Cheryl McGuinness knows exactly what it means to feel crushed, alone and confused. On the morning of September 11th, 2001, Cheryl kissed her husband good-bye. She never saw him again. Tom was the co pilot of American Airlines Flight 11 from Boston to Los Angeles, the first plane to crash into the World Trade Center.

“It’s a day I will never forget. When I first heard the news, my phone starting ringing at home and it was a friend asking for Tom. I told him he was flying to California. He asked me if I had the television on. I didn’t. He told me a plane had been hijacked. I thought that was really crazy. Planes don’t get hijacked here in America. Then I turned on the television and saw all those confusing images like everybody else saw. Then, the chief pilot came to my house and gave me the official word that Flight 11 had been hijacked and deliberately flown into the World Trade Center and there were no survivors. I was devastated, hysterical and screaming, ‘No God, please don’t call him home.’”

At that moment, Cheryl was in a state of shock.

“It took some time for it to really sink in. I just received word my husband was gone and then we went to war. It was so surreal. It was very difficult in those early days.”

Empowered by faith, Cheryl, now a single mom and widow, says she gradually recovered from the tragedy.

“Tom and I were Bible study leaders together. We raised our children in a Christian home with a strong foundation in faith. It was strong before 9/11, but after 9/11, there wasn’t anything in this world I thought I could depend on. The world felt like it was going crazy. I didn’t know what I could lean on. But I did know for sure I could lean on my faith and the promises God makes to us.”

In her book, Beauty Beyond the Ashes, Cheryl tells her story of loss and offers encouragement to those of us recovering from tragedy of all kinds. People affected by difficulties such as a long illness of a loved one or a divorce can benefit as well. Cheryl, who draws her strength from God, says recovery starts with forgiveness.

“When I went to the World Trade Center for the very first time, I was standing at the pit. I saw the metal structure that the rescue workers raised up in the shape of a cross. I thought to myself, ‘God, this is so evil and destructive…ruined my life…what do you want me to do now?’ So, clearly I was convicted God was saying, ‘I want you to forgive because I forgave you.’ With all that happened to my Lord on the cross and what He suffered, He knew my pain personally and wept with me. Then, I came to understand God’s love through that process. If I didn’t forgive, the anger, the resentment, the bitterness would harden my heart and I didn’t want that for my children or me. So, I started praying, ‘God help me to forgive the evil that’s been done.’ Only in His power and in His strength was I able to say that God’s love is greater and my heart is filled with His love.It has washed away the anger, the bitterness and the resentment that I have. Now, I can clearly see the beauty of a new life that God has given me.”

As a national speaker for her ministry, a ministry that provides support and encouragement to victims of loss and violence, Cheryl McGuinness talks about the healing power of forgiveness. In her words, “If you harbor anger, it will destroy you. Anger soon turns to bitterness and bitterness renders the heart hard and unloving. You become like those who have hurt you.” In other words, bitterness defeats life; forgiveness carries it on. Words of wisdom from a woman of faith!

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