There’s a lot more to this picture than meets the eye. Let me explain…
After staying overnight in New Jersey, my wife, Robin, and I drove into Manhattan to try to take in a few sites before heading to our hotel in Brooklyn that afternoon. We were in the area to attend the fourth and final qualifier for the World Baseball Classic. The winner between Brazil, Great Britain, Israel (thus the cap in the photo), and Pakistan would get to compete with fifteen other teams in the Classic in March 2017. But this trip was about a lot more than just baseball!
After parking, we went for looking for a restaurant to eat breakfast. It wasn’t long before we had our first of many wonderful New York City experiences. As we were reading the menu in the window of one place, a lady came up from behind us and said, “Don’t eat here!” We’re not sure exactly what she said after that, but she proceeded to lead us down the block to the Flame Restaurant and took off. The service was great; the food was good. We’ll never know if what happened there would have happened at the first place. All we know is that it happened.
All through the trip, it was difficult to explain how this was really our first time in New York City. Robin had never been there. But I had been to New York City forty years ago, though very briefly – not quite twenty-four hours, in fact. That brief stay marked the beginning of one of the most difficult stages of my life. Now I was back in New York for the first time since then. In the photo I had just finished crying, and here’s why.
In May 1976, my best friend and I took the Greyhound bus from Montreal to spend some days in the New York area. We arrived late afternoon, went to a movie that night, and then, somewhat similar to last week, headed out to breakfast. I don’t think it was the Flame Diner, but it was similar. As my plate of food was brought to me that morning, I had my first-ever panic attack. I didn’t know what to do with myself as I was becoming unglued. I told my friend I was going back to our hotel where I threw myself into the bed. My friend called my mother in Montreal who arranged to fly us home that afternoon.
I somehow made it through the summer, working as a camp counsellor. But when I returned home, the panic attacks returned with a vengeance. On September 1, I was coming to the end of myself. I was sitting on my bed, banging my mattress and pulling my hair, crying out, “What am I going to do!” Then two days later, I went to a friend’s house, where I met the person who told me about Yeshua (Jesus) and how he fulfilled the promises about the Messiah in the Jewish Bible (Old Testament). He told me that if I asked him into my life, I would be happy forever (a bit naïve I later learned, but it’s what I needed to hear). So that afternoon, I told God I was sorry for my sins and asked the Messiah to come into my heart and life. It took me about a day to realize that the panic attacks had stopped, and my life has never been the same since. While I have continued to struggle with anxiety from time to time, it’s very different. No matter what challenges I have faced in these past forty years, God has seen me through over and over again.
I wish I could say I never have anxiety any longer, but that wouldn’t be true. I especially struggle when anticipating a trip as in New York forty years ago and New York last week. Ever since I transitioned into Bible teaching over four years ago, I have travelled more than ever. People who follow my adventures know how positive these experiences have been, but I still haven’t learned to fully rest in God. I am not proud of this fact, especially given everything that he has done in and through me all these years.
For whatever reason, I was especially struggling in anticipation of this trip. Perhaps it was the memory of that infamous day when the panic attacks started in New York. That it was so long ago doesn’t make a difference. To me, it was like yesterday. Even though time and time again, God has seen me through in spite of fear and nerves, I couldn’t shake the specter of the pit I had fallen into back then.
So here I am, forty years later, sitting across from my best of best friend (my wife), eating breakfast in Manhattan for the second time. But this time I am okay – no panic – having fun actually. And instead of panic, something else hits me: the realization of God’s goodness, power, presence, direction, provision, faithfulness, and love. And so I lost it; not freaking out with overwhelming fear, but with tears of gratitude and joy!