Mike and I know how to travel  economically.

When he graduated from GCTS in 1979, we drove 16,400 miles over the course of four  months in our little yellow Honda Civic, passing through 37 states and visiting 11 national parks, and we did it on a total budget of $2000. This was Mike’s dream all through seminary – to see the country before we settled down into his first fulltime pastorate – and we both worked multiple jobs six days per week to save a modest nest egg while paying grad school tuition and living expenses near Boston.

Travel on the cheap? We could write a guidebook on it. The summer of 1979 we did it by never staying in a hotel (that’s why God invented pup tents) or eating in restaurants (ditto for grocery stores and Coleman stoves.) 

Back then, it was about the destination, and not much has changed. When we booked our tickets to Istanbul, they were in economy class – what other way is there to travel? All travelers arrive the same time whether seated in the first row or the last.

So what on God’s green earth happened Saturday night at O’Hare? After a departure  day full of serendipitous surprises (water in the basement from heavy rains in Wheaton, and water on our kitchen floor from a leaky, dying frig), we had an even bigger surprise at our departure gate.

 Just before boarding, we heard our names called at the departure gate. The gate agent was the same dark-haired man who had checked our luggage two hours before, and he demanded that we surrender our boarding passes. I thought wildly,  “I knew this sabbatical was too good to be true; the Lilly people must have just changed their minds,” when the agent handed us new boarding passes and said, with a huge smile, “You’ve been upgraded to Business Class. Enjoy your flight!”

Stunned, Mike and I stared at each other. What just happened here? When we arrived in Istanbul last night after the most amazing flight of our lives, we shot off a quick email to our prime suspect  – my road warrior brother with a gazillion frequent flyer miles – but Dan has disavowed any credit for our upgrade. Or was it our friends Jim and Mary, who know absolutely everyone including, maybe, the head of Turkish Airlines? Nope, they said, not us. Or, more possibly, did the gate agent notice that Mike and I were holding hands in the departure lounge and decide to upgrade two people who appeared to be  newlywed senior citizensJune 5, 2010?

Whatever the reason for our good fortune (and my first international trip without swollen ankles,) we received a lesson in undeserved grace at the very start of this once-in-a-lifetime sabbatical experience.

Sometimes, life is about the journey, too.