It grew darker as I gazed out the windows of LAX. The day had started out dark with severe thunderstorms, but now the blackness of night was descending. The weather mirrored my mood as I felt the old darkness engulfing me, swallowing up reason and meaning. Just hours before I had come from my father's funeral, a man I had met once, only to see him die a few months later. The sense of loss I felt seemed irrational and yet undeniably overwhelming, and the depression was back.
I was an accident, an embarrassment, a poster child for using birth control when conducting extramarital affairs. Today I probably would have been aborted, but in 1969 girls were sent to live with a relative or friend, and the babies were discreetly adopted out, sometimes to whomever would take them.
To use the language of pop culture, I was raised in a dysfunctional and abusive adoptive family. However, the reality was probably something more complex than that. There was good as well. I was raised with a knowledge of God, taken to Sabbath School and church weekly, and sent to Seventh-day Adventist grade school. SDA boarding academy came at an opportune time in my life, just as my adoptive family was disintegrating. I now had a new home. SDA college and university followed, but after eighteen years in Adventist institutions I had to admit that God meant nothing to me. I knew my religion and its doctrines well, but I didn't know the God it purported to serve.
Having gone through a period of hedonism, inspired by the conviction that I was lost no matter how hard I tried, I finally settled down to marriage and parenthood. I still sometimes prayed that God would make it all mean something to me, but had mostly resigned myself to trying to raise my kids as good Adventists in the hope that they might be saved even if I could not be. And then my world turned upside down.
My biological father had suffered several heart attacks and a stroke. Knowing he would not live much longer, he confessed to his daughter that he had once had an affair and that as a result she had a half-brother out there somewhere. Knowing that it might cause her family embarrassment and her mother pain, my sister chose to search for me. When she found me she embraced me as a brother. By the time I met our father, he was in a nursing home and was not cognitively able to acknowledge my presence. And yet, for the first time in my life, I gazed into eyes that looked like my own and glimpsed where I had come from. He passed away not long after that.
I journeyed to California to be with my sister and her mother as we observed a small family gathering at the graveside. When it was over I felt overcome by loss and a sense of what might have been. I felt the secure and stable world I had so recently built for myself slipping away. The deep dark depression from my youth was rolling in like a black malevolent fog to smother the small measure of happiness I had experienced as an adult. My moorings were breaking loose, and I felt myself wildly grasping for my lifelines-my wife and daughter. I had to get home and get home now, before my defenses shattered and the blackness descended.
Nature seemed to work against me. Heavy thunderstorms delayed my flight from the Ontario airport to LAX. I became more and more anxious as time passed. When the flight finally left I had to endure a sickening carnival ride through the turbulent atmosphere. After touching down at LAX, I sprinted O.J. Simpson style to my connecting gate, only to find the flight to Denver badly delayed as well. Catching my flight from Denver to Lincoln, Nebraska looked like a slim proposition at this point. As I waited and gazed out the windows of LAX, it grew darker.
When the flight boarded an hour later I still retained a tiny hope of making it back to my wife and daughter that night, then we sat on the tarmac for an additional hour and hope fled. There were no more flights from Denver to Lincoln that night. I would not see my family. The darkness would descend far from home with no lifeline to hold to.
With fear and anxiety in the fore of my mind and deepest depression threatening to crowd in from somewhere in the depths, I cried out to God, "God, I have to make it home tonight. I don't know what You can do, but maybe You could just give me a tail wind or something. All I know is that if I don't see my wife and daughter tonight I'll come apart at the seams. You have to help me! I've been told that if someone has faith as small as a mustard seed that anything is possible. I don't have much faith, not much at all, but maybe just that much. I'm going to claim that promise, just please help me. Please!"
In that moment something happened that would forever change the course of my life. In that moment I finally understood what others meant when they spoke of hearing the "voice" of God. It wasn't an audible voice. It was something within and yet not from me. It was more a cognitive experience than an auditory one, but it was just as clear and just as real. I heard in my spirit, "I AM HERE." Just that, but along with the words came a sense of His presence that I had never before experienced. All of the fear and anxiety vanished, the black fog rolled away. In their place a surreal peace surrounded me. I cannot adequately describe it, but it was a sense of being utterly secure, afloat on a placid sea, wrapped in light and love. At that moment it did not matter if I made it home that night. It did not matter if I slept on the floor of the Denver airport. I knew with certainty that everything would be all right. God was there and He was real! He was no longer an abstract idea that I had heard about. He existed and He was with me.
Wrapped in a warm dreamy peace, I felt myself drifting off to sleep as I leaned against the plane window. Just as I was fading off I heard the pilot come on the PA system to announce, "Uh folks, we seem to have picked up a pretty strong tail wind. We're probably going to gain a good twenty minutes. Some of you might make your flights yet." I just smiled from behind closed eyes. I felt like I could no longer be surprised by anything. The stiff tailwind from nowhere seemed like a pretty small thing in comparison to the miracle I had just experienced.
When we arrived at the Denver airport the departure time for the last plane to Lincoln had long since passed. Somehow I felt very calm about this news. I and another passenger from Lincoln deplaned and approached an airline employee. I asked at what gate the plane to Lincoln was loading. The employee checked her schedules and apologized to me as she told me that the flight had left the gate fifteen minutes ago. I politely asked her from what gate it had left. She said, "But Sir, it's confirmed. It's gone. I can help you find another flight tomorrow". I politely but insistently asked again what gate it had departed from. When she shrugged her shoulders and told me, I took off running in that direction. The airline employee and the other passenger from Lincoln stared after me with incredulous looks. For the first time in my life I was running on faith.
Arriving at the gate out of breath I was not at all surprised to find my plane still there. I slipped on the plane and was reunited with my wife and daughter that night. My luggage made it home the next day, along with the other passenger from Lincoln.
Sometime later, a package arrived. In it was my father's Bible. My father's wife, the person who was perhaps the most injured by my father's affair and my existence, had wanted me to have her husband's Bible. Just inside the cover was a picture of my father sitting at his desk, studying the very book I held in my hands. In its pages I found my true Father. The notes and markings told me something about my earthly father, but the words told me about my Heavenly Father. I discovered Him through the glorious revelation of His Son Jesus Christ contained in the pages of scripture. In these pages, and through the loving acts of my sister and her mother, I also discovered grace.
As the Holy Spirit revealed Jesus to me through scripture and the lives of others, I experienced a grace awakening. This awakening led me on a journey out of the bondage of legalism, out of Adventism, and into the Body of Christ. I will never be the same. I am still on a journey. This journey leads me Home, but unlike that night years ago, I now have absolute assurance that I will reach my destination, not because of anything I've done or can ever do, but because He is with me.
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