Coming home for Christmas break this year was a rather long and arduous process, but also a blessing in ways I would never have expected or planned. It's such an amazing story, I simply have to share some of it with you! So if you have some time, grab a cup of hot cocoa and a few pieces of Christmas fudge and join me as I recount my experience!
It all started a little before 9:00 AM on Friday morning. A friend from college who volunteers in the same Awana program I help with was kind enough to give me a ride to the shuttle, which met at a hotel in Salem (about 15 minutes away from the university I attend). My friend's car fogs up easily, has turn-signals that don't always work, and that particular morning the car had a back tire with low pressure. So, even getting to the hotel (with hardly any time to spare!) was a gift in and of itself. (Don't worry--my friend got some help with the tire when he got back to the school!)
The shuttle ride from Salem to the Portland Airport was a little over an hour, and I had several hours before my scheduled flight, so all was well . . . until I checked in. The lady who helped me was very kind, and said that I could get switched to the earlier flight since I was there early. Which was all well and good, until I looked at the departure time on the ticket as I checked in my bag. The departure time was around 10:30 AM, and it was already after 10:00 AM. I still hadn't even gone through security!
Needless to say, I was completely disoriented, and as soon as I made it through security I rushed to gate E7, running part of the way (think Home Alone). As I arrived at the gate, I could see a bunch of people sitting around, not looking very thrilled. I discovered that the flight was delayed, which I suppose was a good thing for me! It was rather hard to see the positive, though, as the wait time dragged on, and we didn't end up loading onto the plane until close to 2:00 PM. While waiting, I did meet someone who was making the same connection as me when I got to San Francisco. (This becomes an important part of the story, so keep this in mind!)
The flight from Portland to San Francisco was nice. I just love flying and looking out at God's beautiful creation from such a magnificent height! Although I confess that I spent much of that flight napping--but naps are nice, too!
When we landed in San Francisco, I rushed to the gate where my connecting flight (from San Francisco to Arcata/Eureka) was supposed to be. We had arrived about 10 minutes before my connecting flight was supposed to board, which would have been great . . . except the flight was delayed about an hour. Not too bad. Waiting until 5:00 PM was no problem.
And then came the announcement that the flight was delayed until 6:50 PM.
I was bummed. I called my parents and was talking to them, all the while noticing that the acquaintance I had made in Portland was standing nearby. It was nice to see a familiar face, because, believe me--that airport was crowded! The rain, fog, and wind, typical of San Francisco, were causing a long stream of delays.
Anyway, my dad told me I should go get something to eat. So, my new-found friend tagged along with me, and we ended up eating fast food together, talking about our hometown and school, etc. Then we went back to the gate and talked some more while we waited, hearing the continued announcements of our delays: now 7:20 PM, now 7:50 PM, and finally a switch to a different gate.
It was there that the awful news came: our flight was canceled.
I was horrified. I didn't want to stay the night in San Francisco, especially in such a crowded terminal. I stuck by my new friend as we headed towards the long line at customer service. I could be exaggerating, but that line was about as slow as they come. Everyone was dejected. So many flights were canceled, and we all just wanted to get home. I knew I wouldn't actually get sick, but I got that feeling that I wanted to--either that or break down and cry. But I didn't, and finally we got to the front of the line.
All of the flights to my destination were canceled for the night. All of the flights on Saturday to my destination would be stand-by. Nothing was guaranteed until Sunday morning (if then).
There was no way I was staying in San Francisco until Sunday morning.
I knew my parents would come and get me the next day if they had to. But my friend and I had found a nice woman who was willing to let us carpool with her in a rental car back to our hometown. To be honest, I don't think I would have been brave enough to concoct such a scheme on my own. But my friend had done something like it before, and if he was going, then I felt safer.
I think this is where I should tell you one of the absolutely crazy things about that day--when I told my parents my new friend's first name, they asked for his last name excitedly and told me that they had known him when he was just a little boy! His dad had worked with my dad on a project! And to think, I was going to a college in Salem, he was going to one in Portland, and we both ended up on the two exact same flights headed home on the same day. He had even been originally planning to go home on Saturday, but his mom bought him tickets for Friday! It was completely and totally orchestrated by God, and I am just in awe of it all still.
And now back to the carpooling . . .
When we went to rent a car, we met up with two other people heading for Eureka, as well. We decided to rent a minivan and all carpool together. It was risky going with (almost) complete strangers, but I felt it was the best option. And it was.
I'll spare you all the details of that 5 hour ride home in the dark and the rain. Let me just say that I was praying a lot, oftentimes scared to death when I felt we were accelerating, unsure as to whether or not I could trust my life in these strangers' hands.
But then God reminded me--my life was in His hands, not theirs.
And as frightened as I was throughout the ride back, I knew God was right there with me. I was reminded that no matter what the outcome of that ride, God would never leave me. I had to trust in His will.
I arrived safely home--delivered right to my doorstep with no money required of me--at around 3:30 AM Saturday morning. It had been a long, long night, and as soon as I saw my daddy open the door, I fell into his embrace and cried.
There were more details involved in the story, but I'm sure you get the idea that, while it was one of the worst travel days of my life, it was also one of the most amazing ones, as well.
I am reminded of the pastor's sermon at my parents' church yesterday morning. Part of the sermon was about miracles, how often they come about after long periods of suffering and intense pain. And that only makes sense, because the miracle truly shines bright when it comes after such difficult darkness.
It was just one day, and I'm sure I suffered little compared to those who waited in the airport for a day or more, all just hoping to get home. But I consider this journey that I went on--the people that I met and the closeness I felt with God--a miracle.
And now I'm sitting here at my desk, safe and warm in my home, listening to the pounding rain outside. It is just so wonderful to be home with my family!
I know this was a long story, but thank you for taking the time to read it. It is my hope that God will glorify Himself and bless others through this recounting of the gift He gave me in the form of my very own Christmas miracle.