It was pure gift, how I found myself on a plane to Denver on Wednesday, heading to the Installation Mass of our former bishop, the new Archbishop Samuel Aquila.

For weeks, I’d been hearing about travel plans of those from Fargo who’d be journeying to Denver to attend the event. Through it all, I’d been in touch with the archdiocesan communications staff, feeding them photos and other pieces of information to help them welcome our former shepherd; all this part of my new job as communications director here.

The more I worked on these projects, the closer I felt to Denver and the whole process that was unfolding, as well as to the bishop himself. Something stirred within — a longing to be there, too. And since we’ll be going through a similar event ourselves within the next year or so, perhaps my being there wasn’t completely illogical.

But I resigned myself to the fact that it wouldn’t happen. I couldn’t take the time necessary to travel with the busload leaving a few days ahead of time, and there didn’t seem to be any other way. I would have to learn about it through others.

Then, on Monday, an email arrived in my inbox that changed everything. A spot had opened up on a private plane heading West. Would I be interested in going?

It would be two hours there and another two back and I’d be home in time for bed. Oh, and I should be able to attend a private dinner afterward, too, with the archbishop and other guests and clergy.

Was I interested? (Do little boys have gritty fingernails?) Of course! Yes! As I danced around the house with the news, my kids looked at me like I’d lost it. That’s okay. A mom gets a few free passes annually to do the happy dance. This was one of them.

For one who loves adventures, has always been inclined toward experiencing as much as possible in person, the day did not disappoint.

Of course, I had to take some photos in the air. The perspective always wows me.

Eventually, the mountains came into view, too, and finally, the Denver skyline with a bright, blue background. It only later turned grayish due to clouds.

Not long after landing, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the city. Soon enough, the basilica jutted forth, not far from a sushi and burger joint.

The event destination was by far the highlight, but even before arriving, our small group enjoyed lunch at a quaint restaurant called Mona’s. I had a delicious piece of quiche filled with artichoke hearts and mushrooms and basil-dressing-covered salad with fresh greens. And lemonade. It was a hot day.

Turns out, that was a mere sip of the loveliness to follow.

The Installation filled me with joy. The beautifully skilled violinist and choir, the rising incense, the humbling procession of priests and bishops — it was exhilarating to experience the wider Church in this way.

And though this was not about me, it hit me in a personal way, especially when I watched the shepherd who’d confirmed four of our five kids up on the altar with his new, hand-crafted crozier (staff) at his side. Just days before, I’d helped prepare an article for our diocesan newspaper about that very crozier, which had been a gift from our diocese!

As I absorbed it all, I sensed that I could very well be the most grateful person in the entire sanctuary. Not because I deserved it, but due to the sheer surprise of being there at all. It was the unexpectedness of the gift that made it so incredibly special.

Glimpses of slices of North Dakota throughout the day also added to the experience — sunflowers on a statue outside, and sprinkled in arrangements spread across the altar; wheat in the centerpiece at dinner; and small bunches of familiar faces that kept popping up among the unfamiliar. I felt so at home in a place so far away.

Around 10 p.m. Denver time, we hopped back into the rental car and zoomed to the jet center, and off we headed once again, into the sky.

God, thank you for this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime kind of day. I do not take for granted the blessings you are pouring into my life.