For Parts One and Two of this story, please follow these links– http://pearlriverdiaries.com/blog/2015/03/27/planes-benches-and-starbucks-part-one/ and http://pearlriverdiaries.com/blog/2015/04/07/planes-benches-and-starbucks-part-two/.
In no time my alarm clock rang. Springing energetically from bed (or something like that), I prepared for my third day of travel. After a special time meeting Josiah (a baby for whom we’ve prayed more than a year) over breakfast, we again loaded my bags into the car and drove through the Texas dawn to the airport.
More explanation about the baggage at the check in counter, more baggage stubs in hand, and I again headed through security. At Starbucks I pulled out my gift card, and used the remaining amount on a Venti Italian Roast. Ah, that hit the spot. Blue, cloudless skies shone out the window, and my plane was at the gate. I boarded my second to last flight where I had an exit row seat. Surely all delays were behind me.
Half an hour later, “Ladies and gentlemen, we’re sorry for the delay, but we seem to be missing a pilot. When he arrives, we’ll prepare for take-off.”
Missing a pilot? Well then, I guess taking off now would probably be a bad idea. I settled numbly back in my exit row seat, stretched my legs out in the seemingly limitless space before me, and tried to read. The words swam before my tired eyes, and I dropped off. Usually falling asleep on a flight is difficult for me. Not that journey. I was completely narcoleptic. I assume the pilot came. Sometimes I was awake when drinks or meals were served, sometimes I slept on. Occasionally I would wake up and think I’d watch something. I watched Rick Steve’s Castles of France three times, snoozing off within minutes each time. I read and re-read my book uncomprehendingly (although in fairness, G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy requires one’s full attention). By the time I landed in Tokyo on the other side of my 17 hour flight, I was beginning to feel more human.
Once again gathering my things, I headed towards transit security. The attendant asked my name, glanced down at her list, and faltered, “Excuse me, you have seven bags checked??” Futilely trying to explain, I handed her my sheaf of paperwork. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle; she glanced up and said in her cute Japanese accent, “This is a MESS!”
You’re telling me, sister.
After numerous misdirections, I stood before my final gate…which wasn’t really a gate at all, but a door out to a bus. A bus? At this point, it wouldn’t surprise me if they expected me to somehow drive to China. We loaded onto the bus and they took us to a plane parked far from any building. I thought climbing stairs into planes was a thing of the past, but apparently not that day. Come to think of it, I didn’t know they made seats that small. Nor did I know they made meals that miniscule (having neglected to load a GF meal for me, they served not one but two side salads instead, with lemon; mmmm). I didn’t care. I was four hours away from landing home in China. I’d already resolved in my mind to find the first pillar in the GZ airport I could and give it a hearty hug.
Finally, shining dimly through the smog, I could make out the lights of my adopted hometown. Our plane touched down and I sighed with relief. Home. I stepped through the gate and walked towards customs, smiling as the familiar tones of Mandarin washed over me. The end was in sight.
Or was it? I had one last hurdle to overcome, as I picked up my bags and pushed them towards the baggage complaint area. I explained about my missing bag, showed them my paperwork, and they told me that it was unfortunately not their problem, and that I was going to have to find a way to get it from Washington D.C. on my own. It didn’t matter that they were a sister airline, or that my whole story (including the contents of the bag) were already in their system. They said that since my original airline didn’t fly into GZ, the lost bag was my responsibility. Unbelievable. I called my brother (who was waiting outside for me), and he talked with them further. They finally agreed to look into it, but said they could do nothing else that night. (It took a protracted effort on Jeremy’s and my part, and many phone calls, including multiple calls to Japan, but I finally got the last bag back in my possession nearly a month later).
Well, long story short (ha!), I made it. Was it worth it? Absolutely. With every family member’s hug, every friend’s embrace, every beaming kiddo’s joyous greeting, I feel the long journey fade into the distance. In a very small way it reminds me of Hebrews 12:1b-2, “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” Every worthwhile race must have a worthy goal. Though my prize at the end of this trip was home and a place of belonging, my ultimate reward beckoning me after life’s journey is seeing His face, hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant,” and entering into the joy of my Master. What a homecoming that will be!