7:30pm Flight 6296 to Denver finally boards. Everything is déjà vu as we find our seats, stow our carry-ons, buckle up. My seatmate and I greet each other with a second "hello." If we have to do this a third time it will be very awkward indeed.
7:50pm Take-off! Movement! The feeling of lifting off the ground and going somewhere!
8:00pm My seatmate takes out a book to read. I am intrigued by the title—something about the psychological effects of music. When I inquire, Tom says he is a casual musician. He plays guitar and mandolin in some local bands back in Pittsburgh. Though he has always played rock, the last few years Tom's been exploring acoustic music: Celtic, Americana, even classical. It is not often I get the pleasure of discussing the resurgence of American roots music; I put away my own book in favor of the conversation.
9:00pm The captain announces we're landing... in Grand Junction? There are thunderstorms in Denver and when we tried to land, we were diverted. Denver is on the east side of the Rocky Mountains, Grand Junction on the west. We have essentially taken two steps forward and one step back.
9:10pm We land at the poky Grand Junction, Colorado airport, along with a couple other diverted planes. Passengers are not allowed to deplane as we refuel and wait for weather to clear around Denver.
9:20pm Tom asks what I studied in college. From past experience, I fear that when I say "Bible and Theology," he will either give an awkward "Oh. I see," and immediately change the subject, or poke me with an elbow and say knowingly, "Oh, so you're a preacher!" Nevertheless, I answer his question, and Tom's enthusiastic response astounds me: "That's perfect! I've been wanting someone to explain the Bible to me."
Suddenly, I am not tired anymore. I don't care if I never see Denver or feel circulation in the lower half of my body again. This is the beginning of an hours-long off-and-on conversation with Tom about Bible history, church denominations and individual spirituality. I am all too happy to share with him my trust in the death and resurrection of the God-man, Jesus Christ, to pay my sin debt, guarantee my home in heaven and give me joy and victory in the meanwhile.
Tom soaks it all up. He, as it turns out, has placed his own faith in Christ for salvation, but he has never been encouraged to grow in his walk with God. He has been attending a certain denomination since childhood that is heavy on tradition but light on Bible teaching. "What I don't get," he shakes his head, "is why my priest never opens up a Bible and just reads from it, or tells us to read it. I mean, isn't Christianity all about the Bible?" Yes, it absolutely is, I affirm. "Maybe..." he says slowly, "Maybe I need to look for another church." I love it when the Holy Spirit makes a realization "click" for someone without my having to spell it out! We talk about what to look for in a good church, about the centricity of accurate, practical and compassionate preaching of God's word. He has a buddy, he tells me, who has told him the same things. (Hurrah for Philadelphia-Christian-Guy who was faithful to speak truth in love to his friend!) Praying: "Wow, Lord. You have given me something much better than an on-time flight. You have dropped right in my lap a chance to share my faith and encourage another believer. You are good and all Your ways are good."
Coming up next: Part III, including more thwarted travel plans and the afore-promised and all-important bag of pretzels.