I am not always good at taking advantage of missionary moments.
Speaking to a youth group on a designated day with a designated topic is different. I’m prepared. I’ve prayed about what to say. Among people who share my same beliefs, I don’t have a hard time bearing my testimony when appropriate.
But when I meet a stranger, especially someone who doesn’t belong to the same church I do, I find it hard to open my mouth and just talk.
An experience I recently had changed that.
I was in Prescott, Arizona, speaking at a girls camp. I love being with young women, particularly in this kind of setting, where I get to share what I’ve learned about keeping my standards and how to rely on Heavenly Father for guidance. I tell them everything I’d want my own daughter to hear and know. And since I live with five young men, I like to pretend all those girls are mine, just for an hour or two.
I awoke early the next morning around 5:45 a.m. to a text from the airline saying my flight at 10:30 a.m. had been delayed until 2:45 p.m. My heart sank. Even though I had only been gone less than 24 hours, I was anxious to get home and be with my boys. Plus, my two-hour shuttle ride to the airport left at 6:20 a.m., which meant I’d be sitting at the airport for six hours. I was disappointed and frustrated.
On my way there, I got another notification that my flight had been delayed further. I was able to get ahold of the airline and hop on a slightly earlier flight at 1:50 p.m., which still meant a five-hour wait. I ate breakfast, wandered around, read a little, watched some shows, and then ate lunch until it was finally my turn to board.
Needless to say, I was exhausted and anxious to get home. I looked at my seat number: 36F. The furthest seat in the furthest row directly across from the bathrooms, which intermittently harassed my nose with all sorts of aromas whenever the doors opened, approximately every five minutes.
As I strategically positioned my paper-thin blanket around my nose like a bandana, I heard the flight attendant come on the intercom and announce that, of course, the flight was completely full.
And that’s when I heard the screaming.
All the way down the aisle, there was screaming. I closed my eyes and offered a silent prayer that whoever that was wouldn’t be sitting by me.
“Hi,” a very frazzled mom said, using her legs to push her toddler into the seat next to me. He took one look at me, let out another blood-curdling scream and bolted for the aisle. “I’m sorry.”
I rested my head against the straight-backed seat that didn’t recline and almost joined in the crying. I wasn’t mad at the poor mother, or her exhausted son. I’ve been there. But after hours of waiting in the airport, I honestly didn’t know if I had the energy to be nice or social. I took a deep breath and changed my prayer.
Please help me help her.
“I’m sorry too,” I said. “It’s hard traveling with kids! Do you think he’d want to look out my window?” The boy looked at me and kept up the banshee wails. I dug around in my purse and found some candy I had been saving.
“Does he like chocolate?” The little boy’s cries stopped. His mom gratefully said yes, and buckled him in while I took his outstretched tiny, chubby hand and poured in some mixed pretzels, nuts and chocolates. Slowly he picked up the little morsels, one by one with his little finger and thumb and popped them into his mouth. Then he turned his hand over. More.
I smiled. For the next 20 minutes, that’s what we did. I would pour, and he would eat. He ended up finishing off the bag, and then laid his head on his mother’s chest. She kept trying to reposition him so he could fall asleep, but he couldn’t seem to get comfortable. I gently took his feet — Mickey Mouse flip-flops and all — and rested them on my lap while his mother held his head on hers. We wrapped my odor-shielding blanket around his legs and tucked him in. He fell sound asleep.
“I can’t thank you enough,” his mother said. “Please pick out something from the menu — anything you want — and I’ll get it for you.” I laughed, and told her sharing my chocolate was no big deal.
We began to chat. She told me she was a Catholic from Georgia, and that she and her husband and three kids (sitting in the row next to us) were coming home from visiting family. I told her I was a Mormon from Utah, and she then asked me what I was doing in Arizona. I shared with her a little about speaking to youths who are members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was a beautiful experience that didn’t feel forced. It was just a sweet conversation between two mothers from different walks of life that understood each other.
“I really can’t tell you how grateful I am to have sat next to you and for your help,” she said before the plane landed. “Thank you so much.”
I got off the plane on a high, despite the stinky smells and waiting forever to unload. That little experience taught me how important it is that we look for opportunities to help each other along our journeys. It would have been so easy close my eyes and ignore what was happening beside me. I had no obligation to that woman, or her son.
Or did I?4 comments on this story
I’ve always thought it was somewhat of a burden to take on the heavy load of someone else, but the more I look outside myself and try to follow my Savior’s example, the more I realize that he more than makes up for any inconvenience or insecurity serving someone may cause. He lifts both the person serving and the person being served and helps us feel connected as brothers and sisters and children of God.
Next time you’re in a situation where you notice someone needs your help, I encourage you to offer it — even if you don’t necessarily feel like it. I have found it’s worth it, even just to feel your Savior’s love for you.
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40).