My eyes fixed on the headline on the front page of the newspaper in the rack at McDonalds and my heart stopped, remembering how close we’d come to death twenty-five years earlier. The front-page banner of The Arizona Republic read, “August 16, 1987 Crash.” I hadn’t fixed the date in my memory, but I knew immediately it was the flight we’d missed, and I had to sit down at the first table I could find and pour out my awed story to the first person I could find to listen.
Flashback to August 1987, about ten days before we’d fly to Detroit for my husband’s twentieth high school reunion. We were flying out on Friday and returning on Sunday, but the more I thought about the cost of our whole family flying – me and my husband and our two sons, ages twelve and one – to spend only Friday evening and Saturday with his old friends, the stronger grew my conviction that we ought to change our reservation and fly out on Monday, so he could have an extra day, Sunday, to visit with his old junior high and high school buddies.
“Honey, do you think you could take Monday off work?” I asked after he came home that evening, and I explained my thoughts about the cost/benefit ratio to my engineer husband. He replied that he’d ask about taking Monday off, and the next day called me from work to report that yes, he got the time off. Immediately I called our travel agent that afternoon and changed our flight from Sunday to Monday, encountering no problem in changing our tickets.
Bags packed, filled with enthusiasm, we all boarded the Northwest Airlines flight on Friday and happily landed in Detroit a few hours later. After dropping our bags and our boys off at his good friends Ken and Dee Dee’s home, my husband and I drove into Ann Arbor for the Friday night dinner with his classmates. What a fun reunion! Our boys connected with Ken and Dee Dee’s sons while I met new people I’d only heard about before. That night around the kitchen table at Ken and Dee Dee’s home, their boys, our boys and I opened wide eyes hearing teen-age misadventures of their fathers, including the laughingly told tale of a double date when the guys swapped dates while sitting in Ken’s car!
Saturday was filled with a family picnic and more Pioneer High School fun. We spent Sunday leisurely exploring town and connecting deeper with old school friends in Ann Arbor, away from radio and TV news. But what we heard Monday morning shocked me to the core of my being, and I gripped my husband’s hand and shook in my seat as we flew out over the wreckage of Northwest Airlines Flight 255, the plane we would have flown back to Phoenix on Sunday, that crashed on takeoff, killing everyone onboard except for two passengers, including one four-year-old girl. I knew that I knew that God was in the nudge I’d felt ten days earlier to change our return trip, and even though I couldn’t fathom why 152 people lost their lives, other families, other good people whose lives ended tragically, while our lives were spared to live on.
I read the Wikipedia account of the crash, so quickly found online, and tremble to this day at the Divine intervention that saved all four of us:
“Northwest Airlines Flight 255, a McDonnell Douglas MD-82, crashed shortly after takeoff from Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport on August 16, 1987, at about 8:46 p.m. EDT (00:46 UTC August 17), killing all six crew members and 152 of its 154 passengers.”
Those few words encompass terrible, tragic grief and loss, and terrible awe and wonder in me that, for whatever reasons, our lives were saved. My two sons are now wonderful men of faith, compassion, kindness, creativity, loyalty, dedication. selflessness, and intelligence, whose lives are positively impacting the world. As for me, I’ve lived through two terrible tragedies in the last eight years, yet I know, because of August 16, 1987, that God still has purpose for my life, purpose that I don’t yet understand in the two losses I’ve lived through. My heart knows what the hearts of those who lost loved ones on August 16, 1987, endured, and I’m changed forever, finding new compassionate understanding and deeper love for others than I’ve sometimes – often – felt my heart could contain.
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD, I will be joyful in God my Savior. The Sovereign LORD is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights. Habakkuk 3: 17-19a NIV
He gives power to the weak
and strength to the powerless.
Even youths will become weak and tired,
and young men will fall in exhaustion.
But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength.
They will soar high on wings like eagles.
They will run and not grow weary.
They will walk and not faint.Isaiah 40: 29-31
But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel:“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; Isaiah 43: 1-3 NIV
This may be the greatest miracle of all for me: God’s heart of unrelenting, compassionate love for those who walk on, finding the courage somehow to rise up and live with grief that they carry forever after tragic loss. Somehow, through all of this, I have to believe yet that God is Love. Even when the miracles we pray for don’t come, life itself, sometimes simply the strength to go on in faith and love, free from the poison of bitterness and the bondage of no reasonable, satisfying answer to our heart-rent ”why’s”, is itself a miracle.
A”…BUT…”to pray: God, I thank you that you’ve brought goodness in my life, and I thank you for _____________________________________________. I admit I question your goodness when _____________________________________________ BUT I know that, even when I don’t understand your reasons or plans, I confess by faith that somehow, even in the most hurting, confusing times, YOU ARE there for me. Help me to see you and trust you, Father God, even in the darkness and silence of unanswered “why’s”. Lord, have mercy on me in my human limitations and feelings, and even when I don’t see a satisfying WHY, show me WHERE and WHO YOU are, in Jesus’ name. Holy Spirit, help me listen and help me hear YOU ___________________________________________________________________________