I walked off the plane on the verge of tears, five dollars in my hand and four or five snack-sized bags of pretzels in my pocket. The plane landed in the middle of nowhere (Albuquerque, New Mexico) and our team had an hour until we had to catch our next flight to Portland. Why was I so emotional, why did I have $5 and too many bags of pretzels? Glad you asked. 45 minutes earlier our missions team was boarding the plane to Portland and because it was Southwest Airlines and we were the last group to board the chances of us sitting together was slim to none.
However, this got me really excited. Last Summer, I spent 10 weeks talking to strangers and some of the best conversations happened. Before my Summer mission trip in Orlando, I was awkward and shy around people I didn’t know. A summer of talking to strangers helped me adjust well to starting conversations that last longer than just small talk. So,sitting on a plane with a stranger? No problem. Also, before Orlando, I had this idea that a mission trip started and ended at certain times and all the God moments that occurred were going to be in between those two points. Silly me. Sure, the trip might begin and end at a time but someone should never become close-minded to opportunities…divine appointments… that present them self before a trip “begins” or after a trip “ends.” I have quite a few stories of God working outside the human time-frame the Orlando trip had established.
With those things in mind, anticipation was building. My brain was flooding with stereotypical missionary fantasies as we got closer to the plane.
“What if I end up sitting next to someone, get to present the Gospel and right there on the plane this hardcore atheist accepts Christ?” “I can’t wait to minister to whoever sits next to me.” (translation: I’m going to be exactly what they need today. We’ll talk about this in a moment. But that was seriously where my heart was at)
Our team spread out on the plane. I sat in the middle seat next to a woman who looked to be in her 40s. I said hello and we made small (very small) talk about the seat belts as we struggled to buckle up. She had a big bulk of newspapers in her hand and she looked very intent on reading them. She stopped for a moment and offered me one. It was a strange offer and I was about to decline but figured it could be a tool to start a conversation so I accepted.
I flipped through it and realized it was incredibly boring and so I handed it back to her a few minutes later.
“not really your thing, huh?”
“Not really,” I laughed. A minute or so passed.
“Are you headed to New Mexico?” She asked.
“Portland actually, we have a stop in New Mexico.”
“Oh cool. You visiting family?” She asked.
“No, um, we’re going there for a mission trip.”
“Well, that’s neat. Are you going by yourself?”
“Oh no, I”m with my school.”
And from there we talked about Portland, Mt. Hood, my school, the trip in general. etc. It was about 15 minutes into the flight and I didn’t know if she was a Christian, but I did know she was incredibly sweet, an amazing listener. She asked me what my major was and I told her psychology and she asked me what I wanted to do with it. I love answering this question because its an amazing tie into my story. I tell people that I want to be a christian counselor because counseling has played such a big role in my life. I want to be the counselor that my counselor was for me when I was struggling. I told her this. And she started to ask questions about my life..what I had gone through… and I’d answer them and we’d talk and talk…then she would say “well you said (this), tell me more about that.” At one point, we were talking about why bad things happen to some and not others.
“I know some adults, who have never faced a big trial in their life. And I know people who can’t catch a break. My motto is ‘It’s only by the grace of God, I go’
As I talked to her and told her some of the things that happened in my life, she would say “You learned (this…) didn’t you? I wish I had known that at your age.What a blessing it is for you to understand that at your age.” She really did help me in a lot of ways sort through stuff, and find the ‘silver lining’ in a lot of things.
“My name’s Carol by the way.” We both laughed because 30 minutes of the plane ride had passed and we hadn’t even introduced ourselves.
“Marlie, nice to meet you.” She was traveling for business. Travels all the time, she said. She has a job with Pharmaceutical sales.
Now, I wish I could remember what led to the next part of our conversation but I can’t. It would make this a whole lot less weird. But just remember there’s some bit of related conversation that happens before this. We started talking about my dating life. She seemed utterly shocked that I was single and that I didn’t think any guys were interested in me.
“Let me tell you something Marlie. I have a few nephews in college right now. And they would love you. I just know it. They would absolutely love you.” I chuckled and she continued, with great intent.
“No really. Marlie, you’re funny..you’re smart…you’re cute..you got the most beautiful smile.” I felt myself starting to cry…tried to make light of it..but ended up crying anyways. I tried to explain to her why I was crying but it was like she knew already. Like she had been right where I was before. Her words spoke to my soul. God was speaking right to me through her. I wish I could express how what she was saying was exactly what I needed to hear before Portland. It’s like that moment when you’re building a puzzle and after minutes of frustration and almost giving up, two pieces you weren’t even paying attention to fit together perfectly. That relief. And the fact that this all happened before we even arrived in Portland. Just goes to show how cool our God is.
We as Christians barge into situations, mission trips especially, with capes around our necks and a big S for Super on our chest. We have it all together. And the people we are going to meet obviously don’t. So we’re going to be exactly what they need at exactly the right moment. Right? Wrong.
Jesus was exactly what we needed at exactly the right time and he was born in a feeding troft and died a criminals death. Humility. “There is love that came for us. Humbled to a sinner’s cross.” Humility isn’t beating yourself up. Does Jesus ever get in front of a crowd and insult himself? No because the focus isn’t on himself. It’s on His father. That’s humility. “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less.” Take off your cape, and your mask, put down all your achievements and Christian check-off lists, pick up the Cross and join in with what God is doing in your home…at your job…at the restaurant you eat at. Anywhere and Everywhere. Listen and follow God. you might need to be a Carol for someone or you might need to listen to a Carol.
The plane landed and Carol gave me all the airline bags of pretzels she had asked for.
“Carol. Thank you so much. This conversation has meant more to me than you’ll ever know or than I could express right now.” Carol repeated my words back to me and tears filled my eyes again. The plane had landed and those leaving had to get off. She took my hand and squeezed it. I felt a crumple of paper. I looked and it was $5. She put her finger to her mouth and said “Shh. Don’t tell anyone. Go buy yourself a sandwich.” The $5 went towards a smoothie and the pretzels were devoured in the airport, but the words she said to me will last forever.