Alright, so not everything went as planned.
That’s the tame way of saying that just about everything that could go wrong yesterday DID go wrong.
I got up at 4 for a flight at 8:05. That seems fairly self-explanatory in terms of general not-so-greatness, so I’ll move on.
Croatia joined the EU yesterday. Whoop-de-do for them and all, but it meant that the roads to the airport were blocked for reasons left unexplained. Something to do with a parade and escorting diplomats. I was dropped off at a parking lot and I leaped onto the nearest bus.
I arrived on time, checked in, checked my suitcase (more on that later) and walked through passport control and security. Then I sat at my gate and waited for my flight.
The flight was cancelled.
A bespectacled man in a suit announced that any of us who had a connecting flight needed to come talk to him. I did, and he took my boarding passes and my passport, assured me he’d talk to me later, and disappeared. When he returned, he gave me back my passport and passes and told everyone thus inconvenienced to follow his colleague. I did—and found my passport rechecked, and myself outside the terminal at the airport entrance.
This is where I started to panic. I am not ashamed to admit that.
I flagged down a quasi-friendly looking security guard and asked him what was going on and where I should go. He kindly directed me to the ticket counter, where I was to wait behind a long line of disgruntled Croatian travelers waiting to get their flight routes rearranged.
So there I stood, near tears, clutching my carry-ons and wondering if I would get home after all, secretly wishing for a pair of magical ruby slippers and praying harder than I think I’ve prayed in a while. There was a man in line in front of me who might place third in a John Rhys Davies lookalike competition. He was a multilingual businessman on his way to Kiev. I know this because by the mercy of God, one of his seven or so languages was English. He took me under his wing. He was Guardian Angel Number One on this trip. There turned out to be several. This one let me borrow his phone to call home and leave a message (it was 1:41 a.m. back home) saying that I would be delayed and would contact them as soon as I could.
For the sake of time, I will skip to the part where the nice lady at the ticket counter reassigned my flights—and found a way to get me home only ten minutes later than my previous itinerary stated. She also assured me that my baggage would be redirected on the same route. Turns out one of those statements would be true.
My new flight was at 9:05. It was currently 8:45.
I sprinted to check in again, go through passport check again, and through security again, before I collapsed on the bus that would take me to my flight—which ended up being delayed, anyway.
This is where what God was doing became apparent. The man next to me on the flight was an EU employee who had been in Croatia for the celebration. I told him I had been in Croatia teaching English and giving the Gospel to school kids. He asked me where I studied, and I told him I went to college at UU, a fundamentalist Christian liberal arts college. He asked me what a fundamentalist was. A two-hour conversation started. He is a man with doubts, though what he doubts was unclear, no matter how many times I asked him. He is Greek Orthodox, and very devoutly so, and is trusting the collective faith of his church to save his soul. He says he cannot be certain whether or not he is going to heaven. He is a reader of the Bible, so I pointed him to 1 John, and told him that God didn’t want him to have to have doubts about his eternal destiny. We came to a deal—I would look up Greek Orthodox liturgy if he would read 1 John and Colossians in the original Greek. Seemed fair.
This encounter would not have been possible if I had gotten on my original flight.
I landed in Frankfurt, not Vienna as was originally planned, and had just enough time to squeak through the door onto the U.S. Airways plane that would take me to Washington, D.C. Needless to say, there was not sufficient time to sit down and email my parents saying that I was okay and on my way home. Need I mention that my computer battery was about to die, so I may not have been able to do that anyway. Of course, I could only get on the flight after I talked to someone to get a seat assignment—and was curtly interrogated by a TSA agent who asked me if I was carrying any weapons or anything that could be used as a weapon. The most lethal thing on my person was a bag of potato chips, which typically only damage arteries, and even then only after an extended period of time. Of course, if I had said “yes,” I don’t think this lady would’ve noticed.
Eight and a half hours later, I was back in the U.S. My luggage, on the other hand, was not. After waiting 45 minutes with a crowd of people from France, Germany, Italy, and Britain and not seeing hide nor hair of my purple suitcase, I started looking for official-looking people who might be able to tell me where it was. A nice man on his way home from Rome (Guardian Angel Three—for sake of time, I’ll write more on all of them later) said he’d watch for my luggage while I went and talked to a lady in a suit, who took me to a customer service counter where I was told my suitcase never left Frankfurt. They gave me a piece of paper to show the customs agent.
Then I waited in line. I waited in line for a really, really long time, especially since my flight boarding time was 4:33 and it was 4:15 by the time I figured out I had no luggage. They herded us like cattle through an eternally long roped-off course before we could get through security. I got through that (after a short pat-down on my head—I was wearing a suspicious-looking bandana) and looked at my boarding pass to figure out where to go.
There was no gate listed on the boarding pass. I was directionless. And late.
Thankfully, the flight was also late. So by the time I figured out where I was supposed to go, I got to the gate before my plane did. Then they changed the gate. Typical.
The cool thing, though, was that I ran into a girl from my literary society at school, who was on her way to visit her family—and was on the same flight to Anytown that I was. She was my last guardian angel of the day. There have been few moments when I have been that happy to see a familiar face.
And there was a Starbucks in the terminal. I had missed being able to buy a big cup of coffee. Even a tall Starbucks coffee is bigger than anything you can get in Croatia. Since my flight was delayed, I had time to drink a cup of strong coffee. It’s the little blessings…
I got on my plane. I flew home, watching the states go by underneath me from the tiny little window next to my seat. When I landed, I ran into my parent’s arms, never happier to be home.
All that to say that I serve a big, powerful God who showed Himself to be reliable and trustworthy and sovereign in all the goings on of the day. During the longest and potentially the awfullest Monday of my life, He was right there the whole way, ordering things to get me home safe and sound.
True, my suitcase is still on vacation somewhere in Europe—they’re still tracing the bag—but I am home. A camera full of memories is still sitting in a holding area somewhere, sealed inside my poor purple suitcase—but I am home. Miraculously. God is bigger than the mishaps of man, and I know beyond a doubt that He got me home.
Through many dangers, toils, and snares
I have already come
‘Tis grace that brought me safe thus far
And grace will lead me home.