19 June 2014


“You know, I know that God has it all covered,” Paul began one night a few weeks ago, “but sometimes I just want to do my own thing and see how everything works out.” We had been living in Papua New Guinea for a year and Paul was experiencing a bit of third world frustration unlike any previous freakout.

He is content with his job but our apartment is small and infested with flying termites, small roaches and maintenance men who just walk in whenever they need to check on something. In the third world we are without first world conveniences such as the ability to walk from one address to another, the ability to send and receive mail and the presence of big box stores like Target that seem to have almost anything a person could need for a reasonable price.

Twice annually, Paul gets to return to the United States to attend aircraft training, and his semi-annual trip to New Jersey was quickly approaching. He was scheduled to begin training in June so throughout May he became incredibly antsy as he awaited approval to leave PNG and head back to the U.S. The termites that evening were the last straw.

“Why are you so O.K. with this?!” he shouted. “How can you be so patient and not freak out and tell me that we have to leave? Why are you so amazing? Any other wife out there would have left me by now. Sometimes I wish you would just say, ‘That’s it, I’m out.’ Then at least I could go in and say, ‘Sorry guys, my wife can’t take it anymore.’ ”

After he calmed down a bit, he more calmly started talking about how he trusts that God has our life plans completed for us but, in times like this night, he wishes he would be able to see into the future and realize why we experience certain circumstances.

“Do you remember those books we read as kids that allowed us to pick what happens? ‘Turn to page 40 if you want this to happen; turn to page 63 if you want that to happen.’ I wish I could just turn to one page in my life to see what happens when I follow God and then turn to another page to see what happens if I go my own way. I know that God does everything perfectly but sometimes I just want to know now, or I want to do my own thing because momentarily I think that I know what I am doing apart from God.”

People often say “Be careful what you wish for.” Let’s just say Paul learned his lesson. “At least it was an easy lesson to learn,” he said when recalling the epic events that began on a Friday morning at the end of May.

We had spent the week on edge, waiting to see when Paul would be released but his training dates and flying schedule kept changing so we were never able to solidly confirm any plans. We made tentative plans to land in the States on May 31 and attend our nephew’s G.I. Joe themed birthday party Sunday, June 1. We would be jet lagged but at least we would be there for the first of his six birthdays. I had a plan to stop over in Sydney Friday night, have dinner with a friend and then take the morning flight to L.A. Paul had a million different plans that depended upon his departure date. If he left on Friday, he would go through Australia; if he was released for Saturday, he would fly through Japan. Let's just say he had every plan outlined and ready for whenever his boss said, "Go."

Thursday evening, May 29, we went to bed with a battle plan. Paul intended to meet with his boss early Friday morning. If he could get approval to leave that day, we would be on a plane and make our way to the U.S. that weekend as planned. I let him know that I was fine waiting the weekend. I had tasks I wanted to accomplish before a long-term departure: sorting through items that had not been used in the year since we arrived, tossing food that would not survive 2+ months in a non-ventilated tropical apartment, giving away any perishable items.

Friday morning as Paul showered and got ready to go into the office, I began packing my suitcase, just in case. As he left, I decided that I had packed enough. I needed to de-stress, so I went to the gym to burn some calories before a weekend stuck in an economy seat. At 10 a.m., I got the call. “We leave in three hours,” was the gist of it.

I finished my workout, showered and began packing all of the annoying little things that somehow become so cumbersome. Paul returned sometime after 11 and we rushed to get everything sorted, leaving a note for the housekeeping ladies to take whatever they wanted from our fridge.

Paul now admits that he felt his Spirit telling him not to go. He felt that he needed to wait but he was impatient, and he was so determined to leave the country that he ignored his Spirit and pushed us out the door. He was also in an unusually foul mood – short-tempered and irritated.

When we arrived at the airport, we were told that business class was full and our standby tickets would give us access to economy class. For the record, that was weird. Since we obtained the privilege to fly standby, we have been able to fly in business class. Every time. To be clear, we were happy to have a seat on the flight, so we were not complaining, it was just an odd occurrence to not be awarded a business class seat. At the airport Paul said he was tempted to go back to the apartment and wait another day or so, but he ultimately decided to continue.

We arrived in Sydney, checked into a hotel and met my friend for dinner before spending some time downtown and on Circular Quay enjoying the Vivid Sydney light shows. Flying standby all the way to Pittsburgh in Western Pennsylvania, we had four chances to make the Saturday flight from Sydney to Los Angeles and all four flights were full. We decided to skip the already full early flight that would get us into LA eight hours before our connecting flight and opted to try the afternoon flight that would still allow us to make the connection.

Saturday morning we left the hotel with our suitcases and took a paid shuttle to the international terminal. I waited in line at the Qantas counter while Paul queued at the United Airlines counter. At United, Paul discovered that our standby tickets were not valid so he did what he could to ensure we were listed for the flights while I continued to wait in my Qantas line where we were eventually given standby tickets and told to wait at yet another counter. Forty-five minutes later the woman advised us that the flight was full and that none of the 20 or so standby passengers waiting with us would be leaving Sydney that day. “Sunday's flights are also all full, so come back Monday and you should be O.K.” We also struck out with United.

Around 2 p.m., we left the airport and booked ourselves another hotel. We spent the night in Sydney and tried again the next day. We awoke unexpectedly early to a 5 a.m. wake-up call that we did not order, eventually got up, packed our things and once again paid a shuttle driver to take us to the international terminal. On the ride we learned that not one but two Delta flights from Sydney to LA had canceled two days in a row, which is why every flight to LA was booked all weekend. We knew we were risking it, but we tried again anyway.

After checking in and sitting 20 minutes at the wrong location, we rushed to the standby counter as an agent began calling names. Five minutes later we were awarded tickets – and we were able to sit next to each other. We were ecstatic but we had less than an hour to get from the ticket area through immigration and security to the gate. Of course, this was the perfect time for the two of us to get searched – Paul voluntarily, by the way. Nice time to opt out of the scanning machine, Mr. Libertarian. I waited five minutes for a woman to throw away the hair product that had originally been in my checked luggage. The container of hair whip was 4.1 oz. and I was only allowed 3.0 oz. My mistake. Stupid TSA regulations.

We made it onto the flight and into LA five minutes ahead of schedule, leaving an hour and a half to catch our direct flight to Pittsburgh. Except again our United tickets failed. This time the ticket agents were no help, Paul’s employee travel representatives in PNG didn’t work weekends and the reps on the phone were unable to easily assist Paul with his request. I popped into the bathroom to change clothes, brush my teeth and clean my face while Paul did what he could to rectify the issue.

We debated stopping again, booking an LA hotel and sleeping the day, returning 22 hours later to catch the next day’s direct flight. After some time, Paul decided to press on and I admitted that I was happy to just keep flying. He worked with a United representative to list us on the next flight to Pittsburgh by way of Chicago O’Hare and we made our way through security.

Side rant: What good is having the Global Traveler card if I never have access to the TSA Precheck line?!

The flight to Chicago was full and we were something like numbers 12 and 13 on the standby list. After missing the first flight and realizing that this was a trend that would continue to occur all day, we decided to give up and get a hotel. Paul went to find Special Services to retrieve our checked bags and I again alerted our family members of our change in plans.

“Can we get our bags?” I asked when he returned to the gate.

“No,” he said and advised that our bags, were "already on their way to Pittsburgh. They were put on the last flight. Apparently United does not require the people to travel with the bags – that was NOT the policy at US Air.”

“So our bags are on that plane that is now rolling toward the taxiway.”


“Bye bags!” I waved out the window as the plane moved away from the gate.

Paul had had enough. We went to a terminal restaurant, found some Wi-Fi, he pulled out his credit card and booked us a couple of confirmed seats on a Southwest flight leaving two hours later. The flight would stop in Chicago and then continue on to Pittsburgh, and our bags would in theory be waiting for us when we landed at 8:30 p.m.

Luckily, that’s exactly what happened. We left PNG at midnight Thursday evening/Friday morning U.S. Eastern time and finally landed at “home” at 8:30 p.m. Sunday evening. Paul was done. Again. He didn't even want to talk about having anyone pick us up and drive us another hour and 15 minutes home. Before we left LA, he had booked us a hotel near the Pittsburgh airport so that we could crash and have a family member rescue us the following day, after a very late checkout.

I slept for 14 hours.

At 3 p.m. Monday, we checked out of our hotel and Paul’s mom drove us to the house where we finally just stopped for a few minutes and appreciated that we were done traveling. At least for the day. I had fewer than two weeks in town and there were a lot of people to see in that time frame.

This is that thing I last wrote about - seeing every single person in the country in a limited time because, after all, I am in the country. Ready, go!


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