Airport Drama & a Reminder of Grace

I had a 0600 flight out of Atlanta en route to Dallas, TX and then en route to my final destination for this trip, all as part of my ministry to fellow troops, and I was even blessed to have my wife ride with me to the airport and drive my car back home after she dropped me off, and the traffic was light as I drove us to the airport, due to leaving the house just after 0400, and I was inside the airport by 0500. Plenty of time. I was in uniform, and one of the young boys at the airline kiosk said, “You can go this way, sir, since you’re TSA PreCheck.” I pulled out my iPhone to scan my boarding pass under the red laser but the American Airlines site was down and the boarding pass would not show up. Instead, AA sent me an email with a link. When I clicked on the link, it read, “Our site is experiencing problems. Please retry.” I went through that loop several times as I neared where I’d have to get my bags scanned. The TSA worker at security said, “Sir, I cannot let you pass until I see your boarding pass.” I explained that American’s site was down and all they were sending me was an automated email with a link to a message, and then back to the same link. He said he understood but that I’d have to go get a paper boarding pass.

I walked up to the desk and finally an American Airlines man wearing a white mask waved me forward. He did not say good morning or anything else. He just looked at me. “Good morning, sir. I need to get my boarding pass printed, please. The American Airlines site is down, and I’m unable to board, and my flight is at the gate,” I said.

“Boarding pass,” Frederick said perfunctorily. I read his nametag, since he did not appear to want to help or even to look at me.

“That’s why I’m here, sir. To have you print my boarding pass. The American Airlines site is down and they keep sending me an email saying as much. But here’s my confirmation number and military ID.”

“Boarding pass,” Frederick said.

“Sir, did you not understand? That’s why I’ve been sent to you– for a boarding pass. American’s online app is down and the man downstairs where we passengers have our bags scanned sent me up here to have you guys print my boarding pass. Here’s my ID and my confirmation number.”

“You need your boarding pass.”

For a moment, I contemplated the unthinkable. Let me just say that I found it less than easy to love and respect my fellow man–at least Frederick. As a matter of fact, I rather felt like helping hurry Frederick’s appointment with a coroner. Yes, I know, that is a sad admission but there is no point in lying about it.

Then Frederick spoke again with the same dearth of compassion, concern, and understanding. “You’re not going to make this flight. I’ll place you on standyby for the 1050 flight to Dallas.”

I wish I could tell you that Frederick then smiled and said, “Nah, just kidding!” but he didn’t. I waited for five hours in Atlanta’s airport. Inside, I was fuming. I mean, I had another flight at DFW, TX I was going to miss, and then I would miss my rental car reservation, for the next portion of the trip, etc. It just went from bad to worse.

But I sat and tried to convince myself that there was a reason that American’s site was down, and that good’ole Frederick had been the employee of the year at American Airlines in ATL this morning, and that maybe I had struggled to express myself clearly.

Now several hours have gone by. And I am finally in Dallas. And I am waiting another five hours for a flight to Arkansas, and then to see if I can get my rental car and drive to my destination.

Here’s where’s the grace comes in: After we landed in Dallas, I had my backpack on my shoulder and was wheeling my rolling bag out to go have a look at the departure board to see when my new connecting flight was slated to depart. It was not even showing on the board, so I thought, “Well, at least my winning streak is continuing,” and sat down and just tried to breathe. Breathe, I said silently to myself. Just breathe.

I tried to call home and let my wife know what was going on but I must’ve been in a bad location. She could not hear me when the call connected. So I hung up and rebooted my phone. As I did so, I walked over towards the water fountain to refill my water bottle. One of the cops at the DFW Airport was on security and he had a pleasant presence about him, a sort of kindness that emanated.

As my phone came back on, I was standing near him and he spoke to me.

“How long have you got?”

“You mean as a layover? I’m not entirely sure. My flight is not even showing on the departure board yet,” I said.

“The USO is just up these stairs behind us and on the right,” he said.

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’ve seen too many USOs in my years in uniform.”

“Me, too.” he said. “I’ve done this for 32 years.”

“Wow, 32 years; that is impressive,” I said.

“May I tell you something else?” he asked me, and his eyes narrowed in seriousness.

“Of course,” I said.

“You have the presence of God over you. I can see it over and on you. You have God’s protection,” he said.

An admission: I’m a chaplain. A Christian chaplain. I have taught hundreds of lessons, preached hundreds of sermons, written on theology and church history and apologetics, married couples and buried men and women, and like few things more than Christian theology. But I was speechless when W. (I won’t give you his full name) told me that. I was not sure what to say. I am quite sure I appeared dumbstruck. But he continued.

“I watch these crowds go by me every day. And 80% are like deer in headlights. They are oblivious to the spirits possessing them. But you have the Spirit of God on you, sir, God’s protection. It is as the Word says; people have to have eyes that see and ears that hear.”

Again, I was speechless. It would not be appropriate to say “Thank you” for something over which I could take no credit. “CPT W.,” I said, “you’ve no idea how much you’ve encouraged me. I’m very glad to have met you.” I pulled my right backstrap of my backpack off my lapel uniform so CPT W. could see the cross.

“You’re a chaplain!” he exclaimed.

“Yes,” I said. We both smiled and shook hands again, like we were old college buddies from years ago or something even better.

We shook hands and he began telling me about his family. He showed me pictures of his son and wife. I listened. About fifteen minutes elapsed. We were becoming friends and it was as if we were somehow spiritual brothers.

I still have many miles and another state to go before I reach (hopefully) my destination. And miles to go before I sleep, as Robert Frost was wont to write. And I’ve no idea what is around the next corner. But I met two men who made big impressions on me today: Frederick, I cannot say that I hold a terribly favorable view of you, sir. You succeeded in stealing, killing, and destroying my ticketed on-time flights to Texas and Arkansas. But I also met perhaps the most encouraging cop and spiritual brother I’ve known in many, many years.

Takeaway: It is my belief that life is not random, that God exists, that he ordains whatsoever comes to pass. That means there are not rogue molecules, floating as if jetsam and flotsam. Frederick was known to God and the role he (Frederick) was to play. But CPT W. was and is also known to God and the role he (CPT W.) was to play. And, dear brother, you encouraged me more than you know. Thank you for simple kindness, for introducing me to your family via pictures, for being sensitive to the spiritual realities at play in this world, and for reminding me that grace abounds. May I be more mindful of it and more grateful for the angels that minister among us.

6 thoughts on “Airport Drama & a Reminder of Grace

  1. What Satan intended to ruin your day, God used to lift you up! My children and grands would tell you one of my Henryisms is that if it weren’t for the clouds, we couldn’t have any rainbows or silver linings. I hope your encounter with the AA agent is the worse occurrence of your week. I continue to pray for you and the lives you touch. Hope to see you Sunday.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you Jon. As a former traveler, I understand the impact both incidences had on you. GOLDEN NUGGETS! Gifts from God! Interludes in an otherwise normal work day where our Maker made his presence, and his love, known especially to you. Oh, and here’s a thought….it just may be, that the exchange with Fredrick is the more valuable gift of the two.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m glad that a messenger showed up to brighten your day. On the other hand, my experience is that not all USO’s are the same. More than once, a terrible travel day was brightened by a positive USO experience. Remember, the Lord will provide.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It was amazing what happened as the day wore on. A woman came up to me at the bbq place and thanked me profusely for serving. She shared of her dad being a retired Marine who did his whole career with the USMC. Then another man came up to me as we waited for our flight to Ft. Smith and he bought me a coffee and blueberry muffin from Starbucks without even knowing me. I could share more and more of what transpired yesterday but folks would think, “No way.” But it all happened.

      Liked by 1 person

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