Wendy's goal on this visit is to ensure that I cry "Uncle!" and admit that she can exercise me under the table. It is apparently a challenge to prove that I may talk a good talk, but I am actually just an East coast wimp, used to sunshine, warmth, and level paths.
She is correct.
But before I get sidetracked by the muddy, rain-drenched joy of a 3-mile walk with Wendy that my body assured me was at least ten miles...let me tell you about a divine appointment on the plane trip over to this wonderful ego-deflating adventure.
I sat down with my phone loaded with hours and hours of books. I never get five straight hours to indulge in reading, and the trip to Seattle is long. I couldn't wait to cocoon in my little self-absorbed capsule and read. The first leg of the journey was only about an hour and a half, but I eagerly popped open my kindle App on my phone and nestled into my middle seat.
The young man by the window was adorable. He was obviously on a very rare plane flight, and was taking pictures out the window even before the plane took off. He smiled at me with wide-eyed delight. I made the fatal mistake of smiling back when I snuck a peek at the receding skyline of Charlotte.
"It's just so pretty!" he said, catching me peering out the window as we took off.
"It sure is," I said, giving the subtle hint of continuing to read my book.
"I love to see the clouds. So many people don't even look."
I glanced up. "I do too. I love the window seat but usually end up on the aisle so I can get out more easily if I need to. Is this your first flight?" I kept my phone on, the words of my book gleaming so he could see this was just a brief polite interlude.
"Well I am returning home now with my father's ashes in that backpack under the seat. I sprinkled half on the east coast, and will sprinkle the other half on the west coast. He always wanted to travel, but never did."
I shut off my phone.
"I'm so sorry," I said, "That must be very hard for you."
Thus began an hour and a half of the young man telling me about a difficult life, but one which he viewed with remarkable maturity. The deceased father clearly had no chance of capturing "father of the year" award, but the young man said he knew his dad had been struggling to find something he never found.
This of course was the opening God always seems to provide, and I shared with him the hope and peace and joy I found in Jesus. The young man had known God in his youth, but had fallen away. Much of his moving from God was due to the struggle with the question of why bad things happen to good people. I told him I struggled with that too, and in fact, wrote books that dealt with that issue. I gave him my promotional bookmark and told him to contact me and I would send him one of my books that I thought might help.
He revealed that his dad had committed suicide and his whole family was beating themselves up over what they might have done to prevent that. He worried that his dad once knew God, but felt this showed he no longer did. The young man was sad, because he had embraced the gospel as a youth, though his faith was shaken now. But what about his dad? It was clear he wanted to see his dad again, and the suicide and what it demonstrated about his father's lack of faith convinced him that would never be possible.
"The Bible says our salvation cannot be lost, or taken from us. We have to choose to give it up," I said. "If your dad truly knew Jesus, maybe he didn't lose his faith. Maybe he was just weak."
The young man brightened, and said that when he heard of his father's death, he was terribly distraught, and having a drink with a friend. Suddenly, he felt a presence. It was immensely comforting, almost as if his dad was right there, assuring him it would be all right.
"Perhaps that was God telling you you would see your dad again. Terrible things happen in this world," I said, "And the older I get, the more terrible things I see. The best thing I have found to do with the pain of living is not to ask why, because that is a useless question, but to ask what do I do from here? If I can use my pain to help others, it gives meaning to some of the horror. I think the only way to make it is to keep your eyes on Jesus, keep an eternal perspective. C.S. Lewis said that every hunger in humans can be satisfied - hunger, thirst, sex, sleep...We can meet every one of those needs and it makes sense that they are there so we will seek to satisfy them. In fact it is necessary to life that we satisfy them. It makes sense as well that the universal longing to live forever, for eternity, is capable of being satisfied. Eternity is real."
I had 37 minutes to make my connection. The plane had landed, and taxied to the gate.
"You better go now!" the young man urged, not wanting me to miss my flight to sunny Seattle.
"I'll be praying for you," I said, dashing away, grateful God had urged me to close my book.
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!”