Friday, June 02, 2006

Eight hours in Newark…or How God met me in Providence

To be more accurate…I should entitle this 8 ½ hours in Newark. There are many alternate titles that I could have entitled this piece:

  • You couldn’t make this up if you tried!
  • It just doesn’t get better than this…or is that worse?
  • The importance of keeping a sense of humor!
  • You’d just better laugh!
  • Peace in the midst of a day from HE double toothpicks!
  • Don’t try this without prayer!
  • Sometimes even a day hemmed in prayer unravels…but you won’t!

When you read this adventure…you’ll be saying, “Oh come on Susan…stop exaggerating.” But I tell you…it’s all true. Actually the adventure continues as I write this on my journey home.

If I was really smart…I would try to get some sleep, but for the moment sleep evades me. Why I don’t know. I’m operating on two hours sleep today…and four hours from the night before. I guess I give a big thumbs up to adrenaline.

But if I said that…I would be failing to give credit to God who sustained me in a day or two that felt as if all hell was coming against me. Yet…from the beginning and even all through it…I’ve had a peace. You’ve heard the phrase “peace that passes all understanding”. And indeed it does defy my imagination the peace that I’ve felt in the midst of these last two days.

It started yesterday morning…June 1st, when my alarm went off at 4:00 AM. I normally get up that early…so that is nothing new. But usually it’s done on more than four hours sleep.

Four hours only because I received a call on Wednesday morning that I had been hoping for…waiting for…that I was to come out to Woonsocket, Rhode Island for an interview. That last minute notice kind of threw my day off course from what I had originally planned.

Immediately, I knew I had to make a trip to the mall to go get something to wear. You see…my fashion advisor Dean was quite insistent that I go get a suit so that I would look professional and sharp. Not to say I dress like a slouch…but I wanted to look spiffy.

So I was off and running to the mall. A few shops later…I finally found something that not only looked professional…but in which I felt comfortable. With that task done…I returned to work to finish up some work that had a non negotiable deadline.

By time I got home, took care of packing and a few domestic chores…it was midnight. I was numb…I closed my eyes and was sound asleep until the alarm rang at 4 AM.

I slipped out of bed and onto my knees to utter a prayer. I’m not sure that it was even comprehensible to human ears. But thankfully God knows the human heart and the Holy Spirit was able to translate it for me.

Then I was off and running getting ready for my day. I walked out of my door…a few minutes behind schedule that day…but made good time and arrived at the check in counter about 6:15 AM.

Feeling grateful to be there early…I took that as a good sign. But I guess I learned on this trip…that may not be a good thing to do.

My hope that this trip would go smoothly was short lived…because when I got up to the ticket counter for my boarding pass…I was advised that my ticket had been cancelled. Since it was booked on my behalf…I was on the phone to try and find out what went awry. After a half hour on the phone…I was still uncertain if the airline or the travel agency had messed up. Either way…my ticket had been cancelled…and the clock was ticking. My plane was taking off in 45 minutes.

As the deadline was fast approaching…Julia from Continental called my name and said that my ticket was now booked. She quickly processed me…and I was off and running to the security checkpoint. This was the first time since 911 I was flying. I was more apprehensive over flying than about the job interview.

Since I was unfamiliar with this whole security process…I plead ignorance. I was processed quickly and without incident.

Soon we were given the okay to board the plane. Just as I was about to step on to the plane…they said that all carry on luggage would have to be put into the baggage compartment…the overhead bins were full. Gee wiz…that was not good news. I did the carry on baggage to ensure that I would have what I needed for my trip. I reluctantly surrendered my suitcase into the care to the airline personnel.

As I wound my way back to find my seat I discovered that aisle 25 was the last row in the plane. I was soon to discover just how uncomfortable it was. After that experience…I can say with certainty…I don’t want to be a sardine.

But at least my seat companions were pleasant folks. A nice older couple on their way to a 50th high school class reunion. The wife was very sweet and her hubby a bit of a curmudgeon. Five hours later…we arrived at the Newark airport…or to be more accurate…we arrived on the tarmac. Then we proceeded to wait and wait some more. As the minutes ticket by, my hopes of catching the connecting flight to Rhode Island faded.

I didn’t quite understand why we had to wait as jet after jet passed by to take off. After all…why did we have to wait? Couldn’t we just take turns? About 45 minutes later as a jet getting ready to take off was staring us in the face…we were then permitted to taxi to the terminal.

I breathed a sigh of relief and bolted from my seat in anticipation of the door being opened. I was going to give it my best shot to try and make that connecting flight. After all our delay was due to the weather...so it seemed reasonable that they too were delayed.

As fellow passengers and I waited…we were advised that the airport had just called a supervisor to bring the gate up to the plane so passengers could exit. They were short staffed and no help was available due to the weather conditions.

Patience is a virtue…and that day…God was working to develop the virtue of patience in me…and maybe working on that trust thing too.

Despite concerns about my luggage nagging my mind…I moved quickly to the gate of my connecting flight. Or so I thought. As I made the jaunt over to the next flight…I discovered just how bit the Newark Airport is. I normally a quick walker…but even this was a challenge. Especially with the thought that I’d better get moving if I had any chance of making my flight. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I better give up the hope of making that flight…since nary a passenger was to be seen at the Continental gate. As it turned out…the flight had been cancelled altogether.

Trying to keep positive…I thought “Well…I guess I’d better catch the next flight.” All the while the nagging thought was going through my head…what if thee are no more connecting flights going to Providence tonight. Especially in this weather.

After finding the right counter…I was assured that the next flight was scheduled to leave about 7:30 and I was grateful to be ticketed. Just between you and me…the gentleman helping me didn’t seem too happy in his job. Customers…and taking care of their concerns appeared to be a burden. I was tempted to suggest he make a career change…or perhaps….seek some medications to help with that mood thing. But being that this suggestion would likely not get me on the next flight…I restrained myself.

The time was now well after 6 PM and I decided it was advisable to eat since I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. After finding something familiar…Sabarro’s Pizza…I sat down at the only available table across from a pilot who was talking on his cell phone. As I ate my pizza and salad…I tried not to listen to his conversation. He was talking finances with his wife…or ex-wife. It seemed odd that someone was having a very personal and private conversation in a very public place for anyone to overhear. But in other respects…it didn’t really matter because we were all going our own way…and would likely never see one another again.

Anyway….I my mind was preoccupied with thoughts about how this blessed trip would work out…and how I hoped to do well on my interview the next morning.

As I strolled through the airport…I got my exercise and worked off some of my nervous energy. As I passed a message board…I discovered that my connecting flight was delayed an hour. I also discovered that I had zero battery power on my cell phone.

One of the lessons I learned…hindsight being 20/20…is to turn of your cell phone when in flight…not just silence all calls. Instead…the phone just kept trying to find available signals during my flight…and drained that battery down to nothing.

Time for a quick stop at the electronics store at the airport to get a battery booster. Not to say I doubted the Continental’s ability to get me my luggage (okay well maybe I did)…but I thought it advisable to pick up an extra phone charger while I was at it. Sometimes I think I should have been born in Missouri since my motto is “Show me!” I’ll believe it when I see it.

One call I placed was to my boss to advise him that he might have to run interference for me. Apologize and explain that I would be showing up for my job interview in jeans, with no make-up and looking a lot less than spiffy.

As the clock ticked away…and the plane was delayed again…I made several more treks around the terminal. I decided it best if I just chilled out…laughed and was amazed at the peace I had. On one of those jaunts…I swung by Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream…only to find out that they had just closed. I was a bit disappointed since I looking forward to this treat for all the grief I was going through. On to plan B…in a day filled with disappointment and unplanned schedule changes.

As I moved on to McDonald’s…I encountered the smiling face of a gentleman in transit from North Carolina. As we exchanged pleasantries…I realized I would have missed this moment if I had been focused on the negative aspects of the adventure gone wrong.

I felt as if I was about to drop with exhaustion and decided to go to my gate and rest…and wait. During my wait…the airport had experienced a power outage…due to weather related conditions…and now the departure time was pushed back to 10:30 PM. Yeah, right….want to bet? You know the saying…if I didn’t have bad luck I wouldn’t have any luck at all.

But thankfully…I don’t operate on luck. My hope is in God…not luck as this seemingly endless day and night would reveal.

At least my wait time was productive…and I continued to write the second installment of my devotional on the book of Daniel.

As I was writing away… some gentlemen nearby were talking golf. From the looks of their packages and conversation…it appeared that they had just returned from a golfing trip to Scotland. My ears perked up when they started talking about CVS and Tom Ryan. I could not contain myself and inquired if they worked for CVS. But they said not…they lived in Rhode Island.

Anxious to get this show on the road when our connecting flight finally arrived…I tried to assure the Continental personnel that we passengers wouldn’t care too much if the plane didn’t look pristine. After all…we just wanted to catch our flight to our destination.

But she was not persuaded and we were finally allowed to board our plane after 11:30 PM. I say board the plane and not take off…because after we boarded our plane…we waited and waited. And just for the heck of it…we waited some more. I don’t even remember how many planes were ahead of us in taking off….20 or 30.

But during this time…God provided. He sent my seat mate Chris…who turned out to be a real treat and delight. Chris is very friendly and a people person…who likes to chat. After a day of anonymous interaction with folks…this was a pleasant surprise.

Chris was ever so easy to talk to…kind of an open book. He’s 33 years old…good old Irish Catholic who reminded me of my Boston boys…Terry, Steve and Joe. There is just something about those Boston boys that is really quite disarming, attractive and irresistible. Did I ever tell you I like those Irish Boston boys?

By his own admission…Chris acknowledged that he wiled away his wait time at a bar. He had a jolly good time…and had consumed a few drinks. At times…Chris’ language was that of a salty sea dog…but not over the top. But he was not the first Boston boy to utter a few of those choice four letter words in my presence.

Chris is a safety manager for a construction firm…and we exchanged some general job information about safety and loss prevention. (Jim…I picked up a good safety reminder for you to share with associates to remind them on the importance of good safety practices.)

So while the wait was not part of my plans…it was on God’s agenda. Chris helped make what could have easily been an unpleasant experience, not only bearable…but fun.

Not even sure what time we finally got in the air. But I got to the car rental place in Providence at 2:30 AM. Amazingly enough…my baggage arrived on my flight and was waiting for me. Not sure I would have given you any money on that bet.

After getting the car keys from Avis…the day of complications and hindrances continued much to my dismay and frustration. As I searched for the assigned car…no car was found in the designated space…nor any car with said license plate nearby. So back to Avis I went and a gentleman was able to help me locate the car.

Thankful to finally have my car…I pulled out my Mapquest instructions as I prepared to head to the hotel for much needed rest.

Now mind you…I drive an ordinary car in real life. The rental…came with all the bells and whistles. There are times I feel like I’m blonde for a reason. After fiddling with all the buttons and knobs…I was still unable to move the driver’s seat forward. Exhausted, tired and numb…I got creative and stuffed my sweatshirt behind my back to enable me to touch the gas and brake.

With that…I was on the road. As I pulled out of the garage I was immediately met with rain and patches of fog. Since I had just reviewed the instructions on how to get to the hotel…I felt confident that I would get there with ease. I was soon to learn…that wasn’t the case.

For those of you who are rookies to Rhode Island…you will quickly learn that their highways and roadways frequently have two names. For example…Douglas Pike is also known as RI-7 N or Exit 8B. For a California girl…this was more than a little confusing…and that might explain why I got so hopelessly lost that three times I had to stop and ask for directions. (Note to city planners…just go with one name for your streets and highways.)

Each time I stopped to ask for directions…God graciously brought folks into my path that were able to point me in the right direction. For that I am most grateful. For those of you laughing at my mishaps right about now…knock it off….that means you Robert, Louis, Joe and Doug!

Actually after the entire day gone wrong…this was the worst, most lonely and scary part of my trip. Here I was in a strange place. It was pitch dark…raining and foggy. I didn’t know east from west or north from south. The highways had at least two names…and it was after three o’clock in the morning. In other words…not at lot of folks around or options on getting help. I did make a phone call…but the person was likely sound asleep and ended hanging up on me. I almost called one of my Boston boys who frequently stays up late…but couldn’t make myself dial the phone to ask for help.

After my third stop to ask for directions…I was finally close to the hotel. They told me to make a left…and at the first light…turn right. Thankfully the hotel was just down the street. I was never so glad to see a hotel in all my life. Actually I passed it up the first time…but was able to make a U-turn and pulled in and parked.

Dragging myself into the lobby, I had to awaken the clerk who appeared to be dozing off. With key in hand…I opened my door and the reality of rest was just a few steps away. I barely took off my make up before I fell into bed. Actually I had the presence of mind to set the alarm and get my clothes ready for the next day. With the basics taken care of…I fell into bed…and was asleep before my head hit the pillow.

Before I knew it…the alarm went off…and it was six AM. I slipped out of bed and onto my knees to whisper a brief prayer of thanks for God’s hand of protection and deliverance for the day before. And to prepare me for my upcoming interview.

As the water poured over me…I started to feel human again…albeit in need of some caffeine. Yet I needed to check out and make sure I was at my destination, plenty ahead of time. With my disastrous driving experience the night before…I thought it only prudent that leave early. With soda in hand…and simplified instructions from the hotel…I was on my way to the office for my much anticipated interview.

My interview lasted about four hours and I met with five different people. The time passed in a flash…and I felt like it went well…but time will tell. I was advised it will be a few more weeks before a decision is made.

Discouraged at the prospect of more waiting…I contemplated why God had brought this trial into my life. What was he trying to teach me…in what area is he trying to help me grow? I don’t know.

Sylvia in a recent e-mail said that God is trying to teach me patience. I guess in part he is doing that…but I also wonder if he has other things he is working out that is part of his bigger plan for me. I don’t know. I guess it’s one of those things…I’ll see more clearly in hindsight.

But I do know that I gave this interview my all. I gave it my best shot in very adverse circumstances. I was amazed at the good attitude and peace I had in the midst of continued trial and testing. Which can solely be attributed to God’s presence and help in my time of trouble.

During this time of testing has God been working on my heart? Working to make me trust him? In trial and tribulation turn to him…even if I don’t understand it? Not to rush ahead of him…or try and manipulate circumstances and get in his way?

I walked away from the interview knowing that I gave it my all…and I gave it my best. Now the rest is not in my hands.

With simplified instructions in hand…I headed to the airport. Perhaps it was instructions…or the day light hours…or the fact I had driven the roadways the night before…but it was much easier finding my way to the airport. I did have to circle the airport a couple of times to be in the correct lane to return my rented car. But at least now…I was on my way back home. Thank God!

Wanting to make sure there were no snags I took care of getting my boarding pass first. Then I headed over to security. Being that I’m about as far away from the description of a terrorist as you can find…I thought it amusing that I was selected for a “full screening”. Actually the lady was very pleasant and friendly. She made what could be an uncomfortable and stressful thing…easy. She put me at ease right away by giving me clear and specific instructions on what she would be doing. She was a definite people person and freely shared about herself. Which I guess kind of makes things a little easier as this person riffles through your personal belongings.

Once I was through the screening process…I headed over to the restroom and slipped into my jeans so I would be comfortable for my ride home.

I had just enough time to grab a half a sandwich…my first meal of the day and make a call to my boss. Soon it was time to board the plane. This time…I was flying United…and what a difference. While it was a small plane…it was comfortable…and I didn’t feel like a sardine this time around.

A pleasant gentleman was my seatmate. Across the aisle was a lady traveling with her puppy dog…the cutest West Highland Terrier only three months old. Not a whimper or a whine from that litter feller. The time passed quickly…and before long we arrived at O’Hare. It took a while before we pulled up to the terminal…making the trek to my connecting flight a challenge.

O’Hare is a huge airport. You may be in one section of the airport and your connection in an entirely different area. The way to get there…a shuttle across the tarmac…I barely made the shuttle…and ran to make sure I was on that connecting flight home.

Another United flight…and I felt like I died and went to heaven. I had an aisle seat…and a row all to myself. As I found my row…a kindly gentleman offered to help stow my baggage in the bin above me. Truly an answer to prayer.

Exhausted…but still sleep evaded me. So…I took pen to paper to finish recording this journey.

In some respects I feel as if I had the gates of hell flung against me in the last two days. And I’m still standing…but not on my own power. It is through God’s strengthening hand, power and protection that I am here.

My immediate future remains uncertain. At times I feel as if I can wait patiently…and other times…I feel most desperate for an answer. But mostly…I’m okay.

I’m okay because God met me in Orange County when I needed his help to get this trip on the road. I’m okay because God met me and walked with me during the seemingly endless hours I spend at the Newark Airport. I’m okay because God met me in Providence. He provided for my need by delivering my luggage. And he was with me during a long, dark, lonely night…bringing people into my paths that extended kindness and mercy to me when I needed it most. I’m okay…because God showed me kindness at the end of my journal…by providing a man to help me when I was beyond exhaustion. I’m okay…because I will soon be home.

Like Dorothy…I say, “There’s no place like home.” If only I could have clicked my ruby slippers when I need them most.

And I’m okay…because while I may not know my immediate future…I know this is not my final destination. One day…I will go to my real home, which even now Jesus is preparing for me.

Tired, drained, exhausted and spent…but grateful and thankful to God.

Kindred Prayer Warriors…than you for your payers. God did answer them in abundance and preserved me in my hours of need and victoriously brought me through. I am most grateful and humbled at your support.

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