Day 0 – Goin to the Land Down Unda (Can you hear, can you hear that thunda)

This morning I got up at 6:30 a.m. and met my friends for breakfast at Waffle’s Cafe in
West Valley. It was a fun, happy time full of laughter, waffles, eggs, and Monte Cristo sandwiches. At 9:30 Skyler took me to the airport and I began my long journey which would take me over 30 hours of real travel time and closer to 48 including the time change.

In the Yakima airport I met an elderly lady who was traveling with her granddaughter
on her way back to Orange County in California. She had apparently had several strokes,
which left her memory less than intact and her left arm hanging useless at her side.
Her attitude towards life was driven and positive despite her disability and she
spoke of her efforts to “reclaim her mind” as if it were a rebellious fief and she
a shrewd and noble ruler. Though our conversation was brief, my experience of her
was bright and her warmth stayed with me on the journey.

Starting on my flight from Yakima to Seattle, I read the book Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. The content was true to its subtitle, “Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality.” The book was largely autobiographical and contained stories of Miller’s own spiritual journey, stories of his friends, and the myriad of characters who came into his life; Tony the Beat Poet, Laura the Feminist Atheist, Penny the Spirit-Filled Hippie, and Rick the Latin-Speaking Pastor. This was not a typical Christian book, which are typically full of profound, convicting one-liners and
nuanced interpretations of well-traveled verses. Instead it was an honest portrait of
one man’s experience of God. Miller’s insecurities, his many recurring moments of doubt,
his dissatisfaction with positions and decisions made by churches, were very present and real. It was refreshing to read something so honest. Blue Like Jazz was not a book of conclusion and admonishment towards greater holiness and greater efforts towards relationship with God, but a vulnerable portrait of one human’s spiritual experience.

“God is not here to worship me, to mold Himself into something that will help me fulfill my level of comfort”

“I am preserved from the temptation of Satan for a purpose. To free others from the bondage
of sin.”

“Who cares what I believe about life, I only care that I am cool. Because in the end, the undercurrent running through culture is not giving people value based upon what they believe and what they are doing to aid society, the undercurrent is deciding their value based upon whether or not they are cool.”

“What I believe is not what I say, what I believe is what I do.”

“There are many ideas within Christian spirituality that contradict the facts of reality as I understand them.”

“We reduce Him to math so we don’t have to fear Him, and yet the Bible tells us
fear is the appropriate response, that it is the beginning of wisdom.”

“At the end of the day when I am lying in bed and I know the changes of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has
things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are going to be OK.”

When I arrived at LAX I found that the gate my flight had arrived at was conveniently
located right next to the Alaska Air Board Room. My mom had bought me a day pass to the
board room since I had a 7 hour layover. Moms are so great aren’t they?

In the board room I claimed a small private desk for myself and got to work answering
emails and doing the last bits of research that I had put off before leaving. I also
commandeered a plate of fruit, cheese, and salad because board rooms have food like that for free. Moms really are so great. I also managed to answer one letter and send it off while I could still pay for American postage. The rest will have to be sent from Australia where I’ll pay 3x more for an international stamp. But on the
bright side my friends will get mail from Australia and I think that’s worth the
extra expense by itself.

Finally at 10 pm the board room closed and I made my way to the Thomas Bradley
terminal which handles all the international flights. I had to stand in a huge line
of people to get through security, none of whom were speaking English. I realized
very suddenly that I was traveling alone. Australia is pretty far away isn’t it? But
I hardly considered canceling the trip. Just before I had my passport and boarding pass examined by the TSA officer, I noticed the TSA woman talking animatedly with a guy in front of me. All I caught was the word “Nepal” since they were speaking a foreign language. Both he and the TSA woman looked as through they could be of Nepalese descent.
I bet she doesn’t get to speak her native tongue very often. They continued their conversation even as she moved to examine my, less interesting US passport.

By the time I got through security it was 10:49 pm and I knew my flight started boarding at 10:45. Slightly, but only slightly, panicked I tried to find one of those screen that could tell me my gate number. There were none along the walls, but then I spotted one on a pole nearby. It was only a single screen, however, and I had to wait for it to cycle through the T’s and S’s (Tokyo, Seoul,Singapore), the U-Z’s (lots of names I couldn’t pronounce), and then all the way back to M for Melbourne. Gate 152. I saw lots of duty-free shops full of expensive designer handbags, vodka, and cosmetics, but no gates. I suppose they just pack the passengers up in those handbags and ship them off … but no that coudn’t be it. I started walking. One wrong turn later and I did find 152. It was perfect timing, prayer works I tell you. Not one minute after I arrived they
called, “Boarding rows 75-89” (I was row 85) and I headed down the hall towards the plane.

Row 85, as it turns out, it the third row from the back of the plane.

No problem though, I’m not picky like my mother. I’ll sit in row 85 and be content that
I have an aisle seat so I can stretch my legs whenever I please. There was only one other
woman in the row with an empty seat between us. As the plane was preparing to depart I
silently said goodbye to American soil, Los Angeles, and asked God to fly with me and take care of the people I love at home, and even those I didn’t know to love.

The flight went surprisingly quickly. I fell blissfully asleep a couple hours after
takeoff, and the next thing I knew the flight-time countdown read 6:34 instead of 13:47.
I had slept for over 7 hours sitting in that seat! So much for all the reading and
writing I was going to do. Instead I had a movie marathon; people who know me realize that watching more than 1 or 2 movies a month is highly atypical behavior for me.
I started out with The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (existential, artsy, nice cinematography), and then went to Captain American for my flash-bang action fix (very flashy and bangy with lots of tough-looking military guys). Finally I snuck in The Devil Wears Prada, because I’d been wanting to re-watch it and I love Meryl Streep.

And that concluded the 16 hour flight from LAX to Melbourne, Australia.

The most stressful part of any international trip is the part when you actually arrive in
the new country. It’s then that so many things could go horribly wrong. You could find that your passport or Visa are no good. Your bags could have been put on a plane to Manzanito instead of Melbourne. You could be pickpocketed. You could have a bird stowed away in your backpack and be fined $30,000. You could get into a fistfight
with the TSA officer over a handmade wooden flute and end up in an Australian prison cell
with one of those one-way mirror/window panels.

But nothing went wrong, I assure you.