Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Longest 2.5hrs of My Life and What It Taught Me

(originally written on July 19, 2010)

The announcement of our plane’s safe landing at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport was like a very sweet song to my ears. That came after we had to endure a two and half hour bumpy, stressful, unusually long, and at many times, scary flight from Davao to Manila - on the day of my father’s birthday (July 18).

It was a story to tell - a story about God’s divine protection and a struggle to overcome fears. It was a love story – a kind that is perfect – able to extend grace beyond measure and drive out all fears.

I was with Doreen, a teammate and friend. When we reached the airport in Davao, we were told that our flight would be two hours delayed due to mechanical problem. The weather was gloomy. It rained heavily the other night. I began to entertain thoughts about experiencing a turbulent flight again after the one we just had the other week. So, I texted some friends and my family to ask for prayers. I was a bit sad, too that I would reach home later than I planned to celebrate with my family my dad’s 54th birthday and to attend an 8pm church service after.

As the airline promised, our plane took off at exactly 2pm. It was a smooth take off. An hour passed and we were still having a smooth flight. Then, the plane began to be unstable. The seat belt sign was turned on. It became like a roller-coaster-kind-of-a-ride. We went up, down, down, down and up again. As we approached Manila, the flight became bumpier and we couldn’t see anything outside the window but dark clouds. 

Then, we saw on the screen that we were going up again, reaching 5,800 feet going to San Fernando. We didn’t hear any advice on what’s going on. We just noticed that the flight attendants kept walking around, checking to see if everyone was okay with seatbelts on. Their restlessness and roaming eyes made me feel nervous. I could feel my hands sweating cold and my knees slightly shaking. People began to ask for cups of water. I drank two cups and went to the toilet four times during the entire flight.

Then we heard an announcement, “We regret to inform you that the runway at the Manila airport currently has a foreign object which may not be safe for landing aircrafts. We will remain in this position for twenty minutes.”

Twenty minutes??!! Twenty minutes of being “up there” while it was so dark outside, we didn’t know what the foreign object was, and with the fear I was having in my heart? You see, I have an irrational fear of heights. The kind that would leave me weak everytime the car or bus I’m riding would go through EDSA’s flyovers and each time I need to take the overpass. I won’t try anything that will test my endurance of heights like Cebu’s Sky Experience or Davao’s Zipline. I cried when I crossed the hanging bridge in Bohol and it was just 20 feet above a river. I wanted to go to the pilot deck and suggest that we make an emergency landing at the Subic Airport instead since we were very near. But I didn’t do that, of course.

The twenty minutes up there seemed so difficult for me. Good thing, they turned the seatbelt sign off which eased my worries a bit. But there were still occasional shakings. Everyone on the plane was quiet. Except for the two toddlers seated in front of us who were shouting and laughing everytime the plane would move. Maybe they thought they were riding a roller coaster. Or it’s child-like faith – plain and simple. No worries, no fears.

Doreen and I prayed while holding hands and encouraging each other. I was reciting Psalm 91 over and over in my mind while having thoughts about dying on the day of my dad’s birthday due to plane crash – not a lovely thought! Suddenly, I felt the urge to open my cellphone and call my family and close friends to tell them I love them. But I knew it was all fear-borne. I immediately asked God for forgiveness.

I asked God to give me peace in my heart. I silently prayed that God would clear the way of air packets and anything that will cause turbulence. I could sense His assuring presence. I looked up and saw one of the flight attendants (the most handsome for me!) going towards our way. He was smiling as if saying, “We’re fine. We’re safe, don’t worry.” I wanted to embrace him! Doreen’s gentle tap and grip of my hands were so reassuring. She kept saying, “Ayan, malapit na tayo!”. Thank God for her. The two of them were heaven-sent. I could feel God’s peace flooding my heart.

After more or less twenty minutes, we started to move again. I could see we’re on our way back to Manila. We closely monitored the screen in front of us, we’re definitely near. I kept looking outside the window to check if we’re already there. We did not experience any bumps anymore – an immediate answered prayer! 

And then we landed, I was so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude! 

People in the plane had different reactions. A lot were grateful for God’s protection. You could see some people doing the sign of the cross and hear them uttering words of gratitude. Some clapped their hands. There were also some who looked annoyed. One young lady said she was so irritated that we were four hours delayed – what a waste of time!

As for me, it was a battle to overcome my fear of heights and ugly death - an opportunity to trust God. Will my faith prove genuine? The 2.5hr-flight really brought me closer to God and made me more appreciative of His gift of life. And even when it could have been already time to die, to go home to God, I should still be grateful and unafraid. I was reminded of His promise in Psalm 23 – though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil for He is with us.

And because God willed it for us to land safely and still live, I can be certain that He still has plans for me. He wants me to know Him more and love Him deeper. He’s teaching and helping me overcome my fears and struggles. 

Maybe, I’ll get married sometime soon. Maybe I’ll serve Him in more different ways in this generation. Maybe, He will give me more assignments to be His channel of love, blessings and joy to my family and loved ones. Maybe, I’ll go on a cross-cultural mission. These are all very possible. All I know is that in this life, I can always trust God’s heart for me. He always has my best interest in mind. I am very excited and expectant!

I’ll have my next flight nine days from now. Will I be afraid? With my human frailty, I might be afraid. But God’s promise stands. He will be with me in that flight and in all my next flights. I’ll fly again and will not be afraid because I trust God. His perfect love drives out all fears. His faithfulness is my shield and rampart.

One more important learning is that I should always make sure to tell or show people dear to me that I love them and that I am grateful for having them in my life. I thank God that I still have the rest of my life to do that. I pray that I’ll be able to show genuine love and make the most of every chance I get.

Praise God for His divine protection and His gift of life! I'll always be grateful! :)

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