Last week I flew to Portland to visit my parents for Christmas.
I love going home. I love the anticipation of walking into a house full of candles and the sharp smell of pine. I love breathing in the cold air when I step out of the airport. I love seeing my parents’ car parked next to the curb.
I do not love flying.
In fact, I dread it. Sure, JetBlue has roomy seats and serves unlimited snacks. Bye-bye measly bag of peanuts. Hello week’s supply of caramel popcorn chips.
But, as I wrote last month, I’m working through a passel of irrational fears that developed as a result of my chronic illness. And now airplane turbulence makes my heart race and my throat constrict.
One trip, when I was particularly white-knuckled, a small boy in the row in front of me exclaimed,
“The bumps are my favorite, dad!!!”
I smile when I think of his face bright with delight. And then I remember a story about a family friend’s trip to visit her aunt, a missionary, who was living in a foreign country rife with guerilla warfare. The first night of our friend’s visit she was assailed by the not-so-distant sounds of war. She couldn’t sleep a wink. Her aunt, however, slept soundly through the night.
When questioned by her niece about her ability to sleep peacefully in a war zone, the aunt declared her implicit trust in God. There was no use losing sleep over worrying about whether or not a good God would take care of her, she explained.
My inordinate fear of flying reveals my often-hidden distrust of God’s goodness and intention to care for me. Unlike the fearless aunt and the little boy who delights in turbulence, I am preoccupied with the possibility of pain, rather than the prevalence of goodness in my life. And my doubt devours my peace.
Little kids don’t tend to believe they’re qualified to be their own God, like adults do. They’re too small for that, they know. But they also know they’re fantastic — make-the-Trinity-step-back-and-say, “You. are. good.”-fantastic.
This is humility: seeing things the way they actually are. Seeing how small we are next to God, and how special we are because of him, and his image in us.
So that I oughtn’t fear his next step, this God who sees so much more than I do because he’s so much bigger than I am. And I oughtn’t fear that he’s somehow forgotten about me, or is mistaken in the way he directs me. Because he thinks I’m pretty important.
Having humility means trusting that a big God’s goodness knows no bounds, and that little ol’ me is so marvelous in his sight that I can’t outrun — or outbounce — his goodness.
So when the plane dips low, and my heart races alarm, and I’m afraid my life will not turn out as steady and controlled as I’d like, I pray for humility.
And then I notice.
I notice how the popcorn chips I’m eating zip salty, and melt sweet. I notice how they crunch like the leaves I shuffled through yesterday, and how they remind me of Disneyland — of Minnie Mouse and castle-crowning fireworks — with every caramel-y crunch.
Then I turn toward the window and notice how the sun shoots light across the clouds, so that I can see them, spun silken with threads of water droplets. The sun, it’s shining through the window now. Its warmth tiptoes across my skin.
There’s a baby crying in front of me. I notice his dad has gathered him close. He is whispering comfort in his pink ears that must hurt so. His crying quiets to a whimper, his little chest rising and falling.
And God, he’s the one who gave me a tongue to taste, a nose to smell, eyes to see, and a mind to remember. And he didn’t have to give me this body, this vessel of grace.
He didn’t have to spin the clouds majestic, in 200 shades of gray, or make the light shine warmth or my skin so sensitive.
He didn’t have to give us lungs to cry pain, or parents to comfort, or families to care for. He didn’t have to reveal himself as “Father,” so that I could watch the dad across the airplane aisle and sort of understand the way God loves us.
But he did. Because he’s good, and he thinks we’re just wonderful.
And the more I see him and me the way we are, the more I want to count the ways he loves me. So I notice, and I count, and a smile spreads wide while peace steals in quietly.