November 7, 2012


Spanish writer Miguel de Unamuno wrote, “Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without anguish of mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not God Himself.” An Icelandic volcano taught me about the reality of God. But that’s after it ruined my travel plans.

My friends Varvara, Danielle, and I were stuck. Instead of spending our last day of spring vacation in Dublin, Ireland, we were trapped in Edinburgh, Scotland.

“A volcano blew up and caused almost all the flights in Europe, specifically the U.K., to be canceled,” Danielle said after talking with her mother on the phone.

“How can a volcano in Iceland stop the airlines here?” I asked, confused.

“Something about dust getting into the planes’ engines. My mom says we should call the airport.”

The Scramble Begins
The scramble to find a way back to school began when we discovered our flight was canceled. After hours of searching, we finally found a night bus from Edinburgh to London.

2012 1531 page14However, once we reached London we had no transportation back to school. Clicking computer keys began to grate at me as I continued the frustrating search until 10 minutes before we left for the bus station. Determined to find a solution, I hastily searched for busses throughout Europe. An organization fanatic, I disliked traveling without a ticket in hand. I spent hours planning trips, searching out the best deals, convenient time schedules, and places to visit for fun. Now they expected me to travel without a plan. Grabbing my bag, we left for the bus station.

I shifted restlessly on the bus to London. Between the uncomfortable seat and my whirling thoughts, sleep was nearly impossible. Were there buses to Geneva left? Would we tramp all over London looking for a train station? Would the people who let us stay with them last week in London let us stay with them again?

I jolted awake as the bus halted in London. The crowded bus station looked like a haven for stranded travelers. Every seat was taken, some people propped their heads on luggage while they slept. We joined the massive hoard of people forming a never-ending line. My back ached from carrying my backpack. Sweat dripped down my face. The constant chatter was deafening. An hour later we reached the ticket booth.

“We need three tickets to Geneva or Paris,” I said anxiously.

Hitting a few keys, the man scanned his computer screen. “We can’t get you to either place until Thursday.”

My heart sank. It was Sunday. We stepped out of line, dejected.

“Anyone want tickets to Paris?” A woman’s voice shattered my thoughts. Paris was closer to our destination. Desperate, we took the tickets for £50 each.

Closer to Home
Icy wind blasted through the open door as I huddled beneath a blanket between my two friends. My eyelids fluttered as I struggled to stay awake. Empty seats around us in La Gare de Lyon (the Lyon train station) in Paris reminded me of the late hour. Save for a few homeless people burrowed deep in their sleeping bags, people I suspected to be French thugs, and occasional security guards, we were alone.

Voulez-vous un coca?” (“Do you want a Coke?”)

The voice of the security guard interrupted my slumber. The clock read 2:00 a.m. as I walked to a phone and dialed my parents’ number. It was 7:00 p.m. at home.

“I’m stuck in Paris. There are no train tickets left.”

“How is that possible?” inquired my father.

“Well, besides the travel chaos, the French trains are on strike, again.” French trains always seemed to be on strike.

My parents and I brainstormed various possibilities, arriving at nothing.

“Go look again for a ticket,” Mother insisted.

I hung up the phone, trudged to the ticket machine, and punched in the information. There would be no ticket; I knew it. Yet I prayed, “Dear God, please let there be a ticket.” I pushed “Enter.” One ticket popped onto the screen. My eyes grew to the size of saucers. Impossible! It’s the middle of the night, and we’ve been looking for hours. I purchased the ticket, rushed over to the pay phone, and called my parents.

“There was one ticket!” I exclaimed. “But my friends still don’t have tickets.”

My mother’s voice calmed my excitement. “We prayed for you. Go back. Pray. Look again.”

The three of us friends bowed our heads beside the ticket machine. Closing my eyes, I prayed, “Dear God, You know that my friends need to get back with me. Please provide us with tickets for them.”

I carefully punched the information onto the touch screen and pushed “Enter.” Two tickets at 6:00 a.m., 30 minutes before mine, popped onto the screen.

As my friends bought the tickets I called my mother. “We prayed again,” she told me.

The Home Stretch
Three hours later I bid goodbye to my friends and paced the train station for 30 minutes until I boarded my train. Dragging my backpack onto the train, I threw it onto the shelf and collapsed into the seat. Most people are still stranded, I thought. How did we find a way back so quickly? I closed my eyes, finally at peace, and slept.

I often doubt God when I think He takes too long to answer my prayers. I search for solutions to my problems that will bring the results I want and answer my doubts and questions. What am I doing here? Where do I go? Why did You allow this to happen? Have You deserted me? My prayers are filled with repetitious requests, halfhearted thanks, and mutterings when life doesn’t go the way I think it should. Every day I kneel beside my bed and beg God to hear my prayer. Some days I know they reach His throne, but sometimes I can’t help thinking that I’m rambling to myself.

At times I’m a Thomas. Throughout our travel chaos in Europe, I tried to get us home. Nothing worked; I failed. God doesn’t fail. Instead He says, “I know what I’m doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for” (Jer. 29:11, Message).*

My doubts can blind me. But God leads me back from my lack of trust to His plan for my life. He will develop a friendship with me so that I don’t believe in the idea of His presence, but in an all-knowing, present, loving God. n

* Texts credited to Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Brittany Harwood is an administrative assistant for communications at the Manitoba-Saskatchewan Conference. She enjoys traveling and experiencing other cultures. This article was published on November 8, 2012.