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“Well, this is embarrassing….”

I had just landed in Atlanta.  After 10 days abroad and a long day of international travel I was finally back in the United States. I knew I had about six hours before I would be back in the midwest but I was making progress on this journey. I also knew that I would have to go through several check-points; customs/immigration, luggage retrieval, security checks and a three-hour layover.

Most of the day I had a running conversation in my head. It was a constant back and forth between,  “I am so tired, I just want my own bed” and, “Wow, I am so grateful for the perspective that international travel provides.”

That gratitude was soon put to the test. After passing through all the paperwork stations I had to retrieve my luggage. I was standing next to a young couple who were complaining that their bags hadn’t arrived yet. I was thinking that I had a three hour layover, no rush, my bag will arrive at some point. Next thing I knew I saw something that resembled my bag on the carousel. I had to step closer to take a look and before I knew it I was laughing out loud! My navy blue duffle bag that had a zipper in a “u-shape” across the top was now in a clear plastic trash bag which was tied at the end! The zipper had been removed and the top was open leaving all my contents on display.

My first thought… “Well, this is embarrassing but at least my bag arrived AND thank goodness all the items that I didn’t want on display for all to see were packed in a side pocket.” Let’s be real here, you hit a point in life when you don’t want people to see some things and I’ve hit that point. The thought of all my unmentionables draped all over the carousel, coming out one by one and stuck to other people’s bags nearly had me in tears. I’ve never been so grateful for a clear plastic trash bag.

I found my travel mate who had her bags on a cart. I added my now very awkward duffle-trash-bag to her cart and we made our way to the last check-point. All we had to do was prove that these bags belonged to us and then we would be off to the domestic terminal where we would drop off our bags, go through security and board our next flight. But, the TSA employee asked, “Are you two traveling together?” I said yes since we had been traveling together (even though we were now heading to different states), and we were sharing a cart AND we were wearing matching T-shirts, so yes, I said yes. He then said we had to move into a high security section so they could inspect our bags by hand. I found this to be very comical because you could pretty much look at my “duffle-trash-bag” and see what was in it!

After a long wait we passed the hand inspection successfully.  We needed to drop off our bags for our next flight but I was a little stressed, I knew there was no way the contents of my bag were going to make it to St. Louis packed like this and I needed to find a Delta employee to help me. The only employee I could find was in the re-check line. I am pretty sure this line is for people who got through the international terminal too late to make their domestic flight. Translation; not a happy place. I got in line ungracefully holding my treasured possessions in a clear plastic trash bag hoping someone could help me.

The guy in front of me was being rude and all I could think was, “Don’t make her mad, this woman is my only hope for double bagging this thing!” After he left she said with a tired southern accent, “Can I help you?” I replied, “I sure hope so. You see, this is not how I packed my bag and I am worried that it will rip and I will lose my belongings on the next flight. Any chance you have another trash bag so I can double bag it?” And then I flashed her a large and hopeful smile and she said, “I’m sorry, I don’t have another bag … but I have packing tape, let’s do this!”

We got to work and did a serious tape job on that bag. What started as a fragile, awkward and embarrassing bag was now a rock solid, awkward and embarrassing bag! But there was no doubt that bag and all it’s contents were going to make it to St. Louis. That bag might not look the same but I was proud, we were going to be just fine.

What I took from that evening was this … our journey’s change us. Just like my poor bag I am never the same after a long journey. I often return feeling beat-up and exposed. My advice?  Don’t give up, when all hope seems lost a tired soul with a southern accent may show up to ask “can I help you?” And when that happens just say “I hope so”, flash a smile and take whatever help you can get.

Let your journeys change you. 

apersonofinfluence_Fotor11

“Thank you for your service.”

I had just spent ten days in Central America; five days in Nicaragua, five days in Honduras and it was time to fly home. My head was clear, my heart was full but my body was very tired. After ten days in different beds, on a different sleep schedule, eating different foods and trying my best to speak Spanish I was tired and ready to be home.

The flight from Honduras to Atlanta was uneventful. I had a three hour lay-over in Atlanta before continuing on to St. Louis and I knew I would need some of that time to go through immigration and all the security checkpoints.

I finally made it to my terminal and I had a little over an hour before my next flight so I decided to just keep moving. I began walking up and down the terminal with the goal of staying awake. After walking for a while I began to get text messages from the airline … “your 9pm flight will now depart at 9:20pm…. your 9:20pm flight will now depart at 9:45pm …. your 9:45pm flight will now depart at 10:55pm….” Urgh.

Walking for two more hours was just not an option so I grabbed an open seat at the small restaurant that was in front of me. On the other side of the restaurant I noticed there was a table of four people. One of the men at the table was dressed in Army issued gear.

I watched as people who were in a hurry and people who were exhausted like me began to pause to speak to him saying,  “Thank you for your service”. To each person he would reply by nodding his head and saying, “It’s my pleasure.”

At some point my attention shifted from his reaction to the reaction of those who expressed their gratitude. I noticed people walked away with a smile, they walked a little taller and had a little more pep in their step. Expressing their gratitude changed them.

I watched as a woman in her fifties pulled aside the waitress to say she wanted to pay for this man’s meal. She then walked over to the table, thanked him for his service and let him know that she’d take care of his bill. She turn around grinning from ear to ear all because she was going to pay the bill of a complete stranger as a way to thank him for his service.

I began to wonder, what if we all expressed that kind of gratitude to everyone who served in any capacity? What if we thanked every waitress, every taxi driver, every hourly fast food worker, every airline employee, every teacher, or coach? What would happen if we expressed gratitude for any kind of service?

I think we’d all smile a little more, walk a little taller and have a little more pep in our step because that is what gratitude does. Gratitude changes us.

As we enter a new week I challenge you to act on opportunities for gratitude, moments when you can genuinely say “Thank you for your service.”

And, in an effort to lead the way, thank you for all you do, thank you for using your influence for good and thank you for your service ….