Travel agent. Ha! Ok, maybe not. But I do feel pretty good about my most recent specialized service experience. A couple months ago, my Burmese friend, Ciin, asked me to help her book three seats on a plane to Seattle - she and her two brothers and little baby Sammy were going to visit her mother in Vancouver. This was a challenge for me, to say the least. For one thing, I've flown for free or cheap most of my life because my dad works for the airlines, and for another thing, I've never booked a flight because my parents have always done it for me. But I love Ciin and her family, so I prayed a lot while I navigated through this new adventure.
I helped her find the best deal, then I booked the seats on seperate credit cards, and used one brothers email address and my own phone number for the contact information. The brothers wanted round-trip tickets because they were only spending two weeks there, but Ciin didn't know yet how long she was going to stay, so hers was one-way. But they wanted to go out on the same plane and sit as close as possible together.
Ok, while it was quite a trick to make it happen, it was a success! They got out to Vancouver, Ciin called me to let me know, and her brothers returned home with no problems. But that was just the beginning...
Ciin called me again when she decided when she wanted to fly home. The date was August 5. She would be alone with an 11-month-old baby and a limited English vocabulary. I convinced her to take the non-stop to Chicago-O'Hare, which was the most time and cost efficient, and would be the least confusing for her. I booked the flight, put my contact information in, and Hannah and I assured her we would be there to pick her up.
Which brings us to today, when we arrived at the Chicago-O'Hare airport. Did I mention neither of us have ever actually been inside the Chicago-O'Hare airport? All I can say is, I wanted to volunteer my inexperienced self just to redo all the signs in that airport so that they make sense. Like when you come to an elevator that goes to three floors, and there is a sign with a list of locations next to the elevator, but it doesn't say what floor to go to for any of them. But we managed to find the terminal, concourse, baggage claim, and gate in time.
The concern happened when a number of people came through the gate, and a half hour after the arrival, there was still no sign of Ciin, or her baggage. I feared she had missed her flight and was still in Seattle, she had gotten on the wrong flight and was headed for Dallas, or she had been kidnapped and was headed to India. And I believed it was somehow my fault - I had failed my friend and ruined my chances of ever being a decent travel agent.
Ciin showed up about 45 minutes late because of an unreasonably long waiting line to the family bathroom, and we were thrilled to see she and our baby brother. But her luggage was still MIA. We found out that it had been put on a later flight, and it would arrive in about an hour. So, Ciin treated us to lunch that was strangely American for her - ham and cheese, chips, and orange juice. She told us about how she told her mother that we were coming to pick her up, and her mother said, "Oh, you have English friends! That is good!" And Ciin said, "They are my sisters - my English family!" Gotta love that.
This lunch treat began the deluge of generosity of Ciin... once we got luggage and found our car again, we drove the four hours back to Fort Wayne, with Ciin insisting on paying for the parking, all the tolls, and a tank of gas. We tried to refuse her money and begged her to let us do this for her and bless her this way, but she was stubborn and pushed coins and bills into our hands and crossed her arms. When we got her home, she rummaged through her bag and gave us a package, which she explained was a gift she bought for us in Vancouver. Then she prayed for us with so much love and earnestness that, even though we didn't understand her language, we started to cry.
I am thankful that I was able to help Ciin get "there and back again" safely and smoothly. But I started this adventure out, focused on what I was going to do for her, and she flipped it around on me as an opportunity to love and serve me. It's a little maddening, I'll be honest! But it's a consistent thing I have found in these international people that I've grown to love: I can't out-give them. They are financially poor, but they give and give and give so generously and selflessly and consistently without thought or hesitation that they are spiritually rich. Being around them, learning from them, benefitting from their giving, I am ashamed of the times I withhold what I perceive as "mine," and the times I think I've given enough. I am praying that I will let go of my selfish mentality and learn to give and bless abundantly as they do... as God does.