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Boy, do I have a story for you.
I had one of those “my-life-flashed-before-my-eyes” moments for the second time in my life last week.
The first, was when I witnessed my mom have a stroke. To say that episode was traumatic would be the understatement of the year. Watching my dad carry my lifeless mother — Marissa Cooper style — into the emergency room, that does something to you.
But this most recent experience last week was on a flight back into New York from Ohio.
Now, before I begin, allow me to set the stage quickly.
First: I am in zero way, shape, or form a “skiddish flier.” I’ve been flying since I was an infant, and I love it. I’m not afraid of heights. Heck, I’m one of those weirdos that actually enjoys turbulence.
And secondly — this flight was during that freak pop-up Nor’Easter that pummeled the east coast last Wednesday night with 50 mph winds. Yeah — I was flying in that.
Our flight was delayed for 3 hours, waiting for the weather to clear. And it never did, but they decided that, it was 11pm, they had to get the flight out, so we took off knowing full well that we were flying into a major storm.
The beginning of the flight was fine, but once we got into the New York area, conditions deteriorated, rapidly.
We tried to make the initial descent, only to have to come back up above the storm and circle for 45 minutes, because it was too windy and gusty. Laguardia Airport wasn’t letting anyone land. Meanwhile, our plane was being effortlessly tossed in the wind, slanting this way and that, up and then a huge drop.
Finally, after an hour of circling — and it being after 1am — they decided to go for the landing.
When I say it was terrifying, I mean — terrifying. The plane was dead silent — you could literally feel everyone holding their breath and gripping the armrests. All you could hear was the howling wind and the constant creaking of the plane as it took on the pounding wind.
You could feel the plane itself being blown this way and that, being shifted through the air, and then the pilot trying to correct and get it back level and on course.
It was the longest, most horrifying 20 minutes of my life as we fought mother nature back to the ground.
I mean, there were moments when I thought that this was it for me. I was literally preparing my heart to meet God. And it was at this moment, that my life flashed before my eyes, and I saw all the moments and milestones I had yet to experience.
During those paralyzing 20 minutes, I was praying prayers of desperation. It was literally the only thing I could do to stay sane. Pleading, begging, desperately willing God to just let the plane land safely. Please God. Please God.
Well, spoiler alert, we did land safely, by the grace of God. And when we did, the entire plane collectively let out an audible sigh of relief, and in fact, literally everyone erupted into “Thank-God-we-didn’t-die” applause. Myself included, and I am not a “plane clapper.”
Fast forward to a few days later, it’s Sunday now, and I was sitting at Mass, and I realized something:
My prayer life needs a lot of work.
I realized that my “white-knuckle prayer” on the plane that evening — it was really the first genuine prayer I’ve had in a while. At least, the first one with any real emotion attached.
And that really convicted me.
Why did it take a near-death-experience for me to reach out to God?
Prayer is something that, I guess you could say, doesn’t come easily for me. Because it involves opening my heart. Becoming vulnerable. Inviting honesty. Taking a hard look in the mirror of self-evaluation and a sobering reality check. And that’s — uncomfortable. For a lot of reasons.
I think sometimes we’d rather live in ignorant bliss than come to a hard stop and look truth in the face.
But also, to pray is to invite a relationship. It involves opening up my heart to receive His love. And that is particularly hard.
Sitting in church that night, here’s what I got — and take this from a girl who doesn’t know what she’s doing, and is just trying to figure things out one day at a time:
God just wants to be close to me. He’s my Father – truly. And so He just wants to be part of my life. He wants a relationship.
I don’t want to be the type of daughter that just contacts Him when I need something, or for Him to…I don’t know…save my life and make a plane land safely. He’s not a cosmic vending machine.
No. I need to start making the effort to invite Him into my daily life. Saying good morning. Thanking Him for the tremendous blessings — big and small — that I have grown accustomed to taking for granted. I need to acknowledge my shortcomings, and apologize for the times when I chose the wrong course of action.
I need to share with Him my joys and my fears. My triumphs and areas of work.
And then make an even more concerted effort to listen.
I think there’s so much expectation and complication tied up around how prayer is supposed to look and — perhaps more — how it’s supposed to feel. And as a result, there’s an approach avoidance to it.
It doesn’t need to be that way.
When we show up, even in just the teeniest-tiniest way…God does too.
This week, I’m going to really try to focus on just talking to God like a friend. Because, that’s exactly what He is.
“This is what the Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life.” Ez 37:5
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