A few years ago, Mike and I went to visit our daughter, Sarah, who at the time, lived in Denver. We walked down the ramp to board the plane and a man wearing cowboy boots turned to me and said, "If you're following me, I don't know where I am going." I laughed taking the edge off the anxiety that often comes when I fly.
We happened to share the row with this gentleman. Mike sat on the aisle, I was in the middle and the gentleman 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 son, 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 professionally. That opened him. He began.
"I've done a lot of things I'm not proud of. I fought in Viet Name. I saw and did a lot of things I didn't want to do."
I set my stitching aside to look him straight in 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 pieced a small quilt for a baby shower planned for when I return.
"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 seat belts sign" flashed and the pilot alerted us the plane was making the final descent.
I took a few pins out of the little quilt, which grew as I talked. Quilting is a way I feel God's presence, and my piecing provided a holy backdrop 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 recorded in the stitches holding the fabric together.
Questions for Reflection
1. Have you been in a place where someone has opened up to you talking about their concerns either about faith or life circumstances?
2. How have you responded? Have you set aside what you are doing and given the person your full attention? How does your response reflect the way God listens to us?
Prayer: Thank you, God, for putting me next to this stranger who had a need to express thoughts that lived deep in his heart. Help me always to stay present to those whom I encounter and keep me mindful when I need to pause and listen to one of your children. Amen.