Kansas 3:12 p.m.
I was traveling on I-70 eastbound across Kansas on my way back home after a short visit to Kansas State University. My new friends Heidi and Laura, students at the school, were kindly giving me a ride back to the airport. The flatlands seemed like a blur as I looked out the window. As country music stars crooned quietly in the background, we shared and talked about everything from biblical femininity to how they had dealt with being Christians at a secular school.
It was an informative ride. I found out some crazy things, like how similar my experience in college has been to their experience, even though I find myself in a totally different environment. It was clear that we all need community in order to be strong followers. For Heidi, Laura and their friends it was easy to create their own Christian bubble on their secular campus, just like it had been easy for me to hide in my pre-made Christian bubble at my own school.
After some slightly confused yet still skilled driving from Heidi, I arrived at my terminal (Dear Kansas City, I love you, but your airport needs to get it together. It’s weird.). Now, due to some scheduling issues, I had arrived rather early at the airport in Kansas City. It’s hard to describe what this means to those who haven’t visited Kansas City International.
Two words will do: It stinks.
My terminal had a Starbucks and a sandwich shop, which sounds great, but really there wasn’t much to do. However, the airport quickly redeemed itself when I found that they were providing me with free wireless Internet, quite unlike the other stingy airports that haughtily guard that prized possession. I took advantage of this incredible amenity and quickly jotted down my thoughts about my trip across Kansas and how I had learned so much by having a meaningful conversation with two total strangers.
After a few hours, the time came for me to walk down onto the tarmac and board a tiny little commuter jet to Chicago. I grabbed my seat and threw on my headphones (and then remembered my article “Dear Melissa”). So I took them out and tried to make some small talk. I quickly found out the woman beside me was from Sweden and wasn’t quite understanding me. So I lifted her up in prayer and went back to reading the in-flight magazine.
Just as we pushed off from the gate and began to move, the pilot came on and spoke in that classic pilot voice. The news was devastating:
Ladies and gentleman, we’ve just received word, literally as we pushed off from the gate, that all planes are grounded heading into Chicago due to a VIP landing. We apologize for the inconvenience. It could be about an hour before we receive word … so … feel free to move about the cabin. Hopefully we receive word sooner. Again, we apologize for the inconvenience; there’s just nothing we can do …
The plane collectively groaned. I was angered and upset along with the rest of the passengers. I whipped out my cell phone, dialed with frustration and vented to my ride that I would now have a late arrival thanks to the President. I hung up, sighed and went back to reading.
An hour later we finally took off.
Chicago 9:39 p.m.
It seemed the entire United States had now found themselves in Chicago. Every flight was delayed — except for mine. Somehow my flight home was right on time, which was quite unfortunate since I had been hoping to have some time for dinner in Chicago before heading to my flight. Instead, my plane was about 15 minutes away from beginning to board.
I trudged to my terminal, muttering all the way about the inconvenience and stupidity of it all. I barely had time to use the restroom before rushing with my luggage to my gate. I’m sure my face showed what was in my heart. I saw no reason for this tomfoolery. It was ridiculous. Just plain stupid. My stomach was roaring; my head was pounding, and in my heart I was fuming.
The 15 minutes seemed like forever as I waited to board. I watched the basketball game for a little while, saw Kobe beat the Phoenix Suns with an air ball on his way to the finals and boarded the plane. Once I settled in, my mind was a little more calmed down. I was back on track now, headed home with a warm bed and familiar time zone as my reward.
I met my neighbor, and this time he spoke English. Well, Canadian English. This amused me, particularly when I found he was part of a Canadian metal band, an image that made me chuckle. It was tough to talk with him. I didn’t really “get” anywhere, but we ended up having an interesting conversation nonetheless. He surprised me. I expected a metal band member to be rather unintelligent. But he was very well spoken, and his knowledge of all things music was incredible. I rather enjoyed the conversation and quickly found that this was his first flight on a tour that would soon include Europe. So I briefed him on the routine of a normal flight. We both put in our headphones and took off into the clouds.
Before long however, this flight became more than routine.
To describe in one sentence: As I looked out my window, I was having World War II flashbacks complete with billowing clouds and flashes of lighting. Our plane suddenly dropped. All the rows behind me screamed. I sent up a sudden prayer. My Canadian friend cussed.
The captain quickly came on to assure us that we were “fine” and that a major storm had decided to hang right above the airfield, but it looked like it would move soon. After about a half hour of circling the airport, we got diverted. The storm hadn’t moved an inch. Instead it had intensified over the runway.
I couldn’t believe it. Once again, I fumed.
So we headed down to Virginia to land, far from where my ride was. I called my ride once we landed, expressing my disgust and frustration at the whole ordeal. We figured out a plan of action: I would have to spend some of the night with my dad, who conveniently worked the night shift close by to where I would land.
Downtown Washington, D.C., 2:01 a.m.
It was one of those odd moments where you’re so tired everything seems to be a blur. I was rolling along with my dad to get something to eat before heading home. The restaurant of choice was a hole-in-the-wall place run by a few Middle Eastern guys. It was clean, but felt old and beaten up. It had that funny smell of ancient buildings. But I didn’t care anymore. I caught up on the Lakers’ win thanks to a few television screens and dug into some greasy pizza. My stomach had won the battle over my sleepy body. But within a half hour or so, besides a few detours along the way that I don’t have room to mention, I was on my way home. Finally.
Home 4:46 a.m.
You know, sometimes our lives are a little like my trip across Kansas (and the United States). It’s full of remarkable opportunities, grand conversations, frustrating delays, heart-stopping adventures and random moments where you find yourself eating greasy pizza at hole-in-the-wall establishments at 2 a.m.
I don’t think I’d change it for the world.
It is in these moments that my heart seems to show itself most clearly. The difficult moments bring the realities of my heart bubbling to the surface for everyone to see. Sometimes it shows a lack of trust in God in the circumstances I find myself in, asking “why me” or simply telling God “I see absolutely no reason for this.” That’s pride and arrogance taking the controls while humility and trust take a backseat. That’s dangerous in this life; in fact, it may be deadly for our spiritual lives. If we listen to the lies our sinful hearts tell us, we can be fooled in an instant.
The Psalmist reminds us to “be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him.” He tells us that in “just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace” (Psalm 37:7–11).
As I look back over my trip that began in Kansas, well, I can’t believe it all happened. But it reminds me of my desperate need to not listen to the lies that my heart likes to tell me in not only crazy situations, but in the normal, mundane moments of life. Lies that say other paths are better than the way the Lord has for me. When I wake up, sin is there to speak those lies to me. When I’m late for work, sin is there to speak more lies to me. When a relationship fails, sin is there to speak another lie to me.
And so often I listen.
But if I’m to make this journey in life with a safe heart, well, I need to tell my heart to listen closely: God is sovereign, and I am going to humbly trust Him no matter what happens.
Even if it means another crazy night like this one.
Copyright 2011 Tim Sweetman. All rights reserved.