My daughter Katie married a Navy pilot last January and the first thing he did was to get himself transferred to Japan for three years. It made me think about withdrawing my blessing on the marriage to begin with, but I love the guy so I had to roll with his plans. This in-law gig is a work in progress for me.
The two of them had the chance to come back to the States for a couple of weeks around the first of December when he had to attend a class. Katie came along for the ride. His plane ticket was paid for but Katie could only afford to accompany him with a stand-by ticket, a precarious way to fly but when you’re a young military wife it’s sometimes the only way you afford to travel.
The two of them had a great time, and all of us were able to connect in Washington DC last week for an unexpected visit, an early Christmas for our family. Then it was time for the young couple to return home. Katie’s husband left Saturday morning, and she planned on following him later that day. All the arrangements were made and looked as if they would work out fine.
When she got to Atlanta, though, all her plans began unraveling. The flight to Tokyo was over-booked and she didn’t have a seat. So she had to fly on to Los Angeles, where the flights looked more promising. But she discovered there that the airlines had way more people trying to get to Tokyo than they had seats available. She had to spend the night then hope the next day’s flight would be better. It wasn’t. Turned out that Sunday’s flight was more crowded than Saturday’s and looking ahead for the coming days before Christmas, her travel was looking very dicey. Katie called me Sunday afternoon, crying on the phone, alone in LA’s International Airport, to tell me how she couldn’t get on a flight, and it was Christmas and she wanted to go home to her husband and she didn’t have any way of getting there.
It was a conversation many military families have. Loved ones stuck in an airport, unable to get to their families for Christmas. A sense of powerlessness just washed over me like a wave. I grieved with her, as all dads do: here was my little girl whose heart was breaking, and there was nothing I could do. A couple of hours later I texted her to see if anything had changed. No, it hadn’t she texted back. She was packing up her things and looking for a hotel to spend the night. She’d have to come back Monday and try again. But she was last on a list of fifteen stand-bys and things didn’t look good.
It was eight o’clock our time—departure time for the flight—and the plane’s gate was closing. I was on my way home from church and called a friend to pray with me for Katie. My friend immediately began praying on the phone, and did she ever pray! She asked for a special anointing for Katie; for the spirit of fear to be cast out of her situation; for her travel arrangements to be divinely ordained; for the whole situation to work out to God’s glory. It was a quite a prayer, the kind of prayer that calms a father’s heart and opens up the Kingdom.
As soon as my friend finished praying and we hung up I received a text from Katie. I expected it to be more bad news and so clicked it on prepared for the worse. But when I brought up the text it wasn’t at all what I expected. In fact, her message to me turned out to be quite the opposite. Somehow the airline people had discovered there was a last single seat available on the flight. Katie’s name had somehow risen to the top of the long list and she had been called to the front desk. She could get on the flight if she could get through the gate in the next three seconds. She made it in half that time.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the text on my phone because I realized, in one of those spine-tingling moments the Spirit occasionally gives us, that God was answering the prayer my friend and I were praying even as we were praying it! His answer actually preceded my asking! I can’t get my head around the theology of it all; instead, I just have to receive what He gives with gratitude. Prayer was answered; a young woman returned to her husband; a dad’s restless spirit was put at ease; God was honored. There may be a better way to be blessed at Christmas, but I can’t think of one off-hand.
My wife and I have prayed for our kids since before they were born. As we grow older, that prayer burden doesn’t diminish at all; in fact it grows greater. For all of us, our kids’ lives as they grow up and move off into their own directions become more complicated and demanding. Our role as parents shifts accordingly from managing our children’s daily activities to trusting them to manage themselves, under the providence of God. Praying for our kids gets more important through the years, not less.