Ladies and Gentlemen, Welcome to Kansas City

Kansas CityI startled awake to a loud crack of thunder. I have always been a light sleeper, so it was no surprise that the storm had broken me out of my slumber. I shifted in bed, instantly uncomfortable with the severity of the weather outside my window. I have never liked storms. There is something about the disorienting brightness of the lightning and the deafening rolls of thunder that make me nervous, particularly if there is a tornado warning. No amount of looking out the window is going to tell a blind girl what is happening outside. I simply have to wait it out and hope it will just be a typical summer thunderstorm.

I sat up in bed and grabbed my cell phone, quickly bringing up my weather app so I could check the radar. Instantly, I focused on the narrow line of storms that was right on top of my location. My first inclination was to groan with anxiety and fatigue, but then a sudden peace came over me. It was then I remembered that I wasn’t alone in the house. My parents were right down the hall, and somehow I just knew that my dad was awake too in that moment. He is a light sleeper like me, and I had a feeling I wasn’t alone in my wakefulness. It had been like that since the time of my childhood. Even though storms made me nervous, as long as I knew my father was awake and close by, I was okay. Even though I was now a grown woman, this hadn’t changed.

I released a calming breath and rolled over in the bed. As the storm raged around me, I allowed myself to succumb to sleep. I found shelter in the knowledge that I wasn’t alone in the storm.

*****

Less than a week later, my anxiety had returned. I sat under a tent at the county fair, nervously waiting to be called to the stage. Over the past few weeks, I had meticulously practiced. Even after three years of vocal coaching, it was still a foreign concept for me to simply accompany someone. Singing has always been my easy go-to, a place of shelter and familiarity. But today, my mentee would be taking the stage to be judged in vocal performance. Although I was confident in her abilities, I was still nervous. I didn’t want to mess up the piano part and ruin her moment.

The day had not gone smoothly thus far. I was having a bad hair day, there had been a mishap in printing the materials that needed to be submitted with our entry, and we were all flustered and out-of-sorts. Then a close friend walked into the tent and I realized we would technically be competing against her daughter. I was intimidated and rattled, which was not a good way to start the day.

When we were called to the stage, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. We quickly realized there was no piano on the stage and the music stand and mic stand needed to be repositioned. The sound techs were quick to assist us, but the music stand didn’t want to behave. Finally, my mentee told me to just start playing. Hoping she was truly ready, I started to play, listening carefully for the cue for the vocal line… only no sound came from her mic when it came time for her to sing! Her mic wasn’t working!

I quickly turned to the judges and asked if we might be able to start again, Given approval, I began to play the opening notes again. The first lines of her vocal came over the mic loud and clear, but then I heard it— hesitancy and then words failed her. She had lost her place. Inwardly, I mouthed the words, knowing she couldn’t hear me and it would be of little help. Frantically, I prayed that she would be back on track, and to my relief, she found her place and began to sing once more.

But as the second verse began, I heard the same hesitancy, and she stumbled again. Once more, I prayed even as I kept playing. I wondered if I should have stopped and let her start again. But I quickly released that thought; we had started over once already, and this was out of my control. She finished the song, and I was proud of her resiliency. Her notes rang out, clear and confident, and if it weren’t for those early, fumbling moments, one would have thought she had delivered a solid performance.

But she and I knew the truth, and we were both crushed. Even so, she held her head high as she approached the judges. She was given positive feedback with only the briefest reference to the “something” that happened early on in her performance. The judges encouraged her to keep singing and commented on her professionalism in the midst of the mishap.

Do you know what struck me as the judges critiqued her? It was the reality of her song choice. I had been so proud when she had agreed to sing a worship song at the county fair, a beautiful tune by Vertical Worship called “Shelter.” I was excited for her to share her gift of music with those gathered in the tent that day, eager to see her Light for Jesus shine bright among the other performances. It was her voice, the song, and the message that resonated in the most powerful way that day. For even though her performance didn’t transpire like we had hoped, there was still an incredible peace and beauty that came from her music. I think we were all reminded that God is always our shelter, especially on bad hair days, in disorganized entry forms, and in forgotten lyrics. We can run to Him when the world is a chaotic mess around us. He welcomes our worship as we seek refuge in His love.

*****

I carried this song and message with me as I traveled for work a few weeks later. I was nervous because I had to cross the border into Canada, but in the end, the border crossing turned out to be the least stressful of all. Navigating airports has never been easy for me, but I managed the first leg of my journey with very little anxiety. I spent the night in Detroit with friends before I made my first border crossing. I was feeling a bit more confident until I got my first glimpse of the conference center and hotel.

Standing 22 stories high, the hotel was instantly intimidating. I quickly learned that the elevators were in high demand and that it would be nearly impossible for me to navigate the building without assistance. None of the elevators verbally announced the floor, nor was there any “beep” or “ding” to indicate when a floor was reached. My room was on the eighth floor, and I didn’t have a roommate. How was I going to make it through the next three days when the overwhelm was all-consuming?

My prayer was simple: Lord, walk with me. And step by step, minute by minute, I navigated through the next three days. God led me to a sweet woman named Miriam who became my place of safety for the remainder of the weekend. Armed with calm assurance, a power chair, and her service dog, Wendell, Miriam took charge. I never needed to worry about logistics when she was with me, and I could actually pull in a deep breath in the midst of the chaos. It was almost as if she could read my mind. One day at lunch, as the 700-some conference attendees swarmed around us, I got quiet. I was beyond overwhelmed, and I think Miriam could sense that. A moment later, she pushed her chair back from the table and announced that she was leaving early for the next session. She asked if I was ready to go with her. Um… yes, please!

But even with Miriam’s help and the knowledge that God was walking with me, I still stumbled under the anxiety. On the last morning, I felt sick, so I stayed in bed and missed the first session of the day. Ordinarily, being late and missing a session would have been unthinkable for me, but I was past caring. Even though I had no idea how I was going to get downstairs to the lobby, check out of my room, and find breakfast, I made my way to the elevators. I was now numb to the fear and overwhelm. Step by weary step, I walked through the morning routine, eventually meeting up with Miriam to attend the final workshop. But I was on autopilot now, and I was ready to be done. But it would be two days yet before I could fly home, so I knew I had to endure just a little while longer.

Once I crossed back into the U.S., much of my tension eased and I was able to relax with friends. I was grateful for those two days, for they proved to be a source of encouragement and sheltering grace. I basked in beautiful music, savored delicious food, and participated in soul-stirring conversation. I was finally able to sleep through the night without being awakened by nervous tension. As I navigated through the Detroit airport, I felt surprisingly calm in the hectic atmosphere. A kind airline representative walked with me through security and led me to my gate. I boarded the plane early with my white cane in hand and waited for take-off to Minneapolis.

Our flight was uneventful until we were about to land. That’s when the captain came over the intercom with this announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, we are not able to land in Minneapolis due to bad weather, so we took a left-hand turn to Kansas City. We are sorry for the inconvenience.”

Wait! What? I sat up straight in my seat and glanced at the people beside me. Everywhere I turned, I heard the grumbling. This couldn’t be happening. Kansas City, why?

As we taxied down the runway, I powered up my phone and called home. I waited for someone to answer, each ring in my ear mingling with the murmur of voices all around me. Obviously, I wasn’t the only one making a call. I swallowed hard against the rising anxiety, and then I heard a familiar greeting. Almost instantly, I calmed when I heard that voice from home. The miles between Kansas City and Wisconsin seemed to disappear, and I basked in the feeling of safety.

I relayed what had happened, making sure it was understood that I had no idea when I would be home. My friends told me they were watching the weather, and it looked like the storms would pass quickly. That gave me reassurance that it wouldn’t be long before we could be on our way to Minneapolis. My friends promised to wait up for me and would be there when my shuttle would arrive in our home town.

Two-and-a-half hours later, we were finally taking off for Minneapolis, but that didn’t mean it was smooth sailing, or rather, autopilot from that point forward. Even after we landed in Minneapolis, we couldn’t deplane because there were so many other aircraft vying for position at the gate. As the other passengers finally began to make their way off the plane, I followed, only to be detained by a flight attendant. I was told that someone from the airport was on their way to escort me to ground transportation, so I needed to wait onboard until they arrived.

I was having none of that! Somehow, I managed to talk my way out of waiting on the plane. I had been onboard for more than six hours, and I was getting claustrophobic. I was tired, hungry, stressed, and still fairly anxious. I needed to make a connection with my shuttle, because there was no guarantee I would be able to get home that night.

My cell phone was dead, and I anxiously waited for it to power on at a charging station. I quickly messaged and called friends and family to update them on my situation, and then made sure I had a seat on the shuttle. There was a spot remaining on the 10:55 p.m. trip, and I was grateful. Every other seat was taken for the rest of the night.

Once onboard the shuttle, it was only an hour’s ride home, but it felt like the longest hour of my life. I just wanted to be home! If it weren’t for the air conditioning that was cranked to the max, maybe I would have been able to sleep. I tried to relax, knowing that home and safety were just minutes away. I meditated on the lyrics to “Shelter,” catching glimpses of God’s goodness and provision all along my journey. True, things hadn’t gone as planned. Yes, I was about as drained as the battery on my cell phone and I couldn’t decide if I was more hungry or frustrated. But God was with me, even in the chaos.

Being diverted to Kansas City was an inconvenience for sure, but I was protected from the inclement weather. My shuttle was delayed, but I had incredible friends who were willing to meet me well past midnight so I could make it home. I was hungry and thirsty, and those needs were met with ice cold water and a plate of pancakes at nearly 1:00 a.m. Sleep came swiftly once my head hit the pillow.

My trip was harrowing and stressful; it would have been easier just to stay home. My mentee could have given up and never performed again, but she sang “Shelter” in church a few weeks later and blessed all of us with her beautiful offering. I could have let that storm keep me awake as I tried to sleep, but knowing my dad was close by gave me the peace I needed to sleep without worry. The truth is, there are no clear answers as to why we have to walk through stormy and chaotic situations. We may never see resolution or understand God’s plan, but as the storm rages, we can be confident that He will never leave or forsake us. He is our shelter, our place of safety. In the center of His love, we can try again, because we can do all things through Him who gives us strength (Philippians 4:13).

“Welcome to Kansas City”— certainly not the words I wanted to hear, but they were a reality I needed to embrace. We all face situations outside of our control at some point in our lives. It isn’t easy for me to relinquish control, and that’s when anxiety arises. It is in times like these that I need to be reminded that God knows the way and He is my protector. He is my shelter. Instead of cowering in the face of the unknown, I can hold my head up high because I know the One who holds tomorrow. Life is unpredictable, messy, and chaotic, but if you listen closely, there is beautiful music too. “Welcome to Minneapolis” was certainly beautiful music to my ears! The song “Shelter” concludes with these words: “I am safe, I am safe.” Yes, I am safe, and I am home.

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