A few years ago, Mike and I went to visit our daughter, Sarah who lived in Denver. We walked down the ramp boarding the plane and a man wearing cowboy boots turned to me and said, "If you're following me, I don't know where I'm going." I laughed, taking the edge off the anxiety that often comes when I fly.
We shared the row with this gentleman. Mike sat on the aisle, I was in the middle, and the gentleman with the cowboy boots had the window seat. Mike brought a book to read, I had a small quilt to make, and the man brought nothing to do.
Shortly after we took off, he started talking to me. He was going to Denver to spend the week fishing with his sons, whom he had not seen for two years.
"I've been a truck driver for 30 years. I drive all over the country for a large company," he offered.
I asked a few questions about his work, and told him what Mike and I did.
That opened him up. He began.
"I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of. I fought in Viet Nam. I saw and did a lot of things I didn't want to do."
I set my stitching aside to look straight into his pale, blue eyes. He continued.
"I went to church, but people judged me for riding a motorcycle, for the clothes I wore, my tattoos, my job, my divorce. I want to be married, but I can't seem to hang on to a woman. Takes a special woman to stay married to a truck driver. I regret my marriage didn't last. I didn't go back to church. I feel what happens to me after I die is between me and God."
I listened and felt like I was hearing a confession. I told him I was sorry for his experience at church. I regret he didn't try another church and will only know God when he dies.
He continued to talk as I rested my hands on the small quilt for a baby shower in a few weeks.
"My wife didn't want the boys so I took them and raised them best I could. We skype and stay in touch that way."
"Sounds like you did a good job. Spending a week together will give you lots of time to talk."
"Yes, we'll have fun in the peace and quiet. I've got bear spray just in case!" he laughed.
"Oh, my! I pray you have a wonderful vacation."
"Thank you. We will."
Our conversation ended just as the "fasten seatbelt sign" flashed and the attendant alerted us the plane was making the final descent.
I took a few pins out of the little quilt. Quilting is a way I feel God's presence and holding the quilt provided a holy background for the outpouring of this gentleman's heart. As I folded the quilt to tuck away in my bag, I knew that all I heard and carried to God was held in the fabric resting on my lap.
1. When have you provided a listening ear for someone in an unexpected place?
2. Is it hard or easy to put down your agenda for the time and be completely present to another?
Prayer: Thank you, God, for putting me next to this stranger who had a need to express thoughts living deep within his heart. Help me always to stay present to those I encounter and keep me mindful when I need to pause and listen to one of your children. Amen.