Each time he said, "My gracious favor is all you need. My power works best in your weakness." So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may work through me. (2 Corinthians 12:9 NLT 1st Ed.)
As my plane touched down at the DFW International Airport, I felt a sense of failure.
I had been out of state working with an organization that was mired deeply in conflict. For the better part of a week I had met individually with the leadership. Slowly — almost painfully — each individual had told his or her story of disappointment and frustration. Toward the end of each interview, I had encouraged them all to generate positive options and to rehearse them to share in a combined meeting of the leadership late in the week.
This particular conflict wasn't really unique. The leaders of this organization were good people who wanted to accomplish good things. Yet, they had different ideas on how to accomplish that good. Unfortunately, they lacked the commitment to communication, conversation and community that would allow them to explore their diversity in a way that would benefit them all.
I thought that those individual meetings through the week had motivated them to find a way to work together.
When they all filed into the room on the last night of my stay, I knew I was wrong. These weary leaders were not motivated. They were tired and scared. For over an hour, I tried everything I could think of to move them into a positive conversation about their problems.
Suddenly, I was tired. Seeing no other options, I encouraged these men and women to look deep inside themselves and decide whether they wanted to continue in their roles as leaders. Instead of leaving that room with a coalition of virtue and direction, I left with the belief that the organization would largely unravel over the next few weeks.
Glancing at my watch, I was pleased to see that one thing was going my way. It appeared that we would arrive at our gate about 12 minutes early. That would allow me to move easily to my connecting flight to Abilene. The flight attendant announced that we would arrive at Gate C-29 and that my flight would depart from A-10. With the new shuttle, I would make the transfer easily. And, my luggage should be there, too.
As we pulled into position behind Gate C-29, I noticed that a plane was still docked. Minutes stretched into a half hour. The pilot announced that the plane still at the gate had a problem and couldn't leave the terminal for a while. Fifteen minutes later, our plane began to move slowly as the first officer delivered the news — we were being rerouted to Gate C-39 — ten gates further away from my flight.
I would later learn that the door on my arriving flight opened at 6:36 p.m. Thankfully, most of my fellow passengers stayed seated to allow a few of us with close connections to run to the front of the plane. Turning right out of the gate area, I ran for the shuttle and slid between the doors as they were closing. Four stops later, I moved quickly out and down the escalator. The last five gates flew past as I ran for my departing flight.
When I arrived at Gate A-10, the door was still open. I approached the ticket agent and asked if I had missed the flight to Abilene.
"Oh, you're early, you must be on the next flight at 7:48 p.m."
"No, this is my flight. I'm supposed to leave at 6:46."
The agent looked at my boarding pass. "Mr. Cope, head down that ramp and take any open seat on that airplane."
As I began moving quickly again, I wished that I worked out more. My legs were a little weak and I was breathing heavily. The surprised flight attendant showed me to a seat close to the front and helped me store my carry-on bag. I huffed and puffed.
"Mr. Cope, I wanted to meet you officially. My name is Ann. When your arriving flight's door didn't open until 6:36 p.m., our customer service control supervisor called me and told me you would never make it in time. I was told to move you to the next flight. According to our computers, no one could make it from C-39 to A-10 in less than 10 minutes. You made it in 8. You're famous – at least at this very moment."
"I guess I was lucky that the plane was delayed a little bit. By my watch it's 6:50 now."
"Oh, the plane was ready to go on time. But customer service had us delay the flight just five minutes more. It just wouldn't be right to have someone swift like you get home without your luggage. Have a nice flight."
I spent most of the half-hour flight trying to get my breathing and heart rate under control. I thought about how I had almost given up several times in my mad dash through the airport. And I was flattered by the idea that a big corporation would show me special consideration just because I tried so hard.
The next Monday morning I received a call from the organization I had worked with the previous week. I was amazed when told that most of the leaders had decided to go forward. More importantly, they had pledged to work together. Just a few weeks later, I was flying back to work with them again as they put the negativity of their conflict behind them. I had a front-row seat to see God mend their differences and bind them together in a common front for good.
I thought about the ticket agent's words. She had described me as "swift." Odd choice of words to depict a slow, out-of-shape, middle-aged guy. I recognize that most of what I do is merely average – dulled by my slowness of mind, my lack of discipline and the fatigue of life. Yet some of those average things, whether in traversing an airport terminal or bringing others to a table of peace, can be viewed as extraordinary and given higher significance. Come to think of it, God blesses me daily in that way. And once — just once — an airline did, too.