Last Thursday I flew to Georgia for a much-needed spiritual retreat. My dear friend Allie picked me up at the airport and we drove to beautiful Lake Lanier, where we attend the Created for Care retreat for adoptive mamas every year.
The retreat itself is fabulous, but even without the worship band, breakout sessions, and catered meals, I’d carve out the time and money to make this trip happen. The greatest value is in getting away from my routine, getting quiet before God, and getting honest with myself.
In order to do that, I travel down a day early. While the official events didn’t begin until Friday evening, I was in Atlanta by 8:30 Thursday morning. Allie and I spent the next thirty-six hours praying, journaling, walking, reflecting, and resting. By the time we attended the opening session of the retreat, our hungry hearts were ready to be filled with whatever food God had prepared.
On the Mountaintop…But Not for Long
He didn’t disappoint. By the time I reluctantly packed my bag on Sunday, my head was full and my heart bursting. He’d convicted, humbled, encouraged, and directed me in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and I was (almost) ready for “re-entry” into normal life.
Now, I’ve been to enough retreats over the years to recognize a mountaintop when I feel one. I knew it would be impossible to hold onto the emotional high of my time away, but I assumed my feel-good status would last at least a few days.
Enter Delta Airlines and the polar vortex.
Change of Destination
I said a sad goodbye to Allie at the airport and boarded by return flight to Harrisburg, PA at 4:00 Sunday afternoon. All systems were go, our arrival time on schedule.
When we began descending a little over an hour into the flight, a thrill of excitement coursed through me. I couldn’t wait to hug my babies and lavish love on my family. I was ready, and I had the bracelet to prove it.
“Ladies and gentleman, this is your captain speaking. I want to let you know what’s going on up here…”
Not the words I wanted to hear.
“You may have noticed we’ve begun our descent, but we’re not going to be able to land in Harrisburg at this time.”
My stomach dropped as he continued. Snow squalls had made the runways icy, and the storm system through which we’d have to descend was too dangerous. Flight control had instructed us to return to Atlanta, but we didn’t have enough fuel to do that, either. So we were landing in Podunk, Tennessee (Bristol, actually) to refuel and await instructions.
We awaited. And awaited. And awaited. We weren’t allowed off the plane, an “ExpressJet” – I don’t need to describe its dimensions to you. Just envision a mob of irritable, claustrophobic passengers grumbling at the flight attendant and making frantic cell phone calls while the poor young mama a few rows back tries to console two screaming babies.
I’d been nursing a mild headache since takeoff, and now it accelerated toward migraine level. Due to the plane’s miniscule size, I’d checked my carry-on at the gate, along with my pain killers.
I turned on an air vent and closed my eyes, deep-breathing against the pain and praying Tim and the kids weren’t stuck in a snow squall trying to pick me up from a flight that wouldn’t arrive.
The captain finally returned from wherever he’d gone to get his orders. The weather wasn’t clearing, he said, so back to Atlanta we would go.
A collective groan went up around me. More than a few people seemed to believe the flight attendant had manufactured the snow squalls and subsequently conspired to withhold all information about alternative flights. Poor lady. When we were once again airborne for the final leg of our joyride around the middle-eastern states, she whisked up and down the aisle appeasing us with beverages and copious amounts of peanuts. (When we landed, I made sure to thank her for keeping her cool.)
Upon arrival (two gates up from where we’d departed a few hours earlier), I re-booked myself on the next available flight, leaving the following day. Allie picked me up where she’d so recently dropped me off, and I spent the night at her house.
A few hours later we were back at the airport. Attempt #2 went smoothly, and I arrived in Harrisburg Monday afternoon, 19 hours later than planned.
Sigh. Now, why am I telling you all this? Because even though inconveniences and dashed plans usually cause me to complain, I was (and am) grateful for this experience. Here’s why:
The theme of the adoption retreat was “Be Love, Be Loved, Beloved.” I couldn’t wait to get home and Be Love for my family. My time away allowed me to rest and gain a healthier perspective on my shortcomings. It equipped me with new insight about parenting. It filled me up so I could overflow and Be Love. But until my plane made a 180-degree turn and messed with my plans, the lessons I’d learned were incomplete.
1. When my head began to explode during our holdover in Bristol, I was texting with my father. I asked him to pray for my headache, knowing he would do so with faith and love. Within five minutes, the pain was gone. If you don’t know this about me, I get headaches. I could categorize every twinge and give a pretty accurate twelve-hour prediction of how it’s going to play itself out. This was not a passing ache, it was the real deal. So I firmly believe its eradication was a direct result of my father’s intercession, and that made me feel loved, by both of my Fathers.
2. Allie lives an hour from the airport, when traffic is good. I could have stayed at a hotel, but she sacrificed her first evening home with her husband to pick me up. Then she stayed up with her sick daughter half the night, only to buckle all four of her kids in the car and drive me back to the airport during rush hour the next morning. And to top it off, her husband made the best rice crispy treats I’ve ever tasted, and shared them with me. Win-win. I felt loved.
3. When I did finally get home, I found out my mom had stayed with the kids the night before so Tim could drive to the airport in the snow without endangering them. She also made a meal in my kitchen so the house would smell scrumptious when I came home (and so I could eat, obviously).
4. When my friend Marty found out about my return-trip conundrum, she made a lasagna so I wouldn’t have to cook Monday night. There’s a woman who knows what a tired mom needs.
In all these ways, I was able to Be Loved.
I finished a novel on the plane Sunday night. It helped the time pass, but wasn’t particularly inspiring. After spending the night at Allie’s and returning to the airport, I didn’t feel up to starting a new book, so I downloaded a few songs from the retreat worship sessions and listened to those on the plane.
As the words poured over me, I pulled out my journal and began listing the ways they describe God’s love and who I am because of Him:
God’s love is: deep, wide, fierce, strong, sweet, wild, awakening, life-giving, furious, and it covers us.
He is: strong, sure, life, light, good, here, hope, more, Lord, always true, everything, and He endures.
In Him I am: found, healed, free, loved, His, made pure, rescued, redeemed, I can breathe, and I have life.
In other words, I am Beloved.
Out of Inconvenience, Blessing
My mountaintop experience didn’t last a few days, not even a few hours. But what I brought home was a far greater value – deeper faith in a God who loves me, His Beloved, so through Him I might be love to this world.