ALASKA! We are here!
Our packed 757 descended through clouds and drizzle, over ocean carved with black beach and pine, first sight of land never seen by either of us. The craft’s wheels lowered, locked in, and gentle as the rain on the wings, we touched earth. I lifted prayer of thanks to God of all.
There are times in life when so much good follows the heels of so much unexpected that the heart almost bursts with wonder. Yesterday reminded me of this—our God always knows, always cares, always blesses, and the wrong—the pain—is never the end. Our God is Alpha AND Omega—beginning AND end.
Come with us on our journey from Wisconsin horse farm overlooking Lake Michigan to Alaska. See God’s grace. Feel it. Claim it. God’s grace is for all. Here’s a sliver, all in a day . . .
One minute late! I swing my legs into our Yukon, engine running and warmed, and close the door on daily routine for the next three weeks. 5:01 AM, exactly. Miracle of miracles! Only one minute late! My poor husband is used to me being late—a never ending source of frustration in my life and most likely everyone who knows me. I am celebrating wildly, internally, because I have narrowed my lateness to exactly one minute. Since I receive no congratulations from my dear husband, I guess he is not quite as thrilled as I when the clock shows one minute after designated departure time. No matter. Kids were kissed, bags are loaded, and we are on our way.
Our Yukon kicks up dust as we cruise down our gravel drive and I can’t help but think of all the dust we’ve driven through these past 20 years of marriage. There have been dry times and some wet with tears of hopes and dreams unrealized. And yet, when we believe in God—when we really want to trust and follow Christ—we learn along the way to say, “Not my will, but Thine.” And it is a hard process—this relaxing of clenched-fingered hand—this spreading arms wide, and opening heart full to receive all God has planned, especially what looks and feels not like blessing. And yet, God uses all for good.
So much has changed in our lives with our unchangeable God leading. All in one day of travel, today, I near tasted the theme of it all. Grace. God’s grace has sustained us and grown us through great times and hard. And He continues to fill us with praise, twenty years later, especially in the unexpected . . .
Five minutes into our trip, driving south on I-43, Todd is miffed at himself. Suddenly, he realizes he was wrong about where the bus to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport will pick us up. He was thinking the Amtrak station at Milwaukee’s Mitchell Airport. Actually, the bus picks up right by the airport terminals which means that we would have to park and catch a shuttle to the pick-up point. We both realize we will miss the bus. We discuss our options—either drive to O’Hare or pay double to park in Mitchell’s lot and still run the risk of missing the bus. We choose the second option and I pray, “Please help us catch the bus!”
Car parked, doors shut and locked, we start rolling our suitcases just as the bus arrives, exactly on time. I sigh a silent prayer of thanks as we load our luggage and sit down in the still dark. I start thinking about a conversation . . .
A dear friend is staying with our kids while Todd and I are gone and she wanted to know all the details, including what to do should something catastrophic happen. What should she do in the event of our death? Did we have plans for our kids? Were they written? What were our wishes? As a nurse, she had seen the unthinkable happen—kids orphaned instantly as both parents died simultaneously. Trying to lighten our discussion, we laughed as I reassured us both that the chance of catastrophe was lowered because Todd and I were taking separate flights, even different airlines, to start our twentieth wedding anniversary celebration. I was using frequent flier miles and he booked the cheapest flight available on another airline for the same day. Little did I know that less than three hours after Todd and I left home, our plans would change . . .
The bus drops me off at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Terminal Two for Alaskan Airlines. Todd travels on to Terminal Three for Delta, saying he will come see me off because his flight is three hours after mine. When we reconnect, I tell him what I had learned–my flight is overbooked. Looking for volunteers to give up their seat, I jumped at the chance, hoping I might be able to arrange traveling together with my husband while earning airline dollars. After all, we ARE celebrating our 20th anniversary this month and, after surviving twin beds on our honeymoon, I wasn’t so excited about taking separate planes.
After decades of seeing how God likes to keep me waiting till the last minute just to give an added thrill, I am not surprised when all ticketed passengers board except for me, still waiting to hear whether or not my request to be put on my husband’s flight has been approved. As the door to the plane closes, the gate agent walks over with a smile and hands me a $400 voucher along with my new travel itinerary. The agent booked me on Todd’s flights from Chicago to Salt Lake City to Portland to Anchorage. Suddenly, I realize I have voluntarily increased the chances of catastrophe and I wonder if I would feel guilt after death should we make our children two-time orphans.
Oh, stop now morbid mind and relax! God is in control!
Todd and I catch the train to Terminal 3 to get the tickets. At the counter, we met Chuck, looking like Sammy Davis Jr., glasses and all, and he tells us he can issue the ticket from Chicago to Salt Lake City but the flight from Salt Lake to Portland is full.
“WHAT???!!!!” I screech like an owl, embarrassing myself.
“Yep.” Chuck double checks and says, “It’s a no-go.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me!” I say with my big baby blues protruding from my skull.
“I don’t know what happened but the flight is full.”
Wonderful man that he is, Chuck clicks the computer keys into a frenzy, probably trying to keep a curly-haired, eye-popping, 50-something, freaking out woman from jumping over the counter and strangling him. He holds two seats on another flight to Anchorage through Minneapolis and sends us back to Terminal Two, saying the airline that bumped me must issue the tickets.
So we catch the train back to Terminal Two, step up to the counter, and see a sign telling us that the agent will be back one half hour before our Chuck-reserved flight flies. Todd calls the airline that bumped and the agent is not wonderful like Chuck. She refuses to issue the tickets and speaks with less-than-sweet tone. Todd takes her name and employee number for future reference and we catch the train back to Terminal Three to see Chuck.
“What???!!!” Chuck says with a look of disbelief, but not screeching like an owl.
I am thinking Chuck is adorable, as in a really nice person . . .
He handwrites our tickets and tells us he will personally take this issue up with the other airline after we are on our way and I’m feeling like the queen of England ready to knight this man with my golden scepter. Instead, I shake his hand and bless him, which I believe has more benefits than being knighted by a queen anyway.
So Todd and I settle into our Minneapolis-bound seats and I say a prayer of thanks and protection as our plane rumbles down the runway and lifts off the ground. And then we land in Minneapolis . . .
Why is it that everywhere I go I run into someone I know or I run into someone who knows who I know? It’s crazy! Like the time I’m standing on top of an archeological dig site in Israel and I hear my name and a good friend from college whom I had not seen or heard from in fifteen years just happens to be standing on the same site at the same time. Weird. Or how about the time I’m standing in line at Disney World and my teaching colleague comes up right behind me and neither of us knew the other was coming to Disney World.
So the beyond-coincidence happens again. Todd and I are sitting in the Minneapolis airport, waiting to board our flight to Alaska, and this 20 year old young lady from Michigan with gorgeous red hair pulled up in a messy bun tells me she likes my hiking boots. Within five minutes, I discover she is related to our neighbors across the street from us and she has seen our farm and her cousin is going into the ninth grade, same as our son, at the same high school! Honestly, how do these things happen? How blessed I was to discover she’s working with YWAM (Youth With a Mission), loves the Lord, and has a bison head mounted on her wall at home. She shot him all by herself on her last Alaskan trip and provided over 300 pounds of meat for her family. My kind of girl!
Back to Chuck for a minute . . .
Humble man that he is, he did not tell us that he upgraded our Minneapolis to Anchorage seats, even after waiving the rebooking fee. Upon boarding our plane, we find ourselves sitting by an exit with more room than my legs need when fully extended. Bless you again Chuck! How about an upgrade from knight to prince?
The guy sitting next to us on the huge 757 is a Delta pilot from Ohio who grew up not far from me and he’s a huge Browns fan and he, like me, is still not over the fact that Art Modell abandoned Cleveland when he didn’t get the new stadium he wanted years ago and went to start a team in Baltimore. The pilot and I laugh saying that Art got what was coming to him because he died last September and had to watch his team win the Super Bowl from somewhere beyond the stadium sky box. There’s a reason why the end zones are called the Dog Pound in Cleveland. We’re a vicious bunch, Browns fans. Football aside, my mind is comforted in knowing we have a Delta pilot sitting next to us as we lift off the ground. Like somehow he’s going to steer the plane in the event of a problem from seat 40C???!!! At least he knows how to work the life raft lever which is right over our heads . . .
I realize I’m rambling. The time zone change and only four hours of sleep and two cups of STRONG coffee . . .
So we arrive at our hotel and those of you who read my blog piece “Honeymoon Heaven” will NOT believe what I saw, first thing, as I entered the lobby. That’s right! A WOLVERINE! I point it out to Todd and he asks me if it’s OK to look at it this time. I laugh wildly and tell Todd I think the encased wolverine will not rear up on hind legs like on our honeymoon, threatening attack. I wonder for a moment if it’s the same wolverine we saw back then. Given my record of running into people in far-off places . . .
God has such a great sense of humor! I take a multitude of photographs of Mr. Wolverine while Todd checks us in. We go up to our room and fall into bed exhausted but completely thankful for this gift of time away—for time together—for time to regroup and reflect on our past 20 years as we begin our Alaskan adventure.
God has been good. He has been faithful. Leading us on our life adventure together, through unexpected turns, God has showered us with unexpected blessings. Is this the life I had hoped for or planned? Not exactly. But it’s a better life than I could ever have hoped for or planned. After 20 years together with Todd and 44 years walking with God, I now know one thing for sure—God’s plans are better than mine.
And just as I was about to post this piece? My dear husband of 20 years comes down and informs me that the RV we rented and are supposed to pick up today? It has been in an accident and is now unavailable. We’re in a wait and see mode . . .
C’est la vie!
God reigns. And both He and my husband still make me laugh.