Tim and the kids flew to Urumqi, in the far northwest, close to Pakistan and Kazakhstan. Two days later, after school, I flew to meet them.
The plane was late taking off. Somewhere along the way we were supposed to stop to let some people off and more on. Due to turbulence the seatbelt sign stayed on most of the trip. A Chinese teacher and her mother sat next to me. She spoke some English and we chatted. Eventually they fell asleep holding each other’s hand. From my aisle seat, I strained to see the sky but the wing blocked any view.
I brought along a book by an American who lives in China and writes about the changes the country is going through. What makes it so interesting is that he also follows the lives of people that he befriends. I read while the flight crew made announcements in Chinese and in English, but sometimes they forgot to do the English and then I was clueless as to what was going on.
I asked the flight attendant if I could go to the bathroom and she said no. I returned to my book. Suddenly the plane jolted and hit something hard. I yelled, “Oh, Lord Jesus!” It felt like there was a hole under us! I waited for the plane to explode.
Then I recognized the sounds and sensations – it was the plane’s wheels hitting the ground. We were merely landing. More words, “Dear Jesus, dear Jesus.”
My pulse was slowing back to normal as the plane came to a stop. We sat on the tarmac, waiting for clearance to proceed to our gate. Suddenly a young man in jeans and a dark T-shirt stood up and began to walk towards the front. Two flight attendants, from their seats in the back, called for him to sit down. He didn’t respond, and they yelled louder and louder. He just walked faster up the aisle. The attendants yelled more. We passengers silently watched him. I wondered, “Why am I just sitting here? What if he’s dangerous?”
He reached the front of the plane and another flight attendant, from his seat, reached out to the passenger. And then I couldn’t see the young man anymore. I waited. Was he being tackled? Did he sit down? All was quiet.
A few minutes passed and the plane taxied to its gate. While my heartbeat again slowed to normal, I thought of another incident this week. Tim was out of town and the kids and I had been inside all morning. We were barking at each other and it was getting worse. “Get dressed, we’re going to the lake,” I finally ordered.
With treats in hand from a French bakery we passed the bronze buffalo in the water and crossed the Broken Bridge that isn’t broken. Zo and Sum posed with giggling teenagers who wanted a photo with foreigners. We watched a dressed up woman badly singing karaoke. At the lake there is always karaoke with older adults singing to intently listening crowds.
We left the park and started across a busy street. I was in front when suddenly I heard a terrifying scream from Zoe. I turned to see a bus turning the corner and only feet away from her. I pushed her backwards and shot the driver a look mixed with warning and gratitude.
On the sidewalk I wrapped my arms around her and felt her bony spine. Zoe hung limp against me. We stood together, my eyes closed. There was no afternoon heat, honking of horns or smell of Stinky Tofu from nearby vendors. The world was gone. It was just my daughter and me. For that moment, my little girl was safely in my arms and that was all I knew. Then, I had the overwhelming urge to get home — back to the den with my baby cubs. I clasped both of my children’s consenting hands and hurried them down the sidewalk as I chanted, “Oh God, oh God, oh God.”
We got to a bus stop and I clutched my cubs close to my chest. Sumner said, “Mom, I don’t like when things like this happen because for the rest of the day, you look serious and sad.” “Hmm,” I murmured, squeezing him closer. My lips were pursed, my head shook side to side in disbelief as I chanted over and over, “Oh God, oh God.”
Sometimes the words that fly out of my mouth cause the kids, with enlarged eyes, to say, “MOM!” Though not holy words, in those moments, my gut is reacting again with horror to the fact that I’m not in control.
I try to be careful, but I can’t control everything. Oh God, I can’t. The terror of that descends upon me at times, swiftly and unexpectedly. It is a nightmare. And I react. I fight – like the time I pounded a speeding driver’s side mirror with an empty box when he almost flattened us in a crosswalk. Or I run. I flee. I try to get back to the cave where I feel safe.
For now we are together. I don’t know tomorrow. Oh God, if I did, I would despair.
But the words that occasionally fly from my mouth show my belief that, come what may, I realize that I do not walk alone. For He Himself says, “I will never leave or forsake you” (Hebrews 13.5). That doesn’t take away my responsibility, not does it take away my fear of bad things, nor does it even guarantee bad won’t happen — though I sooo wish it did. What it does mean is that I am not alone, and that someone and something greater than me will walk with me — and our family, And that I desperately need to know.