wheelchairI sometimes write in the genre of inspirational suspense. My newest novel, Redeeming Grace is just that kind of book. I enjoy the mystery and adventure. But recently I was privileged to live beside “redeeming grace” displayed in someone who could not turn a single page.

Recently at SeaTac International, I arrived for an early morning flight to Burbank to shoot some promotional video for The CASA Network 7-great-days of Influencing the Generations conferencesOnce the work was done, I would take a same day evening flight home. My seat assignment was in the rear of the plane. Not my idea, of course. Theirs. So I asked the agent if there might be a comparable seat further forward, say row 11 or better? I was assigned row 16A. Well, it is an improvement over row 26, I said silently. But then it got even better. After everyone appeared to be onboard, row 16 B and C remained vacant. I smiled. Is God good or what? Selfishly (and yes, happily) I prepared to spread out and get some work done.

That’s when I saw her coming down the aisle.

She was in a wheelchair, being carried wheelchair and all by two airline personnel. They stopped at my row, I watched as they lifted her out of the chair and helped situate her in the aisle seat. She was older, perhaps in her late sixties, obviously severely crippled (I later found it was cerebral palsy), and extremely frail. Her head bent forward and it took some effort for her to look up, but she did to the attendants and smiled, saying, “Thank you. That was the best ride ever!”

As we waited for the plane to move away from the terminal, I saw her working with the belt, her fingers not quite doing what appeared to be needed. “May I help you?” I asked. “No thank you,” she answered. “I think I’ve got it now.” She turned her head slightly and looked up at me as best she could, smiling her appreciation.

“Are you vacationing?” I asked.

“No, I’m going home.”

“And where is home?”

“Bakersfield,” she replied, her eyes lighting up as the word rolled off her lips. “I’ve lived in the Seattle area with my son and four grandchildren for twelve years. I’ve really tried and I will miss them, but I can’t take the overcast and the rain anymore. So I’m going home to Bakersfield and the sunshine to live with my twin sister.”

We exchanged more pleasantries and she told me her name is Sally.

Our conversation continued. She shared that both she and her sister’s husbands had died some years ago. Her sister’s only child, a daughter, had been killed at age 18 in a car crash, devastating her son since they had grown up together, like sister and brother. And Sally had been a cerebral palsy victim all her life. “People often ask me if I miss walking,” she said. “I tell them, no. I’ve never walked in my life. Ever. Not one step. So how can I miss something I’ve never done?”

I mentioned my impression that she must be a Christian. She smiled again and said, “Oh, yes. I love the Lord with all my heart. He has given me so much joy. I have such a wonderful life. I’ve been so blessed!”

I asked what things she enjoyed doing. “Reading, crossword puzzles and meditating on life,” she replied without hesitation.

“And now you’re going home,” I said.

“Yes,” she smiled, her countenance shining once again. “I’m going home and I’m so excited!”

Our plane eventually landed. People crowded into the aisle, impatient to debark. The rather well fed couple in 17D and E, unpleasant looks on their faces, yanked carryon bags from the overhead storage just above Sally’s head. The woman glanced down at her wordlessly. Then the two grimly pushed forward, not waiting for seat sections to clear in front of them, intent on whatever was next. As I prepared to leave, Sally apologized for it being inconvenient to get past her. “I’ll be the last one off,” she said, still smiling. “They’ll wait for everyone else, then come get me.”

“Enjoy your new life, Sally,” I said as I moved carefully past her into the aisle. “I will,” she replied. And I was caught up in the flow toward the exit door.

I may never see Sally again this side of heaven. But heaven was very close last Tuesday in row 16 on the early morning flight to Burbank. My normal routine when assigned seating that far back is to ask if there is anything comparable further forward. This time it turned out to be better than comparable. It was a magnificent privilege to have been moved up from row 26 to row 16. To share a row of seats that I had coveted for my own selfish self with a truly beautiful woman named Sally, trapped in a body that had not served her well. Ever.

And the Lord reminded me of something I often say (and believe on most days). When routines become magnificent, the daily routine becomes a holy adventure!

Perhaps you have recently experienced the miracle of divine grace at work in your life. A moment in time when you knew God was near. Would you be willing to share it with me? Redeeming grace happened for me again on a Tuesday. Unexpectedly. Magnificently. It really was “the best ride ever!”

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