“I’ve never been a big fan of flying.
Actually, I take that back; when I was seven I loved to fly. Lived for it really. Of course, this was back in the good ol’ days when parents forced their kids to wear ‘church clothes’ on airplanes and there was still something exotic about being served cafeteria food from a cart at 33,000ft. Back then, I used to have this little rolly suitcase that said ‘Going to Grandma’s’ in purple, swirly writing and I would pack it so full of Babysitters Club Little Sister chapter books and reusable sticker albums that it’s a wonder that the whole thing didn’t explode on takeoff.
But that was then.
Nowadays the thought of getting on an airplane makes me – uneasy. It’s not so much the flying through the air that gets me, it’s more the crashing and burning part that really sticks in my craw. Specifically, crashing into the ocean. Don’t ask me why that’s hypothetically worse than crashing into a hypothetical cornfield, it just hypothetically is.
I guess that’s why, when our family decided to start pursuing an international adoption, I began having stress dreams about the flight almost immediately. Forget assimilating a new human being into our family – I was worried about turbulence.
Start to finish, our adoption process took just over three years. Three years that I spent simultaneously longing to hold our son in my arms and sweating through t-shirts wishing away the 20-hour flight to go pick him up from the Philippines. ‘People fly all the time,’ my husband Brian would remind me. ‘You fly all the time!’
‘Not over oceans,’ I would always respond. ‘That’s different.’
And it was true. This flight would be different. But not because it was riskier or longer or transpacific-ier than any I’d been on before, but because what was waiting for us on the other side would change our lives and our family forever. So if we died on the way there – it would be a pretty big bummer. But as much as I worried and palpated over our impending flight, there wasn’t anything I could do to re-script our story and so I did what any good Millennial would do – I did some internet research on flying anxiety and bought some melatonin on Amazon.
During the two final weeks that led up to our trip, my fear of flying became extreme. I was so sure that something terrible was going to happen that I was choreographing every possible second with our older two boys so that they would have nice ‘final memories’ of me and their dad. Dinner at our favorite restaurant. Special one-on-one dates. Surprise lunch visits at school. It was sweet I guess, but also like really, really unnecessarily morbid. Because for me, every moment was covered with an aura of ‘this’ll be the last time,’ and I was wrecking myself when I should’ve been overwhelmed with excitement that our little boys were all finally going to be sleeping under the same roof.
When the morning of our trip inevitably arrived, Brian and I woke up at 3am to catch our flight for the first leg of the trip. We’d fly from Nashville to L.A. (a flight I had absolutely no concerns about) and then board another plane for the 14 ½ -hour flight to Manila. As Brian and I stood in Zone E waiting to board the plane, I noticed three frat-boy types lingering by the gate at the top of the jetway. I figured that they were probably embarking on some kind of beach-themed Bros Trip (not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course) and felt a twinge of jealously that they’d probably get on the plane, have a Red Bull vodka and start chillax-ing, without a care in the world. How dare they feel so Zen while I was standing five feet away doing deep breathing exercises and mentally running through emergency aviation protocols?
As the line to board the plane started to inch forward, a family with two small children merged in just ahead of us. The little boy and girl couldn’t have been more than four and six respectively and each had their own little travel neck pillow and rolly suitcase, just like I had when I was a kid. But instead of feeling comforted by these two pint-sized reminders of my entire lifetime of safe air travel, I felt a familiar surge of panic starting to rise up. I thought of my own kids, all safely on the ground on two different continents. And here I was, willingly getting on a plane to fly over really deep oceans, leaving the earth and them behind. What if I never got to see them again? Hug them again? What if the last time I said, ‘I Love You,’ to them, was actually the last time!?
Arguably, yes – I was making the entire situation worse by ping-ponging exaggerated worst-case scenarios around in my brain. And yes, I knew rehearsing worst-case scenarios is the best way to accelerate any anxiety attack into a full-blown panic party, but in the moment, there was nothing I could do to rein myself in. So while all the color drained from my face, I forced myself to walk the plank jetway, squeezing Brain’s hand really tightly and panic praying – not for a safe flight, that prayer felt out of reach, but for a peace that would carry me through the next 14+ hours.
Please God, please just help me calm down. Please help me not feel scared. Please help me trust in you. Please. Please. Please. I don’t want to be afraid.
Once we inched our way on board, Brian and I walked past the Business Class sleeping pods with their oodles of cup holders and ample space for reclining and back towards the rear half of the plane where regular folks sit with their knees and elbows touching. As we found our seats and set to work securing our neck pillows for optimal sit-sleeping, I looked up and saw the three Bros from the top of the jetway making their way towards us.
Please keep walking. Please keep walking. Please keep walking.
But they didn’t keep walking. The three Bros sat directly in front, directly across and directly next to us. We were surrounded. Suddenly, an announcement came over the PA system letting passengers know that there were extra seats available in Business Class for an upgrade fee. I turned to look at Brian. Maybe I would be less scared of dying if I had more legroom? We began to toy around with the idea of just asking how much it would be to move seats when we were interrupted by the Bro sitting next to us.
‘Hey, I’m Michael.’
Now, Michael happens to be Brian’s dad’s name and our oldest son’s middle name. It also happens to be the name of the most powerful archangel ever, who commands like all the guardian angels and acts as a protector to God’s people blah blah blah… But it’s also a very common name so I was not about to get all weird over some little coincidence. I was still in I-might-die-at-any-moment panic praying mode and there was pretty much nothing anyone could say to change that.
‘Do you guys know that Jesus loves you?’
Except maybe that.
Now normally, the idea of being stuck on a 14+ hour flight with someone who uses that line as an ice breaker would send me reaching for the airsick bag faster than you can say ‘bad peanuts,’ but on this day, when I’d been praying like a mad woman for some little sliver of comfort – it was exactly what I needed to hear.
Jesus loves you.
Okay, so maybe I didn’t get a full-on telegram from Heaven promising a smooth flight (we didn’t get a smooth flight either; somewhere over Guam we hit a pocket of air that caused our plane to drop a couple hundred feet. People screamed and I squeezed my eyes shut so tightly I think my eyebrows folded into my eyelids) but this was a close second.
Michael would chat with us periodically throughout the flight, asking if he could pray for us or if we wanted to be ‘Saved.’ At times I tried to avoid getting up to use the bathroom or making unnecessary eye contact with him for fear of entering into a ‘too intense for air travel’ conversation about the spiritual realm, but as much as his fervor for the Father made me uncomfortable, I wouldn’t have traded my seat on that plane for all the leg room in the world. Sure, our approach to spirituality differed in a lot of ways, but there is no doubt in my mind that Michael was sent as our guardian angel that day.
When our plane touched down in Manila, we parted ways with Michael. He went off with his Bros, who we’d learned by now were friends he was joining on a mission trip, and we went in search of our luggage and hotel. It was close to 8 p.m. and we only had about six hours to sleep until the next leg of our journey. As we stood waiting at baggage claim, Brian and I exchanged knowing glances about our time with Michael. We didn’t say much. It was too much to unpack at the time and we were whatever level of tired comes after exhausted. I think Brian’s exact words to me were: ‘We need to talk about that more later. There’s just a lot to say.’
But to this day, we haven’t talked about it much. It almost feels like to talk about it, would be to take away from the sanctity of the whole thing. Like if we try to assign words to those moments, they will evaporate into thin air. So we just hold those moments in our memories and know that we each experienced something really special. I know I can feel them still, even now that we’re back at home with all three of our sons and no overseas flights our the foreseeable future.
Because the God I love, he loves me too. Even when I’m scared to death because a flight (or my entire life) feels really turbulent, he’s always buckled up, sitting right beside me.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Kelly Bandas. Follow her journey on Instagram here and Facebook here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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