My 9/11 Story – Love Is The Key

​If you are of a certain age, you’re among the many of us who have a September 11, 2001 “Where were you?” story.

Mine involved focusing on things that have long mattered most to me: ​

  • striving to be​ a​ caring​ mother
  • ​striving to ​be a​ ​courageous storyteller
  • ​intentionally ​using my words to make a difference.

That day was my first day back​ at work as a newspaper reporter, after a 12-week maternity leave​.​


I​’d placed my infant son in ​his babysitter’s arms and dropped off my daughter at a ​nearby ​preschool, and was ​settling​ at my desk just before 8 a.m. ​in​ the quiet newsroom.

Suddenly, a photographer ran past me and yelled to turn on the TV – a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Then a friend called to welcome me ​bac​k and to share that she’d just seen live news reports about the plane crash. Together, we watched as a​ second​ plane hit the second tower, and we knew the world had changed.


After reminding myself that both of my kids were in good care, with people who loved them and would keep them safe, I did what journalists do – went right into reporter mode, knowing that I’d have to somehow help make sense of this madness for residents of Central Virginia and beyond.​


​Within the hour, I was driving down a winding road south of the city to visit a local mosque. ​ ​Despite ​growing fears for safety ​in the wake of the terrorists attacks, ​t​he​ Imam (spiritual leader)​ trusted me enough to ​let me inside the building, which was teeming with young children, because it doubled as a daycare and preschool.

There was mayhem. The phones kept ringing with ​death threats​, ​frightened​​​​​ parents ​showed up to pick up ​their children and ​the Imam​ sought to keep everyone ​calm​.


I saw fear and hurt in his eyes, both over the tragedy that had occurred ​in our nation a​​​​nd over the need to defend himself and ​the Muslims he knew and loved​.​ He requested that I use my news article to remind people that not all Muslims are terrorists and that he, too, was grieving.


On my drive back to the ​Richmond Times-Dispatch ​newsroom, the radio waves were eerily silent and my cell phone wouldn’t work. ​I returned to learn from colleagues about the attack at the Pentagon and the crash of another plane that was believed to be headed to Washington, D.C.​


I sat at my desk and wrote about the Imam’s plea ​for people ​to look past ethnicity ​and ​into hearts​,​ and not to harm Americans who looked him or those in his spiritual care because of the hateful and evil acts of others – acts he also denounced.

That conversation with him, and witnessing the distress at the mosque that day, led me to write a year-long series of newspaper columns about people of various faiths – Muslims, Quakers, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and more – and to use their personal journeys to educate readers about ​​​​​​​the principles of each religion, so that perhaps we could really “see” our neighbors, colleagues and strangers and find some common ground.


​What my readers (and I ) discovered through my columns is that ​regardless of the different commandments​, laws and practices of the various faiths, the​ primary mandate of ​absolutely ALL of them is to​ LOVE,​ and to use love as a guide to honor God, ​live peaceably with others and​ ​flow positively through this world.

Sometimes ​love must be ​giving.

Sometimes ​love must be sacrificial.

Sometimes love sets boundaries.

All of the time love can heal and produce hope​​.


​This isn’t as easy at it sounds, of course, which is why people of faith are always “practicing” their faith.​ But leading with love never fails and never goes out of style.

Twenty years later, as we remember this significant and painful day of loss and fear, may we also remember the love that followed in the aftermath. And may we continue striving to look past what we see on the surface and give others’ hearts a chance, while having the courage to share our own.

Do The Work

On this Labor Day, may we find some time to pause, breathe, reflect and reset.

In doing so, perhaps we can lean into what we love about having the opportunity to work and the opportunity to live with purpose.

Regardless of whether our life’s purpose intersects with our day-to-day work, I imagine that one feeds off of the other – with our job providing the resources and space we need to execute our life’s calling, and our calling being shored up and reflected in the formal work we do consistently.

So today, my challenge to you is to be grateful for your opportunities to live, work and be.

In doing so, you contribute to your own wellbeing and that of your loved ones, while in many instances also fostering greater good in the world around us.

Whatever kind of work you do, it matters, especially during a pandemic that has significantly altered over the past two years what formal work looks and feels like, and perhaps has led you to set aside your hopes and dreams.

Today, pick them back up.

Consider what pushes you forward even when you’re tired,

what wakes you up before the alarm sounds,

what brings you joy, in season and out.

That thing called purpose won’t be fickle, and when you recognize it and honor it, neither will you.

Do the work to discover the work you were born to do, then give it your all. And even if you’re in a season of retirement or between formal jobs, explore and discover how this new phase or next chapter still can be deeply meaningful.

Glass Half-Full Living

Someone asked me recently why I routinely see life’s proverbial glass as half-full – especially at times when the tug to focus on half-empty is just as strong.

I don’t have an elaborate, philosophical reason; and the truth is we all have bad days, sad days and the like. This is what makes us imperfectly human, and I’m right there with you. 

I’ve learned through living, however, that our journey is what we make it, and the hours we’re given each day can be eaten up with negativity or treated as the treasures they are.

I’ve had a sister survive a double lung transplant, friends survive a devastating fire and several others surmount cancer. I’ve lost loved ones, tangible treasures and valuable opportunities. This has ingrained in me to take no one and nothing for granted. And through it all, I’ve kept my eyes on what’s most important – powerful lessons learned, deeper relationships with those who remain, a stronger sense of self, beautiful surprises and unexpected blessings.

I’ve also remembered that God loves me most, and clung to choices that make my heart smile. 

Those things are my “whys” and they drive me to keep seeking joy on my journey, appreciating the simple aspects of each day, and serving others with my gifts and personal passions.

What drives you or lights your way?

Give this question some serious thought, and when the answer comes, embrace it. Honor your “whys” and you’ll walk in the power of being a unique and necessary gift to this world.

Grasp the Vision

Sometimes you alone can imagine the vast potential of your dreams. That’s okay, because they were placed on your mind and in your spirit, not others, even those closest to you.

So grasp your vision and don’t let go.

When your “suddenly” successes arrive, you will have earned the right to soar wherever they take you.

New Month Manifesto

New day, new week, new month and a new opportunity to render the looming five months of this year more meaningful than the first.

Consider re-energizing yourself just because…because you’re worth it.

Try – or start again with- enjoying everyday, abstaining from complaining, believing the best and exemplifying The Golden Rule.

Choose to try – or start again with – reaching for the sun so you’ll land among the stars; viewing setbacks as “set-ups” for amazing opportunities; celebrating every achievement with gratitude; giving thanks for the shoulders upon which you stand; appreciating the blessing in every life lesson; embracing others as they are and where they are (and extending that same grace to yourself).

Recognize the many “presents” that the present is providing; live on purpose and in your purpose, and have fun along the way. Each day really is a gift; do your best to enjoy it and invite others on the journey with you.


Won’t be easy all the time, but it will be worth your efforts at every turn – and hopefully contagious.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Pexels.com

What do you love most?

Years ago, I had an interesting conversation with an acquaintance last week about purpose, contentment and living fully.

We asked each other, “What do you love most about your life?”  

For both of us, our answers were evident in our actions – where, with whom, and how we spend our time.

What about you?

If you can answer with one or more truths, you’re blessed. No one’s journey is perfect; yet, in both mountaintop and valley seasons, there’s something to be grateful for. So our answers should match our energy and be evident in how we’re flowing.

The joy comes in finding the grace to accept yourself, and others, as-is while nudging yourself to do and be your best.

I say… go for it! “Let your true self reign – you might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you will be many people’s glass of champagne.”  ~ Aine Belton

No More Living on Empty

By Guest Blogger Valerie Henderson

When I was child back in the day, you could drive up to a gas station and someone would pump your gas for you.

You would just pull up to the pump and an attendant would come out to your car. All you had to do was roll down your window (and I do mean roll) and say, “fill’er up.”

By the time I learned how to drive, the new thing was “self service,” which meant you had to get out and pump your own gas.

I don’t like to pump gas. I’ve tried to convince my husband that this should be his job, but to no avail. I have even figured out how long I can drive around on fumes once the “almost empty” fuel sensor light comes on.

Unfortunately, I learned the hard way that driving until your tank is empty can mess up your car. It leaves room for “junk” to build up in your tank, and it can cause your fuel pump to overheat and wear out more quickly.

I think you know where I’m going with this…

What happens when we continually live on empty, refusing to refuel at appropriate times or even when the warning light comes on?

Sometime last year, just before our world became engulfed in a global health pandemic, I read a book titled Leading On Empty: Refilling Your Tank and Renewing Your Passion. It was penned by Wayne Cordeiro to help pastoral leaders who are suffering from burnout, but you could easily re-title this book Parenting On Empty or Working On Empty  or Praying On Empty or Loving On Empty.


I think if we called it Living on Empty it would speak to all of our situations. For those of us who spend a significant portion of our time serving others (whether it’s your profession, vocation or just who you be), living on empty  could be an adequate description of what we feel like on the regular.

Many a day we operate solely on fumes, just trying to get through the day, through bedtime or through the next crisis.

It’s so easy to put our own needs on the back burner. We have good intentions to go back and take care of them later. But somehow later never happens.

Living on empty happens when we are blessed with children who need our care. (They are demanding little creatures just by their very nature and before you know it, they have consumed our entire lives.) Or perhaps it happens when we are serving as a caregiver for a loved one who is ill. We want to be there and our efforts become all-focused on their wellbeing.

We don’t have the energy or the will to do something for ourselves.

Living on empty happens when our vocation is to serve people in our community, and as our nation has endured an economic crisis that has led to job loss and personal devastation, the amount of people needing to be served has increased significantly.

There is not enough time in our day to do all that needs to be done. The needs of others leaks into our private time and we don’t know how to shut them off or hold them back. 

Where do we go to be refueled? When do we find time to fill up our tank?

Maybe we’re afraid if we turn our engine off, fearing that it won’t start back up. However, if we never turn it off for maintenance, it eventually will die out anyway.

We know these things. We understand that this is what self care is – turning off our engine (resting) and then making sure we pour back in to ourselves, to replenish the well from which we have been giving.


The thing we are not quite sure about most of the time is how  did we get here in the first place? Why do we allow ourselves to run until we burnout?

These are questions we have to be willing to ask and seek to honestly the answer. Discovering your answers, and leaning into them, will change your life – and fill your tank – for the better.

As a wife, mother and grandmother, Valerie Henderson enjoys spending endless amounts of time with her family. As a minister, she loves assisting others as they journey through their faith walk. As a creative soul, she finds her greatest solace when she can retreat, craft and write.

Winning at Life

Recent examples abound of how one can speak the truth with love, 

choose to be a priority rather than an option,

and operate in integrity even when the consequences are steep.

Google Tabitha Brown, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Shacarri Richardson.

They’ve handled public dissing, downplaying of value, and rules-based punishment with integrity, and I’m sure you can think of others who’ve done the same.

Regardless of your view their personal choices, what seems to matter most is how they value authenticity and love on themselves; 

and when we all learn to hold our heads high while giving others grace, acknowledge our humanity and our worth, and own our missteps with plans to course correct, 

we’ll know that we’re capable of rising, and we’ll realize that whatever the fallout, we’ve already won.

6 Reasons to Keep Going

I’m sharing this “public service announcement” to persevere for whoever needs it (and just know, that sometimes it’s me). 

If it’s not you today, pass it on!

  1. Keep breathing – your deep-in-the-valley season is just a pitstop.
  2. Keep dancing – the swirling storm will find it harder to touch you.
  3. Keep believing – beauty can indeed be birthed from ashes.
  4. Keep trusting yourself – you’re a prize worth cherishing, at home, at work and everywhere in between. 
  5. Keep paying attention – to your heart, to your gut, to what people show you rather than what they say, and to what you know to be true. Trusting yourself will never lead you wrong. 
  6. Keep laughing – it’s medicine for your soul, and everything doesn’t have to be so serious. 

Most importantly? Just keep on keeping on. 

I promise you, your best days are ahead, no matter your age, stage or circumstances. 

Your job is to persist in excellence, love with an open heart, set appropriate boundaries, welcome peace and treasure your joys. 

I’m living proof (and there are so many tangible examples around) that it’s all doable. Join me on this Life Untapped journey in your own way and in your own time. Just promise me, and yourself, that you’ll keep going.  

Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.com

Try On the New

New seasons of life, new opportunities, new doors to walk through are often what we pray for; yet when they arrive, we sometimes quake in our boots. (See my raised hand.)

But as my late mother told me in our final conversation before her passing, “Sometimes you have to lose to gain.” 

Growth = movement, and progress requires letting go of what’s in your hand now to take hold of the blessings that await.

When you feel at peace that you’re moving in the right ways and at the appointed time, go ahead and trust yourself – summon your courage and leap. 

As one of my favorite quotes suggests, your next-level joy is on the other side of your fear of the unknown – and your purpose-driven path may be there, too:

“What if I fall? Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com