Last month my family and I traveled to France to witness my brother’s marriage. All four of our children traveled exceptionally well. They were delighted by many of the aspects of airplane travel: airports, planes, pilots, newspaper stands with gum and candies and personalized backpacks with their own blankets, stuffed animals and goodies inside. There was the charm of being in an airplane – at least the children found it charming. They had their own trays, the flight attendants brought them drinks and pretzels, and they got to watch movies! It was heaven on earth for a 5-year old.

COLUMNPHOTODr.BauerThe trip, however, was not without its challenges. In contrast to my children, I did not travel well. When we arrived at our departure airport, Terese looked at the luggage on the curb and exclaimed in horror, “We left the luggage with the clothes at home!”

“What?” I replied in disbelief. I had packed the bags in the car and was sure that I had not forgotten anything.

“Yes, we don’t have the bags that have our clothes in them. You know – the bags against the wall.” I had packed the bags in the middle of the floor and did not pack the brown bag that was camouflaged against the background of the wall painted in a fall shade of brown.

After a one-hour round trip home on my part where I retrieved the forgotten luggage, we made our flight. I was the last one on the plane. 

Then there was the pacifier. In a connecting airport, Terese and I split potty duty. Terese had Mayra, age 2. I had the boys. We waited for Terese and Mayra outside the restroom. After a wait, Terese and Mayra came out clearly distressed. Mayra had dropped her pacifier down a flushing toilet and was beside herself. We were too. How on earth were we going to get a 2-year-old to sleep on a transatlantic flight without a pacifier? Well – she slept. In her mother’s arms. And Aidan, Luc, Andre and I spent a great time together on the flight.

The challenges continued. At the connecting gate, we were informed by the agent that we did not have a ticket for Terese. Some e-accident had occurred and Terese had no e-ticket. She had a reservation and a seat. Never mind that.

I had three choices: I could travel to France with the kids and leave Terese behind; I could stay at a hotel until Monday to sort it out with the travel agent; or I could purchase a ticket on the spot. I handed over my credit card. We boarded the plane; again, I was the last one on.

In Paris, we thanked the Lord for helping us get to France in spite of the obstacles. Mayra had slept. The boys were polite and patient with each other, and we had the privilege of going to another country even if it meant I had to buy an extra ticket at the counter. We were blessed and we thanked the Lord. 

We made our way to customs as a little clan. Mayra, attached to mom, Andre and Aidan crossed the automatic gates, I trailed behind with Luc in a stroller. Believing I could push Luc through in a stroller, I pushed him into the turnstile. The hip gates opened for him, but then the stroller got stuck. He was belted in. I saw it happening slow-mo in my mind’s eye.…  Before I could yank him back, the hip gates closed and struck him in the face. Then the automatic doors closed between the stroller and me and I couldn’t get to him.

I yelled to Terese who turned around and started laughing because the whole scenario was so incredible. I raced around through another gate and liberated our crying 4-year-old from the stroller. Other passengers looked on with curious indifference and went through their own gates. Luckily, Luc was fine. Astonished, but fine.

bauerfamilyPaul Bauer, left, and his family pose for a photo with his brother Stephen, the groom, and his new bride, Julie. Pictured are Aidan, Luc, Andre, Mayra and at far right, Terese. (Submitted photo courtesy Tom Bauer)This was the beginning of what turned out to be a beautiful time in France. We visited with cousins, aunts and uncles, and friends we had not seen in a long time. We shared stories, food, and catching up on history and events. We spent time with my brother’s wife’s family. We enjoyed the sights and sounds, the food and a break from work and life at home. It was truly a leisurely time together.

The clearest and most gratuitous example of God’s faithful love and providence came at the end of the trip. At the end of the week following the wedding, our family, my brother, Stephen, his new bride, Julie, and our parents and friends spent a day in a neighboring city, Arles. Arles is famous for its Roman ruins, among them, a theater still used today to host dramatic productions and concerts, and a coliseum that hosts summertime bullfights and theater productions. For our last dinner together, we dined in a café by the coliseum. As we waited for dessert, our children played by the ruins, going up and down the steps. 

As he went up and down, Aidan dropped a golden souvenir coin from a ledge into the

gravel below. Terese asked if I might have the patience to look for it.

“Look for a coin in the gravel and rubble?” I replied. “It’s night. I won’t see anything, much less a coin. But if you want me to, I will look for it.” So I did.

I said a prayer to St. Anthony in my heart to find the precious little coin that belonged to Aidan. I looked in vain. I studied the spot in the rocks and rubble where I supposed the coin must have fallen. Nothing. Aidan had given up. I said one more prayer and turned away to tell Terese that it just wasn’t going to happen.

Then Luc gave his own golden coin to Aidan: “Here, you can have my coin now.”

He just spontaneously gave it. No regrets, no conditions. He just saw that Aidan missed his coin. So he gave him his.

I turned on my heels and went back to the spot to look for the coin again. There it was in the area where I had looked again and again. I picked it up and gave it to Aidan. Aidan gave Luc his coin back.

Terese took my hand and smiled.

“You know, I prayed to St. Anthony that you would find it,” she said.

“I did too.”

My brother is now married. Stephen is joined to Julie as a part of a new whole. Their hearts are given to one another – that they may look after each other in love with God’s help and grace.

A coin is nothing big. But I found what was missing. And only after Luc had given away what was dear to him.

I know that God’s love is free, gratuitous and given with humor for adults who are skeptical. I also believe it is much easier to receive God’s generosity when room is made for it by being generous. For Luc and Aidan, this was just how things were supposed to be.

Aidan had cried out in astonishment, “You found it dad!”

And he and Luc went back to playing as if everything were normal. Terese and I recognized a moment of grace and a story from the Gospel.

May Jesus’ love fill Julie and Stephen’s hearts as they make room for him by loving and serving one another.

(Paul is married to Terese. They have four children and both work hard to keep their house a place of peace, joy and all good things. Some days are better than others. Paul is a pediatrician. Terese is a family physician. They are former parishioners at St. Sebastian Parish, Milwaukee, currently members of .)