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Last One On

She was the last person who boarded the airplane. I remember this distinctly because on this particular flight, for some unknown reason, I scored an upgrade. Despite this stroke of luck, I greedily eyed the empty seat next to me thinking: It would be nice to have that extra space on this long haul.

One look at this final passenger and anyone could see she was carrying the weight of the world. About 80, her eyes downcast, her gait stilted, her carriage displayed grief, disappointment and resignation. Melancholy permeated her, but I couldn’t determine if the sadness was recent or life-long. In my quick glance, my mind was made up. I didn’t want her sitting next to me. Yes, that was me at my Christian best praying, Please God, let her seat be in the back of the plane. This could be a great flight without anyone sitting next to me.

My weak smile greeted her as she stopped in the aisle by my seat. A flight attendant put her carryon in the overhead bin. I managed to keep smiling as I got up to allow her ample access to her seat. Inside, I was burning. Why, God, why? Could I just once have the seat next to me empty?

When she finally sat down, the seat swallowed her. Her skin color matched the gray of the seat covering and without the red blazer she wore, she would have completed disappeared from sight.

I was still smiling when I grabbed my seat belt and fastened it low and tight across my waist – as the flight attendants suggest. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed her watching me. Her hands shook slightly as she grabbed her own seat belt and attempted to copy my movements. I turned, still smiling like a stupid circus clown, looking at her face-to-face during her several spastic tries to complete a process that took me seconds.

That’s when I heard God answering my selfish prayer. Talk to her! His words practically boomed in my ears. She needs someone to talk to her.

I might have still had that silly grin on my face when I answered. No God, I don’t want to talk. I want to relax. I want to sleep. I want to forget the pressures of this business trip. Why are you asking me this?

I was in the midst this, when I turned to her and asked her, “Is Chicago your final destination or are you connecting elsewhere?”

She told me she was flying to Chicago to bury her son. She had never been on an airplane before, never navigated an airport concourse, never submitted to the vulgarities of airport security. Through her grief, she accomplished this because of a deep desire to be beside her son’s family when they laid him in the ground.

That’s when I knew. God didn’t want to answer my selfish prayers. His desire was for me to answer someone else’s prayers. Luck didn’t get me this upgrade. It was God who orchestrated the change so one of his children could help another who desperately needed comfort. How stupid I had been. How selfish! God had redeemed my self-centered prayers to be a blessing to someone else.

“Then there is something you should probably know.” Was I still smiling or had I switched into business presentation mode? Unsure, I mixed comfort in my voice. “This particular airport has noise-abatement controls. The take off is different than most. When the airplane is at the end of the runway, the pilot will rev the engines. While they are at full power, he will release the brake, causing the plane to jolt down the runway. Once it lifts off, the pilot will put the plane in a steep ascent, eventually cutting back on the engines. After all that speed, it almost feels like the engines aren’t working.”

I shouldn’t have said all that. She didn’t even know what a normal takeoff felt like. The terror in her eyes signaled I was making matters worse. I thought her fear would boil over into screams. Too much information, I scolded myself. So, I just gently laid my hand across hers and said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be with you.”

Once we were airborne, she turned to me. “Thanks for letting me know that. I would have been terrified when all that happened.” Now she was the one smiling – barely noticeable, soft and sweet.

For the next five hours, over complimentary peanuts and soda, we talked. Mostly she spoke; I listened. Her life was fascinating. Her marriage had been long, full of love and produced two children. They struggled through things that were history to me: the effects of the Great Depression, World War II, the first Super Bowl. Then she reached things I remembered: the moon landing, the US hockey team winning the gold medal over the Soviet Union at the Lake Placid Olympics, Princess Diana’s wedding. This wasn’t a history talk. The news provided the backdrop to committed love: birthday parties, graduations, happy marriages, births of grandchildren and great grandchildren. The melancholy once permeating her was replaced by good memories, by virtue, by love.

It seemed only five minutes later when the seatbelt sign dinged on and the roar of the engines grew louder in preparation for our descent. “Thank you for sitting next to me,” I said to her.

I didn’t have the strength to tell her throughout our conversation I wondered: What if I learned to pray differently? What if instead of being worried about my comforts, I asked the Lord to help me be kind? What if I prayed not with judgmental eyes, but a heart willing to serve? What if I prayed to be God’s answer to someone instead of waiting for God to answer me?

She placed her hand gently on mine. I smiled back at her…warm, admiring and genuine.

His Eye is On the Sparrow

I’m not much of a naturalist. I love the outdoors, though, and it is often there I hear from God – in the orange hues of a sunset, the greens of a lush forest, even in the chirping of the birds.

But a naturalist? No. This sad fact was recently drilled home while visiting friends in northern California. During a forest hike, one member of our small group, would stop and tell us, “That’s a ground iris.” Or a little further down the path, “That’s a yellow monkeyflower.” She even pointed out nice green moss. Seriously, that was its name: nice green moss. Why nice is in its name, I’ll never fathom.

When she heard a bird, she could distinguish its call from that of another variety. While my ears would never become that attuned, hearing the birds’ song comforted me. The Bible mentions birds many times, but the verses that bring joy to my heart are: Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Matthew 6:25-26

I kept my thoughts quiet while the gentle and imposing stature of the forest convicted me and humbled me, as I crunched atop its brush and beneath its canopy. God whispered to me while she named more calls from above, “How much more do I care for you if I care for the birds?” I felt God’s overwhelming attention to nature – the wide variety of species, the magnificent colors, the whimsical calls from the winged creatures on top of the forest floor. If he cares for the tiniest of creatures, I don’t need to worry. He knows my needs.

I don’t rely on this truth enough, since food, garments and shelter are readily available where I live. Yet, we give up so much in our rush to have them, that sometimes we forget the Provider of all our needs.

Something holy happened for me during that walk. The psalmist speaks of the heavens declaring God’s glory, and I wanted to shout out my thanks to God. I dared not to prevent my hiking group from wondering if I had temporarily lost grip on reality. The walk and the friend who pointed out nature’s diversity taught me something about dependence and prayer. By seeing the variety of God’s handiwork, it was as if the forest itself had sung its praises to God. Walking through that wilderness was, for me, like walking into the hushed reverence of a cathedral.

God was there in that forest. And his eye was on the sparrow…a little sparrow named Myra.

Dear Heavenly Father, we proclaim you as our Provider. Worry, striving and fretting are not from you, but because you care for us. Please give us the strength to trust you with all that concerns us and weighs heavily on our hearts. When anxiety becomes overwhelming, give us the peace of Christ that transcends our human understanding. Thank you for keeping your eye on us. In Jesus Name, Amen!

Who am I? I am Known!

Your life is a story, a beautiful tale crafted by the Author of Life, the God who scattered the stars in the sky, moved mountains into place and walked on water. Your story is no less more magnificent since its beginning is in love, filled with hope and rooted in grace.

Sometimes, it doesn’t feel like an epic love story. There are beds to be made, clothes to wash, groceries to purchase. God doesn’t seem close in the midst of those mundane tasks. Yet, 1 Corinthians 8:3 tells us: But whoever loves God is known by God. So even in the most ordinary parts, God’s glory resides.

There will be places where drama rises and life becomes confusing. Sadness overtakes us. Sometimes life is just downright strange. We find it hard to believe our loving Father would write this into our story. We want to slash those places, fast forward over them or skip ahead to the last chapter where it clearly states:, and they lived happily ever after.

Because He knows us, we can always be certain of this: The Author is good and we are loved.  Whether life is good or bad, when we belong to Him, God prevails. No page in our story ever goes to waste.

Because God knows everything, nothing you face will hinder His ability to help you; nothing will catch Him by surprise. Nothing you fear will be too big for God’s strength; and nothing you do in His name is ever done in vain.

When we find ourselves lost in the deepest night, He asks to trust, to wait on him, to stand in the middle of the life’s ambiguities, known by him. God is at work in us creating and molding something beautiful in the midst of our brokenness. If we were strangers to Him, there would be no hope for who we are or who we are becoming.

God is still holding the pen, writing His story in the world. He is not finished with the part that is your narrative. Wherever you are today, it is not your final page. He is always with us, working to make us the best we can be. Trusting the Author, we can stand tall, confident in his love and triumphant in the life He writes for us. After all, the best parts of God’s story are filled with people who started out lost, but are now His.

Question: How does this truth change the way you think about yourself?