who is sitting next to you

Every seat on the 6:30 flight from JAX was taken.  I sat by the window as the last stragglers looked for space in the crowded overhead bins.  She was the last to board and took the empty seat by me.  Looking away, she slid into the seat, slipped on sunglasses and plugged in ear-buds. Not fully caffeinated I looked forward to a quiet flight catching up on sleep after catching up with family all weekend.   As we taxied down a rainy runway she scrolled through phone photos as tears slipped out from behind her sunglasses. Why the sunglasses, why the tears was she afraid of flying?   

The tearful stream grew once airborne.  I never want to be that invasive evangelist, but behind her sunglasses was a hurting soul.  Self identifying as pastor can produce a phony piety, ridicule, strange questions and even theological arguments. I innocuously asked: “where are you heading?”   Without looking she said “New York” and seemed to close conversations door. I smiled, “Hope, this rain does not mess up your connecting flight” and then retreated to my book; leaving her soul some space.  She went back to scrolling through a weekend of pictures… then broke the silence and turned the screen toward me: “these are my jewels… my princess and my big man”.  In a natural slow pace our conversation expanded, as we moved from basic data towards the source of her tears.  She placed her sunglasses on the tray table.   Her tears abated she spoke of ex-husbands’ recent promotion and relocation to Florida: better schools, safer neighborhoods and closer to family.  She shared “Skype, face-time, texts, and Face book are not the same as holding your babies”.  She confessed working long hours to earn traveling money and to avoid her now empty home.  She hoped a requested transfer to Florida might be approved by Christmas.  Just as her soul relaxed enough to share her burdens with a listening Christian ear the plane touched down.  She had 20 minutes to make her connection and jumped up only to turn around and to extend a hand across the seat back.  I offered my prayers.   She clutched my hand like a grieving mother. Tear returned to her unshielded eyes and she nodded thanks.   She took a few hurried steps then turned back again… “My name is Angela” then she repeated her children’s names as if to remind me to pray for them too.  

 Soon I would be sitting waiting to make my next connection.  I thought about this mother grieving over the physical separation from her children.  I prayed for the woman across the aisle loudly worrying how the bad weather might cancel her flight to her brother in-law’s funeral finding cold comfort in an ill-timed “brother in law joke” by a business traveler and a second round of double Bloody Marys.  These weary sojourners are traveling through Tullahoma and every town, everyday.  Often their souls never connect to The Source of all lasting hope, rest and peace.  Will we “do all in our power to strengthen the ministries of the church?” so that others might find hope and strength here? 

Right now we need people to step forward and: lead the chair movement, dream up new uses for the now open gym, assist with the power point and sound each Sunday morning, assist in the children and youth areas, facilitate new groups at 9 and 10am, work the clothes closet, serve coffee, invite friends, and more.  The world unknowingly longs to see us to lift up Christ’s light with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness each week.   Right now in our town people are lost in life, without hope, and toiling away with tools incapable of closing their wounds. God and USAir gave Angela a Christian ear for 55 minutes, but now she needs a church: a welcoming community of Jesus to cry, share, pray and rejoice with her.  In fact, all of New York and Tullahoma needs that.   Will we be that place?   Will we share the hope, fortitude, and peace of Christ?

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