I’m writing this over the Atlantic, heading back to Chicago after 2 weeks in Europe away from my family. I can … not … wait to get back.
I woke up this morning in Zurich, Switzerland. I have been in Eastern Europe on business, having one adventure after another visiting new and very foreign places. When booking the flights for my work-related multi-city tour, I wasn’t surprised to find that prices for plane tickets were very high. What was surprising is that if I broke up my trip at the end by staying overnight at a United hub somewhere in Western Europe, I could save over $2,000 on the plane tickets for my company. That’s exciting. I was SO there.
I did a little research, and selected Zurich. I’ve been to England, Scotland, and Germany, so they were out. Faith would kill me if I went to Italy, France or Spain without her. So, of the remaining choices, the best choice for schedule and my interests in general was Zurich. Here’s a panoramic I shot last night…
So, yesterday was my first visit to the land of watches and cheese. And it was pretty cool, I have to say. If you’re rich, Zurich is for sure the place. Modern, clean, great food … “fancy” and “high tech” everywhere. I stayed at a really nice hotel (the Renaissance Tower), enjoyed a marvelous dinner (Swiss-style lamb with vegetables at the Blockhaus Restaurant and Bar to south by the river just off Bahnhofstraße, the “richest street in the world”), and strolled through the winding streets of the city center, snapping selfies and enjoying the atmosphere – including the nice weather. It was a great evening … except that I was alone. Being somewhere interesting and seeing the sights there is always better with company. I wish my family could have been with me.
I returned to the hotel at 9pm or so, stocked up on Diet Coke from the executive lounge (still working the long tail of my past life as a Marriott junkie), got some work done, and eventually hit the sack. And this is where it gets interesting…
I didn’t oversleep. I woke up, showered, shaved, dressed, and packed … all with the premeditated intention of hopping the tram back to the city center, having coffee (didn’t make it to Starbucks the night before), getting one of those awesome German pretzels (was too full after dinner to do that last night too), take a few pictures of the beautiful city in the daylight (it was a very clear beautiful morning), and then take the S-Bahn to the airport. It’s only a 15 min train ride – just 3 stops on S16. I didn’t know how often the trains run, but figured I could assess that on my way through HB (Haubtbanhof, or “main station”) from the tram to Starbucks. It’s the train to the airport, so it had to be frequent, right!?
I knew my flight was set to leave at 11:45am, so I figured I was good. But standing in my hotel room at 9:35am, I suddenly realized that somehow I had much more time in my head than I actually had out here in the world where only a minute fits into a minute. Ugh! Two hours? To get to the Zurich International Airport? For an international flight? Holy cow! What was I thinking?!
Suddenly, my vision of a leisurely stroll back through the city one last time gave way to the panicked realization that even if I left that second to head to the airport, I could be in trouble.
In a few minutes I was standing at the front desk. They were very helpful, and assured me I had plenty of time. They checked me out efficiently, and as I turned around to walk out the door and head to the nearby S-Bahn station (I had walked from the station to the hotel the day before, and was planning to reverse the trip now), the guy behind the counter mentioned … as if it didn’t matter… the trains run every 30 minutes, and the next one leaves in 3 min.
Seriously!? Instant panic!
I’m walking there. There’s NO way I’m catching this train. So, I ran. Heavy bags. Heavy Jeff. Desk job. Out of shape. A little altitude there in Zurich. None of that was helping! Again, there was no way. Next train at 10:19am … 10 min to the airport … so now I’m arriving at the airport 1 hr 15 min before my international flight leaves! I would rarely have gotten to O’Hare for a two-hour regional flight with that little time, let alone an transcontinental flight out of an airport I don’t know. Oh man!
And here’s the reason I’m writing all this… The moment of decision…
Panic? Fear? Worry? Or trust the Lord?
In these moments in life, when it’s all breaking bad – admittedly this is not the most extreme or severe example I’ve experienced, let alone can imagine or describe – what do we do? On both the inside and the outside, what will our reaction be?
Self-important rudeness that leads us to push others out of our hurried ways? Impolite words to match? The arrogant assumption that we are more important than those around us, and where we have to be is more important than where they have to be?
Are matters now in my hands? Do I now fix what’s broken? Do I rise in power to overcome my circumstances?
Do I worry? Am I afraid? Do I bargain with God? With others?
And what if we work hard to calm our hearts, and trust the Lord? What if we let go of self even a little, and fight to choose joy regardless of our circumstances? Even in that victory, what if God doesn’t come through with what we want?
What if I work hard to trust him and to be okay even if I miss my flight, secretly expecting that God will “be faithful” to keep me from experiencing “calamity”?
I’m sure we’d agree that God doesn’t “owe” us, but I think we do general expect Him to give us what we want. Am I right? Don’t leave me up here?
So, back to this morning Zurich…
It was in Manila, years ago, that God taught me how to “remain calm, trust the Lord, and work hard”. I’ve remembered that day so often. Here was another chance.
I determined in my heart not to worry. I prayed. “God, I want to catch my flight and get home to my family. Please help me. But no matter what happens, I love you and I trust you, and I will not resent you or be afraid. I chose joy and worship. Take away fear and worry.” And this is what happened…
I stopped running. I was tired and aching. And I was sure I had already missed the train. Just in case if was a few minutes late, I walked as fast as I could. I got to the station at 10am sharp. The 9:49 was long gone. 19 minutes to wait for the next one. Two minutes in, I realized I’d have to do something to distract myself from the temptation to worry. So, I read. I’m in Acts in my reading plan, so that worked great. Absorbed several chapters, actually, which was nice. I also prepared myself to go through security as quickly as possible – everything out of my pockets, belt in my bag, etc.
The train got there on time and left on time, and at 10:28am I was walking quickly into the airport. I had determined in my heart not to push anyone around verbally or physically, but would be extremely bold to ask to cut in line as often as I had to. And I knew there would be a lot of lines – I would look back after and count 6…
Line 1: Check-in
I couldn’t check-in online the night before, due to the new US regulations on passport checks. That was okay then, when I thought I’d have a ton of time, but now I was tempted to worry. I walked briskly through the airport, careful not to cut people off, praying, saying over and over to myself “You will trust God. You will not worry. God, please help me catch my flight. I will worship you no matter what happens.”
I rounded the corner to see HUGE lines at the check-in. Here we go. I chose peaceful trust. Then I realized that those were for Swiss Air. I asked an official-looking woman, “Where’s the United check-in?”
“Around the corner, at the end.”
I rounded that corner, and … nobody. Literally one single person in line at the United counter. Yay! And by the time I got to the counter through the winding dividers, even she was wrapping up. I waited literally 15 seconds, and then the friendliest large black woman in the whole world was helping me. She smiled and joked, and I made a conscious effort to smile and joke back, thanking God in my heart.
A miracle I hadn’t yet appreciated became apparent in the conversation. The day before, I had been concerned when my checked luggage from Odessa hadn’t spit out in the baggage claim at Zurich. I’d hopped through Istanbul, so I was concerned it got lost along the way … until a friendly official told me that the proverbial “they” had gone ahead and checked my luggage all the way through to Chicago. Nice!
But now that meant that I already had my bag checked, so it saved time. I thought I was going to just carry on my other (a duffle bag), along with my backpack (computer bag). But my angelic United representative said, “Let me just check that for you too. The flight’s crowded, it will save you time, and I won’t charge you.” Should have been $100, but not today. I stood and stared … it was like extra icing on the free cake I never thought I’d get in the first place! I think God loves to show off.
I made it a point to shake her hand and tell her she was the answer to my prayers. And, in a matter of a couple minutes, I was checked in, boarding passes in hand, walking with only a backpack to security.
Line 2: Boarding Pass / Passport Check
I rounded another corner to see almost nobody in the passport check line. Three officials, each checking 1 person. No problem. Sailed through there in a flat second.
Line 3: Security
I had to go down an escalator to get to the security area. SO many people had been in check-in lines but so few in the passport check line, so I didn’t know what to expect. As I descended quickly down the moving stairway, and the cues came into vision, my heart leapt to see no more than a dozen people in line at 4-5 stations. I got in a line with only 3 people between me and the metal detector, and nearly cried. I had the thought, “You have to take a picture. It’s important to build memorials to what God does.”
I literally stepped out of line, walked to the side, and snapped this picture…
and then looked over. I’d estimate a solid 50 people were on their way into the cues behind me. Amazing! What timing. What a gift from God.
As I mentioned, I was already ready to go through security. I took off my shoes for good measure, and sailed through. Only a matter of minutes.
Line 4: Customs
The last hurdle (or so I thought) was customs. Again, I was amazed as I approached that there was literally 1 person in line in front of me. Again. And that person was almost done. Again.
Waited 15 seconds, he looked at my passport for another 15 seconds, asked me 1 question, stamped my passport, and I was on my way.
Line 5: Waiting for the Tram
Next, I had to take a tram to get to Terminal E. I came down the escalator after the passport check, and saw the timer: Next train in 1:10. Only a minute to wait! I took another picture. God is amazing. At this point, I’m in permanent “blown away” mode.
Got on the train, zipped to the terminal, disembarked, climbed the escalator two-at-a-time, and…
The First Gate
Gate E52 was the first gate at the top of the steps. I literally had to walk 20 feet from the top of the escalator to be in line to board. So cool!
The second I got there, they called my boarding group (#2), and the long line started moving toward the plane. Of course, I was out of the woods by this point, so I was just reveling in God’s amazing grace to just keep showering me with unnecessary and worship-inducing gifts. I had made the commitment to worship Him no matter what happened, but He was repeatedly choosing to shower me with extra gifts … just because a Father loves to give good gifts to His children. I was in awe.
Line 6: New Add’l Passport Security Check
In the middle of these thoughts, I remembered that another US policy is to have the passport checked an extra time at the gate, so that you need a special sticker on your boarding pass to get in the real “boarding the plane” line.
So, I got out of my moving line, and approached the counter from the side to ask if I had to get in that other long line first. The official there said, “Nope. You already have the sticker on your passport right there.”
My friend at the check-in counter again. Eliminated an entire line for me. Why do we ever worry about anything? Thoughts of sparrows and lilies flooded my mind.
So, back in the real line, I approached the door to the jetbridge, and realized that I hadn’t eaten yet. But I looked over, and – wouldn’t you know it? – a café was right next to the gate, literally 10 feet away. Wow, God, that’s cool. My seat was secure, there was plenty of time, all I had to stow was a backpack, and I’m hungry. I’m getting breakfast!
I approached, and there was only 1 person in line, again wrapping up, and I again waited no time at all. I ordered a ham and cheese baguette (disturbingly the healthiest thing they had), a banana, and a bottle of water. Got breakfast and even some Swiss currency to show my son out of the deal.
By now, they were boarding area 3, so I walked right in front of everyone with my now-all-powerful area 2 boarding pass, and got on the plane.
I sat down and looked at my watch: 11:18am. Fifty minutes even from the moment I stepped into the airport. About 90 minutes since I’d realized I was going to be late in my room in a hotel miles away. It was awesome! God was truly good to me.
So, what does this mean?
I feel so blessed that God reacted to my situation this way. He didn’t have to. There was no obligation. My problems were even caused by my own bad planning, not that my having acted more wisely would have in any way increased His obligation to me. God owes me (and owed me in this situation) nothing at all.
But a Father loves to give good gifts to His children.
Did He reward my faithfulness to discipline and lead my heart – not to fear, but to trust? Who knows? Did my choices obligate him to reward me? Absolutely not.
What if I had panicked and acted sinfully at every turn on the way to the airport? Would I have missed my flight? Would He also have made straight paths before me anyway? Maybe? Who knows. Good things happen to the undeserving all the time!
And to be clear, my good choices – in this instance; there have been plenty of examples of terrible choices I could share – did not make me “deserving”. There is none good, not even one. Certainly not me!
The point is…
- God is not a genie. We have no lamp that we rub to activate him.
- He’s not a vending machine, dispensing coveted candy bars for $0.75.
- He’s not summoned by incantation or obligated by our behavior.
God is the Great King over all the earth. Sovereign. In control of everything. He does what He pleases. Life and death and all other things are in His hands.
And what He does is right and good and perfect and loving, simply because He does them. He defines these standards and more by His actions.
So, if everything had gone wrong and God had “given me (seemingly) nothing”, it would not have meant He loves me less. And because I was given the cosmic red carpet treatment today at every conceivable turn (and a few I couldn’t have conceived), it doesn’t mean He loves me more.
God is. It should invoke worship that He identified Himself to Moses, “I am that I am.” That’s … utterly … amazing. Drink that in. God is …… Everything. All that is beyond all that is. The measuring rod that defines everything. The great scale that weighs all mens’ hearts. Perfect in majesty. Glorious and without equal. Not even a distant second. Ruling the universe with His feet on the desk. So, it’s right that He does whatever He wants to do … without explanation or obligation to us, His children. Just as you do not explain every decision to your kids, neither does He.
So, run to Him.
If it all goes right in your eyes, worship Him.
If it all goes wrong in your eyes, worship Him.
Give Him the glory due His name … not due your circumstances or your understanding. They are both extremely limited. He is not!
May this story be a stone of remembrance to the God whose arm is easily long enough to support me, no matter my need. No matter what He chooses for me tomorrow, I will choose to trust Him deeply and worship is matchless name.
And thank you again, Lord, that I’m on my way home.