Last week, I got on a plane by myself and left the Middle East, heading to London alone. No husband. No children. Just me. I don’t regard myself as an overly anxious mother but judging from the embarrassing snot-fest at the airport, where my poor husband couldn’t stem the flow of my tears because of the rules banning public displays of affection, I may need to revise that view of myself. It turns out I am a mother who feels utterly naked and bereft without her posse of tweenies and wannabe tweenie.
The day before my trip, I went to the supermarket and bought wholesome food so my family would have easy, healthy meals to hand. I was still packing my bags at 10.30pm when we were due to leave for the airport, not because I’d been picking out which sparkly shoes to take or how many novels I might need for my lazy solo coffees in central London. Instead, I’d been writing labour-intensive lists about what needed to go to school on what day, what temperature to set the oven for dinner, what time the children needed collecting from school.
I had also distracted myself texting, and telling anyone who would listen, my fears about travelling so far away from the children, Friends texted back: Don’t worry, God’s in control. The children will be fine! They will appreciate you so much more once you’re back.
Don’t worry- God’s in control
It was 1am by the time we got on the plane. Whilst I don’t particularly like flying, I can do it without too much fuss provided there are no ominous noises and no turbulence. I pulled on my eye mask, desperate to sleep. I had a Christmas-shopping appointment with Oxford Street in a few hours. During take-off, I heard the sound of the wheels retracting, a sound that always makes me think the wings are coming away. Don’t worry, God’s in control, I reminded myself.
An hour later, as I was finally drifting off, with no warning, the plane plummeted about 300 feet, shaking us to our bones, leaving my stomach somewhere overhead in the night sky. I ripped off my eye mask. A man wearing an official looking badge- a steward maybe, someone with inside knowledge about our descent?- was struggling to belt himself up in the back row, his hands wrestling with the clip.
‘Jesus CHRIST!’ he roared. ‘JEEEEEZZZZuZ CHRISTTTTTT!!!!!!!’ His knuckles were white, his face ashen. Just to clarify for those who might think this was a spiritual moment where I felt comforted by a fellow believer- he didn’t sound happy, I didn’t like what he seemed to believe was happening and I didn’t feel comforted.
In fact, this man couldn’t have frightened me more if he’d told me to adopt the brace position and say my final good byes. There had been a helicopter and airline crash a few days before so his fears didn’t feel fanciful. I was terrified and pulled my eye mask down again to hide my renewed tears.
Clearly, it turned out well for us as I’m blogging about it but there was no sleep that night. The seat belt signs binged off and on with every subsequent 300 foot drop. The stewards decided to serve breakfast at 3.30am because they said the turbulence was only going to get worse…
Weird decision. Who wants to eat an omelette made from a packet mix, smelling like feet, when they’ve just been warned they may not actually live to digest it?!!!! I kept peeping behind my eye mask to stare at the Jesus Christ man as if he was some sort of herald for the apocalypse. Then, strangely, he vanished. Which made me feel worse.
The children will be fine/Jacks got this!
Later on, safely on Regent St, clutching my christmassy Spiced Pumpkin latte, finally in my happy place, slowly discovering that being naked of children can be fun, Jack sent me a photo of our youngest child’s face. I couldn’t quite recognize him from all the scabs and blood. ‘Can I send him to school like this tomorrow?’ he asked.
Our youngest had launched himself from a climbing frame after school and had face-planted into the ground below. I tried not to be a clingy mum- this could happen to any parent- but I lost a little faith in my friends’ reassurances that all would be fine whilst I was away.
The following morning, I was woken at 5.30am by a text from the children’s school: ‘We’re closing due to high levels of fumes in the building. Please collect your children ASAP.’ More fears crept into the fray as I called my husband to tell him to get the children I couldn’t collect because I was 3,000 miles away.
The children will appreciate you more
Now once again at home in the desert, I have been searching for evidence that the children missed me whilst I was away but I am yet to unearth any. Take last night’s exchange about my cooking:
Youngest child: ‘What’s for dinner tonight?’
Me: ‘Nigella’s veggie chilli with broccoli.’
Youngest: ‘Mummy, why do you make such DISGUSTING dinners??? Why can’t we have pizza every night like when Daddy looked after us?’
I had wondered why my healthy meals were in the freezer when I got back. Apparently, these were rebuffed in favour of takeaway pizzas. And the kids preferred it. In fact, they loved it! And so now I am questioning: is love best served in a pizza delivery box?!
Obviously, I don’t think so or I wouldn’t spend so long each week buying and preparing healthy family meals. I’d go with my children’s demands for pot noodles, ice cream and chocolate. It would be much simpler for me if I did. But like most parents, I’m looking ahead to the future as well as the present, wanting our children to be fit and healthy, to take care of themselves and, ultimately, to make good lifestyle choices when they fly the nest.
But kids don’t see that. They just want pizza. And sometimes the same is true of us too. We want what we want and we want it now.
Before I traveled to the UK, I prayed about the concerns and anxieties I had around leaving. If God had been a pizza delivery guy, if I could have rung him and put in my order, he’d have delivered:
– an upgrade on the plane!
– no turbulence and no ‘Jesus Christ’ guy
– no face-planting and no school fumes
I got none of these things. Why? Why does God not answer seemingly straightforward requests in the way we want him to? Why doesn’t he make life easier?! It doesn’t seem very loving to have let me fearing for my life on a plane when he knew I was already fearful.
The conclusion that last night’s exchange with my son leads me to is this: God knows a diet of easy, take out pizza is, ultimately, not good for us. Sometimes but not all of the time. It may satisfy the here and now but it’s not training us for the future, developing our characters and preparing us for the challenges ahead.
The Bible promises:
On the plane, I was tempted to fear. But the bit of the story that I haven’t yet revealed is the verse my friend texted me the same day I flew. As I sat crying behind my mask, I remembered it. It was the escape route God had mapped out even before I got on the plane.
God could have made it an easy, bump-free flight. I could have nodded off and dreamt about candy cane and all the treats I planned to buy the next day. Instead, I kept thinking on my friend’s verse. As we were shaken and knocked about, I was forced to trust God:
Because of the story behind my blog and the name I chose for it, the Bible’s references to God as a bird tending his young have special significance for me. My friend doesn’t know I write a blog or the name I gave it. They didn’t know I was catching a plane or that I was anxious. This person is someone from a completely different walk of life to me, living here in the desert, a fellow believer, practicing their faith quietly. Our paths don’t cross very often, apart from the encouraging texts we sometimes share, like the one they sent me that day.
As I recalled the verse, my tears stopped and I pictured the plane flying beneath God’s wing, covered over and safe under his protection. I felt peaceful, cosy even, snuggled beneath my blanket, my worship music playing in my headphones.
We may want to soar in life, not be bumped and jostled about, we may prefer first class to economy. We probably don’t want our faith tested and stretched. We almost certainly don’t want to wrestle doubt and have to learn to trust. We may want our fears alleviated, our healing realized, our marriages mended and our finances sorted. Now. Not after a long and painful wait.
Simply put, we may want love in a pizza box. On demand, just to our liking, no mess. But if we really are being trained for eternity, not just for today, then we must become like the children we are called to be. Not the children of our younger years but a new type of child. Child-like rather than childish, willing to trust our Father with the hard and inexplicable stuff. Able to trust when what we are being served is not what we would choose for ourselves. Able to discern and use the escape routes. A generation able to stand in the face of adversity.
‘But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God’ John 1:12
‘Then Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth. You must change and become like little children’ Matthew 18:3