The 700 Club with Pat Robertson

Cheryl McGuinness

Founder of Beauty Beyond the Ashes Ministry, ministering God's love and healing through brokenness (especially to women)

Corporate Manager for Guidant Corp. for 13 years

Navy wife for 12 years

Education: B.A. in Human Resource Management from the University of Massachusetts

Mother to Jennifer and Tommy

P. O. Box 6616
Portsmouth, NH 03802-6616
Beauty Beyond The Ashes
(Howard Publishing Co., 2004)

Cheryl McGuinness: Widow of 9-11 Co-pilot Shares Her Inspired Mission

By The 700 Club A Life Changing Day

Cheryl McGuinness has found hope and strength in God after the death of her husband, Tom. The last time she saw him was the morning of September 11, 2001. It started as a typical day for them in their 18-year marriage. He had an early morning flight and kissed Cheryl goodbye. Then, during her devotional time a few hours later, Cheryl kept receiving phone calls from their friends, Chris and Bob, asking how Tom was and his whereabouts. Finally, Chris told Cheryl that a plane had been hijacked and to turn on the television. Cheryl tried paging and calling Tom, getting no response on either one. She then tried to call a few other American Airlines pilots to see if they knew what flight Tom was on. When she did finally get through to someone, no one would tell her what was going on. Soon, people started coming to her house with looks of concern on their faces. Then, her pastor came to her house.

Shortly after this, a big, black car drove up to the house, and several men in dark suits came to the door. One of the men told Cheryl that American Airlines Flight 11 had been hijacked, crashed into the World Trade Center in New York City, there were no survivors, and that Tom had been the copilot on that flight. Shock overwhelmed her, and she felt as though her heart had been ripped out. She had to hold onto her pastor's arms to keep from collapsing.

As she cried, she realized she had to tell her teenage children, Jennifer and Tommy, what had happened. Her friends Jeff and Vickie brought Cheryl to the school. At the principal's office, Cheryl told her children; "Jesus has called Daddy home." They then clung to each other and cried. Though it was comforting to know that Tom was with Jesus, Cheryl wondered how she would survive without him. Friends and family soon heard the news and rallied around Cheryl and the children.

Cheryl remembered one of the last things that Tom told her, "If anything ever happens to me, you have to trust God. God will get you through it. Just surround yourself with loving people, people who know Christ, people who will surround you in Christlike love."

Even through the worst storms of life, Cherly has learned that God is there, even orchestrating circumstances throughout our lives.

A Visit to Ground Zero

Another key lesson that Cheryl learned was about forgiveness, especially for the terrorists, which she believes is very important. The first time Cheryl had to deal with forgiveness was when she went to the World Trade Center to participate in the Victim Compensation Fund on July 8, 2002. When she finally arrived at Ground Zero, Cheryl felt overwhelmed. Thoughts flooded her about how the events might have unfolded that day. She looked into the pit where the remains of the building once stood. As she looked at the remains, her eyes fixed on the only steel structure left standing. It was in the shape of a cross. She kept looking from the pit to the cross and her eyes focused on the cross. She said, "Lord, they killed my husband." She saw herself at the foot of the Cross. She felt like God was telling her to forgive the terrorists who did this. She asked Him why. She felt like the Lord told her, "Because I forgave you." Cheryl didn't necessarily want to, but from then on she made a commitment to actively forgive the terrorists for what they did to Tom and to the nation. She felt as though she were kneeling at the base of the Cross, guilty of her own offenses against God and others, with God's forgiveness to her. At that moment she felt gratitude for what Christ did on the Cross for the sins of humanity, and she felt that she would be reunited with Tom someday. She also realized that she had a choice to forgive the evil of 9/11 and the pain it caused her or remain in hatred. She chose to forgive.

From this commitment her perspective grew. She was determined to share Christ's love and forgiveness with others. She had a new vision to lead her children and minister to others. She learned that we must apply God's forgiveness - we must do it ourselves. We must live out God's truths. After she left New York City, God granted more opportunities for her to speak publicly about forgiveness.

Today Cheryl can honestly say she has forgiven the terrorists. Out of that the outflow of her ministry came. She still struggles, but she understands God and loves Him more. She wants to be an encourager for anyone, but she mainly has a heart for women. God's concepts of compassion, mercy, trust, obedience, love, and mercy are no longer just words but a reality to her. The tragedy of 9/11 has brought Cheryl a new revelation of who God is and His ways. What she wants people to see through her experience is that her relationship with God is different. The challenge through tough times is to ask yourself, What does God want you to do with the difficulty? A person has to love God more that the difficulty or human emotions.

Focus on the Feast

Where do we go from there? It is easy to slip back and focus on what happened, but what helps Cheryl move on is to Focus on the Feast, or celebrate all that He has given to us and know that He is preparing more blessings for tomorrow. She says it can be easy to focus on what we don't have or what we lost. Only when we focus on the eternal perspective and try to see everything from God's eyes can we go on with life. When she struggles with what she doesn't have, she focuses on and celebrates all that God has given her. This, Cheryl says, takes training and discipline, but the more she focuses on God and what she has in Him, the more that she can see that what God offers is more than what she desires.

Cheryl's Testimony

Cheryl grew up in a Catholic home. She went to a Christian camp with a girlfriend at the age of 13. A young man witnessed to Cheryl at camp, and she accepted the Lord. Though she accepted the Lord, she continued to have a shallow, religious knowledge of God and not a more personal relationship.

She met Tom when she was a sophomore and he was a senior in high school. They married four years later. When they married, they had similar values and religious beliefs; they went to church on Sunday. After a few years into their marriage, they both had more of a hunger for God.

Tom didn't have a "formal" salvation experience, but after extensive study of the Bible, he just believed that God's message was true.

Throughout the rest of their lives together, God was the center and priority of the McGuinness family. Tom's legacy to his children was passing on godly principles and character. To this day the family gleens from the time and influence of Tom's life.

Though it has been tough, Cheryl, Jennifer, and Tommy have chosen hope after crisis. Jennifer is in college, and Tommy is in high school. He is taking flying lessons and hopes to go to flight school. Through the crisis of 9/11, their faith in God has strengthened them, their family relationship is even more solid, and they are each growing personally.

Cheryl says that as Jesus rose, we can rise, too. The ashes from September 11th have been made new in the Lord.

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