What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you? Terrible, right? It stings to think about it. Maybe you still feel sore or hurt.
But what if that “worst thing” was actually the "best thing?” What if that terrible thing was your rescue? What if the crisis of the moment saved you for a lifetime? And what if you did not even realize until much later that you were being rescued?
Yesterday, December 21, our family remembered a special anniversary — the twenty-eighth anniversary of the day that members of the Phillips family did not die because somebody made a big mistake.
For the better part of that year, my then future father-in-law, Howard Phillips, had been preparing for a big conference on economics in Johannesburg, South Africa.
It was a big year for Doug, his dad, his brother, and their friends organizing trips and traveling back and forth to Sub-Saharan Africa on their tours.
But days before their scheduled December event, the hotel called to explain that there had been a huge mistake — a double booking. Their event had to be rescheduled— delayed by over a week.
The news was disastrous. Close to a hundred people from the U.S. were scheduled to attend. A significant number of the American guests were booked, along with members of the Phillips family, to return with Pan Am flight 103 from London to New York. The plane tickets were paid for and in hand. The reschedule meant contacting each guest, explaining the situation, and acquiring permission to change the schedule, and then rebooking the air-line tickets, and all the other travel plans associated.
The hotel agreed to pay for the flight changes, and the majority of the guests were wiling to accommodate the schedule change. But it was a logistical nightmare, and there was a great deal at risk financially and for the reputation of the tour group, not to mention the hotel because of the mistake. You can imagine the stress and challenge.
Soon after, one of the tour leaders was sitting in his hotel room watching the news. A terrible headline flashed across the television screen. It took a few minutes to connect the dots. He looked at the screen, and then pulled out the cancelled ticket marked Pan Am Flight 103.
28 years ago yesterday, the world learned that the greatest aviation terrorist attack of the 1980's had taken place: Pan Am Flight 103, the Lockerbie bombing.
All of a sudden, the hassle and stress and trouble caused by the mistake and all the ensuing changes vanished. Everything looked different now. Everyone on their trip was still alive because someone had made a mistake.
243 passengers and 16 crew members died. 11 residents of Lockerbie were killed on the ground. Of the 270 total fatalities, 189 were American citizens and 43 were British citizens. A tragic, cruel, unnecessary loss. A nightmare for every passenger, and a haunting memory for every loved one. But, in God's providence, not my future in-laws. Not my future husband.
An interesting historical note: There were some American entertainers who were also scheduled to fly on Pan Am Flight 103 including actress Kim Cattrall, The Four Tops, and a famous punk rock star, but for one reason or another, they missed that connection. They were spared also.
But for someone else's mistake -- I would not have the family I have today.
Here's my take away that I offer you, too. The next time a crisis happens in your life, stop and consider that the terrible, life-disrupting problem you thought was going to be the end of you may have been God’s way of rescuing you.