A Second Chance At Life: Tom Joyce Reflects on 9/11

Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day are often celebrated with barbeques and parades, but they are also a time to remember the men and women who serve our country to protect our freedom. Tom Joyce is just one of the many who have served our country. Tom graduated from the Naval Academy and trained TOPGUN. He later went on to work in the Pentagon and was in the office on 9/11 when terrorists attacked the United States. We interviewed him five years ago and he recounted for us what that day was like and how it challenged him to question what God wanted to do with his life.

 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”  James 1:2-4

Tom reflects what it was like on 9/11 when terrorists hijacked a Boeing 757 and slammed into the Pentagon where his office was located.

“My office was on the fifth floor. The Pentagon consists of five floors and five concentric rings. My office was on the side of the impact point. When the airplane hit the building, it penetrated right directly underneath us and took out all of the windows and debris and despite of wiping out all of the three floors below us were still standing…I was working that morning at my desk and someone said, ‘Hey Captain Joyce, you need to come see the television here…an airplane just hit the World Trade Center in New York.’ …We all watched the aftermath of the first airplane hitting the first tower. And then like many people, we saw that the second one hit live…We were on alert, not officially, but we thought some attack is going on somewhere and we might obviously be a target at the Pentagon…But what do you do? You don’t leave your post, so we were there to work that day and I went back to work and I remember I was specifically looking out the window…and that’s when the airplane hit the Pentagon.” 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.  For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. 2 Corinthians 1:3-5

Experiences like that have the power to paralyze or motivate people. In Tom Joyce’s case, it became a catalyst for him to become a pastor. He shares about the aftermath of his experience.

“We prayed a lot together as a family. [Within a short time] I got a phone call from one of the pastors at our church, I had been serving there as an elder at the time, and he told me about [a man] who was missing. He asked me if I would go with him [to the man’s home], he wanted me to talk to the family as a military person and tell them that their dad was not coming home. His office was at the E ring impact point and nothing was ever found about him…Later that night when I got home, it was probably 10:00, I opened the front door and could see the light on upstairs. As I put my foot on the step to go upstairs, my eldest son spoke out, ‘Dad!’ ‘Dad, I’m so thankful that God spared your life when it hit the Pentagon, I’m just so thankful that God spared your life.’ Then he stepped back and was looking at me and said, ‘Can I ask you a question?’ I could tell words were coming to him, but he couldn’t get them out yet. He was pretty emotional and he said, ‘Dad, I’m so thankful God spared your life from the Pentagon, but Dad, what are you going to do with the rest of your life now? God spared your life, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?’ In my military career I really had reached the pinnacle…I knew I was going to retire [here] as a Navy Captain, but my son’s question was really a catalyst for me to be seeking the Lord for my steps. I had been going to seminary at night taking classes…[My son’s] question was really a catalyst that caused me to consider praying about what was next. It was also at that time that our church, where I had been serving as an elder, approached to consider coming on staff as a pastor, a discipleship pastor.” 

Risen Reflections

Trials, Tribulation and Trauma. When faced with a challenge, where do you turn to? God wants to comfort you during the hard times and He wants to help guide you. Turn to him through prayer and reading the Bible. From family drama to persecution for their faith, the Bible is filled with examples of people who were faced with trials.

What are you going to do with the rest of your life? Whether you are getting ready to graduate college or you are having a mid-life crisis, God wants you to turn to him for wisdom and direction. It might mean changing your career, taking a ministry class, volunteering at church, or mentoring someone. Remember God doesn’t call us to a life of comfort. He will equip you for the work that He has called you to do. It is our responsibility to be obedient as He guides and directs us.

Be a comfort to others. When others are going through a hard time, ask them how you can help. From listening to sharing ways you got through similar situations, God wants us to be an encouragement to others. Sometimes grabbing a cup of coffee and offering to pray with someone will be the catalyst for helping them overcome a situation. Pray and ask God to show you a friend, co-worker, or neighbor that you can encourage this week.

To read our entire interview with Tom Joyce click here