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Giving Thanks for Leaking Planes: My Reflection on the 2017 New Wineskins Board Meeting

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The thing I love most about New Wineskins is the relationships. The New Wineskins Triennial Conference is often described as a “great family reunion” and the same is true for our yearly board meetings. I look forward to them all year long and always learn so much from my fellow board members. It is great to get out of my normal routine and see what the Lord is doing across all cultures and contexts. In light of that, all my little worries and fears feel quite small. I had all this on my mind on my way to the New Wineskins board retreat at the Saint Christopher Camp and Conference Center in South Carolina. I knew that we had much business to discuss and many stories to share.

My journey began with a 5 a.m. flight out of Philadelphia.  My fellow passengers and I were packed in like big sardines, pretending not to notice each other. Suddenly, the smell of gas became quite strong, then downright powerful. When the flight attendant announced that we would need to de-board, the cries of outrage soon filled the plane. “You have got to be kidding me”, the lady next to me said. “Every time,” one man said, “every time.” Not that I am above annoyance in the airport, which I have found to be a place rampant with anger, but I couldn’t help feeling a little relieved that we noticed the gas leakage on the ground, rather than…say…in the air.

You have probably witnessed the scene that followed. We de-boarded, a huddled mass of anger and hostility. A great skirmish between the passengers and airline personnel (God bless them all) ensued.  People muttered to themselves, pulled out their devices and began making calls in loud voices. Some took off running in the hopes of making new flights. 

Why am I telling you this? I guess I couldn’t help but be thinking about this experience as I walked into the New Wineskins board meeting evening prayer time. I was supposed to co-lead the service with my friend Fr. Phil Eberhart. But of course, I was late, frazzled, and unprepared. I said to Phil, “I don’t have any plan for this, do you?” He laughed and said, “No. That means it’s going to be great.”  Then he thought for a minute and said, “What we need is to exhale.” I thought of my fellow passengers from earlier. Exhaling sounded truly great.

And we did exhale, and we also prayed together, cried together, and worshiped our Lord together. Some secrets were shared. Some testimonies. And I looked around the circle of believers and realized none of my fellow Christians had a stress-free life without inconvenience, frustration, anger, or disappointment. All of us in some way were struggling. But we were able to exhale. We were able to breathe. We were able to laugh (and yes at one point we laughed in the Spirit for minutes on end). We were able to hand the Lord our impatience, frustration, and struggle. We gave thanks. We had joy. We communed with God and each other. If I could describe the experience in a word, it would be peace. What a sharp contrast from my morning experience.

Now, why am I sharing this? Is it that we Christians are morally superior to my fellow plane passengers? We have it all figured out and we can rise above the tension of airport conflict? No, not in the least! But, the difference is the presence of Jesus. The Spirit of God was in our hearts. He was ministering to us. Giving us joy, giving us hope. Giving us his perspective-a perspective of thanksgiving. So, that, when the plane is leaking gas and we have to de-board and our schedules are thrown off, we can truly say-thank you, Jesus. Thank you that I am not on a burning plane, but once again, you have saved me. Thank you. Thank you for all you have done and are doing.

My final thought is this: where are you right now? Are you a passenger on the plane? Stressed and angry seeing blessings more as inconvenience? I am that passenger more than I care to admit, but sometimes, especially in those times when I am standing in solidarity with my fellow Christians and I see what God is doing in our midst, I am able to exhale. To worship God with a truly thankful heart. Honestly, all of us are busy. All of us are stressed or hard pressed. Some of us are truly suffering, grieving, or hurt. But all of us have the Spirit of the living God who can lift our heads, even when the plane is leaking, and give us peace.

Lord Jesus, you not only give us breath, but you help us breathe when the world would have us implode. Thank you for our fellow believers. Thank you for all the times we’ve de-boarded. Thank you for your peace. Amen.

 
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Lilly Sanders Ubbens is a published writer and mother of two.  After growing up as a missionary kid in Honduras, Lilly went on to earn a masters degree from Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA.  While there, Lilly met and married the love of her life, Bo, and they now serve at Christ Church Anglican on the Mainline in Wayne, PA. You can contact Lilly here.