“The prayer of thanksgiving always begins here: to recognize that grace precedes us. We were thought of before we learned how to think; we were loved before we learned how to love; we were desired before our hearts conceived a desire.”

– Pope Francis

After a few glorious weeks off the road, I jumped back into the deep-end with a multi-city, week-long extravaganza - complete with delays, unfamiliar pillows, and me wearing the same suit more often than I should. The longer I avoid the airport, the less I ever want to set foot in one again. And as soon as I re-enter the blessed mess, my expectations for a pleasant travel experience are reset impossibly high, and frustration and disappointment inevitably ensue. How dare the plane have a mechanical issue! How could the hotel not have my elite status on file? Why are there no fresh towels in the fitness center? Couldn’t this airport upgrade this restroom in the past 20 years?

As I walked longer than I believed I should to the TSA PreCheck, I found myself waiting in a line that I also assessed as simply too long for those of us who have already been thoroughly vetted by Homeland Security. Then, I heard the strangest noise ever in a security line – a joyful voice. I looked around frantically for the source of this rare specimen and saw that it was a young TSA agent with the biggest smile I have ever seen. “How is your day?” she asked earnestly, while intentionally looking each traveler in the eye. I watched as person after person, regardless of their posture or scowl while in line, instantly matched her contagious smile and returned the question. She replied to their inquiry with even more positivity – with gratitude that spring had finally arrived, that she gets to serve her country, and that her husband had made her a delicious lunch. When it was my turn, I followed the trend and asked if she was having a good day. Her words back and their sincerity stopped me in my tracks. “Yes sir,” she proclaimed, “better than I deserve.”

As I sat in a terrible seat on the plane that I didn’t think I deserved, I couldn’t help but contrast my perspective with that of my TSA friend. In life and leadership, what do I think I deserve and how does that impact what I receive? Am I running life through an x-ray machine, looking only for what I want or what might be problematic? Or am I “prechecking” my heart for arrival? Am I orienting myself as a grateful disciple, modeling the fact that every day is a gift of the Lord to which I’m not entitled, but blessed to receive? I decided for the rest of my journey that I would repeat the mantra “better than I deserve” if anything gave me some discomfort. It wasn’t perfect, but it provided a few moments of peace and additional awareness of God’s goodness in my life when my instincts wanted to go in the opposite direction. As we continue to celebrate this Easter season, let’s make sure, especially amidst the long lines, delays, and challenges we may share with others, that we are also witnesses of gratitude for the gift of salvation we don’t deserve and certainly could never earn. Blessings on your travel through this week!

by Daniel Cellucci

May 11, 2023

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