A Rare Prayer at Chicago O’Hare
My perfect week was rounding the final corner. It was an extrovert’s Eden: Two awesome conferences in the Nashville area (Renew.org and Discipleship.org). More meaningful conversations with people than I could count. Barbecue at Puckett’s in Murfreesboro. Ice cream at Jeni’s in Franklin. Jet’s Pizza—twice! That Friday, I even sat down and conversed with 93-year-old Robert Coleman, author of the game-changing Master Plan of Evangelism, who’s got at least one foot already in heaven.
I would then finish the week by flying home on Friday in time to watch my eldest play defense attorney in her first Mock Trial tournament on Saturday morning.
But getting home Friday night meant a layover in O’Hare. Not a great reputation, that airport, but it’s not like I was going to spend much time there…
“It’s not like I was going to spend much time there….”
My flight from Nashville to Chicago made it in time…to sit on the tarmac for an hour after landing. That would have been okay (and I was having a fascinating conversation with a health expert from D.C.), except that my flight home was scheduled only 45 minutes after landing. Since our plane couldn’t find an open gate, surely that meant that my flight home was delayed too.
But O’Hare seems to run on a different rationale and when I arrived in the terminal and rushed to my departure gate, it was empty and dark. So there had been an open gate…
In my experience, things typically work out. So with the sky dark, I stood there for a moment thinking through my options and letting the answer come to me. I had three options: 1) Sleep in the terminal and fly home in the morning (but miss a lot of tournament). 2) Sleep in a hotel and fly home in the morning (but miss a lot of the tournament and perhaps accidentally miss the flight). 3) Rent a car and return it to the airport at home (but have to drive through the night).
“I really didn’t want to miss the tournament, so I opted for the car rental.”
The shuttle bus took a long time to arrive at the rental, and each time I glanced at the watch made me a little more nervous. The rental line was long and when I finally got to the desk, I was told they were out of cars. Next rental line, same answer. The next line, I was told the same answer but told to go upstairs because maybe they had cars. Up the escalator I went, and the attendant had been right: there was a whole parking lot full of rental cars. This made it all the more bizarre when they told me they were out of cars too. However, they explained, if I were to make the reservation online, they would have a car for me. Yet online told me the same answer again even though I tried multiple companies: no rental car for me.
It was a longer shuttle bus ride back to the terminal. Looks like I’d be sleeping in the terminal after all. Except that when I arrived at the entrance, everything was different. No more customer service. No more TSA security to let me in. So, this was where I would spend the night: in the entrance to Chicago O’Hare. God, what’s going on? This is weird. My heroic decision to drive all night to be there for the family was ending in a strange night in an unfamiliar place where enough strange things were going on that I knew I wouldn’t be getting any sleep. Again, things typically work out, and this wasn’t feeling right.
“And then I saw the reason…”
And then I saw the reason. He was sitting a few chairs down from me. He was wide awake, glaring ahead, eyes dark. I sat down and struck up a conversation and learned his story. His flight had sat on the tarmac just like mine and he’d missed his connecting flight. His trip to find a rental car had ended with being told there were no cars—despite an entire floor of cars just sitting there.
Just sitting there must be contagious at O’Hare, because now there we were doing the same. I learned that his need for getting to where he was going was more urgent than mine. He needed to be with grieving family members to help get them through a tough anniversary. We talked about family grief, raising kids, work, church, you name it. Four hours later, we’d become friends. And the more we talked, the more crazy-coincidental points of connection we found—so much that at one point he said, “Okay, Daniel, you’re freaking me out.”
“But it wasn’t freaking me out. It was answering my prayer.”
But it wasn’t freaking me out. It was answering my prayer. I knew now why God had led me through this weird series of events from the delayed flight to the denied rentals to the very chair I was sitting in. God wanted me there to be with this guy through a dark time. For a dark few hours within a dark season of grief, he needed to be reminded that God was there.
I found myself praying, “Oh, I get it! Thank you, God! Thank you for this strange series of events!” There I was, praying a very rare prayer for O’Hare, thankful to God for the mismatched events at the airport which had led me to spend the night in its entrance so I could help remind somebody going through a dark time that God sees him.
Eyes wide, 93-year-old Robert Coleman had told me earlier that morning that “making disciples is a lifestyle!” There was something exciting and even a bit ominous about his words. And prophetic: that night, there I was, hearing a hint from the Holy Spirit, something to the effect of, “Like this.”
“…a hint from the Holy Spirit, something to the effect of, ‘Like this.'”
Sometimes God seems to work in the quick and efficient. Thank you, God, for allowing this project to be finished in record time. But I’m convinced that he often works in the unforeseen and circuitous. In letting us fly in airplanes, eat out, work in the office, and watch soccer games, God directs us into divine appointments which end up far better than the A to B’s we were anticipating.
The morning flight got me home in time to drive straight to the tournament and catch the second half—my eldest’s biggest part. The flight home had set me next to a PhD student in chemistry from a prestigious research school. Hopefully when she thinks back to her flight, she’s making the connection between the Christian she rode beside and his scientific curiosity, love for family, and general friendliness. I see only a sliver of the master plan, but I’ll chalk our conversation up to a divine appointment too. God’s doing his thing at O’Hare same as everywhere.
So, next time you miss your connecting flight, you might add to the list of possibilities that God’s got another connection in mind.