Sunday, January 09, 2022

The Strangest Trip

The older we get, the more we travel, it seems like. Or, the more we travel together. Paul no longer takes trips to Mexico by himself to visit missionaries, and I no longer drop everything to fly to Minnesota to take care of my parents.

Now, we fly together to weddings and funerals. We take in weekend courses, visit family, and attend conferences.

De-icing the planes in Chicago

Paul approaches his travel responsibilities eagerly, his mind spinning with plans and schedules. He loves to find the cheapest tickets, the best rental cars, and the most efficient routes. If he can, he prints that Southwest boarding pass 23 hours and 59 minutes before our flight, grinning with satisfaction if he manages to get us A seating.

Leading up to a trip, unlike Paul, I am never in a very cheerful state of mind. There are so many decisions to make and so many things to remember that I feel overwhelmed. Outfits for travel and events. Inhalers and vitamins. Plenty of pens. Who's going to get the mail and feed the chickens? What will the weather be like there? Will this sweater go with more than one skirt?

If I have book events scheduled, the planning and preparations double in intensity.

Also, inevitably, my introversion manifests itself the last day or two, and I just want to stay home and drink tea.

For Paul, the last day of preparation simply means that almost all the planning is done and it's time to plan the next thing. And the next. 

Last November, I was frantically getting ready to go across the mountains for four days, where not only would we attend Allison the niece's wedding, but our family would get together in a rental house for Thanksgiving dinner. Two daughters were flying in, I was sewing a new silvery-gray dress, and Phoebe the daughter-in-law and I were planning all the food.

Paul, meanwhile, was doing his own preparations, his brain spinning with possibilities and plans. At one point, he showed up where I was working and said, "So, do you think we should leave on a Wednesday or a Thursday?"

I yanked my brain from the list before me and looked at him. "What??"

"When we go to REACH. What day would you like to fly?"

REACH is a conference in Pennsylvania. In March. I raised my voice more than was required with his hearing aids and exclaimed, "I AM TRYING TO PLAN THE FOOD FOR THIS TRIP AND YOU ARE EXPECTING ME TO THINK THREE TRIPS AHEAD???!!"

He acted just a bit chagrined.

As I said, Paul is always eager and excited about trips and enjoys the preparations. No matter how happy the purpose of the trip, I always find it a huge undertaking and always have an impulse to stay home.

Paul has been working for Open Hands, an organization that teaches people to form savings groups. We were asked to attend the Open Hands staff retreat in Pennsylvania last week, from Tuesday to Thursday.

As trips go, it wasn't that huge an undertaking. No weddings, speaking engagements, or book sales. No meals to plan.

We decided to expand the trip and visit the daughters in Virginia after the retreat. 

It all sounded doable and fun, until it didn't. I had a sense of dread about it that I couldn't shake or define.

Five attendees had to cancel because they got Covid. Our daughter Emily, who is doing photography work for Open Hands, got sick for over a week. Although she tested negative, she would be unable to drive to Pennsylvania for the retreat.

After hearing that Covid was rampaging in Virginia, we decided to cancel that half of the trip, but the sense of dread didn't leave.

I mentioned my misgivings to Paul, expecting him to say that this is what I always feel and yet it always works out ok. Instead, he said he felt he should go, but I could stay home if I wanted.

Bless him. But that didn't seem like the right thing to do, either.

So I made sure we had cat food on hand, printed the retreat schedule, and got the big suitcase from the attic, all with a firm conviction that not only were we not supposed to go, but we weren't going to go. I didn't ask the church ladies to pray for us like I usually do, because I didn't want to explain when we stayed home. And I didn't contact two friends in Pennsylvania that I had hoped to see, because I didn't want to cancel our plans when we ended up not going.

What does one do with such feelings? I looked in the mirror and had a conversation with myself. "Mrs. Smucker. Is this just your introversion talking?"

"No. This is something else."

"So, should you stay home?"

"No, you can't stay home on a weird feeling, and I don't think I should send Paul by himself."

All right then. I prayed that if my intuition was accurate, then God would send a logical sign to make it obvious, like our flights getting canceled. And I kept moving forward with our plans. 

We got up at 4 a.m. on Monday, tucked in our phone cords, poured coffee, and headed for Portland. All went well, and we flew to Chicago. 

I thought, "Ok, God. So much for my intuition. I guess we were supposed to go. Thanks for working it out." 

To his credit, Paul never said, "I told you so."

We had four hours in Chicago before our late-afternoon flight to Baltimore.

An announcement came over the intercom. They badly needed passengers on the Baltimore flight to volunteer to get bumped. We would get a $600 voucher per ticket, a night at a motel nearby, and a flight to Baltimore at 6:30 a.m.

Getting bumped gives Paul even more satisfaction than getting an A seat on the boarding pass. We consulted quickly and hurried over to stand in line, still discussing plans. We'd arrive at 9 a.m., plenty of time to get to the retreat by 1 pm.

"Do you still need volunteers?" Paul asked when it was finally our turn.

"Yes. Oh, thank you." The woman printed our vouchers and a motel pass. Then she printed vouchers refunding our tickets, then she said, "Oh that's not very much," and gave us each a bonus voucher.

We took a shuttle to the motel and our very nice suite, where we ordered in Panda Express via GrubHub like real city folks. We had pretty much everything we needed in our carryon bags. Our luggage had gone on to Baltimore without us.

The next morning we got up at 4:00 and caught the shuttle to the airport. 

Our flight to Baltimore was canceled.

They rebooked us for the following morning, Wednesday the 5th. 

Ok then. Paul called the motel. They said we could come back to the same room. So we did, sleeping all morning before connecting with the retreat via Zoom all afternoon.

Southwest emailed us another $250 voucher. I'm not sure why.

We tried walking to a restaurant for dinner, not having a vehicle to use, but it was bitterly cold and snowy, and Paul hadn't brought a hat or gloves. So we ordered dinner again.

Later that evening we got an email telling us our Wednesday morning flight to Baltimore was canceled, but they graciously rebooked us for Wednesday evening.

That meant that we could get in on the last four hours of the retreat, on Thursday morning, before heading home, if we did more driving than sleeping.  And, hopefully, we could get our luggage.

I looked out at the bleak gray Chicago landscape, dreary with freeways and factory steam blowing sideways. "I just want to go home."

Paul checked online. The flights to Portland were all booked full, all day Wednesday. So he called, and was put on hold for hours.

I washed clothes in the bathtub and hung them on hangers to dry, then went to bed.

I was awakened by Paul saying, "But my car is in Portland. I don't want to go to Eugene."

I leaped out of bed, yanked open the bedroom door, and hissed, "No! Let's go to Eugene! I just want to go home! We can go get your car whenever!"

Paul said, "Oh, wait. My wife says Eugene is fine."

I went back to bed.

Wednesday morning we dressed in clean clothes that thankfully had dried overnight, got on the shuttle at 8:20, and flew without incident to Las Vegas and then Eugene. Phoebe picked us up. The next day Ben took Paul to Portland to get his car.

I am happy to be home, where the tea is hot, the couches are comfortable, and the cats are happy to see me. Yesterday Southwest sent us a refund for the second night in the motel and all the food we ordered in. We still don't have our luggage, but FedEx is supposed to deliver it tomorrow.

I am also analyzing my strange intuitions about the trip. My mom used to tell, ominously, of people she knew who had had "premonitions" before they died. I admit these had the same heavy tone of Mom's description of a premonition, except I never had the sense we would die. Or maybe it was more like what she called a burden--"Ach, ich hap usht so'n burden..." I just have such a burden...

My main takeaway is that I don't need to figure things out or persuade anyone of anything. All I had to do was keep moving forward; the Holy Spirit did the rest. Our path was made clear by the exact sign I had prayed for--canceled flights--and also by something Paul would be persuaded by: getting bumped.

We are small autumn leaves caught up in winds much larger than ourselves. Even if we have glimpses and senses and feelings, the outcome isn't ours to control. It's best--as they tell you on Southwest Airlines--to sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight.

With our oddly generous fistful of vouchers, we'll have plenty of opportunity to fly in the coming year--hopefully without incident or prophetic intuitions.


  1. This is comforting to me as I endeavor to remain calm amid early morning and late night anxieties about our daughter’s flight to Kosovo tomorrow. She has four stops. I’d be much more at peace with one stop in America followed by a direct flight to Kosovo, especially given the flight delays and chaos I’m hearing about lately. This is a reminder to “let go” and trust the Lord with all of it.

  2. Oh, my! What else can I say!!

  3. Dorcas, our upcoming meeting on Thursday will seem frightfully dull after all of these events. What an adventurous life you lead. <3

  4. I just came back from a trip to PA and was blessed with no delays or cancellations on my flights. I was certainly prepared for the possibility, though. Glad you're home@

  5. Oh dear. I think that was quite a nontrip!

  6. This is wonderful! I do believe that if we give our hearts to Jesus, repent and confess every known sin, and ask him to fill us with his Holy Spirit, that he can lead us. He can do this in many different ways. Perhaps your premonition was to give you a little heads-up and advance warning not to hold the trip too tightly in your hand. (And to pack a toothbrush in your carry-on!) :D

  7. Travelling is hard work. Thank goodness you are home now and can recover.

  8. I always love the real way you write, as I can relate sooo much, both to the intuitions and to the frustrations and the overwhelms. This has been happening to me recently, in the wake of plans for big changes in the future. Feeling like it really isn't going to happen, but not knowing if the feelings are just based on shock and the surrealness (is that a word?) of change I did not expect, or if it is an intuition. And the putting it all in God's hands and watching Him work. Sometimes He works it out and everything is okay, and sometimes things don't happen at all as planned, but there is a sense that that, too, is in God's hands. Sometimes we suffer, and sometimes we are comfortable, but it is all in God's hands. So our feelings and intutions, and "burdens" are in His hands, too. We can trust them to Him!

  9. Oh Dorcus, I loved reading that someone else is like me when it comes to traveling. I've been out of touch with your blog for a couple of months and just now have come back and started reading all that I missed. I left my job of 15 years in Dec after they "eliminated" my position. I was offered another position, but it really wasn't what either I or my husband wanted for me, so we decided to take a leap of faith and for me to come home again to my "favorite" job, being a wife and mother. I've been navigating the new waters and had just forgotten all about your blog in the confusion of setting up new insurance (we had always gotten ours from my work), figuring out my daily routine (how in the world did I ever have time to hold down a job?!?!?) and deciding what I was and was not going to volunteer for. Anyway, it's a joy to be back on the "Life in a Shoe" train. I've so missed your open, honest writing.

    So, back to the travel thing. I am the same way!! I love the idea of going places, but I often find the reality overwhelming. The packing, the planning, the driving, the flight catching, the not having my own bed/close/bathroom. Shew! I told my husband once that I wish we could have a transporter like they do on Star Trek. Where you could just transport to the destination of your choice in the blink of an eye and transport back to your house when you were ready to go to bed or you need something. No packing, no planning.

    In a couple of weeks we will be taking our first ever beach vacation. I have wanted to do this for years, but my husband is not much of a sitting on the beach, reading a book kind of guy. He tends to like to have specific activities and things to keep him occupied, but I had a rough year health wise and then with the job thing, I wanted a more laid back, not-do-anything kind of vacation. Well, now here we are, almost ready to go and I'm dreading the whole thing. We've already booked a condo on the beach, but now I'm fretting about what to bring. What if it rains? What if a storm blows up and we can't go to the beach? What if Mark (husband) is bored and he drives me crazy because he's bored? I'm like you and ready to just curl up with a cup of tea and stay home. So I need to do like you and put it in God's hand and trust that He will find something to keep Mark busy and me relaxed on this trip. So your blog was just what I needed to hear.

    Shannon Combs
    Sapulpa, OK