Flying on Standby
. . . always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.
– 1 Peter 3:15
Recently I was traveling cross-country on standby passes. In case you don’t know, here’s how standby passes work: You stand by while everyone else boards and someone in a uniform decides if a seat is available for you provided you won’t tip the plane over its weight limit. You can spot standby travelers as the ones constantly checking screens at the gate, pacing, tapping feet and harassing the people at the service desk. Yes, that was me, at least on my first flight.
But I had no time for that with my second flight. I ran from one concourse to the another doing what we used to call the O.J. Simpson until that took on a bad connotation, and I arrived at my gate as my name was being called at the service desk. I breathlessly approached the desk, was handed a boarding pass I hadn’t even requested yet, and I was immediately ushered onto the plane.
First-Class for Once
Once I got on board, I looked down at my boarding pass and up at the seat numbers in coach. They started at Row 9. I was in Row 5. I was turning right into first class. This was turning out to be a very good day.
I found my row and looked at the man sitting in the seat next to mine. “Excuse me, sir. I guess I’m going to be your seat mate today.”
When Things get Awkward
He sat up tall, and his face erupted into a smile. “This is turning out to be a great day!” he said as his eyes surveyed me from top to bottom. Funny, I had just had the same thought, but somehow I believe it was for different reasons.
Realizing first-class passengers got food – something I needed – I called the flight attendant to drill him on what he had that celiac-friendly. As I talked with the flight attendant, my new friend Jeff stared at me. Having decided to bring me an omelette, the attendant walked away, and Jeff kept staring and smiling at me. An awkward turtle was swimming in our midst.
“You’re so beautiful,” he said. “I was watching you as you were talking with the flight attendant [“No kidding?” I wanted to say], and you’re so very beautiful.”
Now, I had a choice. I could thank him and simply turn away while the awkward turtle swam around us for the next 5 1/2 hours, or I could take advantage of the opening. I prayed silently and dove in.
Introducing Him to Jesus
“Well, thanks!” I said perkily. (Perkiness is a well-honed skill of mine.) “Do you want to know why I’m on this flight?” He nodded eagerly. “I’m on my way to go tell people about the hope they have in Jesus.” And I launched into a gospel presentation. It was immediately clear this wasn’t what he had hoped to hear, but he listened politely.
He leaned his head back and sat there quietly as the awkward turtle made another round. I turned to look out my window and continued to pray for Jeff’s salvation. The silence grew heavier until it was finally interrupted.
“You know, you’ve given me something to think about,” he said. “I was there when my father died, and I’ve always wondered what happens after death. I’m going to keep what you said in the back of my mind.”
“Well, get it out of the back of your mind and put it in the forefront,” I returned. “You know, Jeff, you and I are in the last third of our lives, and nothing is guaranteed. This plane could crash. One of us could have a heart attack or a stroke. Regardless, I know I’ll be with Jesus. You can have that same assurance.”
Leaving an Impact
“I’m really going to think about it,” he said in a way that made me believe him. The rest of the trip was mostly quiet as he thought and I prayed. Jeff, if you’re out there and you really want to see someone beautiful, Jesus is knocking. Today is the day of salvation, my friend.