After almost a week of family time during the Thanksgiving holiday, Allie flew back to Alabama unaccompanied for the first time. This wasn't the original plan, but I am so incredibly thankful it turned out this way so we would be the parents to prep Allie for this transition, be with her in the airport, and make it as smooth as possible.
Zach and I have been looking forward to this day for almost two years and here's why...
Two years ago we moved from Atlanta to central Florida. This massive transition changed many things in our life, but it greatly impacted our closeness to Allie and ease of getting her regularly. Our once 4 hr drive from Atlanta every other week now became 11 hrs which took our regular commutes to air travel. At the time, we weren't sure how we could pull this off, but we knew without any doubt that God orchestrated our move, was sovereign over all, and that included Allie being a part of our family.
Before taking the ministry position in Florida, Zach arranged with his boss to travel bi-monthly to Alabama, Mondays - Wednesdays, since he naturally wouldn't be able to travel on the weekends due to leading 5 worship services. This was incredibly gracious of that church and also Zach's mom, who has consistently provided support and housing for Zach and Allie throughout the years in Alabama. (Cindy, what would we do without you? :) You are seriously the best MIL a girl could ever ask for and I am so grateful for all you have done and continue to do for my two favorite people on earth!)
So Zach began flying, every other week, and let me tell ya- it wasn't easy. At the time, there was no direct flight to Huntsville or way of getting to her from the city we lived in. Zach and I would drive 1.5 hrs to Orlando from our home in Ormond Beach, Zach would board a plane and connect in either Atlanta, Charlotte, or Chattanooga, and then head on to Huntsville. Many, I mean MANY times these flights were delayed, cancelled, or problematic. Once, due to a cancellation, he even had to drive 11 hrs through the night to get back in time to preach (yes, he was preaching AND leading worship), for the weekend. Even though it was difficult and expensive, we pressed on as Zach always has. Since Allie was born she has always been his priority no matter what. It would take me days to write a post that included all he has done for her and sacrificed for her over the years, but even when he has been completely broke with nothing to his name except his dad's first guitar, he has made a way to be with Allie and meet her needs. He is a total rockstar in more ways than one. :)
For the year we were in Florida, Zach flew every other week to be with Allie. Then, in a slew of unforeseen events, God up and moved us to Charlotte. At first, I was really resistant to the idea because it didn't help us get that much closer to Allie. To me, the goal was get closer to Allie. Get to Nashville and stop the madness! In Charlotte, we would still need to fly. However, God changed my heart and He has shown us, in MANY ways, why we are in Charlotte and that He has a perfect plan for Allie here. For more deets on this and how intentionally God has been providing for our Allie, read this post.
Anyways, now with a full life in Charlotte, it was time for Allie to come to us so she could be a part of it. She needed to have her own bedroom at our house. She needed to see her dad do what he is so passionate about and something God has anointed him to do. She needed to have friends and sleepovers and birthday parties. She needed community and a real life here, not just a few days with dad at Nana's every other week. It was a difficult transition with many bumps for a variety of reasons, but Zach started flying to Alabama, picking Allie up at the airport, flying her back to Charlotte and vice versa on the way back. Yes, it seems insane when there are airline polices in place for her to fly as an unaccompanied minor without a parent, but it is what needed to happen. So for the last year we have been buying 3 planes tickets instead of one every time Allie comes (unless my MIL or BIL came too) just to get Allie and ensure she is not only a part of our life, but building her own life here in Charlotte. It has been difficult and expensive, but it has been worth every penny to get Allie here. I really hate that she can't be here more and it breaks my heart when she begs us to stay. But such is the life of a child of divorce, always missing out on something, somewhere, and at this age, she's not old enough to do much about it.
So anyways... the day had finally arrived - Allie's 12th birthday. With it came much joy and presents for Allie, but also.... she had now crossed the threshold of when all parties involved had agreed to let her fly without Zach. As is the case with all things new and unknown, Allie was a little anxious, but you would have never known it. She was cool and relaxed in the airport as we went through all the steps, waited to board, and got her to her US Airways escort at the gate entrance.
(For those of you who don't know, when a child flies without a parent, they are taken through the airport and all the way to the gate by a parent. The only time they are "alone" is when they are in their seat on the plane and now under the supervision of the flight attendant assigned to them. At the departure gate, the parent dropping off must remain until the plane is in flight. At the arrival gate, the other parent is required to be waiting at the gate as well when the child arrives.)
Maybe she was totally fine because we had talked through everything with her about a billion times on various flights over the last 2 years and in many conversations. Maybe it was because we got her her first phone so she could call us once she sat in her seat, before the "turn everything off" announcement was made and as soon as her plane touched down in Alabama. With it she felt tethered to us, connected, even though it was turned off during flight. Maybe it was because I had been praying for God to overwhelm her with peace- His peace, and that her heart and emotions would be calm. It was probably the latter that did the trick, but I neglected to pray for my own peace! Ha! Big mistake. :)
As soon as we hugged Allie bye and watched her walk with the attendant to the plane, tears started streaming down my face and both our hearts were overcome with anxiety. What were we doing?!! Why was she flying alone?! Why did everyone tell us this was no big deal and something Allie should have been doing all along?! Obviously those people had never watched their child walk to a plane!!! As the internal meltdown began while we waited in the airport for her flight to take off, I started doubting everything I know to be true, everything good God has done in our life. I started giving into the fear and anxiety and questioning his very intentional plan.
Before I crumpled into a heap on the airport carpet, I started to examine my reasons for feeling this way. Why am I fearful? Why am I so anxious? Is it because I feel that Allie is unsafe? No. I know she is as safe as she can be and statistically much more safe on a plane than in a car. We would never do anything that threatened her safety. Is she unhappy? No. She seemed her normal self. I discovered that the reason I was anxious and fearful was not rooted in anything legitimate, but only in my desire for control.
I felt panicked and fearful and anxious because she was now outside my control. There was nothing I could do during that 1 hr flight if she needed me. And that's when it hit me. The word that my sinful self tries to fight everyday, the word that I treat like my enemy, but is ironically the road to freedom -
I needed to surrender her to God, her ultimate provider and protector. God reminded my heart that she is His, not ours. He reminded me that I need to trust Him to meet her needs instead of believing we can take care of them all. He reminded me of all the things I wrote in this post last January, all the incredible things God has done in our lives, and that He has not just... forgotten about the need to fly to get Allie here. He is working and sovereign over everything and I need to start acting like it in regard to our situation with Allie.
I came down off my ledge as Allie was in flight, but Zach and I were both a bit... traumatized until we heard her happy voice on the other end of that precious new phone. Ha! I am so so so grateful it was such a good first experience and that we have overcome this first hurdle. Ironically, as difficult and frustrating as this can be sometimes, I am also thankful for the obstacles surrounding this co-parenting situation with Allie because it constantly points me to the cross and reminds me to lean into Jesus and surrender. I know that when I do, I can be more filled with his peace, joy, and love and that will ultimately serve our daughter in a much greater way and will show her how to do the same.