I was barely five years old and I can still clearly see her standing in that old farm house kitchen. My Mom was all sharp angles and over processed 80’s bleach blonde hair. She was turned towards the wall where the worn out rotary phone hung. One hand with glossy red fingertips worrying the cord stretched and kinked from years of users trying to gain privacy and the other clutching the receiver and the ever present Misty. Even before she glanced over her shoulder with the miserable, apologetic eyes saturated in tears I knew something was wrong. I was already in the process of trying to hustle my four year old sister into the other room. Maybe it was the still clear memories of the past year or so, or maybe it was a carefully honed survival skill but I could usually sense trouble with just enough time to make a swift exit.
Over thirty years ago and I can hear the tinkle of the bell on the door of the local Ben Franklin the next day. In case you didn’t know, Ben Franklins were the Midwest’s small town one stop shop back then. We passed the register, aisles of fabric and yarn, and racks of clothes to the very back of the store. Down a slight incline and past the reaches of sunlight streaming from the front windows, it smelled of musty old carpeting and even older building. But, it housed tall shelves lighted by flickering fluorescent lights and full of toys! Instead of being excited, this made me suspicious. My five year old senses were screaming that something was wrong. We did not go to a store and buy toys. In fact, I don’t remember even knowing this area, in the bowels of the store, even existed. And not only was my very quiet mother showing us the treasures back here, but she was telling us we could each pick out one thing. My sister immediately latched onto a My Little Pony play set. I already knew I didn’t want anything of what was going on. Whatever it was. But, Mom insisted. So, I gave in to the lure of the Cabbage Patch stuffed horse. I was relatively certain a stuffed animal would prove more useful than a My Little Pony carry along play set for what was coming and I tried to convince my little sister to do the same with no luck. My stomach dropped a little further as Mom pulled the necessary money, which she couldn’t spare, out of her black fringed leather purse.
I was right. My five year old brain struggled to understand what she was saying but I knew I was right. I didn’t want any part of this. We’d be going to live half across the country with our Dad. Just for a little while. While Mom got “better”.
In the main terminal of the airport in Minneapolis there was a large clock and a large plane. Well, at least they seemed enormous to my five year old memory. Clutching my stuffed horse, I was trying to figure out the plane inside the terminal, while I caught bits and pieces of the conversation at the ticket counter. Mom grabbed our tickets and we headed to the gate. In my child’s brain, I can hear the echo of her high heels to what seems the ticking of the second hand on that large clock. As we approached it, this is when my little sister started to catch on and start to cry. A sympathetic stewardess with bright red lip stick met us. “Unaccompanied minors”. She’d be responsible for seeing us safely from one parent to the other half across the country. A half hour later, in our seats across from the airplane’s galley so they could keep an eye on us, my sister was still hiccupping and trying to catch her breath. I’d given her my stuffed horse and the stewardesses had done their best to distract us. Including telling us they had a couple of extra first class breakfasts they’d get to us as soon as we took off, and would we like to meet the pilot and see the front of the plane? And look here, we’ve even got some pins just like pilots wear! Throughout the flight they gave us the promised breakfast, blankets, pillows, and headphones that plugged into the armrest. Then, took turns trying to entertain the two scared, heart broken, confused little girls holding hands.
I’ve flown out of that same airport, same terminal, a couple dozen times since then. And every. time. I fight panic attacks and nausea. Just the thought of flying out of there would cause me anxiety for weeks beforehand. As soon as I’d come through the doors, I’d fight to see past the blur the crowds of people would become. To hear more than just the clicking of high heels, my head spinning to try to focus on their source. Is it high heels or that dreaded clock? I’d make my way sweating, through security and to the plane where I’d focus on chewing my gum and disappearing into a book.
This last week I had the opportunity to fly to Chicago to attend a Patient Advisory Board meeting with the pharmaceutical company and an organization called Global Genes which provides support and advocacy for rare diseases. As soon as I got my flight information I heaved a sigh. Terminal 1. By the night before I was to fly out I wanted badly to stay in and hide in my blankets for the night. Instead, I decided talking with my sixth grade girls in my youth group about Jesus was preferable to self pity. Instead, I spent the night worshiping and learning alongside young disciples.
The morning of my flight I was packed and ready to go an hour early. I listened to my favorite worship songs on Youtube and went over my flight information, hotel reservation, and meeting times a couple dozen times. Hubby, my mother in law, and Mini Hubby dropped me off. I cried for missing my babies already and made my way through the double doors. I was at the gate before I realized….nothing happened. No panic attack. No nausea. No flashback. No blurring of vision and weird hearing. Instead, my check in kiosk was at the far end of the terminal, right next to security and far away from the dreaded clock. While in line in security, I was entertaining an adorable two year old protesting her confinement to a stroller and listening to a couple dozen students excitedly anticipating their first flight behind me. A beautiful old woman in a wheelchair was wheeled in front of me at the TSA agent and I was wondering if she would have to take off the couple dozens of bracelets, giant earrings, and matching necklace she wore. I wonder if she’s headed to see family. Her bright pink lips and smile says she’s going to see someone special.
So I’m sitting at the gate, in awe of my calm, and pull out my “Show Them Jesus” book I’m committed to finishing while I’m away. I pull out my earbuds and pull up Youtube to the next song on my “suggested” list.
I can’t even make this stuff up! Thank you, Jesus!