Only Arrivals. Never Departures.

One of my favorite parts of flying home to Atlanta is getting off the train and riding the escalator up to the main terminal. The landing area is always crowded with people waiting to meet business associates and loved ones. I love to watch the reunions.

Sometimes there are several generations waiting for great-grandma to visit America for the first time. Sometimes young lovers wait impatiently for their fiancées after being apart three whole days!

But the best reunions are when servicemen and servicewomen return home safe and sound from deployment in harm's way. USO volunteers clank cowbells and wave flags, uninvolved strangers pause long enough to join the celebration, and tear-filled spouses watch young children jump into mommy or daddy's arms for the first time in months.

As I write this, I'm on a Delta flight to Raleigh, NC where I'll spend the next couple of days speaking at an ACSI convention for Christian school teachers and administrators. I'm trying my best to focus on what I'll be sharing, but my mind is filled with images of the reunion Ellen and I will have with our daughter, Emily, in less than a month (actually 24 days—but who's counting?). This time we'll be the ones waiting at the top of the escalator scanning the crowds for the first glimpse of our daughter since she left on an around-the-world mission trip called The World Race. (If you haven't already seen her amazing blog, check it out at: Except for an occasional Skype chat, we haven't seen her face since we sobbed our goodbyes at the same airport ten months ago on January 6. And trust me, cyber hugs are a lousy substitute for the real thing!

Airports play both roles in our lives. They are places of joyful reunions as well as heartbreaking goodbyes. For every heartwarming celebration at the top of the escalator there's a gut wrenching separation at TSA screening.

I'll never forget the time I was shuffling through the line with a soldier in his fatigues accompanied by his wife and three kids ages 7, 5, and 3. By the time the Mom had peeled the three kids off of Daddy, she didn't have much emotion left for her own final kiss and hug. I heard the soldier tell his oldest son, "You have to be the man while Daddy's gone. You're in charge until I get back." And then I nearly choked on the lump in my throat as that little guy snapped to attention and gave his father a salute so crisp it would have thrilled even the pickiest drill instructor. As we rode the train together I learned that this brave young husband and father was headed back to Iraq for his third tour of duty. I've prayed for him often, and hope he came home to a glorious celebration at the top of the escalator.

The memory of that goodbye intrudes on every reunion I witness. That's the trouble with airports. It's a zero sum game as goodbyes balance out hellos. Maybe that's why I'm starting to crave heaven so much. Think of it. Finally a place where there are only arrivals and never departures. Always reunions and never farewells.

Just picture the scene as faithful, humble pastors and missionaries are finally welcomed as heroes. Can you imagine the joy when a former prodigal meets the grandma who pleaded with God for his soul for decades but then died two years before he finally stopped running from Jesus?

So who will you look for first when your ride on the eternal escalator reaches the landing? Maybe even more important, who do you need to reach out to this week to make sure they join you in that wonderful place where there are only arrivals and never departures?

  • Smileys
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