In honor of National Adoption Month.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Psalm 19:1 (NIV)
April 22, 2002: I sat in a speechless daze on an idling plane on a remote runway at Washington Dulles International Airport. The enormous jets were lined up single file waiting their turn to depart. Out my window, a small American flag waved briskly from a pile of rusty, abandoned airport machinery. Just seven months earlier, terrorists had transformed a typical September morning into 9/11, a date that will forever symbolize ultimate hate. The flag was a sudden reminder of all that is noble in America. Since then, I, like many Americans, have been a little more passionate about our homeland and our flag. Overcome by an unexpected wave of love, patriotism, and fear, my eyes filled with tears. The lump was there in my throat, the proverbial physical clutch that embodied my emotional and spiritual panic. But my emotions were on overload for reasons beyond nostalgia; my entire life was about to change in a dramatic and permanent way.
I glanced at my watch again, 6:32 p.m., two minutes behind our scheduled departure. My impatience reflected my anxieties, and there were many. Might there still be time to run from the plane? But the hulking Aeroflot jet lurched forward voiding the impulse. I looked out my window, wondering if I would ever see this land again or if life would ever return to normal. With the roar of those massive engines firing, the speed increased, and the forward thrust seemed to glue me to my seat. There was a terrifying and exhilarating realization that my fate was in someone else’s hands. Then with a gentle lift, we were off.
No turning back now.
As the ground fell away beneath us, I began to have second thoughts about what had led me to this point. I had stubbornly given my husband no choice but to leave our three children at home with neighbors so we could travel half way around the world for what suddenly seemed like a crazy idea. What had I been thinking?
Was it just this morning that I had kissed my half-grown children goodbye before they left for school? Mechanically, I had rushed around all morning tending to final errands, remembering insurance information and noting instructions for sports and school activities. I drove to our small bank branch, regretting waiting until the last minute in case they didn't have the five thousand dollars in new, crisp one-hundred-dollar bills we were required to carry. The teller counted out the very last of the C-notes from her drawer. Another cryptic confirmation from God?
I delivered the latest copy of our will to my close friend and neighbor, not daring to think of the implications of that errand. Somewhere along the way, someone had advised us to fly on separate planes, as insurance against the unthinkable, a precaution for the biological children left at home during our journey to rescue the one God would not let me forget. In the chaos of the preparations, and with the unsettling fear of flying alone for twelve hours, my harried mind had rejected the suggestion. My husband, Bruce, and I would make this journey side by side, for better or for worse.
With the cash in my purse, more cash than I had carried in all my forty-six years, I had come skidding back into the house at one o’clock, just as my in-laws arrived take us to the airport. Our home in suburban Maryland was an hour from the airport, longer if there were traffic complications. We were instructed to arrive at the airport three hours before our scheduled departure to accommodate the new, heightened security procedures. I was more than willing to be scrutinized along with the other passengers. After mad men had steered plane-missiles into the Pentagon, and the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and wrestled with American heroes on a fourth lost plane, I welcomed the precautions.
For the past few months, I had been in a hypnotic daze, simply putting one foot in front of the other. Even so, those months had been peaceful and hopeful compared to the anxious turbulence of the prior year and a half, when I had bucked and resisted every hint from God about this assignment. My fear had often sent me into familiar, recurring tailspins of self-doubt, self-pity, and sometimes deep despair. Bruce had been stable during these last months, reassuring and supportive, even though he, by accepting this mission, had potentially more to lose than I did.
My husband had been well aware of my brittle emotional state before this recent calm settled over me. Since January I had successfully ignored the terror that loomed just below the surface in my subconscious. Bruce was not aware that a hidden spark of fear continued to smolder; nor did he realize how close to the surface that danger lurked. Suddenly, my uncertainties began to flare again, as I was reminded that our lives were in jeopardy, as well as the peace of our family, our marriage, my life as I knew it. And it had been a wonderful life—too wonderful to disrupt.
That indescribable sadness and fear which I had come to expect gripped me again. I looked out the window at the gray scenery and turned my face away from Bruce. He would not guess I was wavering yet again, too late this time. I took several deep breaths and wiped away the tears that blurred the scenery.
It was an overcast evening in our nation’s capital. Watching the landscape shrink abruptly below us, I felt like a giant looking down on a world I did not recognize, that I did not belong to. I thought of my mother. Twenty-five years had whizzed by, separating me from the carefree existence of my youth in North Carolina. Life had once been simple. How did I get to this place?
Far below, thousands of toy cars lined up on ribbon roads during rush hour, squirming home to families. Where was my family? Were they, too, suddenly feeling this sobering sense of the inevitable reality and permanence of our mission? The heaviness in my throat and chest made me wish that I could collapse into the self-absorbed wailing of a sobbing session. More deep breaths. If we were on the right path, why did I feel so lost? Had I imagined this calling, this persistent urging that would not be ignored?
We rose into the thick clouds and everything below suddenly vanished. We were enclosed in suffocating whiteness. The turbulence reminded me of the physical danger we were in, as well as my emotional anguish. Then we broke through the clouds and entered the bright sunshine and blue sky of a spring evening in the heavens. The clouds below us were a dense carpet of enormous white fluff in all directions. Now, instead of feeling like a giant, I felt small and insignificant.
As I looked out my window to the east, there on a distant cumulus cloud was a perfect shadow of our plane. Framing it was a complete circular rainbow. I held my breath as I studied the fragile mirage. I would have grabbed my camera, but I could not look away, fearing the scene would vanish.
“Look Bruce—!” I said without taking my eyes from the window. My voice was hopeful, canceling my momentary panic.
“Yes, Deb?” he answered, gently squeezing my hand.
I pointed out my window. “Look. It’s like a shield around the plane.” I held my breath, hoping he saw it too, that it wasn't my imagination.
“Uh huh.” He was unimpressed as he leaned toward my window and squinted to see. “It’s probably something in the glass,” he said, thinking I needed an explanation.
My dear husband of twenty-four years is a scientist, and this spectacle, like everything else he had ever seen in his life, had a logical explanation. I had hidden from him how close to a meltdown I’d been since we’d boarded the plane. He couldn't guess how desperately I needed a sign.
But he had seen it. And that was important to me. I had a witness when I would tell about that rainbow when we returned, and I would tell about it. To me the scene was nothing short of a miracle, like so many I had experienced since this whole journey had begun two years earlier. I felt God whispering, “Everything will be okay.” I grabbed on to that promise.
God had not always whispered to me. There had been many moments, in fact, hours, days, and sleepless nights of doubt and seeming silence from God. When He did speak, I had turned my face away, afraid to listen, terrified to obey. But always, often when I least expected, He would shine an ever brighter light in the direction He had mapped out for me. I simply needed to stay alert, and be brave enough to take the small steps, one at a time, to follow the path God had prepared.
My mood changed to elation, though, from recent experience, I feared it would, too soon, change again. But for the moment, I smiled and settled back to enjoy the flight. My cup running over with unreasonable joy, I was mesmerized by the vision. The shadow and its rainbow gradually disappeared as we traveled in the opposite direction of the sun, and into the night.
During the next nine days of our journey, when my darkest doubts crept back to the surface, and the anxiety of uncertainty threatened once again to consume me, I would remember the view from my plane window. I would hold on to that nod from God reminding me that we were in His circle of care. The memory comforted me and upheld me. Like the tattered flag waving goodbye on the runway, the rainbow round our plane would be a familiar symbol to cling to in a foreign and foreboding land.