By Reid Creager Charlotte Observer
That late-summer morning in Portsmouth, N.H., began in typical, beautiful serenity. Cheryl McGuinness had just finished her prayers. Then came the storm of concerned phone calls and the black car at the end of her driveway.
An American Airlines official was in the car with news on September 11, 2001: Cheryl’s high school sweetheart and husband of 18 years, who she had kissed goodbye just hours earlier, was the co-pilot on the first plane that was hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center in New York City.
Tom McGuinness, love of her life and father of their teenage boy and girl, was gone. So was his co-pilot, nine flight attendants and 81 passengers on Flight 11 – five of them terrorists.
“I leaned on God from the earliest moments on,” she recalled on March 27. “I cried out to God. I fell to my knees before God.
“From the earliest crushing moments of hearing that news, I leaned on God through all of the hard times, through the joyous times He brought me, too – through the peaceful times.”
She’s had a long, torturous journey to any joyous and peaceful times. But with the help of her ministry, Beauty Beyond the Ashes, she wants others mired in despair to know they never need be alone. She’ll share her message at Calvary Church on April 20.
McGuinness said she started the ministry shortly after 9/11 as “a ministry of encouragement where I share the hope that we have in Christ, and help other people to see that regardless of their circumstances, they can get through if they put their trust and hope in Jesus.”
She emphasizes that no person’s pain can be judged as greater or lesser than another’s.
“The same God who loved me through my tragedy is available to each person who has a different circumstance and situation,” she said. “The way that I got through it was by one day at a time, putting my trust in God and looking to Him for the strength that I need.”
For more than 11 years, she’s had the added burden of questions from friends, acquaintances and the media about that hellish day – with renewed attention during the recent 10th anniversary of the tragedy. In her many appearances on national TV shows and interviews for major publications, she says achieving forgiveness was the hardest part of her recovery.
Yet peacefulness and open-mindedness are prevailing themes on her website www.beautybeyondtheashes.com. McGuinness says there should be no timetable for overcoming painful loss or severe disappointments, that everyone must grieve at their own pace and in their own way.
“I never really say how long it took me to get through my grief because it’s such an individual thing that I think it could do more harm than good to put a number on it for people,” said McGuinness, who still lives in Portsmouth. “They could feel bad about where they’re at.
“When you truly work through all of the grief process and get to the point of letting go of your grief, that’s a while. I recently learned of that last step of letting go of your grief. I had never heard about that before, and it makes sense.”
She makes no judgment about people who grieve without faith, saying only that “I think it’s a lot different to grieve with faith than to grieve without faith. I grieved with faith, and God healed me and brought me to a whole new place in life.
“Sometimes people get stuck because they don’t know the hope of Christ. I believe that my faith has healed me. That may not be the way it is for people who go through tragic circumstances.”
McGuinness acknowledges it’s common for people to be angry with God in the face of severe personal pain or loss.
“Their pain is real. Their emotion and feelings are real to them,” she said. “I don’t try to talk them out of it. I just tell them how God walked me through it and how I dealt with my emotions and my feelings, how God strengthened me and will do the same for them if they’re willing to trust Him.”
She’s pleased that her ministry has helped so many.
“There are many people who have shared with me their brokenness and their sadness, and their stories of their own life journeys. When they share their story, they tell me how they feel strengthened and encouraged to go on with their own life journey,” she said.