Here I am sitting in the Denver airport, sipping my Caribou Coffee and nibbling at my blackberry scone. The airport is busy today. Lots of people with their bulging bags trailing behind them and their floppy white boarding passes dancing as they rush to get to the TSA tape, only to abruptly stop at the end of the line. Their heart rates have time to settle now as they wait in a line that will only progress them on the their journey at a snail’s pace. It’s funny sitting up here in this raised second story cafe at my quaint little table in my quaint wicker-seated chair casually sipping my coffee while every once in a while tapping at the keys of my keyboard. No matter where their destination, no matter if for work, or play, their travels for the day all come to a startling pause in that security line. Every once in a while, the anxiety of a passenger is evident in the lack of space they put between their body and the rolling suitcase in front of them–as if the mere 5 inches they have gained in line is going to add hours until the time of their departure. The perspective I gain up here overhead above the line is interesting. I am sure it will be different when I am down there along side them waiting as well.
I have a good two hours until my flight starts boarding, so I sit, enjoying my coffee and scone and this unusual chance to people-watch. It makes me wonder if God sits in his heavenly cafe drinking his latte (because there has got to be coffee in heaven) and he amusingly watches us bumping into others in an effort to hurry along the processes of life. We’ve got somewhere we are going, we have important things to do, we are pressed for time. I wonder if he sees the same anxiety-ridden faces trying to control the things they simply cannot.
I had the pleasure of spending this past weekend with a wonderful group of women in Colorado for their women’s retreat. We worshiped together, we shared our stories, and we played. It was so rejuvenating and uplifting. The theme of the retreat was “Joy in the Journey”. And as I look down on all these busy travelers in the Denver airport, I make it my own little covert operation to find an example, if even only one person, who has genuine joy in the journey today.
There is no way I could in mere words and generalizations describe the multitudes of people I see here. This international airport contains a vast variety of cultures and people groups. So, I mention only the few that stick out to me as I set out on my secret mission.
The obvious travelers are the business men and women with their attache briefcases at their side. They look tired. A few are boisterously talking on their cell phones about deadlines, “the figures”, and other important sounding lingo that blows way over the top of my head. Occasionally, I see one or two laughing on their phones and I think, “Oh, there’s joy… ” Some of them are moms checking in with their kids and they are beaming as they hear the voice coming through the line. But then, as they end the call, I see their shoulders slump. It’s so obvious to me they long to have more than a faint voice to hold on to. The men are the same. I witness them talking with such enthusiasm and passion only to observe their smiling faces immediately deflating as they stick the phone back in their pocket. “It was only a show…”, I think. “Only a part of the job.”
I see a lot of women, usually older with gray hair traveling alone. I think, “Grandmas!” Surely, I will see joy on their faces. But, they also look tired, overwhelmed by all the people and lines, and perplexed by all the flashing departure numbers on the screen. Surely, they are on their way to hold new babies or to take trips to the zoo. Or perhaps, they are on their way home from giving their later-years-in-life energy to little humans who exude uncontainable and uncontrollable amounts of liveliness. That explains why they look so exhausted!
I see younger men in their late teens or early twenties. They also look tired and rugged. They’ve got casual t-shirts and cargo shorts on, for the most part, and bed-head hidden underneath baseball caps. They don’t seem to have any expression–their eyes glued to their smart phones. They are passive, unresponsive, and I even witness one of these “men” standing next to an older lady who was struggling to lift her suitcase over an uneven hump between the shiny tile and the commercial carpet. He’s completely unaware of those around him who need his help. He’s lost. He’s not experiencing anything in the moment…I don’t know where he is.
Then, I see a family. A mom, a dad, a little girl, and a boy. I watch as they see the long security check point line and instead of speedily filing into place like sardines, they turn and head towards the escalator. I covertly watch them as they casually ride up to my second-level loft area. They come into the cafe and grab a table. The mom looks a little frazzled…not emotionally, but rather physically. And as I observe a little more–trying really hard not be any more creepy than I must already sound–I notice they all look a little rough. They look like they just went camping. All four of them have hair out of place and comfy sweatshirts and jeans on. They are ordering eggs and waffles, juice and coffee. I think, “man, they are kind of going a little crazy! No way they can eat all that food.” And at this point, I am starting to feel like a stalker. But something captivates me about this family. They look like they had a rough night. I start to wonder if they might have even spent the night here, across rows of sticky pleather and metal lounge chairs. But there is something about their calm spirits–the way the husband and wife exchange glances across the table, as if their eyes are flashing Morse Code messages–the way the kids smile at each other as they scarf down their scrambled eggs and dip their bacon in the syrup cascading down the sides of their waffles. I am intrigued. I wouldn’t say they look “joyful”…no, they look “joy-filled”.
I quickly look back at my computer screen as they get up from their table and brush against the empty chair at my table. Honestly, I am kind of feeling a little slimy at this point! And, just like that they are gone. They exit the cafe at my back and so I’ve “lost visual” for now. I feel a little bit like Chloe on 24 and the “creepiness” factor goes down a bit for me.
As I settle back into my scone and coffee, I think about this family. I think their calm and gentle spirits stick out like a lime-green field trip shirt in this airport. The lack of anxiety, frustration, worry, fatigue, sadness, droopy eyes…that’s what highlighted them among the throngs of hurried and rushed travelers. Yet, it was obvious that their peace was not as a result of a good-night’s rest, nor was there traveling experience void of the same long lines of all the others in the airport.
It’s at this point that I’d really like to say I overheard them on my secret-spy com voice recorder say that they love Jesus and that He lives in their hearts and is the source of their deep internal joy. But, I heard no utterance across the little bistro tables of Jesus or His love. Yet, I can’t help but reflect on this weekend’s retreat and all the verses that speak about having joy in the midst of struggle or trial or even persecution. What does that joy look like? When there has been no sleep and our hair is matted and tangled–when the symbolic flights of our lives don’t connect and our figurative luggage is lost, how does our internal joy make itself known? Do we boisterously laugh for others, only to disappear into sadness and longing when we find ourselves alone? Do we find external joy in others only to wear ourselves out because the energy we muster up isn’t enough to outlast those around us? Do we get lost in distraction and passiveness, just simply avoiding the situations and circumstances around us that challenge and push us?
Or, do we sit down, order some fancy eggs and waffles, a nice tall glass of OJ, and linger at the table? When trials and suffering, or even the wear and tear of the everyday, meet us on our journey, do we take the time to stop and experience the full blessings of God? Do we sit at His table and let Him serve us with His goodness and grace? Do we remember how he lavishes us with His love and redemption?
This weekend, I was reminded of the internal joy that lives in me. I haven’t been letting it flow to the outer layers of my skin. I have been keeping it buried deep within, letting the overwhelming circumstances and the long lines of waiting to see God do His thing, convince me that this must be a season void of joy. But it’s there. It isn’t dependent on circumstances changing. It’s in me! This weekend my pre-existing joy was pulled out of me, brought not only to surface of my heart, but it uncontrollably spilled over. This crazy wonder, called joy–this strange phenomenon of a deeply rooted contentment and trust void of anxiety and worry was drawn out from the depth of my soul by being in the presence of Jesus and His women as we gathered at the proverbial well. We were all there, seeking to quench our thirst. What we found was that the satisfaction and joy we were longing for was living not in the deep echoing lengths of future hopes, but in the middle of our very being. Jesus lives in us, and this weekend, my fellow sisters in Christ drew Him up to the surface in jars filled to the brim. Everyone of them, in showing their vulnerabilities and sharing the love of Jesus with me, drew yet another jar of joy to the top of the well. I am traveling home today, not joyful, but joy-filled.
I am so thankful that God had it in His plan for me to go this retreat at exactly this time. He has us all on varying journeys set to different destinations. And I am so blessed to be finding the joy in my journey.