If you know me well, you know that on airplanes, I'm usually plugged in to my iPod and tuned out to the rest of the world. Or asleep. Or reading. Or doing some other random "don't talk to me, you creepy stranger-who-is-sitting-next-to-me". Ah, you get the picture.
So, I'm on a 6 (or so) hour flight from Charlotte, NC to Seattle, WA. My iPod has four hours music playback left on its charge. My Kindle is dead. My only other sources of entertainment are my sketchbook, and a copy of "The Jungle". I trek to the back of the plane and take my seat by the window. I glance over at my seatmates: an average-height, middle-aged woman with curly reddish hair (middle seat), and a tall, aging black man (aisle seat). As the woman sits down next to me, I feel God poking my heart. Suddenly, I begin to pray.
God, you put this woman next to me for a reason. I don't why, but let me glorify You with everything I say.
But, being human, I started making excuses pretty quickly to not strike up a conversation with this lady. I'm sure she just wants a quiet plane ride. I would doubt she'd want to talk to a teenager anyway. She probably just wants to read her book in peace. The black man checked his watch, and made a remark about the plane running really behind. Surprised, I checked the time on my iPod. Sure enough, it was 6:23, 13 minutes after the plane was supposed to take off. A couple minutes later, the speakers crackled, and we heard one of the flight attendant's voices say, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we apologize for the delay. We have come across some minor difficulties, but will be on our way shortly. Thank you for your patience." Thinking she meant mechanical difficulties, I settled back into my seat, ready for a long wait. Up ahead a few rows, I saw a lady lift up from her seat--seeming to be trying to get a better view of something up ahead. Naturally, I began to do the same. What I saw chilled me to the bone. Up in the middle cabin, standing the in the aisle, talking to an unseen passenger was TWO POLICE OFFICERS with the PILOT. Before I could fathom what was happening, the officers escorted a struggling woman off of the plane.
Just let that all sink in a moment. Yup. Back to the story...
I sat back in shock. I could not believe I had just witnessed what I had just witnessed. My thoughts began to fly. What happened with that lady? What if we had been in the air when she had started acting up? There I stopped. What. If. We. Had. Been. In. The. Air. The question kept rolling through my mind.
I'm actually having a hard time writing this part. Whenever I think about what happened, I start shaking with the realization that in worst-case scenario, if that lady had not been identified as a threat, I could be dead. Yup, I said it. DEAD. Worst case scenario, of course. That flight was completely full. There was not an empty seat to be had. God kept me and tons of other people in that huge plane safe that day. He protected us from what could've been a huge tragedy. Later, I found out that the lady was most likely checked into a hospital, and will/would be re-booked when ready. My thoughts on it are that it was a cross between a criminal and a mental situation. But, back to the story...
I could not stop thanking God for keeping us safe. After the plane was finally airborne, I plugged in my headphones, turned on my iPod, and opened my book. About a half-hour to 45 minutes later, I was asleep. I slept of and on for about hour, hour and a half at the most. At that point, to my dismay (and confusion) my iPod died. Pouting, I put my iPod back into my backpack and tried to sleep again. But, I could not go back to sleep. So, I pulled out "The Jungle" and began to read. I got through a chapter, chapter and a half, but let me tell you--that book is best taken in small doses. Earlier, the lady next to me had commented on the large print of my book (small town library, what can I say?) and noted that people like her Bible a lot for the same reason. I had been pondering this comment off and on. Questions flew through my mind about her religious views, what church she went to, and on and on.
I don't really remember how our conversation got started. I think it started when she told this story about how earlier in the day, she had been confused about where exactly she was going (she had had a layover, but had forgotten that the airlines know your final destination when you check in). It made me chuckle, and I remarked that Charlotte, NC had been a layover for me as well, and that I was coming home. I then began to talk about TeenPact and National Convention (which I was coming home from). She started asking me questions. What was TeenPact? How did I like it? How did I get involved? What was the National Convention? How old was I? Soon, (TeenPact being a faith-based organization) the conversation steered towards religion.
And so began my final Tennessee trip adventure...
For the remaining four hours (give or take) left of my flight, I had one of the most interesting conversations I've had in my life. This lady grew up agnostic, her mother abandoned her at age 8 or 9, and her father was quite detached when she was growing up. She married a Seventh-Day Adventist, and came to Christ at a conference at I can't remember when. She's what I would classify as a a Liberal Christian. She sent her daughters to a private school, but had a hard time picking one out. She ended up sending them to one that she thought was legalistic (the legalism, you may ask? Girls must wear skirts to school, and no R-rated movies in the home. Not my definition of legalism, but it was hers. And a side-note, I'm not mocking or judging her view of legalism. I'm laying out the differences I found between us). Interestingly enough, one of her daughters grew up to be a conservative Christian, much like myself. We talked about hair (she doesn't mind a "tail", I talked about hair being a woman's glory, and why I am against certain colors in hair dying (you know, like blues and purples and such) and uh . . . tails). We talked about music (her favorite "Christian" bands are Newsboys and Switchfoot. I am not a fan of CCM, because beats like this were scandalous 50 years ago. Why aren't they now? God doesn't change His mind, people do). I gave her my definition of legalism (a church dictating exactly what people wear and what they own (outside of Biblical teachings, such as dressing modestly and not owning anything sinful)).
She also taught me something. Sometimes, we as born-again believers seem to be walking around with our head in the clouds, with no obvious footing, and just this "everything is perfect all the time" aura. I think we need to give more thought to how we come across to non-believers--especially atheists and agnostics. We need to abstain from conforming to the world (which repels non-believers to Christianity), but we also need to be careful that we don't appear to be in a dream-world either. Because that could repel just as easily as conforming. Something I've found that is one sad factor in people being repelled to Christianity is that we believers come across as air-headed and sometimes down-right stupid. Do your research before throwing out statistics or arguments against something. Walk with an air of God-given confidence. Speak clearly and with an aura of "I know what I'm saying". Get a good education. These are the things I learned from this lady. She didn't say these things outright, but they are what I realized I need to learn through one simple sentence she said: "No offense to you dear, but if I had met you when I was still an agnostic, I might have been a little repelled from Christianity." It really made me think. The way she said it, I know she wasn't saying I act as a "carnal Christian". I realized what she meant was (and this is the biggest thing I learned from her) often, we as Christians come across as judgmental, and having a "I'm better than you because I believe in God" attitude. So here's a message to myself and my fellow believers: remember that in everything you do, you are being watched. Whether it is a stranger, or someone you know well, someone is watching you and taking note of your every move where ever you go. Remember to let Christ shine through you wherever you go.
That's whats been on my mind the past few days. I didn't post it in my original post about National Convention because I knew it would be long, and I needed to sort my thoughts out about the whole thing. God definitely taught me a lot through this lady. I just pray she learned from me as well. What's interesting is I used a lot of what I learned from NC in this conversation with this lady. If that's all that God had planned for me to apply in this, then that flight was more than enough.
I have one more thing to say, and then I'll close this post. Realizing how God uses even little things to affect huge things has really gotten me thinking deeply lately. So, now I need participation from all of you. I'd like to hear how God has used you or other people in your life to make a ripple effect. I will try to post as many stories as possible. I think if we all saw the ripple effect we make, it would be a HUGE blessing and encouragement to us all. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. All stories are accepted and most, if not all, will be posted!!!