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You know those times when you have to brake suddenly and take another exit? When you were heading to Chicago and life detours you to Kansas City instead?

Watch. Wait. Pay attention. You might meet

airplaneSeats

 The Woman in 4 B

It had been a packed weekend. Up at 2:30 am Friday in my home in a Chicago suburb to catch a 6:00 am flight to Boston. A late night after a joyous family graduation.

The next day was equally packed. Breakfast with a longtime friend. Lunch with family members. An afternoon walk in a forest preserve with my son, daughter-in-law, and granddog. Dinner and a movie and lots and lots of catching up.

Church the next morning – two services. A lunch meeting afterwards as my pastor son reviewed summer ministry plans with his staff. Hustling to Logan to catch a late afternoon flight back to Chicago in time to prepare for the busy workweek ahead.

Gratitude for those precious hours with my adult children mixed with fatigue in the marrow of my bones. A full flight, but I had checked in early to get a decent spot in the boarding order. I would shuffle onboard with the rest of the cattle and collapse in my seat, avoiding eye contact. Look up from my book only to request a diet Sprite.

And then the announcement. The flight was not only full; it was oversold. Please, would a traveler with flexible plans be willing to take a later flight?

No one moved. We all wanted to get home.

The gate agent on the intercom again. It’s urgent: there are too many passengers and not enough seats. We’re offering compensation.

Still no one moved. Except one older woman.

No false claims of altruism here. I did it for the money. When a mama’s chicks nest a thousand miles away, she’ll grab at most anything to see them more often.

And then the caveat: No non-stops left to Chicago, ma’am. But we can get you to Kansas City and then fly you back to Chicago.

A detour and a few hours’ delay was worth the reward at the end.

And the reward wasn’t the travel voucher.

The hatch on the plane was about to close when a woman clutching her carryon hustled down the aisle and climbed into the middle seat in my row, 4 B. After small talk with the gentleman in C, she pulled out her knitting, closing her eyes as our bird circled Boston Harbor and headed west.

After the attendant took our drink orders, the woman in 4B glanced at the title of the book I was holding. Looked more closely, leaned in.

“May I ask you about that?” she whispered.Gentle Art Discipling Women

I lowered my softcover and regarded her. Crisp grey hair curling over her collar. Brown eyes warm but full of anxiety. Clothing a bit rumpled as if their owner had hastily dressed.

I’m a follower of Christ, I told her, part of a loving family of faith near Chicago. The women in our church want to be more intentional about mentoring each other, coming alongside. Showing each other how to live life with God at the center. Demonstrating how to live generously. And you?

Her name was Nancy. Highly educated and extremely articulate, she worked as a psychologist near Boston.

“I got word this morning that my father is dying,” she said so softly it was hard to hear over the jet engines. “I booked this trip just a few hours ago, threw things in a bag. The last message I had was that he’s being transported to the hospital. Whether he’ll be alive when I arrive…,” A deep sigh.

For the next two hours I listened, asked questions, laughed with her at the stories she told of her remarkable father. We discussed theology, favorite writers, the mysterious ways of God.

“I’m doing all the talking!” she said sheepishly, “when I actually counsel people for a living. “I can’t thank you enough.”

I have done nothing, I protested.

“But you listened!” she insisted.

I learn when I listen. I learned a great deal from Nancy, who at one point reached over for my volume on discipleship and jotted the title of a book she thought I’d appreciate in the back.

As we landed in Kansas City, her eyes grew moist. Her hands shook slightly as she turned on her phone.

“May I pray with you?” I whispered, and hand on arm, we huddled together as passengers began to deplane.

I will continue to pray, I called to her as she hurried up the gangway. For whatever news is awaiting you.

Nancy stopped for a moment, paused.

“I’ve never heard of anyone traveling to Chicago from Boston who routed through Kansas City,” she said. “This was no accident. This was a divine appointment.”

For me, too, Nancy.

For me too.