Forgetting grace – Part 2

by Steve Brock on December 13, 2016

Forgetting grace - Madrid visa in passport

After losing my passport in the Madrid airport and then finding it, I was now faced with a new dilemma: How could I ever make it through this huge line for passport control in time to make my flight?

I ran ahead toward the front of the line. And there, right where I’d left him was the same official with whom I’d spoken before. I held up my passport. Again, the look of disbelief, but this time in a good way. Others were clamoring for his attention but thankfully, he understood my dilemma and asked them to wait. He told me to follow him as he walked to the head of the line and made way for me four people back from the front. Again, my words of gratitude couldn’t convey my appreciation.

Appreciation was not what the guy behind me was feeling. I heard him mutter something in English, not to me but to a couple taking way too long chatting with the immigration officer. I apologized for cutting in line but explained my situation. He said that he had arrived three hours earlier and still might not make his flight either. It’s a good reminder that even if you don’t lose your passport at the airport, getting through the airport for international flights can take far more time than you expect, especially during busy travel times or periods of heightened security.

The two of us waited anxiously and then, finally, the passport control official waved me forward. A few questions, the thunk of the immigration stamp and suddenly, I was back in motion, running down the concourse. The signs told me it would take 20 minutes to reach my gate. I halved that and made it to the gate three minutes before departure time.

Somehow, against all odds, I had made my flight.

I had prayed all the way through this process and all I could tell my relieved family when they saw me on the plane was, “God is so good.” And for the next hour as we took off and I finally settled down after this whole fiasco, all I could do was praise God for his kindness and grace. There was no doubt in my mind that God had performed a miracle. He had pulled the needle from the haystack and opened the doors to get me on this flight.

But as we cruised westward at 38,000 feet, something began to change. I replayed the scenario over and over. What was a miracle a few minutes ago became a carefully plotted explanation of how it all occurred. My passport likely got caught inside the X-ray machine. Someone found it and handed it to the right person to go in their equivalent of a “lost and found” pile. I worked through enough people to finally find the one who knew of this and voila! I had my passport back. And getting back on time? It was just smart on my part to have found the same guy who had helped me before.

In no time at all, I had explained away my miracle.

How can that be? How? Because I do it all the time. The Madrid airport was just a more dramatic example of how God comes through for me all the time in situations big and small. And at first, I am grateful. But soon after, I forget what really happened. I forget grace. Or more specifically, I choose to believe more in my own explanations than to concede that maybe, just maybe, God is real and active and concerned about things like lost passports. Or rather, the impact that lost passports have on his children, people he cares for so deeply.

I pray for miracles and when they happen, I am quick to dismiss them. The rational side of me isn’t comfortable with the possibility of divine intervention and mystery. But here’s the coda of this story.

I may have forgotten grace in the comfort of that flight home. But now, when other crises occur or I awake at 3 a.m. with some concern that no rationalizing can salve, I think back on my passport. It has become more than a government document now, a means of clearing borders. It is a symbol.

It represents answered prayer, God’s coming through in difficult straights. But most of all, it symbolizes that I am not alone however much I may explain away God’s presence and intervention into this material realm. I cannot prove God. But neither will I disprove him by refusing to believe that he still acts, intercedes and loves. That little blue passport book is a testament to a grace that continues when I remember it and even when I don’t.

It’s a symbol that at the end of all of this, it’s not just a passport that was found.


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Forgetting grace – Part 1

by Steve Brock on November 7, 2016

Forgetting Grace - Madrid Airport“It’s not here,” I replied to my wife’s inquiry as to what was wrong. “My passport is gone.”

This realization occurred in line to go through passport control in Madrid’s Barajas International Airport. My wife, two sons and I had made it through security and customs and had this one last checkpoint to clear. But when I pulled out our stack of passports, instead of the usual four, I had only three.

I frantically searched pockets and my bag, but that little blue booklet that let me in and out of countries was nowhere to be found. I fought the panic as I told my family to go ahead, board the flight to Chicago (our stopover on the way home) and God willing, I would try and find my lost passport. At this point, we had about 75 minutes until the plane departed.

I figured there were two possibilities. First, I could have left my passport on the bench where I waited for my family as they did some last minute shopping in the terminal. Second, I recall thinking it odd that in security, they had put our four passports and tickets into the small plastic bowl to go through the X-ray. When the bowl came out the other side, our passports were all scattered on the belt. I just assumed the bowl had been knocked over so I grabbed the passports and tickets without counting them.

Madrid is the main entry and exit point for Spain. Its airport is huge. Signs inform you that it can take over an hour to reach particular gates because of security, the trains that shuttle you back and forth, and the sheer length of some of the terminals. Just making it back to security and then to return here would be tricky enough given the logistics of the place. And that assumed they had my passport in security.

I started by asking the man there at passport control what to do. He gave me an expression I would see multiple times over the coming moments, an incredulous look like, “How can that be? Who loses a passport at the airport itself?” Well, someone like me.

He told me to return to security. I caught the train (a ten minute ride), had to exit all of the secure area, go back through X-rays, try to get an answer at the airline counter (too long a line), go to another airline counter (not helpful), go to the information desk (not clear), and finally go to security, only to find out that they had no report of a lost passport. They told me to go to the police station in the airport. I asked several others along the way for directions and got different answers. Finally, after a few more inquiries and similar expressions of shock and conflicting responses, I went back to a different section of the security area than before. By this time, I had forty minutes until the plane departed. Perhaps that registered on my expression for when I asked another woman there about where to go, she didn’t hurriedly point me to a different location. She calmly told me to wait right there.

Moments later a police officer in full body armor came over to me. I started to explain my situation. He stopped me mid-sentence and asked my name. My name? Was this to suddenly turn into a social event? But I gave it. My full name. The one you’d find in a passport.

He too told me to wait (something that was becoming increasingly difficult to do). However, I did. And one minute later he returned and held up a little dark blue booklet. My passport.

My Spanish, which had somehow got me through this mess so far, suddenly failed me. I think I repeated “Gracias” about seven times. It’s all I could say. I would have hugged the man, but all that body armor…

Instead, I ran. I went as fast as possible pulling my carry-on through the airport. Out of security. Through the main terminal. Down to the train area. I waited then boarded the same train back out to my concourse. With the ten-minute ride, I was now down to 20 minutes until my flight departed. I was practically leaning into the train doors when I finally got to the concourse. I flew out and went around the corner expecting to go down the hall and into the main passport control area where, an hour earlier, maybe 30 or 40 people had been ahead of me.

Now, I barely made it off the train before I ran into the line. This queue to clear passport control currently had several hundred people in it. How could this have happened in less than an hour? My guess is that if I got in that line now, I’d be there for at least another 90 minutes.

I had been praying all through this experience, but now, the combination of incredulous relief that I’d found my passport ran smack into the reality that it was possibly all too late. I’d never make my flight now.


(To be continued…)


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Fake it…

by Steve Brock on September 17, 2014

Mt. Rainier PeakI’ve long held that my theology does not include the word “coincidence.” But I still find wonder in how diverse threads of conversations and seemingly random bits of data somehow show up in the space of days as if bearing little tags tied to them with the message, “You may want to pay attention to all this…”

In response to last week’s entry on mastery, Doug asks how to get his son to work past the hard part of learning something new. John comments on the same thing from a different angle. Then another friend, Hillary, relays her tale of summiting her first mountain and the wisdom passed on to her at a point where she was struggling, not sure if she could go any farther.

“There are two types of fun,” a seasoned climber told her. “The first are experiences where you have fun at the time of the experience. The second are ones where you are miserable at the moment, but have incredible fun and reward later looking back on the experience. Mountain climbing is almost always the second kind of fun.”

And that little insight got her to the top.

So what gets you to the top, figuratively speaking? What keeps you going, especially when you’re learning something new and the initial enthusiasm or the “This could be fun” feelings are but a memory?

At the risk of sounding trite, I will tell you the best advice I know:

You fake it till you make it.

Behaviorist psychology research has demonstrated that it is much easier to change an action than an attitude. That’s contrary to the popular notion that if you just get a better attitude – Happy thoughts everybody! Happy thoughts! – you’ll make it through your hard situation. But even Hillary received her encouragement as she was in the midst of trudging up the mountain, i.e. the words helped, but it was putting one foot in front of the next that got her to the top.

It’s really no different in marriage: You won’t always feel the passion for your spouse. Of course I ALWAYS do (just in case you’re reading this, dear)! But for most people, we go through dry periods in our relationships with loved ones and even our relationship with God. We do forget our first love. So then what do we do?

We fake it till we make it.

We remember why we once loved someone or something and that can help. But more than anything, we do the actions that will then change the attitude.

As Woody Allen once noted, “80 percent of success is showing up.” And as we noted last time, sometimes you have to just keep doing what you love (or once loved) until you love what you’re doing. That’s the heart of mastery; practicing through the dullness until the passion returns.

A few years ago, the New York Times Magazine ran a whole issue on inspiration. In summarizing everything that they learned about where creativity comes from, they articulated it with these few words. Note in particular their last line:

“(The enigmatic nature of creativity), it turns out, is often not so enigmatic. Step 1: Work. Step 2: Be frustrated. Step 3: Repeat.

Yep. That’s it. Take all the different styles and techniques from writers, artists, musicians, directors and a host of other creative people and it all comes down to that: work, be frustrated, repeat.

Whenever you’re learning something new – and all creative (or at least innovative) work is, by its very nature, something new – you’ll hit a wall where practice or the work itself is no longer fun. Looking for inspiration from others can be a start. Remembering what you originally loved about it can motivate somewhat. But nothing will help you do it more than just doing it. Over and over.

And then, likely when you’re so numb to it that you just don’t care anymore, that’s when you’ll awaken to find something you thought was forever lost: your passion and inspiration. And when that happens, you’re almost thankful for the dry, hard season because the contrast makes the return so much sweeter.

So when (not if, when) you reach that frustrating point of learning something new, traveling when it’s no longer fun or rising above the plateau where you feel stuck, remember this tired old expression: Fake it till you make it.

For if you do, you will.


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