You may wonder what happened after we put the suitcases down. I’ll get there, but first, a detour.
When we were bumped from our flight en route to Cartagena, it was a serious case of deja vu.
Two years earlier we were bumped while flying standby on our way to Bogota to adopt our first son. We knew we’d likely get bumped, so we built in extra travel days. Despite the cushion those extra days afforded us, I was about to be a mom for the first time after waiting more than two years to receive the news that we could travel and finally meet our baby. Emotions were high, and I was frazzled. When our names stayed frozen in the purgatory of the standby screen while most everyone else boarded the plane, I started to panic. By ‘panic’ I mean cry. Crocodile tears. In line at the service counter. Because, you know, airline folk are notoriously empathetic and I hoped one of them would see my distress and help a girl out. Instead, a young Colombian woman in front of us turned around and gave us some advice. “You won’t get on this flight,” she said, “it’s always oversold.” Repeat panic and tears. She continued, “Your best bet is to fly to Panama City (Panama), stay overnight and take the early morning flight from there to Bogota. I’ve done it before, it’s an easier flight to get a seat on.”
We arrived in Panama a few hours later. Our luggage did not. It was 9:30 pm, and the airport was about to close for the night. We had no luggage, no hotel reservation, no Spanish and no idea what to do next. Someone, who I don’t even remember now, graciously threw us a bone and recommended a nearby hotel.
The taxi ride to that hotel was hands down the most terrifying 30 minutes of my life. As we left the airport all civilization seemed to vanish and nothing but rural Panama and the ink-black night surrounded us. I kept glancing over at Aaron in the dirty back seat of the cab and thinking, this is the last time I am going to see you alive because we are clearly being driven into the unknown recesses of Panama where we will be grotesquely murdered and chopped into tiny pieces. I have loved you, I hope he kills me first so I don’t have to watch you die. I wish I could say I am exaggerating. Though we sat in silence, Aaron later confessed he was thinking similarly positive thoughts.
We were not in fact murdered, and our taxi driver, who turned out to be rather delightful, later gave us a tip that lead us to make the decision to stay in Panama for a few days instead of traveling to Bogota the next morning where would have waited three more days to meet our son.
We spent the next several days on the tiny, enchanted island of Taboga. Taboga is the kind of place where the ferry drops you off IN the water and you wade to shore, holding your bags above your head. There are two hotels. No shopping, no movie theaters, no nightclubs. No hot water in our hotel. We were greeted every morning by a rooster and a peacock outside our hotel room door. Every afternoon we sat by the ocean enjoying the most delicious piña coladas, made from freshly picked pineapple, by a tiny Panamanian man with the widest smile of any human being, ever. I’m pretty sure if we hadn’t been on our way to adopt a baby I never would have returned home.
So, here we were two years later, bumped from our flight to Cartagena. We had the same choice: fly on to Bogota and wait for the team to arrive a few days later or … go back to Panama. Easy choice, right? Except, I was infuriated about it. I had not committed to be away from my two very young boys to go sit on a beach. I wanted to serve in that refugee camp. I wanted to give back. I felt a deep sense of responsibility to get to Cartagena.
For Aaron, getting on the plane to Panama was easier. I think he ran to the plane. He had come along on the trip to support me and possibly visit a camp, but mostly he needed a break. As a refresher, over the previous 3 years we had: adopted our first son, sold our house and moved into a 150-year old giant that we gutted, remodeled and turned into a community house—where we were attempting to live with 7 others, most of whom were partners in our ministry—planted a church and adopted our second son. He was tired. So was I, but I refused to admit it. Instead of looking forward to piña coladas and ocean breezes I was surly and irritated that we were going to miss the real purpose of our trip.
And then, the clouds broke and the sun shone its glorious light into my dark and bitter heart. We were bumped to first class. Legroom and free mimosas are game changers, people.
We spent a few days on a beach and at some point I wrote in my journal, “I feel guilty being here when I should be in a refugee camp, but I am so glad we’re here.”
What I know about both trips to Panama is this: They forced me to slow down in the midst of two of the most stress-filled, frantic seasons of my life. I never would have given myself permission to pause and rest. Those detours set the stage for what was to come and how I would step into the next chapters.
Without those three days in Taboga I would have greeted motherhood head on with two-plus years of pent-up anxiety, impatience, disappointment and fear. Instead I greeted it relaxed, thankful, expectant and sun-kissed.
The second time around the detour was even more significant. My heart was fertile ground just searching for a passion to take seed. If I had served in the refugee camp, I wonder if my heart might have turned itself over to the pain and need there? Not only would I have arrived in Bogota without the shampoo and conditioner that led me to that orphanage, but I also would have arrived empty and numb with no room to experience what I was meant to experience. What I saw then as an inconvenient detour, actually led me to the road I so purposefully walk now.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Flowizm …