Monday, June 15, 2015

“I Don’t Want to be Like You!"

Hallway conversations that begin like this have pretty much only one way to go. I had one at SALT, but they are common enough that I can give you a profile:

The speaker is a young lady, in her late 20’s or maybe early 30’s, and single.  She comes, like Nicodemus, for a clandestine conversation: she is considering missions, but is terrified that she’ll end up like me: 60 something and single.  I represent her worst nightmare, its personification, to which she is irresistibly drawn.

A pleasant greeting perhaps, with a request to talk with me, disintegrates quickly as she blurts out, “I don’t want to be like you!”

To the average young woman, a lifetime of singleness looms as a primal fear.  God has not yet answered prayers for a husband, and she is aging out of the marriage pool.  Watching her friends marry off, one by one, she wonders when--if--it will be her turn.  Missions will only complicate matters.

She is afraid of God, afraid of her call, afraid to take the risk.  I wish I had a nickel for every conversation I’ve had like this. 

I let her pour out her heart. Inevitably the verbal eruption subsides and she melts a bit, having found a sympathetic ear, one that has the mileage.  A few tears start falling when I ask her how she knows the future.
My script is relatively short.  I’ve learned to cut to the chase: to talk about the Threshold Guardians of fear in her heart.

“There are no guarantees,” I promise.  “No conditions you can make.  Are you going to follow Jesus or not?  Are you going to trust him for marriage or contentment in singleness?”

It's a bucket of cold water, I know.  But also the reality check needed to rout lies and fear from an anxious mind.  We end in prayer, rehearsing the truths, and say goodbye with a hug. 

I almost never hear from her again.  I’m not sure if I’ve salvaged any calls by these converstations, but I know each one has had one more chance to face her Threshold Guardians and move past them. I hope to meet every one of these precious women in heaven, having successfully completed their Hero’s Journey: the call to follow Christ.  Unconditionally.  Single or married.  God bless them.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Round II: Don't Pray!

Day 2 at the airport began with the joy of reunion with my team, and catching up on the past 6 months.  But the mood deteriorated minute by minute as my chances of getting out on the same flight began slipping away.  Two others on our team were in the same boat as me, flying standby. One bailed, and the other was about to. 

I talked with Teri about how the difficulty in understanding this when literally hundreds of people were praying for us.  And while it was a small matter in the grand scheme of things, it mattered. 

We compared it to Teri’s situation, dealing with cancer; in spite of literally thousands of prayers going up globally for her, Teri was not healed (though thankfully on the road to recovery).  We puzzled over the mysteries of unanswered prayer, from the frustrating inconveniences to life-threatening ordeals.  Puzzling scenarios that defied explanation, yet we believed were in God’s design.

By now, our team of 10 was scattered all around the large waiting area.  I wandered over to discuss options with another standy-by-ee, about to bail.  We had one option to fly into Amsterdam and catch a train then down to Brussels—an option with a $120 price tag she wasn’t so willing to pay.  Would I?  I offered to go research train schedules while we waited, and she’d discuss it with her husband.

I headed back to where Teri sat with my computer.  As I walked I wondered if I should post requests again on FB, and email, but wasn’t “feeling it.”  All this communication was getting kind of ‘old,’ wasn’t it?  Was I over-communicating?  And though I didn’t want to admit it, to be honest, I had just lost faith in that course of action.

Why was I soliciting prayer?  Was it as simple as just wanting to get on the plane?  Was I feeling sorry for myself, or fearful that my prayers wouldn’t work?  I didn’t know, but until I did, I knew it would do no good to pray without faith for something I didn’t believe in. 

“Yes, I don’t think I can pray in good conscience,” I concluded, and nearly tripped as the Lord interrupted to agree, “Yes, don’t pray.”

I stopped in my tracks, stunned.   Was that really God saying that?  Linda and Hannah, sitting a few feet in front of me, looked up in surprise. “You ok?” 

I blurted out the update.  As Linda began to say, “We need to pray,” I corrected her: “No, I think the Lord just told me not to pray.”

You can imagine the look on their faces, but I was so convinced, I didn’t have time to explain.  I headed over to Teri; she would have more context because of our previous conversation. 

“You can excommunicate me later but I think that’s what I heard!” I called over my shoulder.

I repeated to Teri what I had told Linda and Hannah.   She agreed that it made sense and it resonated completely with her.  Motivation of the heart was key.  

“I need to go for a walk,” I told Teri.  “I need to sort this out more.”  She nodded and off I went, pacing the long corridor of the international airport, asking God to show me my heart.  Linda caught up with me to see if I was ok, and I asked her to pray with me, and we did. 

For some reason as we finished praying, I began to sing some hymn I knew.  Up and down the corridors of the airport, we then marched, arm in arm.  Not militantly, more like tourists, only we were looking for something no airport shop could sell.  I had the feeling that whatever I couldn’t figure out in this scenario was being healed just by that simple act.

As we strolled we sang whatever hymns and praise songs we could remember, and then turning at the end of the corridor to sing some more.  On one turn, I joked to Linda, “He didn’t say not to worship!”  And the light bulb came on.

Don’t pray, worship. 

I thought of Paul held prisoner with Silas, and how they prayed from their jail cell.  Not exactly comparable circumstances, but I too was being held captive by a system and needed to get free.  Freedom would come with the sacrifice of praise.

We laughed, and all the frustration of the past two days evaporated.  Joy, lightness and delight flooded in.  I remembered the verse I had read when I first set out, in the coffee shop:

“Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger.”—Ps. 8:2 

I thought of all those negative thoughts that were trying to penetrate - put to silence by praise.  

Linda was reassured that I hadn’t lost my mind, and I had my prayer of faith.  Whatever happened now, I would continue to worship, and see when God would open up a flight for me.

Boarding began, we waved our team off, the doors closed, and we waited.  Within minutes the announcement came: no seats.  I was sent home once again.  Only this time with a pearl of great price.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015


Two  hours later, we took off, arriving in Atlanta about 11:30 pm.  Assured there would be an agent at the exit to help us with our connections, we deplaned.  Our tiny Asian agent was there alright, swaying with exhaustion as I asked her help. 

You wouldnt believe what happened here today,she stammered, eyes flickering with fatigue.  Yep, I would, and asked about my luggage.  She recovered some professionalism enough to wave me to the right—“It will take three hours.  Go to Gate B19.

A few dozen feet away, there was B19, easily identifiable by the long line snaking down the corridor away from it.  Hundreds of people.  

I worked my way through the sea of people running, wandering, on their phones, iPads or laptops, or sleeping on the floor, draped over chairs or each other, pillows made out of backpacks and laps.  Trolleys of snacks and drinks were parked everywhere, and blankets and travel kits were being distributed.  I got on the line.

Rich and Silvi were going to pick me up.  I texted to tell them I had arrived.  

Were here!” Silvi texted back.  "Where are you?"

"On a line!” 

20 min. later, I was rerouted to another gate....wait
....wait....wait...only to be told this agent didnt handle international flights, only domestic.  Back to B19.  I detoured at another gate with a shorter line, grabbing some snacks and a travel kit. 

Wait.  Wait.  Wait.  Rebook, secure luggage arrangements for tomorrow, text Silvi and Rich.  Emerge. 

Silvi found me first and scooped me up in that big hug so needed at the end of 18 hours of travel.  We drove to Susans, who was going to put me up for the night, babbling all the way, making arrangements for, later today

Rich would bring my computer into the office and see to getting it some badly needed service.  Our ride to the airport was at 2 pm, when I could pick it up.  Maybe some of us could get lunch tomorrow?  I texted my team to say I would be joining them in the van, sans luggage.   

Entering Susans home, exhaling.  She had fallen asleep while waiting and the two of us, bleary-eyed and bone weary, hugged, said, Good night!” and staggered off to bed. 

And what traveler, at the end of 19 hours, wouldnt smile on finding this:

Ok, maybe a guy...but thank you Rich, Silvi, and Susan!  My true sanctuary and friends.  

Monday, June 1, 2015

Escape from Bradley

The joy of being stranded for hours on end is the experience of every seasoned traveler, and the reasons for the stranding diverse.  Here's mine: flying standby. 

Morning came early, with a 6:00 wake up call, and arrival at the airport by 7:30 am.  I headed for the nearest cafe for cappuccino and a bagel, and read a psalm.  I was struck by a verse and wrote it down.  A meditation on my iphone followed, with more notes.  I could decorate those notes, I decided, and so I did.  Quotes, feet, ladies' heads, graphic sidebars as I contemplated doing a modern-day illuminated page.

When it was time, I headed to my gate, A12, which would become way too familiar in the hours ahead.  I hoped to get on a flight at 9:30 am, flying standby.  Nope.  No problem, next flight in a couple of hours, which would still allow me to make my connection.  Um.  If I get on, which didn't sound hopeful.  And wasn't.   Now I would miss the connector to Brussels.  Double dang.  

full, and the next one, and the next, all day long until the 6:30 pm flight, delayed due to thunderstorms.  And yet the boarding came, the flight left, the 12 hours concluded.  No rhyme or reason, just life.  Or was it?

How do you pass 12 hours in an airport?  If you're a child, you run, scream, jump on chairs, laugh, poke your sibling, defy your parents, eat junk food, step on the power cords of your fellow travelers, who were in no mood.  

"Alex!"  a harried father hissed, "Sit DOWN!!!" 

I moved.  How is it that a family of five is traveling standby?  Not my business.  I know why I am, because of finances, and imagine they're in the same boat.  

If you're almost everyone else, your head is bowed, your face intense, as you gaze into a smartphone, laptop or book.

If you're a writer or artist, a secret glimmer starts shimmering inside: there are hours unfolding and nothing required of you but to sit and wait, watch a departure screen, and sit back down.  The sketchbook comes out, or the laptop.  The gaze is equally intense, but to a different purpose.

I warmed up in between the first two missed flights, writing emails, notes in my new journal and Facebook.  By noon I was full on into a writing spree that lasted the next 8 hours.  Seriously.  Interrupted but productive.  Then the thunderstorms came.


A friend was stranded in New Jersey, trying to get out to UK, also delayed by thunderstorms.  Where was I and could I meet her?!  

"Nope, stranded in Connecticut!" I texted back.  "Phone call?"  We synchronized watches; while I checked on the 3:30 flight, she got lunch and took a bio break. 

Not only did I not make the 3:30 flight, but the 5:20, my first real hope of getting out, was delayed.  This put in jeopardy an 11:00 flight to Amsterdam.  Gaaaa.....

"But," chirped the very helpful gate lady, "if you jump in a car right now, and drive to JFK, you can get on that Amsterdam flight!  There's one at 7:00!"  Adrenalin rush.  Flight?  I checked my watch.  New York.  During rush hour.  On a summer Sunday, in a rainstorm.  Nope, not doing it.  Don't even have a car.  I sat down in a heap. 

How does one fill 12 hours in an airport?   

Scrutinizing the gate screen, conversing with fellow stand-by-ees, trips to the bathroom, or to get food or drink.  Phone calls, texts, email updates, recalculating...will need bed and breakfast, a pickup and a ride tomorrow.  Can I connect with my team?

5:30 flight delayed till room in the inn.

6:30 flight delayed to 7:30, but I "should" get on...did I mention the thunderstorms? 

YES!  As the boarding finalized and I approached the counter to hear about standbys, the gate crew bantered in the post-boarding euphoria that might make them a tiny bit forgetful.  One caught my eye and a flash of panic crossed his face.

"Go!" he shouted.  "You're cleared!"  

I dove for the moveable corridor, and entered the plane.  Like a familiar shoe to a weary foot, I sat in the window seat of aisle 13 and counted my blessings.  I made it. 

A few minutes passed and my instincts told me we had a delay. 15 min. later the plane pulled back and taxied way too slowly down a tarmac.  I watched the rain start again.  May we not be delayed now, Lord.  But my instincts told me...3...2...1..."Attention ladies and gentlemen...we have a groundstop.  We hope to be cleared by 9:15."  To the collective groan of everyone on the plane, and no one's surprise who is well-traveled.  

"Alex!"  a harried father hissed, "Sit DOWN!!!"  The family was seated two rows ahead of them. 

How do you spend 12 hours in an airport, and two on a tarmac?  Anyway you can.  Ipads, smartphones and laptops pulled out lit up the fuselage with the lightening, as we tried to make the hours pass without noticing.