Philadelphia International is a middleweight of an airport, between Asheville and Atlanta in size but closer to the latter. So as I parked in the high-rise garage to pick up Natalie the missionary, I sensibly jotted my coordinates on the back of a torn-out car manual end page—“Garage A east X11”—and pocketed it before making my way through the sameness of communist-gray cement pilings to the bridge to the concourse. A quirk about PHL, which shall have to be attended to in the near future, is that all 17,000 parking spots are sometimes taken. But I had mine and that’s what mattered, and I would just be a few minutes.
Natalie was without phone service, but she borrowed a phone and gave me directions. In the 1950s scientists discovered that the maximum number of digits the average person can retain on the fly is seven: thus, the standard phone number. After that, one gets frazzled and the delicate mental edifice begins to crumble. Natalie was sending me on a trip involving an escalator, a long walk, and enough compass turns to put me near the tipping point of retention. So I once more proceeded wisely by noting the words above the door I had just exited—Garage B. More clever still, I memorized a prominent Marriott sign at the end of the hall.
Natalie was presiding over six 50-pound suitcases when I spotted her. One of us would push the cart of four, and the other would roll two bags. A kindly employee gave assurances about an elevator that would do the job, and we trundled away. But when we arrived at X11, another car was there, not mine. Quickly rifling through the possibilities (stolen car; multiple universe; all seven airport garages use the same alphabet and numerical system), and realizing it was insanity to continue the search together, I told Natalie to stay put while I explored alone. Neither of us mentioned out loud the new prospect of two losses rather than one.
I glanced at the crumpled car manual page and my heart sank: I had written conflicting garage information. Still I had the Marriott clue—but I had not considered the sheer size of the hotel, an establishment capable of several garage entry points. I checked the “X” row in Garage B, and there was no red Mazda with a keyed passenger side. I decided to try Garage C, though I knew that was stupid. I kept passing a “Celestial Balldergarten” Rube Goldberg contraption, a dance video on the baggage claim wall, and a man in a suit at the bottom of the escalator holding a “Fitzpatrick” sign.
I finally phoned my husband for prayer and almost immediately found Natalie. I phoned him a second time and found the car. Which maybe should be the point of this essay. But I was also struck by the following:
In moments of sudden terror—whether you are a school kid holding on for dear life to get home to the bathroom, or whether you are a grown woman with no sense of direction in a middle-sized international airport—you start to get very serious about God. Needing God intensely—or rather, becoming intensely aware of the need you always had but were dull to—drives out all equivocations about morality. Were you formerly “unsure” about whether you are unkind to your husband? It’s pretty clear now, baby! Did you waste all week in morbid obsession over some guy, single lady? “Five minutes’ genuine toothache would reveal the romantic sorrows for the nonsense they were” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters). Did you tell the whole neighborhood you were born gay and could never change? At this moment you would gladly surrender anything if God will only rescue you.
All men are in crisis but not all men are aware of it. Fear of the Lord is true sanity. Acute awareness of one’s desperate condition is clarity. The Jews got it on the day Peter shook their complacency with truth about the danger they were in. Alarmed, they cried, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). And Peter said what God still says today: “Repent.” If you are lost, He wants to find you.