I had never prayed for a flight to go well, beyond asking for safety and peaceful arrival. So it’s funny now, thinking back on the disaster that day was, to know that it was also the day I had prayed a lot for things to go smoothly. We were so excited to be on our way to settling in, and this measly little flight was the final hurdle. Well, the day went well, in one of those hard kind of ways. It provided an excellent opportunity to realize just how much help we need even when the best laid plans...
Throughout the day we saw the hand of God appear in small, but crucial-to-us ways. He knew what we needed so as not to lose our minds, but allowed just enough chaos and uncertainty to show us how much we need Him and His children.
Disclaimer: the so-called “disaster” that was this day is nothing compared to real-people problems. We are real people, but these are not real-people problems. They are what you might call, “First World Problems”, or even "White People Problems”, if you will. All the same, the relief one feels in being rescued when one’s head is about to explode is a feeling unmatched. And I intend to honor my lightweight suffering with a blog post.
Just one more step. We had been to and fro all summer, visiting family we wouldn't see for a long time, using up a bunch of frequent flyer points we earned paying for a baby. I can’t quite put into words the deep excitement I had at the thought that we would be moving into one place and staying there for up to three years. I had skipped right over the travel portion in my mind, and was already imagining the peaceful unpacking process ahead. I wasn't sure how Clayton would fare on such a long flight, but I was willing to endure a lot of airplane baby screaming to get to our new home.
Jon and I have a sickeningly over-the-top sense of foresight. You don't want to be near us when we are preparing for stuff. Weeks leading up to an event our conversations often start with, “I thought of something else we should plan in case ABC occurs on the off-chance of XYZ.” We had shipped some of our belongings, but made sure to fly with us everything we would need for one or two nights in an empty apartment.
The plan: Fly from Portland to Boston, land at 5 PM. Pick up rental car for five hours (can’t keep car overnight, nowhere to park). Put all nine pieces of luggage and baby gear into car. Drive to Target, buy air mattress and food. Go to apartment, set up perfectly planned overnight: crib, towels, sheets, toilet paper, shower curtain, paper goods. Return rental car by 11 PM. Come home, sleep, live happily ever after.
Reality: Breathlessly arriving late at the gate for a 6 AM flight (first foresight fail), Jon’s crushed glasses in-hand, we find the door to the plane closed. They kindly let us in (first miracle), and with it being a Southwest flight, we get to “select” the last two seats. Second miracle: two seats are together. Less miraculous: last row. Along the way, Jon obtains two Band-aids and a paperclip to repair his poor glasses. Thank you, all-powerful flight attendants.
Sitting straight up and playing hot potato with the baby, we make it four hours before beginning the countdown to a much-needed layover in Chicago. First major change in plans: in a holding pattern over Chicago, our plane running out of fuel, we land in Rockport. Rockport isn’t Chicago. The guy next to us who had mercifully been asleep the entire flight, wakes up, looks around, and says, “Wait, we’re not in Chicago?”
Enter the baby squeals…Clayton felt as ripped off as everyone else. After refueling and flying back to Chicago, two hours later than planned, we find a chaotic airport that had been closed due to a fast and furious rain storm. Needless to say, we weren’t the only ones with a missed connection.
Running on empty with only time to grab a cold Big Mac (I told you, #firstworldproblems), we jump on the next plane out. Now arriving in Boston three hours later than planned, we need to get to Target (#whitepeopleproblems)! Second problem, our gate-checked stroller is nowhere to be found. Crisis averted: Solly Baby Wrap to the rescue! Clayton kindly sits in it and enjoys the sights and smells of lovely Logan Airport. As I’m waiting on the curb for Jon to bring loads of stuff out, he informs me we have no bags.
You saw this coming. No bags, no stroller, no car seat, no crib. The other good news? No hotels, too late for car rental, and we have no indication of when our things will arrive, or for that matter, even where they are.
Throughout all of this, it was hard to miss the absolute peace that surrounded Clayton. Any mom knows that the moment a baby starts crying, her inner stress is multiplied by infinity. It can be hard to focus on anything else. Although he had barely napped, was woken up early to get on a plane, and had been hastily toted around all day, he didn’t make a peep. Here he was, up past his bedtime in a busy airport lying calmly against my chest, seeming to know it would all work out just fine. Mercy.
After gathering our carry-on’s and meeting Jon at the baggage claim office, I met Bret. During their time together in line, Jon learned that Bret works with a non-profit Christian organization that helps college kids find Christ-centered community. Right away I could tell Bret was a real Christian. The kind who actually behaves as if he loves Jesus. Had Jon not told me what Bret’s work was, I still would have assumed he was somehow very close with God strictly due to his countenance. He was a bright spot in an otherwise bleak situation. As Jon and I stepped aside to discuss our next steps (there weren’t many options), Bret approached us and said, “It seems like you guys are a little stuck. My wife went home to drop off our son, but she is coming back to pick me up. Can we give you a ride somewhere?”
I hate putting people out. And I have a problem with always assuming I am putting people out. I would rather spend more, expend more energy, or sacrifice more (stupidly) than allow someone to go out of their way for me. Luckily, Bret had a lot of experience with helping people. He demonstrated two key factors (in my book) to reaching out: He was specific, and he phrased the offer in a way that showed he was genuinely interested in helping.
He didn’t say, “Do you need some help? Let me know if there's anything we can do.” He asked us if he could do something for us. We're nice people and wouldn’t want to turn someone down if we could help them do what they wanted to do. If someone asks if we need something, it's, We're fine, thanks. But if they ask if they can have something from us (the opportunity to help us), for some reason it is easier to oblige.
Secondly, offering a specific help rather than a general, “Let me know!” shows an added level of sincerity, I think. Even if what they offer isn’t exactly what you want or need, it opens the door to feeling comfortable to ask for what would help most. This seems insignificant, but I noticed that the way he asked had a lot to do with my acceptance of the help.
I wanted to take him up on it, but we had no car seat. I clumsily told Bret of our, what now seemed outrageous, plan to go to the store and our apartment that night. But Target would be closed, so going to our apartment was becoming less of an option as well. No problem for Bret though, his wife could help! “In fact, why don’t you just talk to her for a minute and tell her what you need?”
Before I had the chance to object, I’m on the phone with Corri who wastes no time in letting me know how she is prepared to help. Immediately I hear, “I have a car seat and a Pack’n’Play, what else might you need?” She showed up with that stuff plus two air mattresses, sheets, blankets, towels, a stroller (“In case you need to go out in the morning...”), and a high chair booster, just in case.
In a refreshingly upbeat mood, unexpected from people who had been traveling as long as they had that day, they drove us out of their way and into Cambridge. I felt the excitement that had been squandered by the airport return as we shared in the thrill of seeing the beautiful town at night. As the five of us walked into our new place for the first time, it was a much more ceremonious and joyful event having new friends with us, particularly after such a ridiculous day.
For our family and friends who felt lonely for us knowing we were moving out here all on our own with no family nearby, you can take comfort in knowing we had surrogates for you. They shared in the novelty and significance of walking into a new home and starting a whole new life. They may have been more excited for us than we were. They had already planned to introduce us to some friends they had in our town, and it seemed we all knew we would see each other again.
I have the feeling this is how it is for these guys everywhere they go, but that doesn’t diminish the impact they made on us. Being assisted in a time of real need is an experience that’s never forgotten by the recipient. To the giver, it may seem routine or like no big deal. But to two kids in a new city, with a new baby, starting a new life, it was the difference between starting with hope on what we were about to embark, and feeling like we were left alone to figure it out.
That first night, I got the distinct impression that these years in Cambridge would be a time when the Lord would be close by, but that He would be so through receptive “neighbors”. This is often the case, but somehow I’ve always been in a position to resist it. It is much more difficult now, thankfully, and we have already experienced several more ways in which we need others in order to thrive here. Clearly it’s finally time to break out of my independent mindset and allow His love to come more fully into my life by being open to the kindness of strangers.
It is cool to see how in doing so, my desire, ability, and opportunity to serve others grows. It takes vulnerability to accept help, and connection can’t be had without exposing yourself. Service without connection and love is missing the mark. I’m learning that accepting my own weakness is the first step to accepting others in their weakness.
I learned this week about another way in which refusing to accept help can hinder my ability to become more like Christ.
David A Bednar from his talk "The Character of Christ" (worth a read) :
Perhaps the greatest indicator of character is the capacity to recognize and appropriately respond to other people who are experiencing the very challenge or adversity that is most immediately and forcefully pressing upon us. Character is revealed, for example, in the power to discern the suffering of other people when we ourselves are suffering; in the ability to detect the hunger of others when we are hungry; and in the power to reach out and extend compassion for the spiritual agony of others when we are in the midst of our own spiritual distress. Thus, character is demonstrated by looking and reaching outward when the natural and instinctive response is to be self-absorbed and turn inward. If such a capacity is indeed the ultimate criterion of moral character, then the Savior of the world is the perfect example of such a consistent and charitable character.
Although this is referring to a different type of being “closed-off”, reading it this week helped me realize that by “taking care of myself” (thinking I am saving everyone hassle), I am then more likely to be looking inward, focusing on my own problems and less likely to notice others. When I think of the most genuinely Christlike people I know, their quickness to respond to the needs of others with no thought of themselves is the quality that stands out most. What beautiful character they share. And how thankful I am that they are willing to share their goodness with me.
Here’s to new beginnings and the chance to meet many more wonderful and interesting people through being just a little more needy. Just kidding. But, seriously.