“Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.”
Brené Brown in “Daring Greatly”
“Don’t forget the power of vulnerability,” my friend cried out to me as I jumped in my car on the way to the airport.
I thought her comment was out of left field, unconnected to anything we were discussing. So, I got out again and asked her to repeat herself and I asked her why she said it.
“I said ‘Don’t forget the power of vulnerability.’ I’m not sure why I said it. Clay said it on Sunday in his sermon and I’m saying it to you.”
I replied, “Fair enough. Thanks.” And I drove away. On the drive, I reflected on Clay’s sermon. He had encouraged us all to slow down and walk through life with open eyes and receptive hearts, not forgetting to share what God has done for us. To be vulnerable and allow others to be vulnerable, too.
2 hours later… BWI Airport – Baltimore, MD
I was hurried and late. As I approached the line for my flight to the Midwest, I got in the back of the line behind a woman and an elderly man. Immediately, I thought of my friend’s observation, but I ignored it and instead simply asked, “Business or pleasure?”
Safe, standard plane talk, I thought.
“Neither,” the woman replied. “I’m headed to see my mom. “You?”
“Business, but also pleasure because I love what I do.”
“That’s nice,” she replied with a slight brush off.
We then ignored each other for the next 10 minutes of waiting.
We made our way onto our Southwest Airlines flight, which doesn’t have assigned seating. Because we were so late and the plane was crowded, the elderly man sat in the back row by the window. The woman followed him. I quickly realized the seat right next to her in the very back of the plane, on the aisle, was the only one left that I could see.
“Awesome,” I thought. “Next to the woman who didn’t want to talk and probably thinks of me as a talker. Well, this will be a quiet trip, I guess. So much for vulnerability.”
The plane took off and she quickly put in her headphones and got out her book, clearly signing a disinterest in talking. I started to work on my laptop. Every now and then, I noticed her looking at my presentation for a talk I would give on Forgotten Voices.
With about an hour to go, I noticed her take out her headphones and she tapped my shoulder.
“I have to apologize,” she said. “You asked a basic question, business or pleasure and I said neither, but then told you I was visiting my mom. That was odd.”
“No problem,” I replied. “I work with families in tough spots all day long, every day. Families are complicated and you don’t owe me an explanation.”
“Is that your work?” she asked, pointing to my laptop. “Is that what you do?”
“It is. Or better yet, it’s what I talk about because the people we serve often don’t know we are involved. I meet people in Africa and listen to their stories. I’m flying to present our work to some folks who give or may give to our ministry.”
“It must be tough to see kids dying so much. I don’t know how people do that kind of work.”
“Well,” I replied, “it is hard to see kids suffer, but I also get a front row seat to see hope in the eyes and hearts of unlikely heroes. People the world never gets to meet, but I get to meet and share their stories to try and help them do more of what they already do. I try to not hide from the pain, but let it soak in because the God I serve carries the pain, not me. He carries me over and over.”
I turned to her and said, “but enough about me. You don’t owe me an explanation and I won’t bother you anymore.”
“No,” she replied. “It’s not a bother. You see, I’m going to see my mom and she had a stroke over a year ago. Our whole world is different now. My dad can’t take care of her all the time, but is so faithful. She used to take care of him.” She then proceeded to share with me how she flies every month to help and provide relief for her other family members who live locally. It was hard, but she kept doing it.
She told me that her father goes to church and wanted her to go, too. As she said it, it hit me the elderly man next to her wasn’t with her. He was just quietly observing our conversation and she had happened to sit next to him, just like I sat next to her. She went on to share that for the last year, she had gone to visit every month even though it hurt to see her mom as a shell of who she was before her stroke and fall.
She said, “My whole world changed – not just for bad. I was so angry, but my father always went to church every Sunday. He insisted I go because my mom always went, too, before. I was angry at God for many years. I had left the church when I went away to college, then got married and had kids. But over this past year, God did something in me and I grew to love Him again. He had never left me. I had left Him. A few months ago, my husband committed his life to the Lord and now my kids did, too. They saw I was different now. If my mother had not had a stroke, we may not be in heaven together, so the plodding along now is hard, but it’s changed everything.”
“Wow,” I said. “Thanks for sharing that. I really appreciate you telling me that. Wow.”
“Sure,” she said. “Thanks for what you do. The families you showed me when I was watching over your shoulders keep going, too. It’s amazing that you keep telling those stories even when it must hurt to see that.”
Bing Bong. The chimes went off and the Captain said, “Folks, prepare for landing, etc…”
The elderly man against the window, leaned over to us and spoke for the first time all flight. “I know we are about to land, but can I share something, too?”
“Sure,” we replied together.
“That was the most amazing conversation I’ve ever heard on an airplane. Can I tell you what God has done in my life the past year?”
“Yah, man,” I said with gusto. “Go for it!”
“Well, I’m going to be honest and get to it because we don’t have time. Last year, this same weekend, my wife left me because all I’ve ever cared about was my business and booze. She was right, but I was lost. Over the past year, I’ve met the Lord and committed my life to Him. My favorite verse now is Deuteronomy 31:16. “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
“Amen,” I said. “Thanks for sharing. That’s encouraging.”
“No, wait,” he replied urgently. “The thing I want to share with you both is this. My life was a complete wreck and a disaster. My wife was right to leave me, but God never did. Right now, I’m flying to meet my son, whose marriage is falling apart. I wasn’t there for him and this year showed me that. I never showed him how to be a man. We both run building companies. His own house is literally falling apart, so I’m going to see him to help him fix his house so he can fix his home. I hope it’s not too late.”
“Wow. That’s incredible. This flight is like a movie,” she replied.
I chimed in. “Thank you so much for being willing to share that, sir. You are right. God will never leave you and by sharing this now, you allow us to pray for you and with you this weekend. Thanks for allowing us to help carry that for you.”
“Thank you, young man. I appreciate it.”
The elderly man, woman, and I all got off the plane and silently walked toward baggage claim. As we were all about to leave, we all looked at it each and smiled. We hadn’t spoken since the plane. No one wanted to ruin the moment. It was too precious. Too Holy.
“Well, here I go,” the elderly man said. “Me, too,” we both added.
We all smiled again and walked our separate ways, united forever by this amazing conversation. I look forward to seeing them again some day. What a great day that will be.
“Don’t forget the power of vulnerability,” my friends.
With open eyes and receptive hearts, hope is found all around.
Until next week and enjoy your journey,