Throughout high school and college, I have had opportunity to travel with international short-term missions and a study abroad program. I've flown alone a couple times stateside, but this was the first time traveling alone internationally, and let me tell you...it was an ordeal.
At the very beginning of the trek, in the international terminal security line of the Atlanta airport, there is a long and slow-moving line of everyone waiting to get checked in for their red-eye flights. Family members are watching and waiting as their loved ones leave. I'm making faces at my mom and dad from the line when a man steps into the snake of passengers. A woman and her toddler are standing the the families, the little girl screaming for her father who had just joined the line. The man is insisting to his wife to take her on, but the woman refuses to leave her husband. Hearing the screams of the young daughter, I looked at my parents as I left them behind for the summer.
And I began to cry.
If you have spent more than 30 seconds with me, you know that I am very, very, very emotional. I cry in movies, while reading books, sentimental conversations, really good hugs, thoughtful compliments, and anytime anyone else cries. This little girl was verbalizing the sadness I was feeling, as a facet of all the other emotions I felt as I was departing. After a couple tears streamed down my face, I was determined to shut it down.
C'mon, Bragg!, I thought, You're better than this. You're in an airport, this is ridiculous.
The tears continued to fall, now crying because I felt embarrassed and shamed by my own peptalk.
Changing my mental tone, I tried, You're about to go on a grand adventure, there's no need to cry! This is going to be so wonderful, not sad!
This proved unhelpful too, because now I was crying in an overwhelming excitement.
Softening my self-talk once more in my mind I thought, Sarah Mae, you're okay. You can do this! ...But what if I can't?
And as you would expect, I continued to cry in this exhausting rollercoaster of emotions. I began to look around for people smiling and laughing, proving my empathy could override my own feelings. As long as I didn't look at my parents for too long, I was without tears.
Though I arrived in Florence, Italy safely and on time, my checked luggage did not. Unfortunately, this was not the first time this has happened to me (in that same airport, no less.) After over an hour of waiting and filling out forms, I made it to the bus stop outside the airport for the shuttle downtown. Glancing over at the bus parking, I longed for the days of studying abroad where our beloved driver would pick us up after each trip, but Mauro and my 34 companions were nowhere to be found. After waiting a while, the bus came very late, but it's Italy, so I was not too surprised-- actually, I was just happy that it came at all.
I sat on the bus, throwing an inner pity-party for myself. My luggage is lost. I'm exhausted. I feel sick. Blah, blah, blah. Needing to snap out of it, I put my earbuds in and hit "shuffle" on a playlist that always makes me feel better. The first song? "The Trail We Blaze" by Elton John from the Dreamworks film, The Road to El Dorado. I nearly smiled when it came on, the familiarity already calming my freshly jet-lagged mind. Towards the end of the song, there's a lyric that says,
"No place for the traveler to be faint-hearted
We are part of the sumptuous grand design"
And, again, I began to cry.
My normal optimism began to breathe back into my body, peace returning where fear had leaked in, and joy where self-pity had usurped. The Holy Spirit gently reminded me of a verse I have clung to in the past, 2 Corinthians 4:1 reads,
"Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart."
This is only the beginning of frustration, disappointment, and discouragement. But our battle is not against flesh and blood, not against careless airlines or late transportation systems, but against powers of darkness. Praise God for giving us every spiritual blessing, that by the power of the Christ we can be comforted when we are overwhelmed and have hope when it seems all is lost. Bless the Lord for giving courage to the hearts that need it, and may He be with us when problems are greater than exaggerated emotions and frustrated volitions.
To those following my little journey this summer, I am happily in Italy, staying with some missionary friends before heading to Athens tomorrow to start my ministry internship. I am so thankful for this time to refresh spiritually and physically! (Please pray my luggage is returned to me today.)