Jennifer Sands: Yet Will I Trust Him
By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com Daily Life Producer
Jennifer and Jim Sands were a couple very much in love. Although they attended the same school, rode the same school bus, had mutual friends and lived just a few blocks from each other for 30 years, the two did not meet until they were set up on a blind date. Jennifer describes the moment as “love at first sight.” The couple bonded instantly and soon married.
“From that first day we were inseparable,” Jennifer said. “We enjoyed doing everything together.”
Jennifer worked as a pharmacist and Jim as a computer software engineer. Their busy work schedules only added to the enjoyment of their free time spent together, and they believed in playing as hard as they worked. They were both avid scuba divers and were training to become dive instructors. As successful professionals, they had a promising future and hoped to retire to the Caribbean island of Grand Cayman, their favorite spot to dive.
Jim’s job required a two hour commute from their home in Brick, New Jersey to his office on the 103rd floor of Tower One of the World Trade Center. On September 11, 2001, the day started out as every day before it. At 6 a.m., Jim kissed his wife good-bye and told her, “I love you.” Jennifer prayed for his safety, just as she had prayed every morning.
But this time, Jim did not return home.
The loss of her husband left her devastated. While many who lost loved ones in the 9/11 terrorist attacks were angry with the terrorists, Jennifer said most of her anger was directed at God because he failed to protect her husband.
“I’m not defending (the terrorists) or justifying it,” Jennfier said. “What they did was incomprehensible, but I didn’t pray to Osama Bin Laden every morning to please not attack our country. I prayed to God every morning to please keep Jim safe. Therefore, my anger was completely directed at God. I took it very personally.”
Prior to 9/11, Jennifer said her spiritual life was limited. She had never owned or read a Bible, and she had no understanding of what it meant to have a relationship with Jesus.
“I believed in God, obviously, because I prayed to Him every morning,” Jennifer said. “But I only had a superficial understanding about Jesus, and I never took the time or the effort to get to know Him. I just assumed that showing up in church every Sunday, in body not in spirit, was sufficient to protect me against anything bad happening in this life or the next.”
Jim’s death meant that Jennifer had to come to terms with the fact that God often allows pain and suffering in our lives. One thing that helped her, she said, is the many friends and family members that God put in her life during those tough times who encouraged her to refocus on the more positive aspects of her life.
She also began to read the Bible for the first time. From it she learned that God never promised to protect her from difficulties in life, but He did promise to be with her through them. For that reason, she felt she no longer had a valid reason to be angry with God.
Less than a year after Jim’s death, Jennifer attended a special tribute ceremony held in honor of her husband. In their favorite diving spot, the Cayman government created the Jim Sands Memorial Reef with a bronze memorial plaque on it. On the day of the dedication, the dive to see the site left Jennifer changed forever. It was her first dive without her husband and she was terrified, but she emerged from the water as a new person.
“There were things that happened on that dive that I have no explanation for except to say it was total divinity,” Jennfier said. “God’s grace and His love and His tender mercies were so indisputably evident to me on that dive. It was literally life-changing, and very soon after that is when I gave my life to Christ. I realized that I really can live the rest of my life without Jim, but I cannot live the rest of my life without Jesus.”
Jennifer’s two books, A Tempered Faith and A Teachable Faith document her struggles and spiritual growth after the death of her husband. She said she realizes now that before 9/11 her priorities were in the wrong place. She placed Jim in the center of her life, above God. She now cautions others to be careful that they are not making their spouses or loved ones idols that they treasure more than God.
“God would not want us to love anyone any less,” Jennifer said, “but the fact of the matter is that I cared far more about my relationship with my husband than I did about my relationship with my Creator. I loved the gift more than the Giver.”
Today she treasures her relationship with Jesus more than anything in her life, and she wants to help others know Him better. While she still works part-time as a pharmacist, her new mission in life is to connect with hurting people and offer them the hope that she has found in Christ.
She shares her story through speaking engagements at conferences and churches, something she never dreamed she would be doing. In fact, she said, Jim would laugh if he saw her these days because he knew well her fear of public speaking. Overcoming her fear and allowing God to use her is just another one of the lessons that God has helped her learn since 9/11.
Her message to audiences? Trust God regardless of what you go through in life. “The bottom line of my message is just trusting Christ through our entire life,” Jennifer said, “but especially through the trials and adversity that we encounter in our lives -- whether it’s the simple annoyances or, sometimes, the unthinkable things.”
“My advice is to tell people to trust that God will not permit a trial to come upon us unless He has a plan to bring a blessing out of it, and that He will give us the strength to endure that trial,” she said.
Since 9/11 she has had numerous times where her trust in God was tested.
One of those times occurred on September 11, 2004, two years after the terrorist attacks that killed her husband. The Jim Sands Memorial Reef and bronze plaque that had been dedicated in Grand Cayman two years earlier were destroyed by hurricane Ivan, a category 5 storm.
“The absolute irony of that is that I lost Jim on 9/11/2001, and two years later to the day I lost his memorial.” Jennifer said. “Both of them were gone on a single day of tragedy and neither of them will ever be recovered.”
Although she did not experience the anger and bitterness that she had five years before, the incident did leave her questioning God.
“I asked Him, ‘Why?’ Why would He allow this to happen? Why did He allow Katrina to happen or the tsunamis in Southeast Asia? We can say that 9/11 was an act of free will by man, which it was, but what about all of these natural disasters? Where does that all play in?” she said.
She believes God provided an answer in Deut. 29:29. “It says, ‘The secret things belong to the Lord,’” she said. “So it becomes a matter of just trusting that He has reason for it. He has a reason for everything He does. He does nothing arbitrarily.”
Our role, she said, is to keep trusting that God can see the bigger picture while we can’t, and He has our best interest in mind. She has seen in her own life how God has brought good out of tragedy.
“I think of emails that I get from my Web site,” Jennifer said, “and I think if this hadn’t happened to me, this person thousands of miles away would not have been touched by it. When you start seeing people’s lives touched by it then you know this is all worthwhile.”
“God used so many people in my life,” she said. “He planted so many people in my life to bring me to Him, and I believe He is using me and planting me in other people’s lives to lead them to Him as well.”
You can reach Jennifer through her Web site, www.JenniferSands.com.
Read an excerpt from Jennifer’s book, A Teachable Faith.
Purchase A Teachable Faith.
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More articles by Belinda on CBN.com
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