waiting on a plane

“But Martha was distracted by all the preparations…” Luke 10:40

I have a “Martha” personality. You know the story. As Jesus and his disciples were traveling, they stopped to stay at the home of Martha, where they spent time with her and her sister, Mary.  While Martha was distracted by the fine details, her sister was distracted by the presence of her Savior. Captivated, Mary could not leave his side. Busy, Martha could not leave the kitchen. After a pity party that now goes down in Biblical history, Jesus stopped her in her tracks when he told her, “’Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” 

I often find myself so busy “on a mission” that I miss the obvious “only one” thing that is needed opportunity.  Such again was the case on a recent trip to India.

I began my flights to India going from Nashville to New York’s JFK.  This was a smaller plane and as is often the case, I was people watching at the gate and as people boarded the plane.  The occasional “who are these people and where are they going” thoughts came to mind. Although it is rare, there have been occasions where I see one of the passengers show up at the next gate for the exact same flight and destination that I am on. My next stop on this particular trip was Dubai, UAE, and so the likelihood of anyone on this flight being on my next flight was extremely low.

Due to a ticketing issue, I was required to go to baggage claim at JFK, retrieve my checked luggage, proceed to the departing terminal and recheck my luggage.  I headed to the Air Train after getting my luggage in terminal 8 so I could proceed to my outgoing terminal 4. Thinking the train options would be limited and obvious, I did not read any of the Air Train instructions posted at this terminal’s platform.  I did, however, notice the large signs saying one of the two tracks was shut down for service.

It was at this terminal platform that I spotted a young African American girl that was on my flight from Nashville.  Like me, she seemed confused that the first train to arrive announced specific destinations that did NOT include the terminal we needed to go to. She must have also recognized me from the previous flight as she began to ask me for instructions.  Another person overhearing our conversation informed us that multiple trains will come by and we simply need to wait for the one going to our terminal. After the third train had come and gone we discovered that the trains running on this single operating track only left the airport for rental car and hotel sites.  Therefore, we needed to take any one of them out of the airport and then catch a returning train coming back to the terminals.

This unexpected circumstance provided us ample time to chat and get to know each other better. She asked my name and gave me hers.  Unlike me, she used the wise method of repeating my name back to me and did so repeatedly.  Sadly, thinking this is a brief encounter and there was no need to remember her name, I paid no attention to what it was when she told me.  Therefore, I will now have to refer to her as “Jane”.

Out of curiosity, I asked Jane multiple questions and learned she was also going to terminal 4 for a flight to the UAE.  She had recently and suddenly received and accepted a call to become a primary school teacher full time in the UAE. Jane told me how she had not slept for the last two days because of the anxiety and emotions of making such a significant life decision and leaving behind family and friends.  She also asked why I was going that direction and I gave my standard short answer of “medical mission trip”.  Jane smiled and said that was great but we did not discuss my work any further. 

Although our flights were scheduled to depart within minutes of each other, she was on a different airline heading to Abu Dhabi and not Dubai where my next stop was.  Both of our flights were on the large Airbus A380 and the two end gates at terminal 4 were the only gates able to handle these large planes.  Even though the odds of seeing each other at these adjacent gates was high, we said the usual good bye of “nice meeting you” and “safe travels” as we went to check in at our prospective airlines. After checking in and finally dumping my checked bags again, I caught up on some phone calls and found a reasonable place to eat before heading to my gate.  I noticed Jane right as I approached the two end gates.  We picked up our conversation again, but then I headed to my gate to check on the status of the pending flight. 

I noticed Jane’s plane was approaching her gate but I could see mine sitting out on the runway as another A380 was delayed and still sitting at MY gate.  Instead of sitting down and/or resuming the conversation with Jane, I stood at the window and watched the slow process of getting the current plane pushed away and mine coming up to take its place.  This took over 30 minutes and by now the lengthy line to board Jane's plane had already formed.  I began watching the line with the hopes of seeing Jane one last time and wishing her well.  When we finally spotted each other we both smiled and waved goodbye. Jane then left the line to run over to give me a big hug.  I wished her the best and for God’s blessings on her life. She smiled and then dashed for the gate and I watched her depart down the jet way.  There were unspoken words exchanged during our conversations that day. I felt a prick in my spirit that hinted to a closer and more eternal bond that I believe we may have shared. 

Why is it that only moments later did God say to me “Rick, Rick (Martha), you are concerned about only one thing (your plane that is stuck out on the runway), but only one thing was needed.  Why didn’t you ask Jane for more specifics, her reason for the decision she made, does she know me?  Why didn’t you tell her you would pray for her (and mean it) and give her your email address so you could keep in touch and encourage her while she is alone in a new country?”

Tragically, this was yet another blown opportunity because I still have a Martha mentality. I have confessed this sin and did and still do pray for “Jane”.  Thankfully, God knows her name, her heart, and her needs.  May HE bless Jane even though I failed to take advantage of the opportunity He gave me to encourage her more.  May I and all of us grow to be more like Mary, not Martha, and not miss the obvious opportunities (what is needed) that He places before us. Even when we're just waiting on a plane.