Chapter "Reality is a Unity"
My unusual experiences went beyond asking and getting immediate, specific answers. I began noticing a unity with events and my surroundings that went way beyond any previous experiences in my life. Once more, the first episode I had was when I was still working at the church. It was Ash Wednesday morning, February 28th, 2001. I was to preach that night for the church’s Ash Wednesday service. I had prepared a sermon based on a scripture passage about how catastrophes have within them the potential to help us open up all of our hearts to God and to one another. Just as I was about to email my finished sermon to the office administrator who was in an office down the hall from me, I was silently lamenting to God: No one is going to connect with my sermon. We don’t suffer social catastrophes of any kind in the Northwest, let alone one on the order that could open up any hearts. Why did I feel so strongly compelled to preach on this topic? This is completely irrelevant.
As the saying goes: be careful what you pray for…
For at the exact moment when I hit “send” to forward my email to the office administrator with sermon attached, the earth started to move. It moved and it moved some more and I looked out the window and saw the normally straight, statuesque evergreens dancing as though they were made out of rubber and the earth rolling in fluid waves like the sea. As I dove under my desk to wait out the earthquake, my first thought was, NEVER MIND, GOD! Forget my complaint! I decided an irrelevant sermon on catastrophe was much more desirable than a relevant one after all.
As I looked out from under the desk watching the trees continue their dance and the earth its rolling, I pleaded out loud with God over and over, “Save my children, oh God, please keep my children safe.” Then, in a matter of seconds it just stopped. The rolling, the shaking, the rumbling, it was all over. I ran out of my office and the church staff and I gathered for a quick prayer. I then sprinted outside, jumped in my green Volkswagen Beetle (license plate: HUMBUG), and drove the all of two blocks to the school and then pre-school to check on my kids. There was terror in my son’s eyes, but everyone, everything was fine.
Back at the ranch, I surveyed my office. Only one thing had fallen over—a picture that had been sitting on a picture stand. The picture was a calligraphied scripture verse, “Be Still and Know That I Am God.” Wow! Then it hit me. This verse comes from Psalm 46 that begins, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth should quake, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea.” It would be a good story for my sermon that night, Ash Wednesday, when we remember our physical mortality.
Church was full that night. The Nisqually Earthquake, as it was to be named, had shaken everyone on a lot of levels and spiritually they wanted reassurances. Preaching my already finished sermon on how “catastrophe can open our hearts to God and to one another,” and “God is the one we can rely on during a total crisis” was surreal. Twilight zone chills kept running up my spine. How could I have prepared a sermon so relevant to the day’s events without any conscious knowledge of what was going to happen?
Later that year, after everything had blown up when I’d filed complaints of sexual misconduct and was retaliated against by the senior minister for doing so, catastrophe hit again. Extraordinarily, for the second time in a few short months, I experienced a knowing that came from a profound interconnectedness.
By Labor Day of 2001, we moved into a house in Lake Forest Park, a suburb of Seattle, and settled our kids in their new elementary school situated just behind our house. I loved being able to walk them to school, past all the towering, stately Douglas Firs lined up like sentries along our street. After walking them to school every morning, I would then take my whistleblower survivor routine and walk to Starbucks and then on to Third Place Books. Many days I would meander through the bookstore to find a good read and spend the better part of the morning in an oversized leather armchair, sipping my chai latte, contemplating all the while. Nothing like good old-fashioned escapism when your life is falling apart.
The next Sunday, September 9th, early in the afternoon, I was sitting in our sunroom praying and reflecting on my ongoing travails, when suddenly I was overcome by “something.” An impression? A premonition? All I know is that I gasped and said out loud, “Oh no! There’s not just doom for the church, there’s doom for our country!” I immediately started praying, “Lord, have mercy on our country. Lord, have mercy on our country. Lord, have mercy on our country.” In fact, that is about all that came out of my mouth for the next hour as I went about household chores. But it gradually faded away and I totally forgot about it.
Later in the afternoon, my husband walked up to me rather jerkily and mechanically, like a robot, and declared in monotone, “I need to go to New Jersey. I need to fly out tomorrow.”
“Okay.” I replied casually, “If you must, you must.”
So, he went back to his office, booked a ticket online (a very expensive ticket), and started packing.
This did not strike me as unusual at all. Looking back I really don’t know why I didn’t question my husband’s strange behavior. Usually he planned his business trips well in advance in order to get good prices on tickets, and so I could pre-plan the kids’ and my schedules while he would be away. I guess it was because he sounded so certain that he had to fly, that I just shrugged my shoulders and went along with it.
I took him to the airport the next day, Monday, while the kids were in school and he called later that night to say he’d arrived safely.
The next morning I woke up hearing the phone ringing—early. Way too early for me. I slowly got out of bed, brushed my teeth, and went downstairs to find out who had called. I figured it was someone from the East Coast—probably one of my husband’s business associates who didn’t yet know that my husband was actually on the East Coast, and who had forgotten that we on the Pacific Coast are three hours earlier than our Atlantic cousins. I was fuming at whoever it was who had forgotten to check the time and their brain before trying to reach us at such an ungodly hour.
Just as I got downstairs the phone rang again. I picked up the remote phone and said mildly, “Hello?” successfully withholding my early morning, pre-chai grumps.
“Monica! I’ve been trying to reach you. Have you seen the news? Oh my God, there’s another one! I’m watching TV right now. Go downstairs and turn on the TV! Oh my God! A plane just crashed into the World Trade Center and now another one. Oh my God! Hurry! They think it’s a terrorist attack. I’m watching this live on TV!”
It was my husband. I ran down to the basement with the phone and turned on the TV. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Airplanes crashing into skyscrapers? It looked like a scene from a movie. Maybe a bad joke. Maybe a “War of the Worlds” error, but no, it was on all the channels we got with our antenna (about 5) and it was the top news agencies reporting. This was no joke. This was no movie. I immediately flashbacked to Sunday afternoon: “There’s not just doom for the church, there’s doom for our country. Lord, have mercy on our country.”
“Oh my God, I had a premonition on Sunday that there was doom for our country, but I completely forgot about it. Oh my God. I can’t believe it.”
“I’ve gotta go, Monica. I’ve got to make some more phone calls to reach some people here about meetings in light of this. I can’t believe this. I’ll call you later. I love you.”
“Love you, too. Bye.”
I sat shell-shocked for a minute or two, and then I checked the messages. My husband had left several, as had my mom. I called my mom and recounted my premonition. I also recalled while talking with my mom that my daughter had night terrors during the night after she had gone to bed. I finally let her crawl into bed with me, because she just wouldn’t settle down. She kept stirring, moaning, muttering, and waking up. I had never known her to do this before. Perhaps she was on some level having a sleeping premonition as well.
As you know, the rest of the week was a bit hellish. Airports were shut down; the stock markets plummeted. In fact, this is why I believe my husband had automatedly declared on Sunday afternoon that he was flying to New Jersey the next day. On some level he too had known. With the stock markets’ nose-dive, the family business went upside down, and the banks it had loans from were all in New Jersey. If my husband had been in Seattle when the World Trade Centers were attacked, he never would have made it to New Jersey with all the airports closed, and we would have lost everything.
But because he was already in New Jersey the very evening before the morning of 9/11, he could arrange face-to-face meetings with business partners and bank personnel to salvage what he could. It was a divinely appointed flight he took on 9/10. He was able to salvage enough to keep us afloat for quite a while. It was a miracle of protection. Even so, things would still be crashing down around us for a long time to come.