Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. 1 Kings 4:5-6
Growing up, my father worked for a small commercial airline in Alaska and as part of this job, our family could fly pretty much anywhere we wanted to for free if the plane had empty seats. We’d show up at the gate wearing business-casual clothes (which in my case usually meant my Easter dress) and wait for them to call our names. Sometimes we’d hear them call “French, party of four” and all get on the same flight, but sometimes we’d fly two-by-two or have to get creative with our route. One memorable time, we were trying to get from Anchorage to Honolulu for my sister’s regional gymnastics meet and had gotten as far as Seattle when we learned the flights were booked for a week. We couldn’t turn around, so my mom got out her flight table and planned an alternate route. We flew from Seattle to Minneapolis to San Francisco and on to Honolulu. We did the same route on the way home. Far from Home: The Adventures of Yellow Dog was shown on every flight there and back. Every once in a while, we got to fly in first-class or got an entire row to ourselves. We always packed extra clothes and a bathing suit in our carry-on, just in case we had to stay overnight in a hotel with a pool.
Traveling like this made my mom anxious. She’d pace back and forth, waiting for them to call our name after paid passengers had been seated while my father usually stretched his 6’5” frame on the floor near the end of the gate and slept. My sister and I would sit together hoping silently to get seated in first class. One time, we were all seated, getting ready to take off when we were asked over the intercom to grab our things and leave the plane. A family had arrived at the gate very late and demanded to be allowed on the plane even though the door had closed. After that, we didn’t count ourselves as having made the flight until the plane actually left the gate.
I continued to use my dad’s flight benefits through college. I flew often between Colorado and Alaska, but I also took many other trips. I regularly flew from Denver to San Francisco, changing planes in Salt Lake City to visit a good friend (or was he a boyfriend, it wasn’t clear) who lived across the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. Being a single young adult, I was often placed in first-class, which made these trips downright luxurious. On one trip, I got to Salt Lake City and sat through two boarding flights and didn’t get called. These were hourly flights, so I wasn’t really put out, but I was curious, so I went up to the ticket agent to ask what was happening. I was told there had been a pilot strike on another airline, so many flights were being diverted to the airline I was flying. The flights were full most of the day, but I should be able to get out later in the day. I sat through two more flights and had used most of my calling card letting my friend know I was going to be pretty late. I was pretty sure I was going to get on the 5:00 flight, so I relaxed in the gate, reading one of the many books I had lugged along in my backpack. Just as I settled in, I heard an announcement that the next flight to San Francisco had been cancelled. I lost it. I had thought of myself as an easy-going person, but this bit of news hit me hard. I started bawling, but not wanting to make a scene, I went to the bathroom. The closest bathroom had a lounge with flowered couches, so I did the logical thing and crouched behind one of the couches, weeping.
I can’t fathom being as irresponsible as I was that day (though to be honest, this wasn’t an isolated incident), but I’m also not as open to the kindness of others, strangers or otherwise. I’m rarely crouched behind a couch in an airport crying these days. I’m far more likely to be the person giving of myself or my resources than I am being the beneficiary, so much so that I think I lose out on a lot because I don’t allow myself to be tended by others. I don’t like to be desperate or to allow others to bring me up when I’m down. I apologize for my neediness. I offer to return the favor. Anything to level the playing field. It’s become clear to me, though, that my faith is always restored in those moments like Elijah faced. The moments when someone unexpected gives me the very thing I need, even if I don’t know I need it. I don’t know why God chooses to work in this way and I don’t really like it very much. I like being self-sufficient and I usually have to be near-death like Elijah before I seek help and even then, I usually seek the paid variety. I’ve done ridiculous things like drive myself to the hospital in labor to avoid seeking assistance. It’s one of my worst traits, but I can’t seem to give it up despite years of trying.
Never mind the central tenet of this faith I profess is that we’re all needy and that our God came to us in the neediest form of all, a baby. And never mind that our God lived a human life limited by his place in society and was subjected to the pain of rejection and loss. And never mind that our God suffered death and that He rose from the dead. Somehow, I like to think I’m above all that and able to float along in this world without help. If only I could pause to remember that young woman crouching behind the flowered couch ready to receive kindness once in a while so that my faith, like Elijah’s, could again be restored.
Shana Hutchings lives in the Midwest with her family where she enjoys baking, reading, and going for long walks alone.