I got off active duty almost a year ago now, and last week I have been reminded of one of the many reasons why. Since I remained in the National Guard I still have certain obligations to uphold, which involve periodic training, and the occasional trip. Last week I had to fly to Fort Bragg, North Carolina for a short training course.
It was a fiasco.
To begin with, my flight left Seattle at 5:00 A. M. Rather than wake up the Baby Girl in the middle of the night to drive me to the airport, my wife and I decided that she would drop me off the night before and I would just sleep over at the USO.
Great plan, but although I did get a bunk from 11:00 P. M. to 3:00 A. M., I didn’t get much sleep. The door to the bunk room was open, the lights were on outside, people kept coming and going. Unsurprisingly I woke up less than refreshed.
The airline only issued me one baggage ticket so I had to hand carry my medical bag.
Going through security the TSA kindly reminded me that I had forgotten to take my skinning knife out of my back pack after a recent fishing trip.. After leaving security and mailing it home I went back through. This time they took issue with my medical bag. A different scanning lady objected to the IV fluids I was carrying. Oh well, those are expendable anyway. But with one thing and another, I didn’t have time for breakfast before my flight, so I was a bit hungry, but I got something to eat at my next flight (I categorically refuse to purchase food on an airplane).
Then in Dallas things really started to get interesting. One of my seat mates was a lady with a 5 month old baby girl. The baby girl was cute, but didn’t like sitting still for that long. I didn’t mind her getting fractious. Fussy babies don’t bother me. What bothers me are the older adults who feel the need to make snide comments about how “it’s going to a long flight” and “people shouldn’t be allowed to bring babies on airplanes.”
Then someone on the baggage team accidentally scratched the inside of the cargo door. They called maintenance, maintenance called their boss, their boss called someone in Tampa, and someone in Tampa took two hour to decide that it was safe to fly with that scratch on the inside of the cargo door. By that time everyone on the plane with a connection had already missed it, and the baby girl (whose name was Amelia) was beyond done with this whole “flying” thing.
We landed in Charlotte two hours behind schedule. The customer service was swamped. I tried to call the military ticketing agency, but was on hold for half an hour. I hung up and tried a different number, but again was on hold and my battery went into the red.
The airline switched me to the last flight to Fayetteville, which was supposed to leave at 8:05. I was number 11 on the standby list.
I sprinted to the gate to plug my phone in and wait for the ticketing people to get back to me. My plan was, if I didn’t get on the flight, I would have them rent me a car in Charlotte and I would drive to Fayetteville. I found out that not only was I number 11 on the standby list, the flight was overbooked.
I got through to a person just as they started boarding the flight. The ticketing agent said that they were having a ton of people having issues with Government travel cards, the end of the fiscal year, etc. and she was sorry about the weight, but she couldn’t reserve me a rental car until it was determined that I could not make that flight. She apologized and hung up.
Ten minutes later the airline officially confirmed that I was not on the flight. I called the ticketing agency again. After another hold, this time only 28 minutes long, I got through, and they got me a rental car. However, there was a catch.
Because I was picking it up in Charlotte and dropping it off in Fayetteville, they were going to charge by the mile, not the day. If I kept that car the whole trip it would amount to a little over $1500! The only thing to do was to drive to the Fayetteville airport, drop off the new car, pick up the car I had originally contact, hopefully pick up my bags which had been forwarded through, and then try to get to the hotel and get some sleep before class at 6:30 the next morning.
I called to confirm they still had my car reserved for me in Fayetteville, and then picked up the car in Charlotte. Again a problem arose. The Fayetteville rental car desks close at 11:59. It is a 2 hour 45 minute drive from Charlotte to Fayetteville. It was 9:00 PM and I hadn’t eaten.
Then my government card didn’t work at the rental car desk, so I had to use my personal one.
I made it by 9:45 without getting a ticket, and even managing to get something to eat. Then the hammer fell:
1: The baggage claim was closed so my uniforms, equipment and shaving kit were all locked up. I needed them for class at 6:30 the next morning.
2: They had rented out my car. I would have to come back the next day to get rid of the Charlotte car and pick up the Fayetteville car.
In defeat I made my way to the hotel, where I was greeted by a very friendly and helpful after hours clerk. He even let me keep the desk pen, since I had lost mine somewhere during the day.
But when I reached for my wallet, it was gone.
In a panic I excused myself and rushed to the car, praying with all my might that I hadn’t left it at the airport, which by now was closed and locked.
I hadn’t it was sitting on the passenger seat of the rental, and I was able to check in without further incident.
But the lobby smelled like cigarette smoke, the room smelled like mildew, the knob fell off the shower faucet and the floor of the shower sagged when I stepped on it. The floorboards were probably rotten. It was well past 1:00 A. M. when I finally got to bed.
So the next morning, Monday, I got up at 5:30, called the school-house and the head instructor, let them know my predicament. I rushed to the airport, got my bags, changed, rushed back to post, dry shaving on the way, and made it to the school-house with 2 minutes to spare! Go team!
Of course I hadn’t had time for breakfast, but lunch was only a few short hours away, and I had completed the mission, so who cares about hungry?
Okay, so this is the part where I come to the point. This would have been simply an awful nuisance of a day, except that the whole time I had been asking God, “Why are you doing this?”
Not reproachfully, like, “What the heck are you thinking?” but seriously, “What is your purpose? What are you trying to teach me?”
There were a lot of answers. He pointed out my anti-social traveling habits (I never talk much to fellow passengers) my worry, my stressing out rather than simply trusting. But it all became clear when I found my wallet on the passenger seat of the rental and a heartfelt “Thank you, Lord!” burst from my lips.
As clearly as if He had said it in my ear I felt Him ask, “So you will thank me for this, but not for all the rest?”
And it was true. I hadn’t been thanking Him for the hassle, the stress, the irritation, the cross that was an opportunity (minuscule but real) to share in the Cross of Christ. Had I not just been reading about the necessity of the Cross? About how the reality of faith is to be found in the messiness and inconvenience of life?
Instead, through the whole thing I was feeling my old response to stress, which is the urge simply to withdraw, go home, curl up on the couch and read a book with a cup of tea, and never go out and do Army stuff again. (Yes, that is really how I want to react. You wonder how I ever got the Green Beret? So do I.)
Sometimes the problem isn’t the problem.
Sometimes the things that I am worrying about aren’t really the issue. The real issue is much more fundamental. Do I trust God or not?
This doesn’t mean, “I believe God will get me to class on time even though all indications are against.” That is not trust because it insists that my priority (completing the mission) should be God’s priority, and ignores the possibility that God’s priority might be something completely other. It isn’t about the mission. It is about absolute surrender to God’s will.
Trust means, “Whether God intends me to get to class on time or not, His will is perfect.”
Or to paraphrase C. S. Lewis, whether He means us to live or to die, Jesus will be our good Lord.
Just in case there is anyone out there who hasn’t seen this yet!