Lauren Michelle Dowler
FIGHT FOR FLIGHT: BEHIND EVERY STILL FRAME IS A STORY
Beautiful beaches, ancient structures, palaces & castles.
Rugged coastlines, vibrant cities, adventures, simple pleasures.
"I want to join you!" someone comments. "It all looks so inviting!"
But don’t be fooled, while yes it’s good, are you ready for the fighting?
“I don’t even know if I want to go," I processed out loud. Tears welled up in my eyes. I pressed on the brakes in peak rush hour traffic, already struggling to stay awake. The emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting rollercoaster of the past 24 had thrown me some punches and I was losing the strength to fight.
I looked at my brother squarely in the eyes.
“Do you have your passport?” We were only 45 minutes into our 5-hour drive to LAX so I figured it was worth asking.
“Yeah, I have it” He reassured me, yet at the same time a little perplexed by the question.
“Fabulous!” I mean- these things happen. I wasn’t being paranoid or anything- just covering the bases. ;)
We continued along the 395 south paralleling the dramatic and legendary Eastern Sierras. With every season the landscape changes immensely and after a record breaking winter we were commenting on how refreshing it was to see greenery again.
Once we were literally in the middle of nowhere, deep into the Mojave Desert, I sifted through my purse and pulled out my wallet. Confident that my passport was inside I did a double take.
What? What? No. No...
What would make for a dramatic twist in the plot had become my reality.
It was gone.
“Lauren, Lauren are you there?” My friend waited patiently on the other end of the line.
I crouched down next to my brother’s truck holding on to the door frame. There were no words. In absolute shock, everything fogged over.
Enter doubt and shame. “You’re forgetful Lauren. You did just leave your keys in the door a few days ago. Maybe you should get a brain scan.” The lies swarmed in.
I couldn’t recall if my passport was in my wallet that morning- and apart from taking it out to check in for my flight I had no recollection as to where it was last.
“Lauren, we searched your apartment. I’m talking WE STRIPPED it. I can assure you- it’s not here. It has to be with you.”
My brother and I called the two places we stopped along the way- nothing. I unpacked and repacked my bag 3 times. Nothing.
It was honestly difficult to pray in that moment, but with a little nudge from God I sent out an SOS Facebook post asking others to intercede. Support streamed in from around the world- "Praying!" "Praying Lauren!" "Praying now!" I still tear up when scrolling through the comments. Amidst the chaos and confusion there was an undercurrent of peace, and a sweet reminder to worship God in the thick of my trial. The lines from Kristene DiMarco's song I Am No Victim resounded within me.
I am who He says I am He is who He says He is I'm defined by all His promises Shaped by every word He says
I am who You say I am and God You are who You say You are! You WILL fulfill your purpose for me!
With 3 hours left on the clock, we pulled into my aunt and uncle’s place in LA. After hearing what happened, my uncle began to tear apart my brother's truck. Nothing. The grace period that we had allowed ourselves to get to the airport was closing in. It was time.
I waved goodbye to my brother as he was Ubered away. It didn't make sense for both of us to miss our flight. I was truly happy for him to get a break from his hectic work schedule and I didn't in the least bit want him to feel guilty for leaving without me.
"You're going to make it to Kris' wedding. Just get on a flight as soon as possible and don't worry about the cost. I'll see you in Barcelona!" he assured me before turning around to get in the car.
Sitting cross legged, I laid back onto the pleasantly cool concrete resting my head on my backpack. As I stared up at the oak tree that towered above, it all began to sink in.
I - just missed - my flight.
See, the week prior, I diligently rested ensuring that I was not overdoing myself. I even started packing as early as possible to avoid the last-minute chaos that often comes with leaving on a big trip. I desired to be generous with my time, energized and ready to encourage and refresh those around me with the love of Christ, and generous with my finances- prepared to bless people along the way.
The last time I was in Europe money was not so much an issue, but physically, I was straight up SPENT. I didn’t sleep on my red-eye flight, and the following day I went on a walking tour of Copenhagen in a downpour that even my umbrella couldn’t shelter. I then boarded an overnight bus soaking wet and once again did not sleep. By the time I was with the people I loved I had been up for over 24 hours and it was hard to be present. I just wanted to be horizontal.
During the same trip, the day I finally started feeling up to par I had a random allergic reaction to stinging nettle and was plagued all night with hives- bloody torture I tell you. I arrived back to the US itchy and depleted. My energy levels remained low for the months to come and a year and half later I was still in recovery mode. With the sole intention of safe guarding against exhaustion and replenishing after our red-eye, my brother and I booked a Airbnb in a small beach town just south of Barcelona. The first day of our trip was dedicated to REST!
Ironically, for about a month, I had been hearing the name "Sitges". It wasn't audible or anything, but it came as a gentle, yet resounding impression deep within.
"God, why am I hearing Sitges? Am I not supposed to go, or do you have something amazing there? Well, if I'm not supposed to go, then I pray that you'd side track me or close the door altogether."
Funny that. Sitges was the place that we had an Airbnb for the first couple nights. While it didn't totally click at the time, I was beginning to understand that God was preparing me for this very moment. Typically, because I don't like missing out on things, disappointment would attempt to rage in like a flood. This time however, it couldn't. God's word was so close to my heart that I wasn't fazed by the fact the I was missing out on staying at a cool place in a beautiful beach town. Clearly, I was not supposed to be there. The thing that was frustrating however was that weariness was beginning to set in.
Strangely enough, the few days prior to my departure I was also hearing the word "airfare".
"God, why am I hearing the word airfare? I have all of my flights booked. I'm good to go."
It was now more obvious than ever.
"Ma'am, it will be $1,200 to re-book your ticket." While steep, for a last minute flight to Barcelona it didn't surprise me.
I proceeded to look up the other options my brother found for me on the drive down. Close to $900. Yikes! Well, that was better than $1,200.
I noticed that one of the itineraries stopped through Calgary where I happened to have a couple friends- one of which was a flight attendant for the same airline! Exhausted and desperate for council I gave Andrea a call.
"The flight looks like it has plenty of seats, so it's worth waiting until tomorrow. The price shouldn't go up that much."
What a relief. I just didn't see the logic in booking a flight prior to getting a new passport.
"You know what? I'm just going to put you on a buddy pass to London. There are plenty of flights to Barcelona from there. That way you can fly standby, which is a little more flexible."
Once again, I was speechless. This time it was God's rapid plan of provision that left me without words. The opportunity to fly standby not only provided flexibility, but also saved a lot of money. I was amazed by my friend's willingness and generosity as she helped fight a battle that was not her own.
While researching late into the evening I discovered that there was a passport agency in LA that had been known to issue same day passports under extreme circumstances. It would be a miracle, of which God was beyond capable of, but in order to make it there first thing in the morning I had to wake up with the birds and brave rush hour traffic. Both of which were not on "favorite things" list. They were miracles in and of themselves.
Still in a dream-like state and slightly incoherent I trusted that the maps app would help me navigate to my destination. This whole lost or stolen passport process was new to me and I had no idea what I needed. While driving, I called a 24-7 Rite Aid to see if they happened to take passport photos at 7am. Thankfully it was an option, but instead I decided to take a risk and head straight there.
"Are you here to pick up your passport?" the person next to me in line questioned. Tears welled up in my eyes.
"No, I actually missed my flight last night because my passport went missing on my drive to LAX."
"Don't worry, that's happened to me before."
"It's happened to me too!" another person chimed in.
I needed to hear that. From the people in line, to the man that took my puffy eyed, make-up free passport photo 3 times until I finally saw one I liked (P.S. they had just started offering onsite passport photos again), to the clerk that scanned and printed my documents I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love that I encountered in what normally would be considered a stale environment.
"When are you hoping to catch your flight?"
"There's a flight that leaves today at 1pm so I would have to be at the airport by 11am?"
"I tell you what- I can't get it to you that early but if you come back at 2:30pm we'll have it ready for you."
It was nothing short of a miracle. Thank you, God!
After treating myself to a celebratory icecream sandwich, I hit the road. A 20-mile drive took over an hour and a half and with only a few hours of sleep under my belt the last thing I wanted to do was to board a flight- I wanted a bed.
“I don’t even know if I want to go," I processed out loud. Tears welled up in my eyes. I pressed on the brakes in peak rush hour traffic, already struggling to stay awake. The emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting rollercoaster of the past 24 hours had thrown me some punches and I was losing the strength to fight.
“LA isn't that bad. I could always hang out here for a few days, humble myself and drive home. Besides, I feel like I have nothing to give. What am I doing going on a trip depleted and with nothing to give? If anything, I feel like I need to be taken care of.”
I knew I needed prayer. And yes, I also needed to be covered and cared for. I held down the circular button at the bottom of my phone and asked Siri to call a couple people that I was confident would go to bat for me.
After patiently listening and holding up my arms in prayer both friends separately responded,
“Lauren, you’re supposed to go on this trip. God is going to take care of you. He's done it over and over again- you have testimony after testimony of His provision. I'm excited to see what He does this time. I mean, He already came through with your passport and flight. That's pretty amazing."
It was amazing.
I arrived at Autumn's house and was greeted with a warm hug and a hearty meal.
“You’re going to be OK.”
These words are so often used but so often I undermine their value. This time however, they didn't ricochet but went straight to the heart.
I’m going to be OK.
"If you need to wash any clothes- go for it! Feel free to freshen up and take a shower."
Tears surfaced once again.
"You just need to feel like a human."
She was right. Clean clothes, a warm shower, a hot meal and a good night's sleep does wonders.
Andrea graciously organized my flight to London, and this time I was the one saying goodbye and being Ubered away. I decided to hit the reset button on the previous few days and to look at Plan B as though it was Plan A all along. I was supposed to leave a few days after my brother and meet him in Barcelona, not Sitges. I was supposed to leave his truck at my friend's house by LAX and spend some quality time with her family. I was supposed to fly standby and stopover in Canada and London. It was just meant to be.
I exited the terminal in Barcelona and rounded the corner to find my brother who had been waiting for me at a cafe. I caught him by surprise and when he looked up it was perfect. WE did it. And by WE, I mean, everyone who fought for me, and God who is constantly fighting on our behalf.
He is who He says He is.
"For the LORD your God is He who fights for you, just as He promised you." Joshua 23:10