “wise and discerning heart.” Though his father, David, secured the building materials, it was Solomon who completed the temple and dedicated it to the Lord. King Solomon prayed before all those assembled. God responded by consuming the offering. Then, God visited with Solomon again and spoke the words that should consume us:
If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. 2 Chronicles: 7:14
Where do we get that passion, that courage, and that wisdom? What would happen if we humbled ourselves and prayed and listened for that sound – the sound of God’s voice?
By Amre Cortadino
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True confession: while in grade school, summer boredom prompted unhealthy mischief. One of my go-to childish games was phone pranks. …I’d hang up after informing the unfortunate person on the other end of the line to chase their running refrigerator.
Trust me, I’m not bragging. On the contrary! I shudder at my former behavior. Why am I sharing this with you?
When a fellow prankster’s daughter rang our doorbell at 10 p.m. several weeks ago, memories of my immature summer “fun” rushed in like an unwelcome tsunami.
Maybe your less-than-stellar moments don’t include prank phone calls. But, perhaps events from your past still taunt you?
If the answer is yes, you’re not alone. Whether it’s a twinge or a stab in the gut, past deeds and guilt impose themselves like Charlie Brown’s friend Pigpen and his “dust of countless ages.”
We no longer see ourselves as dearly loved children of the Most High God. Clothed in His righteousness. Ours is the same as Pigpen’s clouded view.
The Good News is that if we’ve confessed our sins, God’s forgiven us.
To put a spin on Pigpen’s words, the countless woulda, coulda, shouldas are past dust! Our enemy might like to use guilt and other nonimaginative strategies to destroy our joy.
Don’t let him!
Shake off the dust, because it gets even better.
There’s a way out. …a gift that’s been offered!
Stretch out your arms, east and west. Look from the end of your right hand to the tip of your left. Our ability to reach is finite. Not so with God, who created the Heavens and the Earth and everything in it. His reach is infinite, His power and goodness unending.
God can’t lie! We can trust that He’s forgiven and removed every sin we’ve laid at His feet.
Isn’t it time we take the gift, accept His forgiveness, and let go?
By Amre Cortadino
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Do you remember this line from an old Sunday School chorus?
if you’re happy and you know it, then your face will surely show it; if you’re happy and you know it shout, “Amen.”
A woman’s birthday party came to a screeching halt when her husband crashed the gathering. The woman’s face turned to stone the moment she saw him. Her icicle frown and his cowering posture revealed the icy temperature of their relationship. As the party atmosphere quickly altered from festive to frozen, guests scrambled for the exit.
Rewording a quote attributed to Mark Twain and Abraham Lincoln, my dad would say “you can fool some of the people all of the time, more of the people most of the time, but not all the people all of the time.”
Perhaps we find the “take-home” from this woman’s birthday party in Numbers 32:23 where Moses warns “… you may be sure that your sin will find you out.”
No matter how much we try to mask what’s in our hearts, God knows!
So, when our masks slip and the truth is revealed, will our faces show the depths of disdain or an effervescent fountain of love, joy, and gratitude?
Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matt.12:34, KJV).
By Amre Cortadino
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