A ticking time bomb…just waiting for someone - anyone - to light the fuse….
This was me, late Tuesday night, as I sat in the crowded LAX airport, waiting for a midnight red-eye flight to Chicago.
Mechanical issues had once again come between me and my return home from a long trip to Hawaii, and I was fed up. Furious. Frustrated. And exhausted. Ready to fly off the handle at anything - anyone - for whatever reason.
After enduring a long - and rather rocky & bumpy - flight across the Pacific from Hawaii to Los Angeles, our mission team had discovered that our next flight, which was to have been to St. Louis, was now delayed until the next morning, due to something "broken" on the plane. A morning flight would result in me missing my connecting flight to Kansas City, so it was at this point that I had to separate from the group - my temporary family, as it was - so that I could make separate arrangements with the airline to get home. After standing in a "customer service" line that moved nowhere for over an hour, and patiently (??!!) waiting while an airline representative clicked and clacked away on her keyboard, jumping through every hoop in the book in order that I would get home, I then had to suddenly - and unexpectedly - say goodbye to the group I had been with for over two weeks, as they went to make their own arrangements.
Afterwards, I was suddenly left alone…with a few hours to spare for my midnight flight. The first order of business was to charge up a quickly-dying cell phone, which can be rather difficult in LAX. For such a large airport, trying to find an electrical outlet is equivalent to trying to find a clean pair of matching socks in a teenage boy's messy bedroom. In other words - next to impossible.
I took up the challenge, and after a long hunt, I miraculously managed to find an outlet somewhat hidden…and pulling up a chair, I plugged in my device and sat down to wait. The outlets at LAX will charge a cell phone at the blinding speed of 1% every 5-10 minutes…so I knew I had a good hour or so to sit…and stew…and have a huge old pity party for moi as the guest of honor.
Little did I know that the true miracle was not in finding an unused outlet…but in what happened next.
Shortly after I had sat down, a young man appeared and asked if he could share the other half of the outlet. He looked to be about 25 years old - with longish brown hair, a scruffy beard, and big, blue eyes that seemed to pierce my soul. (I would later find out that he was 42 years old - a little older than I had first thought!)
"Sure," I replied. "But you'd better pull up a chair. We'll be here for the next hour, so you might as well be comfortable."
So he pulls up a chair, plugs in his device, and we began to talk, awkwardly, but politely, as strangers are apt to do when faced with circumstances that throw them together in close quarters. The young man wore hearing aids in both ears, and his speech cadence was different, which made it difficult initially for me to understand him.
It came out that Chris is a pastor, with a church in the inner city of Detroit…a far cry from where he grew up in rural Idaho. He ministers to the population that society has somewhat ignored - the homeless, the druggies, the poor, the forgotten. He's traveled all around the world to spread the message of Christianity, especially in Morocco, as he speaks Arabic. And he was quite the story-teller.
He took words and painted pictures with them, creating images so vivid that I felt I was there. I sat, mesmerized, as he told me of people he's encountered on his travels…and I found myself laughing and spellbound as he weaved his magic. I also noticed that my frustration and stress seemed to melt away, and a strange sense of calm and peacefulness claimed my soul. The stories he told reminded me that dealing with travel issues is very much a 1st world problem…and that there are MUCH bigger situations in the world that I could be suffering from.
All too soon, an hour had passed, and I was surprised to see that my phone was fully-charged. I reluctantly said good-bye to Chris, so that I could give up my outlet to the next poor soul who had been waiting impatiently for me to move on. He told me he would pray for me, and I knew, in my heart, that he meant it…and it felt good, knowing that.
I walked away, and then hurried to finish up a few more errands before they called to board my flight. A quick stop at a store to buy some bottled water, and then a brief stop at the ladies' room…and as I was rushing back to my gate, I happened to see Chris, who was calmly walking towards his own gate. He sees me, and he gives me a brief smile and nod.
And again…a sense of peace settled in my soul.
They say that Jesus sometimes takes on the form of man and walks the earth "in disguise" - and after my encounter with Chris on Tuesday night, I have to believe that this is true. I can't explain the feeling of peace that was now upon me…almost as if I had truly been blessed.
If I'd had any doubts, it was what happened afterwards that sealed it for me. The long flight from Los Angeles to Chicago was extremely rocky and turbulent - which would normally send me into a full-blown panic attack…and yet…I was calm. Cool. Collected. At peace, the entire flight. No panic. No heart-squeezing, pain-inducing fear coursing through my veins. No rapid breathing, no thoughts of the plane disintegrating in the sky….
This strange and foreign feeling of peace and relaxation lasted through the next two flights, as well…Chicago to St. Louis, and then St. Louis to Kansas City…and both of these flights were as equally turbulent.
I don't know the difference…I can't explain it…but can anyone?
All I can say is…thank you, Chris. Thank you for that hour on a crazy and frustrating Tuesday night.
You restored my faith and soul.