First class altitude with gratitude

I am, by no stretch of the imagination, a world-class traveler. Air travel is my least favorite mode of transportation but it sure beats walking.

Recently, I flew to Michigan to speak at a conference. I am not saying the airlines do not know what they are doing, they don’t, I am just not going to say it. My experience is that they regularly book the flights just a little bit too close to each other. I had to fly from Muskegon to Detroit in order to go to Orlando.

I arrived at the Muskegon airport early enough and everything seemed to go just fine. I inquired about the timetable and was assured everything was on schedule, despite the rainy weather condition.

We all were assembled to get onto the plane when we received word that the flight had been canceled due to weather. This little bit of news set up a real ruckus among my fellow travelers.

We lined up at the ticket counter and every one was groaning and complaining and as if in one orchestrated moment all the cell phones clicked open and people were desperately trying to solve their problem. So many around me were grouching and complaining that I decided my cranky disposition was not needed. I reserved it for some more convenient time.

I was the last one in line and when I got to the woman behind the counter I cheerfully said, “Do whatever you have to to get me to Orlando. I don’t mind.” Then I said as an afterthought, “You’re doing a great job under these circumstances.” And flashed one of my famous smiles.

She sighed rather deeply, volleyed my smile back to me, then mouthed the words, “I’ll put you in first class.”

I smiled back not realizing what she had done for me. I had seen the first class section in airplanes but I had never actually experienced first-class. I always wondered what goes on behind those curtains in first-class but never knew personally.

The airport in Muskegon bussed us to the Grand Rapids Airport where we caught the plane taking us to Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. It was there that I was to discover the excellencies of first-class flying.

I boarded the airplane and was directed to my seat in first class. I was in for the treat of my life.

When I sat down I found my seat and discovered much to my amazement that the seat was wider than my posterior. I could actually sit down in the seat with room enough to relax. But the time the plane took off nobody had taken the seat next to me. I had the whole row to myself.

I did what anybody else would have done in similar circumstances. I took off my shoes, stretched out my feet and wiggled my toes. Aaah, the luxury of first-class.

When the plane reached its flying altitude the flight attendant with a cart stopped by my seat and said, “Ravioli or chicken?”

I was not sure what the attendant was talking about and assumed it was one of those newfangled games they play in first class. Not knowing what to say, I said the first intelligent thing that came to my mind. “Huh?”

“Would you like a ravioli or a chicken dinner?”

I was delightfully shocked. They served dinner in first class. Who would have thought of it?

Being on the safe side I responded by indicating I wanted the chicken dinner. You never can go wrong with chicken. Ravioli, on the other hand, is a different story.

The flight attendant began to prepare my chicken dinner right in front of me. I was amazed. What he set before me was unexpected. There was a real plate and a real glass and, you are not going to believe this, but a real napkin. Wrapped in that real napkin was a set of real silverware. Not some of the plastic stuff they got back in the regular section.

However, my dilemma was beginning to show itself. Evidently, in first class dining there is a different utensil for each food group. For example, there was a fork for the salad, another fork for the meat, and still another fork for the vegetables. I did not know which fork was which but I was much too delighted with the whole affair to ponder the culinary etiquette of first-class dining.

I tried very hard not to use the vegetable fork in my salad. I did not know what would happen if I did, but who wants to take such a chance when you are a first-time flyer in first class.

And the dessert…

I will not say that the chocolate delight on my dessert plate was heavenly but I’m sure I was the envy of every angel in heaven.

For a smidgen of a second, I did feel sorry for those flying regular class.

As I leaned back in my luxurious first-class seat, a verse Scripture came to my mind. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” (James 1:17 KJV).

I did not deserve first-class. I didn’t even need it. But my Heavenly Father just gave it to me as a surprise. Reveling in my experience, I mused to myself, next to His “only begotten Son,” I must be his favorite son.

James Snyder – Since 1997, Rev. James L. Snyder has written a weekly religion/humour column, “Out To Pastor,” syndicated to over 100 newspapers and many websites. The Rev. Snyder is an award winning author whose writings have appeared in more than eighty periodicals including GUIDEPOSTS. In Pursuit of God: The Life of A. W. Tozer, Snyder’s first book, won the Reader’s Choice Award in 1992 by Christianity Today. Snyder has authored and edited 30 books altogether.

“Sand in my Shoe”

It’s an instinct now, extending my left foot behind me and giving it a shake like a dog shedding water after a swim. Four months in the Sahara will do that to you. Sand gets in your shoe. In fact, it gets in everything, even your turban if you don’t tie it right. I am a traveler looking again for home.

The Sahara, as big as the United States, challenges the countries of Morocco, Egypt, Tunisia, Chad, Niger, Libya, Algeria, Mali, Mauritania, Sudan and the Western Sahara. There were tight restrictions on which sand my feet could walk across and to this day I don’t know if I stayed within my boundaries.

Time ended when I challenged the Sahara. I left my watch, my day-timer, my cellphone, and my calendar in my stored luggage and I walked. After all, I was a traveler.

The first days were glorious as the Atlas Mountains showed off their snow-capped majesty in the distance. Palm trees stood as sentinels graciously bowing as camel trains bobbed out into emptiness. Old men, faces wrapped in grey-black scarves and turbans, bodies looking petrified into the background of ancient walls, gazed silently at another generation carrying on the endless traditions of trade.

When I raised my camera the whole group turned away. They were alive. I kept traveling.

A camel and a Berber guide shadowed me to ensure I survived. Samir guided me from behind by wordlessly walking in the right direction. I would glance back and adjust to where he walked. In some places the sand dunes seemed to stretch on forever, upward toward the heavens.

As sure as I was that I would melt under the intense heat by day, I was just as sure I would freeze from the intense cold at night. I huddled by a blazing fire outside a walled tent where we bivouacked. All the blankets my camel carried didn’t seem to be enough. I lived on dates and flatbread, sipping water like it was as rare as gold.

The sunsets drenched my soul with ecstasy every night without fail. The swirling funnels of wind-blown sand and dust created divinely etched awe for the eye. The full moons I saw invited me to reach out and touch life that seemed as close as the next sand dune. A limitless band of stars multiplied before my eyes until they too seemed as numerous as the sand grains below. I finally understood what Abraham saw when God promised him the impossible. He was a traveler.

I wanted to ask Samir to show me where in this desert Star Wars was filmed. The landscape mesmerized me with its simplistic repetition, one dune after another. “A sure recipe to drive type-A personalities insane,” I said out loud. “Of course, I’m one of those personalities and here I am, talking to myself.”

In the city, the flowers would have been bursting into bloom. Here, I never saw the hint of rain.

My goal had been Timbuktu in Mali. We stopped somewhere short when I stumbled face first onto the sand and went delirious. Samir tied me onto his camel and walked me out.

I was almost claustrophobic coming back to the city. Out in the desert I learned to stop trying to judge how far I’d come and how far I still had to travel. In the city endless buildings boxed me in while the colors of neon lights, taillights, stop lights and even bicycle lights danced in surreal forms like northern lights unleashed.

In the desert there were hundreds and perhaps thousands of shades of grey, tan or beige blended into what artists call greige. In the city I had to train my eyes to believe the reality of what I saw. In the desert, the intense sunlight tricked me into believing mirages were real. In the city my ears were caught in the middle of a million marching bands all designed to deafen me. In the desert, I strained to hear anything apart from silence, but it swallowed me whole.

Some of my friends know I’ve traveled to climb mountains, to examine ancient ruins, to study ancient civilizations. Few of them understand why I would walk out into a desert like the Sahara. For me, the reason is simple. I wanted to meet God.

God was bigger than the Sahara. Like Samir, he walked in the right direction and waited for me to adjust my steps. He also saved this traveler and got me home.

Jack Taylor – Dr. Jack Taylor lived, worked and travelled in Africa for 18 years. Every second summer he finds a new part to explore.

Our very own Bear Grylls

We think Bear Grylls is a good ‘un. One moment he’s describing how he built a shelter in a storm whilst fending off wild snakes, the next moment he’s vulnerable and humble as he shares his faith journey then before he’s finished roasting aforementioned wild snake, gives wonderful advice in giving our best to relationships.

I love these two wonderful quotes from his books, first about scaling the tops of mountains…

“Many people find it hard to understand what it is about a mountain that draws men and women to risk their lives on her freezing, icy faces – all for a chance at that single, solitary moment on the top. It can be hard to explain. But I also relate to the quote that says, if you have to ask, you will never understand.

— Bear Grylls, Mud, Sweat and Tears
Here is a photo of Ivan, our volunteer at Oasis Surf House doing just that, hiking over the cliffs of Famara which overlook our local surf spot, I’ll introduce Ivan properly in a bit.

Here is a photo of Ivan, our volunteer at Oasis Surf House doing just that, hiking over the cliffs of Famara which overlook our local surf spot, I’ll introduce Ivan properly in a bit.

….and then to the depths of relationships….

“Whether it is the wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, family or friends, so often those closest to us are the ones who get the worst of us. It is as if we feel that they are the only ones we can be grumpy with, and we save our best for our guests or for work. But this is a recipe for struggle. The smart man and woman save the best for those they love. If we show our loved ones the most gratitude every day, then life will smile on us in return. Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude: three words to help you thrive. Trust me.

— Bear Grylls, A Survival Guide for Life: How to Achieve Your Goals, Thrive in Adversity, and Grow in Character

What’s wonderful about Bear is that he seems to say yes to the challenge. Whether that challenge is learning to love sacrificially, stripping away empty religion from his faith or taking on the little task of climbing Everest. I’m tempted to compose this blog entirely of Bear Grylls quotes, but I’ll resist (and include a load at the end!).

I’d like to offer my interpretation of the first quote of Bear’s that I shared, ‘if you have to ask, you’ll never understand.’ I don’t read this as excluding those who post that question but an invitation that they try instead of ask. Do and experience, instead of simply wondering.

I saw a bit of Bear in one of our volunteers, Ivan from Croatia, who worked at Oasis Surf House for a month over the Christmas period. He’s an adventure guide in his work life, and an adventurer the rest of the time. We knew he was going to be having some adventures when we realised he’d brought his own tent, hammock, hacking knife and first aid kit. Whilst staying with us at Oasis he’d one day be camping on the cliffs of Famara, catching the incredible sunrise…

…and the next day catching his own fish, finding wild tomatoes and building a palm leaf shelter on our roof to gaze at the stars…
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We consider ourselves to be off the beaten track here at Oasis Surf House. In the north of the island, halfway up a volcano and between two of the island’s best surf spots, we tend to attract adventurers and surfers. Ivan takes exploring to a whole new level! Did you know that just beyond the caves tourists are invited to explore is a series of caves hiding seven lakes? We didn’t…until Ivan found them.

So if you permit me I’ll include one more quote from Bear which I felt defined why Ivan reminded me of him so much.

“The difference between ordinary and extra-ordinary is so often just simply that little word – extra. And for me, I had always grown up with the belief that if someone succeeds it is because they are brilliant or talented or just better than me… and the more of these words I heard the smaller I always felt! But the truth is often very different… and for me to learn that ordinary me can achieve something extra-ordinary by giving that little bit extra, when everyone else gives up, meant the world to me and I really clung to it…

— Bear Grylls

Ivan looked for more out of Lanzarote, he combed the island for new ways to see its raw beauty. He may have found himself into a few scrapes. In particular when he explored an unmarked route of 14km from Mirador Del Rio along the base of the cliffs of Famara (towards Oasis Surf House). As the light faded and he reached his last kilometer he observed that the way was too dangerous as the waves were crashing against the cliff edge making the narrow path treacherous. So Ivan turned back to his starting point. Climbing 13 kilometers in the dark, he arriving at midnight back to a lookout point at the top of the cliffs the middle of nowhere. He was thankfully able to hitch a ride back with a good story to tell.

So we won’t be recommending that particular route if you come to visit Oasis Surf House! We will tell you however which volcanoes Ivan cycled around, how to find the caves not visited by your average tourist and hope you bring back some freshly caught fish. We hope you”ll come and explore, Ivan and Bear would!