Hi. It’s me. Yep, the one who said she was going to take a break from writing for the month of December. Well, I did that. And then somehow, December turned into January… and January turned into February… and February turned into March… and, uh, here we are in April, and I’m back! Thanks for sticking with me, guys. I love you all. And to those who unsubscribed… smh.
In all seriousness, I do have a half-decent reason for my extended absence. I mean, it doesn’t necessarily cover a multitude of sins, but it is half-decent. Turns out, I’m having a baby! Yeah, like a real live child. I know. What? That was my reaction, too.
Anyway, in light of this news, Erik and I decided to go on what kids these days are calling a “babymoon.”
We chose Hawaii for our babymoon location, so our first step was to fly the ten hours from Chicago to Honolulu. Being the need-our-own-space introverts that we are, we naturally chose seats across the aisle from each other so that we could both be on the end of the row.
However, until just a few hours before the flight, I didn’t realize what this would mean: that I would be sitting next to a stranger.
Here’s the thing. I’ve flown pretty much every year of my life since I was 3. Recently, though, I’ve become anxious about who will end up as my seat buddy. Why? Four words: The Lithuanian Basketball Player.
Allow me to explain.
On a flight back from Europe a few years ago, I found myself sitting next to a 6-foot-10, man-bun-wearing, 23-year-old basketball player who (allegedly) played for Lithuania.
(Don’t ask me for specifics, I guarantee you I won’t know them.)
I had chosen the end seat in advance, and he had gotten stuck with the middle seat.
Before the plane even took off, he started whining – to no one in particular – about the lack of legroom. He then attempted to negotiate with the flight attendants, claiming that he would “drop any amount of money” to be moved to a seat in First Class. “I have my mom’s credit card,” he sputtered repeatedly in desperation. “The flight is fully booked,” the flight staff replied back unblinkingly.
I offered him my seat. Oh no, not because I was trying to be nice. I simply did not want to hear him gripe for the entire 8-hour flight. “No way – I couldn’t do that to you,” he replied in a tone which suggested that we had known each other for years and which also suggested that I was the ridiculous one.
Long story short, The Lithuanian Basketball Player retaliated by ordering four bottles of rosé all at once… which he received with no questions asked. (I guess the flight attendants were trying to make up for not having an extra seat that he could move to, but really? Come on, guys. Also, isn’t it kind of funny that this mammoth man was drinking copious amounts of rosé? But, I digress.)
Within an hour or so of the flight, he was very, very drunk. That’s when the belligerent behavior started. And, of course, the comments.
What’s your name? Are you single? Oh. Well, your boyfriend’s a lucky guy. What’s his name? What are you watching? This part is the best! Here, take a selfie with me. Come on – TAKE A SELFIE WITH ME. What drink do you want? Come on, let me buy you something. Wait, let’s do a SnapChat story!
I cannot communicate to you in words the level of immense relief and gratitude I experienced when he finally fell asleep, mouth half-open a few hours in. He stunk, but at least he left me alone.
Not only did this experience scar me for life (just kidding… but really), it also ushered me into a season of reflection on the power of presence.
What impact can my presence have on another, for good or for ill? What does it mean to be present? What does it look like to be a peaceful presence? A grace-filled presence? A trustworthy presence?
In counseling school, we spent a significant amount of time learning to just be with another. This is because a therapist’s relationship with her client– AKA the “therapeutic alliance” – is of utmost importance.
You know those people who you just feel safe and calm and happy around? I can think of several. Good friends, family members, pastors, even a few people I don’t know very well.
Regardless of the exact amount of time I spent with them, the exact context in which we interacted, or the exact words they said to me, their presence left a profound impression on my heart. Their presence demonstrated Jesus’ grace, comfort, and love in ways that are difficult to articulate.
We will be faced with unpleasant interactions and experiences. We don’t get to decide what type of a presence others choose to offer us. But we do get to decide to offer others the gift of our own kind, loving presence.
It doesn’t take much. Just a humble heart and a deep respect for the dear soul sitting next to you.