Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Providence, dark and light

It began on Monday.  My flight left at 6:15am, that meant that I had to arrive at the airport at 5:15, leave home at 4:00 and wake up at 3:00.  I made it to the airport in time and checked in online.  As I made my way to security, I looked up at the monitor to see which gate my flight left from.  To my chagrin, there was no 6:15am flight.  Immediately, I remembered that my check-in notification only arrived at 6pm the previous evening.  I checked my booking and discovered to my horror that my flight was not for 6:15am but 6:15PM.  That meant that someone would have to pick me up in Baltimore at Midnight.

I went back to the Delta counter and asked the agent what to do.  She helped my change my flight.  For $50, I changed my flight to standby on the 7:00am flight to ATL.  I still had to get from ATL to BWI, but with the regular flights between those two cities, I wasn't very concerned.  I proceeded to my gate with the comfortable comment from the agent that it was good to get out of town before the storm hit.  At the gate, I called my Mom and warned her to wait to leave to pick me up until I called.  I still had no seat on the first plane not to mention the second leg.  Eventually, I was assigned a seat on the 7:00 flight and boarded the plane.

As the hostess was explaining the safety procedures, I heard the engine rev and immediately fall silent.  I thought that a bit odd.  Later, the captain reported that the engine had failed to start and the passengers were asked to deplane.  However, the gate agent decided not to remove the baggage.  This suggested to me that the flight was still scheduled to go.  As I exited the jetway, the gate agent was handing out cards with the Delta telephone number to every passenger and told them to call to reschedule for the 8:00 flight.  I took the card and called the number.  I told the story to the assistant and she started trying to rebook my flight.  She then told me that according to her computer, I was still on the plane.  While I denied the allegation, she told me she was unable to fix my flight until the computer showed that I was off the plane.  I hung up and went back to the gate and tried to talk to the gate agent.  He was harassed trying to get the 8:00 flight out at the same gate, using the same jetway while trying to placate the frustrated 7:00 flyers.  He simply told me to call again.

I called Delta again.  I told my story, again.  I received the same response, again.  As the more motivated assistant rechecked her computer, I saw the gate agent walk back to his computer.  The instant he touched his terminal, the assistant on the phone said, "Wait, something just happened."  My scheduled released, she was able to rebook me on the 9:35 flight.  I must say, she stayed with me and my problem until it was fixed.  I was really impressed with her persistence and thankful for her efforts, but my day was not over.

Having resolved my booking problem, I still had a problem.  In order to board the plane, you had to "check" one of your bags into the belly of the plane.  It's called valet checking and uses a pink tag and claim stub.  After dealing with my booking problem, I went back to the desk to obtain my new boarding pass.  The gate agent was still so busy, he told everyone from the 7:00 flight to sit down until all the 8:00 passengers had boarded.  I knew he would not need to get to me until the 8:00 flight had left, so I settled down to wait.  As I waited, I noticed something disturbing.  My original plane had started moving, with all our baggage still in it.  They took the plane to the maintenance hangar.  What would happen with my suitcase?

Eventually the gate agent finished with his 8:00 flight and started calling the ground crew to resolve the baggage situation.  I went to the desk and told the agent that I was booked for the 9:35 flight.  He asked me about my baggage and I told him about my pick tag bag.  He told me that he would take care of my bag if I gave him my pick stub.  I gave it to him; he took it and put it in the stack of baggage tags for the 9:35 flight.  Having my seat request in my hand, I went to the next gate down from which the flight was to depart.

While I waited, I monitored the weather and flight status of the 8:00 flight and the incoming plane which we would take to ATL.  The 8:00 flight did not leave until 8:57.  Those poor people sat in that plane as the rain poured down for almost an hour.  I waited in a roomy airport.  The incoming plane was due at 9:10 but didn't arrive until 9:24.  By this time, I had checked in with the gate agent at this new gate.  Interestingly, it was the same gate agent that was at my previous gate.  One man was manning an entire concourse.  He was having as bad a morning as all we passengers.  Happily, by this time, I had not only my boarding pass for the trip to ATL, but a boarding pass to BWI.  What had begun as a solely standby situation, now was confirmed all the way to BWI before midnight.

As we waited, I saw the captain emerge from the jetway. He reported that he had just passed through the weather that covered a line from St. Louis to Austin.  In order to get to ATL, we would have to go southwest to turn the corner of the weather.  In order to do that, they had to file a new flight plan, recalculate the needed fuel, and fuel the plane.  With the lightning in the area, they had halted all fueling operations.  The delay meant that the 9:35 flight did not leave until 10:30.  The new route meant the normally 1 hour flight took 2.5 hours.  Needless to say, everyone missed their connections in ATL.

After we arrived in ATL, I walked up the jetway to the place where the pink tagged luggage was returned.  As the door opened I looked intently for my luggage, and found none.  I exited the jetway and reported it to the gate agent.  She went back to look for it.  She came back and reported that there was no bag that matched my description.  She asked if I had my pink stub.  I explained to her why I didn't have it, but she said that she could not help me without the pink stub.  At this time I remember my former gate agent telling this same thing to one of my fellow passengers on the 7:00 flight.  This was the same gate agent that had taken my stub and promised to transfer my bag to my new flight.  I was not well-pleased.  I now had missed my connection to BWI, my bag was lost, and I could do nothing about my luggage until I reached BWI.

I went to the Delta help desk to which the agents had directed us.  The line ran all the way back to Reykjavik.  I decided to rely on my helpful friends at the Delta phone line.  With this number, the first option in the menu is for those who are at the airport.  That immediately connects you to a human being.  I like that.  I called and talked to another wonderful assistant who told me that I was already booked on my backup flight (which I didn't know I had).  She directed me to the flight, and I thanked her and rang off.  I walked to the gate and retrieved my boarding pass.  I called Mom and updated her on the new ETA at BWI.

Now hungry, I sought food, sat down, and ate.  I was being excessively friendly since that is my natural response to hardship.  If I'm dealing with a hard time, I project that others need the encouragement that I would appreciate at that time.  I had even given some encouraging words to that poor guy that was manning a whole concourse even if he had lost my bag.  Nevertheless, my cheery demeanor was beginning to give way to the course of negative events.  I had been up for 11 hours, 10 of which was spent in travel and not pleasant travel.  The food helped.

Having eaten, I needed to use the restroom.  As I walked that way, I passed a gentleman of Indian extraction with snow white hair to whom I immediately felt a sense of recognition.  As I pondered the situation, I began to understand my recognition.  I thought he was a person I saw on a Sunday School video, whose books I had read and given to the congregation.  Nevertheless, I was uncertain.  He was shorter than I remembered.  I thought of going and talking to him, but I questioned whether it was culturally insensitive to conclude that every Indian gentleman looked like this Christian speaker.

He boarded in first class.  I boarded later and got stuck beside him in the plane as I was walking back to coach.  As the line moved, I concluded that my identification was in error.  I texted my father, an even greater supporter of this man's ministry, and told him that his doppelg√§nger was on board.  He asked me what that was, and I told him.  He suggested my identification might be right and I told him my reasons for discounting it. Dad corrected my height estimation.  The gentleman was the person I identified, but now I was back in coach with no way of meeting him.  I gave the situation to the providence of God.  If He wanted the meeting, He would arrange it.  If not, so be it.

As the plane landed, my mind turned again to the man in first class.  The deplaning process took so long, I discounted my chances at meeting him.  I started walking forward and saw that in the first class cabin only one person remained, the Indian gentleman.  I had to stop and say, "Excuse me, I hate to bother you, but are you Ravi Zacharias?"
As I walked down the concourse, I thought about the events of the day.  I said to myself, "Yes, that would be worth my bag."  On a flight I was not supposed to be on, in any plan made by men, God had an appointment for me.  I only pray that Dr. Zacharias was as encouraged to hear of how the Lord used his work in the lives of me and my father as I was to meet him.

My Dad says, "Providence works."  Whether in dark or light, God still works His purposes out.  If I had met no one on that flight, God would still have had a purpose.  If I had met Dr. Zacharias without all that bad stuff happening, God would still have had a plan.  What are you going to do with the providence God sends you?  Will you try to work in the dark providence to bring light?  Will you receive the light providence without suspicion?  Will you purpose that whatever God brings into your life, you will respond as befits one who claims the name of Christ?

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