the man in the middle seat
Before we left for our mission trip to San Isidro, Texas (see post below), I asked God to sit me next to someone on the plane that I had never met. I asked God to allow me to sit next to someone I could talk to about anything, and I asked to sit next to someone that needed to encounter the love of Christ Jesus. As always, God answered in a way that I would have never imagined.
We flew Southwest Airlines to Houston from Atlanta, and then from Houston to Harlingen, Texas. Southwest Airlines has a unique boarding and seating procedure that I’m not personally a fan of, but it worked perfectly to what God had in mind.
If you read my post a few weeks ago, “the rivets and the riveter,” you know that I need to sit in the window seat. My affection for the window seat is a lot larger than my affection for a lot of things, and when I was assigned to board the plane towards the end of the group, I knew I probably wouldn’t receive a window seat.
As I walked down the jetway to the plane, I told the Lord, ”it’s ok if I don’t get a window seat I guess. We’ll still get to where we need to go. But if you could come through, that’d be great!” I boarded our 737-700 aircraft, and as I began my seemingly eternal walk down the aisle of the aircraft I spotted a window seat in about the sixth or seventh row.
I quickly asked the woman in the aisle seat if anyone was sitting there and she replied with a quick and gentle “no.” I squeezed by her and threw my bag under the seat in front of me and immediately turned to see the gorgeous view of the wing and tarmac I longed to have. My gaze was met with an abrupt and harsh view of the wall of the aircraft. There was no window for me to enjoy the 33,000 ft. view out of. I could not be overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation because instead, my view was obstructed by the ugly beige wall of Southwest flight 2744. The only windows in my immediate view were next to the back of the seat in front of me, and aligned with the row behind me. I had a tiny view of the outside world, but it wasn’t anything to be fixated on for two and a half hours.
As I became disappointed in myself for choosing such a depressing seat to sit in, I pulled out “The Comeback” by Louie Giglio, and I figured that I would flip through it a bit and try to catch up on my personal reading. As soon as I pulled it out, a man tossed his bag into the seat between myself and the kind aisle seat lady. He slid by her and I asked how he was doing. He replied with, “good. How are you?” I said the same, and immediately after I responded he asked me what I was reading.
I was a little surprised but glad that he asked about what I was reading. I tried to briefly tell him that it was a book by the pastor of Passion City Church here in Atlanta, and that it is essentially about needing and having a comeback in Jesus Christ. The book really explains and tells comeback stories because of how God orchestrates everything for our lives. He smiled and said, “very cool. I’m sort of in a comeback season myself.”
After this interaction, the journalist in me took over and I began to ask him a bunch of questions because that’s just the type of person I am. I asked him if he was from Atlanta or Houston, and he said Houston. I then asked him why he came to Atlanta. He came to Atlanta to visit the University of Georgia because he has been accepted there for the fall 2016 semester for graduate studies in social work. When he told me this, I thought, “dang, this guy must be stinkin smart to have that opportunity!” He said that he really liked the campus and especially the people there because everybody was so inviting and helpful. He said that everyone was very honest with what they thought about the school, but overall he thinks he may go there.
I thought it to be so cool that he was thinking about going to UGA at the same time I was. I told him that I was in a similar situation with figuring out where I needed to be at school in the fall, and I told him that UGA was an option. I explained my situation to him, and he suggested that I meditate. I haven’t ever really meditated before, but that’s primarily due to the fact that I never have time in my day to even hardly eat. He suggested that I take however long, five, 10, 15 minutes, and sit still in silence. He said you could pray to God, but sit still in silence. I told him that I would try it soon, especially because I knew I needed more quiet time with God on a daily basis.
As we took off, I asked him more questions. I learned that he had another opportunity to go work in Los Angeles in a chaplain position at a post secondary school, but it’s not a typical chaplain position. This chaplain position would cater to any religion. He said that he would be more involved in the Buddhist section because he is Buddhist. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin, and he is an avid tennis player.
During the two-and-a-half hour flight, we talked about the NCAA Tournament, international soccer, football, our lives, and we even strategized on how to defeat the opponent he was playing in a tennis match against the very next day.
I thought it was incredible that we were able to hold a conversation for two-and-a-half hours. As we landed in Houston and taxied to the gate, I began to pack up my things so we could move on to our final destination. As I gathered my bag and put my things away, “The Comeback” slipped off the top of my bag and onto the floor. I picked it up and hesitated to put it in my bag.
In that moment, God spoke and finally the previous two-and-a-half to three hours finally made sense. I stopped myself from putting it in my bag, and I turned to the man next to me and told him to take my book. He looked at me weird and said, ”but you won’t have another book to read?” I quickly replied and said, “I have another one to read in my bag.” He then said, “well then you won’t be able to finish this book.” I quickly responded with, “I have another copy at home.” I don’t have one at home, but I knew that this book was going to be more beneficial to him because I’ve had the book for five months and I was only to page 47. But even more so, he had mentioned he was in a comeback season of his own. I should have given him the book when he had mentioned that back in Atlanta.
He nodded and accepted the gift of the book, and after taking the book he said, “I’d give you my book, but it’s kind of depressing” as he revealed a thick brown and green book. He said that he really wanted to give me something in return for the book, but I really didn’t want anything. He gave me a veggie smoothie drink from his bag, and said that he really appreciated the book and that he would definitely read it. I asked him for a quick photo and gave him my card so that we could stay in touch. I haven’t heard from him yet but I know I will at some point.
As we deplaned, I began to analyze the three hours that had just transpired. God planned every action, word and gesture. He presented an open window seat to attract me to that row on the plane. He made that row have no window so that my gaze would be inside the plane towards my conversation with the man next to me rather than the view outside. He told me to read “The Comeback” so the man would inquire about it. He allowed our similar interests and He supplemented our conversation with topics to last the entirety of the flight. And at the end of it all, He had the book fall off my bag to get me to give the man my book. God answered my initial prayer in the most incredible and unorthodox way, and I wouldn’t change that for the world. Maybe one day the man will read this and remember our interaction, and hopefully he will look back and say, “that’s the day I encountered God.” I know that it is one day I won’t soon forget.