Unexpected Detours

After a week with friends in Redding (Northern California) I was making my way back to my home in Raleigh, North Carolina by plane.  I’d leave Friday morning and arrive home Friday night. My original itinerary noted that my total traveling time would be 10 hours from start to finish.

64 hours later I was home. (2 nights, 3 full days)

The story is pretty amazing.  But to understand why you have to read to the end.  I promise it will be worth it.

A quick run-down-

Itinerary: Redding to San Francisco to Washington D.C. to Raleigh.

Day One: First thing Friday morning my friend loaded 5 of her 7 kids into a van to take me to the airport.  We said goodbye.

Flight from Redding to San Francisco was cancelled.  Fog they said.  Also said they couldn’t get me home in the same day.  So, rather than spend the night in a hotel in a strange city I called my friends who were 3 miles away from the airport.  They let me crash at their place for the day even when they were going out of town for the night.  I read a book, ordered pizza, and watched Jane Eyre on DVD (a first for me).  I’d try the airport thing all over again the next day.

Day Two: Saturday, try this again.  Same travel itinerary, just a day later.  Everything looks good.  In Redding (a tiny airport with one gate) everyone got through security (except for the lady who decided to pack an exorbitant amount of lotions and liquids in her bag in her carry-on– did she miss the memo about no liquids that’s been in effect for, um, 9 years!?!)

Then we were waiting.  And waiting. Delayed for two hours.  Fog again.  Flight attendant spoke quietly on board and told us to avoid San Francisco in the future during this time of year.  I was beginning to see that home was a long way away.

Finally we get off the plane in San Francisco.  A few minutes to spare until the next flight.  If that.  Of course the gate to the next flight would be on the whole other side of the airport.  A fellow passenger on the Redding flight ran with me to our connection.  But he was in the Army and I couldn’t keep up.  Plus a rather large man was blocking me on the moving walkway I was trying to run down (I’m convinced God was chuckling at this point)  “Go on, go on!  Hold that plane!”  When I finally got there, trying not to appear like I was out of shape and gasping for air, I found that the plane was still sitting there.  But they wouldn’t open the door for us.  Army guy tried to use all the powers that be, but they wouldn’t even let the poor guy trying to get back to his army base onto the plane.  Defeated, we both headed to customer services to find a different way home.

Missing my connection was the best thing that could ever happen to me.

Customer service redirected me to Chicago, but the only way to do that was to take a red eye flight at 11:30 pm.  10 hours later.  (It’s still Saturday, but the flight would get me home on Sunday morning).

Part of me wanted to go into a bathroom and cry, but then I met a nice elderly lady.  She told me about a train into the city of San Francisco and gave me some suggestions of what to do for the day. Deciding I wasn’t going to spend 10 hours cooped up in an airport I proceeded to make the most of my rather unfortunate situation.

Train to/from San Francisco city: 16 dollars roundtrip
Starbucks coffee: 4 dollars
Postcards: 1 dollar
Cable Car: 5 dollars
What happened next: unforgettable gift from God

The last time I was in San Francisco was on a youth group senior trip in high school over a decade ago.  So, on this day I ventured into the city and was immediately awed by experiencing San Francisco at Christmastime.  Because I had so many hours to kill, I walked.  And walked.  Sometimes I would go down this street, or explore that place.  On the map it didn’t look too far, and it wasn’t far.  But, the hills.  Oh, the hills.  I completely forgot about the hills.  I pushed on feeling victorious after each hill I climbed, remembering that my dad once ran a marathon on these hills.  Borderline insanity, if you ask me.

I experienced Union Square, shopped in Macy’s, looked through the windows of Tiffany’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, walked Chinatown and Lombard (Crooked) Street, visited Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39, gazed at the beauty of the fog over the city and Alcatraz (fog really is beautiful if you’re not flying in it), rode the cable car, marveled at Christmas trees, etc.  I talked to someone in Chinese and I talked to someone in Spanish.  I visited the sea lions.  I watched rolls being baked at the sourdough bread factory.  I watched the sun set over the Golden Gate Bridge.  I listened to street musicians performing Christmas songs.

And there, in the middle of that city, down by the pier, I went into a souvenir shop.  As with any tourist attraction, San Francisco has hundreds of souvenir shops.  Hundreds. Keychains, post cards, and T-shirts line the streets.  I walked into a random shop because their “5 postcards for a dollar” deal caught my eye.  After making my oh-so-extravagant purchase, I heard a voice behind me.

“Michelle?”

I turned around and what to my wandering eyes do appear???!!!

No, even better than Santa Claus.

There, in the middle of one of the busiest seasons in one of the biggest cities in one of the hundreds of souvenir shops was one of my students from Beijing!!!  And not just one of my students from Beijing, but one of our believers!!  And not just one of our believers, but one of the ones in our core leadership group last year!!!  And not just that, but one of the ones who we sent off with 14 of his brothers and sisters in a special commissioning ceremony last spring!!  There was Caleb!!! (not his real name)

Caleb is studying for his postgraduate degree in Chicago this year. Chicago.  Far from San Francisco.  And even farther from Beijing.  He had just finished finals for the semester and was visiting San Francisco with a Chinese friend.  We were both so overjoyed to run into each other like that!!  He was praising God out loud.  I took a picture because I didn’t think anyone would believe me.  We chatted for awhile and promised we would meet up again in Beijing when he returns this summer.  I believe that God was smiling down.

We never know where those unexpected detours are going to take us.  Not every delay or inconvenience or disappointment ends up being something only God could orchestrate.  Certainly not every frustration has a glamorous ending like this one.  But, sometimes it does.

When I got back to the airport later that night I learned that my flight from Chicago to Raleigh was cancelled.  And all the flights the next day were also cancelled.  Of course they were.

But that didn’t seem to matter anymore.

Day Three: It would be another redirect through Washington D.C., which meant a night at a hotel in San Francisco (paid not by the airline since the issue was weather related and out of their control), followed by the worst turbulence on record I’ve experienced in my 28 years of flying (which would have been fun if it wasn’t so terrifying to me and most everybody on board), fighting sheer exhaustion and a head cold that made me feel like I’d just gotten hit by a semi truck, to finally arrive home just before midnight on Sunday night, 64 hours after I first began.

But it’s a story worth telling.  Because there in that moment in the longest frustration of a journey home- there in that moment God sent someone I very least expected in a way that would have me smiling for days.  And I have been blessed by that very specific and special gift.

I told you that by sticking to the end of the story it would be worth it.

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