This is the story of how got from there to here.
In 2001, I was a partner in a law firm. I was managing other attorneys and doing hiring for the firm. I had no thought of ever being anywhere else.
I had a great husband and two beautiful daughters, ages 6 and 2. Money was not an issue. We were talking of moving out of our current house to a bigger, better one. Still, something was missing. And I knew that something that was missing was in me. I was not happy.
I was a good attorney but not always a nice one. My idea of managing people was to have them do what I said to do and excel at it. If you did that, then great, you got to keep your job. If not, well, that was another story. Problem was, I was never satisfied with anyone else. Anyone. Else.
The wise reader knows that means that I was not satisfied with myself.
I didn’t like the way I behaved when other lawyers behaved badly. I joined in and tried to beat them at their own game. I didn’t like some of the lawyers I dealt with at all. And one—well, I really didn’t like him. A New York attorney with a lot of attitude and bravado. Much like the Baltimore attorney I had come to be.
On September 11, 2001, I was at a big law firm in a big deposition working on a big case. We were all important in the room and we knew it. During the deposition, we put on the record that the first tower had been hit. A few minutes later, we put on the record that that the second had been hit. At that time, the deposition was adjourned and I started an 8 hour drive home on back roads from Wilmington, Delaware to Baltimore. I had 8 hours to think.
I was upset, crying, and angry. It was the first time I’d allowed myself to let my anger at myself surface. Through a horrible, tragic, never-to-be-forgotten event, I learned something very valuable. I was very unhappy. I had a lot of time to think, to sort of pray (I wasn’t sure I believed in God but this seemed like a good time to chew him out just in case He existed).
After 9/11, I started searching. I went to some different churches. Growing up in the Catholic church (sort of, we went sporadically), I was not eager to return there. I was pretty left-leaning, and my image of the Catholic church was pretty draconian. I grew more frustrated.
One Sunday, by myself, I went to a church where, for some unknown and inexplicable reason, my anger (at myself, at others, at the Catholic church) melted. It just melted. And I didn’t know why.
This was not exactly prime time for the Catholic church. Things were bad in the larger church, really bad. In this church, for some reason, however, I heard something I needed to hear that helped melt years of deep-welded anger at others and myself.
I attended every Sunday on my own for about 8 months, sometimes with kids in tow. Then I coaxed my husband into coming. I taught what then was called “religious education” to 5th graders because I thought, well, I could learn what I wanted to know at about that level.
We started participating more in this local church. I got involved in different areas. At this time, my church was changing too, recognizing that it hadn’t been doing the job it should have been doing to attract people to meet God. My husband and I started giving money in a way that was actually sacrificial—we felt it. It hurt a little bit. In a good way.
I started to think differently about others and the world around me. I started to think about being something other than an attorney that fixed corporate problems for people I never saw. I approached my managing partner and told him I might want to do something else. For three years, he convinced me (he’s a great attorney!) that I should stay.
One day, when snowed in at a hotel in Roanoke, VA after an emotionally draining deposition where I represented a corporation where I knew no one and nothing other than the specifics of the product that corporation made, I got an email from a staff member at my church asking if I ever considered coming on staff at the church. I wrote back, “What a coincidence! I was just thinking about that!” The staff member wrote back, “Kathleen, there are no coincidences.” I shut my computer, amazed at how weird Christians could be, and tried to get that response out of my mind.
It never left my mind. I met with the staff person and we realized that I just couldn’t take that kind of pay cut without some serious reduction in debt. My husband and I worked really hard for about 2 years to eliminate as much debt as possible. I told my partner I was going part time. He asked me to try it for the summer only, and I did. From that trial run, I realized I was ready to move out of law practice. I went part time at my firm in January, 2009 and part time at my church at the same time. By April, 2009 I left my firm altogether.
I took a six figure pay cut thinking we would be in dire straits within months of the change. Somehow, some way, we made it work, in no small part because we realized how much money we were wasting before.
I stayed at my church for three and a half years in various capacities. I learned so much about leadership and operations and how to manage people. I’m now still very connected to my church but working in a faith-based non profit in a director legal role, not practicing but managing how legal ministry can be done in churches.
Today I think back to October, 2001 more than September, 2001. In October of that year, I went back to continue a deposition in a big case with big and important people. That New York attorney that I did not like was a major player. The continuation of the deposition had to be rescheduled a few times because of the 9/11 tragedy. In October, we reconvened in New York.
New attorneys were there. Because some of the old ones were dead.
One of the 9/11 victims was the New York attorney I didn’t like. The one so much like me, in retrospect.
I still have the transcript of the deposition I was in that adjourned during the twin towers attacks, as well as the mail I received from this disliked New York attorney dated September 11, received on September 13.
I have no words to reconcile my feelings about this attorney or even the entire tragic event that touched so many, directly or indirectly.
But I am thankful for the post-9/11 process that happened (coincidence? I don’t think so these days).
When people asked me what brought me back to church, I simply say “9/11” and that is enough for them. But it’s really a story of a process and of people, those I liked and didn’t like, who made me reevaluate who I was and who I wanted to be. Still a work in progress, but more on track than I was. Still living in my little house, where I’ll stay I’m sure until one of my daughters drives me to the retirement home.
Does God cause awful events like 9/11? No, I don’t think so. But “we know that all things God works together for good.” Romans 8:28. He can use events, however awful, however ungodly, for good.
What good has God worked in your life out of a tragedy?