Raising a Hero
by Greg Asimakoupoulos
Since the tragic events surrounding September 11, our nation has taken a fresh look at the importance of having heroes to look up to. For several generations, movie stars, television personalities and sports celebrities have occupied the pedestal once reserved for the brave and courageous. But when the foundation of freedom is threatened, heroes find their appropriate place on the stage of history. We saw that in firefighters, police officers and EMTs at Ground Zero.
We were also introduced to another group of heroes who on September 11 spent the last moments of their lives overtaking the terrorists on United Airlines Flight 93. Because of their bravery, a hijacked plane on a crash-course to the White House plunged instead into a rural field in Southwestern Pennsylvania. One of the better-known heroes aboard United Airlines Flight 93 was Todd Beamer, a 32-year-old businessman from Princeton, New Jersey. Todd, a committed Christian and father of two preschool-age boys was also the devoted husband of Lisa, with whom he had graduated from Wheaton College in 1991. Todd and Lisa had just returned from a vacation to Italy and were looking forward to the birth of their third child in January. (Morgan Kay Beamer, a little girl, was born on January 9, 2002).
Before Todd and the 43 others aboard United Airlines Flight 93 perished, he attempted to call his wife to say goodbye. When he couldn't reach her, Todd called a GTE Airfone operator who later relayed his conversation and words of farewell to Lisa Beamer. As the media picked up this heartrending account, it was learned that Todd asked the operator to pray The Lord's Prayer with him.
Ironically, the home Bible study that Todd and Lisa belonged to were in the process of studying The Lord's Prayer. But that wasn't the first exposure Todd Beamer had to that remarkable little prayer. It was at his mother's knee, that Todd first learned to approach a holy God as a loving Father and request His daily provision and forgiveness.
Just what does it take to raise a hero? The accounts of Todd’s faith and his “Let’s Roll!” approach to life, which circulated through the media, captivated my attention. As the first anniversary of September 11 approaches, I interviewed Todd’s mother, Peggy Beamer, in hopes of discovering what they did to raise a son who would leave heroic footprints on this earth.
Greg: What were you doing on that unforgettable morning last September?
Peggy: It was a beautiful morning so I decided to take advantage of the fresh fall day and run some errands. When I heard about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on my car radio, my mind was no longer on my “to do” list. Thinking about all those who had been killed or hurt really bothered me. I just wanted to get home. Once at home, I heard about the plane that went down in Pennsylvania. I couldn’t believe it.
Greg: When did you first find out that Todd was on that plane?
Peggy: As far as I knew, Todd and Lisa were still in Italy on a trip he’d won with Oracle (the computer company he worked for). I hadn’t realized that they had returned that Monday the 10th. My daughter Melissa called from Michigan concerned for her brother. She had reason to think Todd might be flying to the west coast and was trying to get information as to his whereabouts. A little while later, Lisa called and told me that she thought Todd was booked on United Airlines Flight 93.
Greg: How did you respond?
Peggy: Because Lisa was very calm as she told me what she suspected, I was able to maintain my composure. Not wanting to consider the worst case scenario, I thought of what might have occurred that would have kept Todd from making his flight. I didn’t want to believe that he actually had been on that doomed plane. When Lisa called later Tuesday afternoon with confirmation that Todd had made his flight, my world went dark. I had this horrible sinking feeling as I placed a call to my husband who was at a business meeting in California.
Greg: Tell us about your son.
Peggy: Todd was our middle child. We have an older daughter Melissa and a younger daughter Michele. He was a great kid and an exemplary husband and father. He was a handsome all-American boy and quite successful in business. But far more important, he loved Jesus and served the Lord. Even though he traveled quite a bit in his business, he was active in his church. He and Lisa taught the high school Sunday school class and were involved in a young adult home fellowship group.
Greg: What concrete things did you and David do that molded your children’s spiritual development?
Peggy: We attended church and Sunday school as a family regularly. Even though my husband’s work required that he travel extensively, we never sacrificed church attendance on the altar of convenience or to compensate for time together at home. We insisted that Todd and his sisters participate in the youth group at the churches we attended. In addition to enrolling all three kids in Christian schools, we also encouraged their involvement in Vacation Bible School and summer church camps. I know I’m not the only mother who prays for her kids, but that is one thing I did religiously. On a daily basis, I brought my concerns about them before the Lord. I also read the book of Proverbs aloud at the breakfast table each morning. Since there are 31 chapters in Proverbs, we read the whole book each month and then started over. To help keep the kids’ attention, I looked for one verse in each day’s reading that I could apply to their lives.
Greg: What values do you and David hold that shaped Todd’s character?
Peggy: We never hid the fact that our relationship with the Lord was the most important priority in our lives. Todd observed us “practicing” our faith at home and at church. Bible study, prayer, and playing Christian music on the stereo were important. But so was the way in which we responded to difficult people or disappointments in life.
Todd also knew that the second most important priority in our lives was our marriage. David and I have worked at maintaining our relationship. The fact that my husband travels frequently has forced us to budget time with each other for shared meals, walks and in-depth conversation. Todd’s job as a software executive required he travel extensively too; but because of what he observed in our marriage, he was able to replicate a similar commitment with Lisa.
We also valued our children as gifts from the Lord. From the time our first child was born, David and I determined that our faith would affect the way we raised our children. We supported them in an atmosphere of unconditional love. We encouraged them when they battled low self-esteem or were berated by bullies at school. But we did not hesitate to discipline them through grounding or a swift swat on the behind (when they were smaller). Dave and I also were quick to apologize to Todd and his sisters when it became obvious that we had jumped to conclusions or over-reacted.
Greg: What other values did Todd observe as he grew up in your home that accounted for his personal integrity at work and at home?
Peggy: We taught our kids, by example, that there is no back door to marriage. We worked through our difficulties instead of placing blame or walking away from conflict. There is no divorce on either side of our extended families and that’s a legacy for which we thank the Lord and aim to continue. In that same way, we modeled that everything we do matters to God and should be approached accordingly.
Greg: Can you give me an example of what you mean?
Peggy: Work is important and, therefore, the way we approach our vocation should be as unto the Lord. In the Beamer home it was expected that dad’s office work or the kids’ school work be done with excellence. But work is only one aspect of life. A relationship with the Lord and with family members is more important than a person’s job. Balance is the key. Being punctual is a key value for us too. It’s a way of honoring other people and honoring God at the same time. Even carrying out the garbage is an opportunity to do everything to the glory of God. In our home the kids were encouraged to be grateful and not grumble.
Greg: Adolescence is as much a growing time for kids as it is for parents. What did you do to anticipate the inevitable challenges Todd would face as a teenager?
Peggy: Having had a running start with Melissa, we were a little more prepared for Todd’s entrance into young adulthood. But the issues that boys face are different from those for girls. Dave and I were proactive. We prepared ourselves for the issues of peer pressure that figure into so much of junior high and high school years. We read solid Christian books on parenting. We prayed a lot. And we encouraged Todd’s involvement in sports. He loved to play basketball, baseball and soccer. Fortunately, Todd never went through a period of active rebellion. But when the time came for him to transition from living under the drip-line of his parent’s umbrella of faith and holding his own, Dave and I recognized that Todd would ultimately be responsible for his own decisions. We reached the point where we had to be content that we had done our best and trusted the Lord with the rest.
Greg: What would you like people to remember most about Todd’s life and faith?
Peggy: That Todd was a man of faith, a man of God, a man who consistently did his best to do the right things. These were mostly small daily things, but important things noticed by his family and friends. He was consistent to the end. He prayed, doing the right and important thing on his last day – this time noticed by many.
One of Todd’s favorite verses was Micah 6:8, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”