Wednesday, October 3, 2012


Air Force Two, Piedmont Triad Airport, NC

I was on a late flight into Charlotte on a recent Sunday night. I had previously booked an aisle seat when I made my reservations on-line which is my preferred location on a plane after numerous road warrior trips. My absolute last choice is the center seat on planes with three seats together in a row. Inevitably, one or both persons in the aisle and window seats either hasn’t bathed since leaving home to work in the tropics with a primitive tribe of headhunters or they are constantly eating, drinking and listening to loud rap music or an Armageddon movie on some electronic device. And of course, I always cringe when some harried mother boards with a screaming child and begins to eye the seat next to mine.

Well, I didn’t get the personal hygiene person with a strange rash this trip, but I did get the crying baby. And then I noticed as I rose to allow access to the center seat next to me that an older woman in the center seat behind us knew the young mother. It was soon apparent that they were traveling together. Now I was conflicted with a choice—either sit next to the fussy baby for the next two hours or offer my coveted aisle seat to the grandmother in a center seat--decisions, decisions. I weighed my limited options and opted for the center seat in the next row in hopes that the grandmother would be much better suited to quiet the fussy baby. And I have joined other passengers in the past to give up seats to allow family members to sit together on crowded and chaotic flights.

Fortunately, the young man in the window seat to my right was a professional hockey scout and my traveling companion on the aisle seemed subdued enough. After making our introductions, I opened the book I was reading on Jesus’ life and his vision for us to lead lives of love, dignity, compassion, forgiveness, and hope. Since I was in the center seat with my overhead reading light on, I noticed that the young man on the aisle was also casually reading along once we were up in the air. Only when he spoke did I finally notice the camouflage hat he was wearing along with civilian clothing. He acknowledged the Christian book and implied that he had grown up in a Christian home. Then after he had apparently become comfortable with talking to me, he blurted out a serious issue that he had carried home to Tennessee after his return from the Afghanistan war.

I learned long ago that most folks who share a serious issue with someone are not really looking for a solution. And we men have the knee jerk DNA to immediately offer one. But people generally just want to talk out their pent up frustrations to someone who can patiently listen while keeping their mouth shut. So I just sat back in my center seat and let him talk through why he came home to Tennessee with this issue and occasionally offered any insights I had gleaned from the teachings I had learned from studying Jesus’ life and words at church and through readings. Our plane soon reached a comfortable cruising altitude and speed. The young soldier seemed to settle down and we toasted small plastic containers of soda drizzled over ice served by our aging steward. Later, friends suggested that perhaps a higher power had a hand in changing my seat assignment and a crying baby led me to a stranger in need of the message in my book and someone to listen to him while up in the air at 30,000 feet. And I’ve learned over the years that many times God will use human vessels of clay to pour out His grace to others in need if we are open to the experience. We’ve all been instructed to go out into the world to teach others of God’s love for His creation—and if necessary, we should use words.

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