“Hello, my name is Jenny. What’s your name?” Airplane talk with a stranger, not what I wanted. I wanted to read my new sci-fi novel or take a nap, not strike up a conversation.

As I entered the plane I was disappointed to see only middle row seats available. Once I spied a middle row seat near the front, I felt relieved.

When I asked the woman seated in the aisle seat if I might sit next to her, my heart sank. Not out of compassion, but out of inconvenience. Marissa, a middle-aged women, had trouble unbuckling her seat belt. She looked fragile and frightened. And she wore an oxygen tank. I offered to go to another row, but I wasn’t being kind. Someone else would make her get out of her seat eventually. I was protecting myself, not Marissa, who said to me: “Oh no honey. I want you to sit with me.”

My heart melted. Her outpouring of hospitality was genuine, unlike my insincere ‘offer.’ (I’m choking on my insincerity even now!) Two strangers soon to spend 73 minutes together. Two strangers headed toward an unexpected moment of belonging.

Marissa wore a big floppy sunhat, a hat she never took off. She clutched her purse. She had been wheel-chaired onto the plane and she would need assistance exiting the plane in Denver. The tremors in her left hand were caused by medication she needed. Marissa had never flown all by herself.

I confess that I behaved like an arrogant frequent-flyer. (Choking again!) But as my heart softened, I wanted to do the work of belonging with Marissa. And I thanked God for her. We had a delightful conversation. I thought I might need to look out for her, but in truth, she was looking out for me.

The flight was bumpy. She really was scared. At one point Marissa quietly whispered, “Lord have mercy on me.” I overheard her prayer, which made me remember (and want!) the humility of a person who seeks mercy from God. Her prayer made me want the joy that comes to people who yearn to belong with other human beings. I whispered back to her: “God is having mercy on us. Right this moment.” She asked for it, but I needed it.

Marissa and I chatted about the flight and the bumpiness and her sister and my sister. I helped her with her seat belt and she helped me with my heart. We didn’t create a lasting friendship. I didn’t get a nap. But Marissa and I each wanted to belong. And we did belong. Together. With each other for 73 minutes.

May we seek mercy and belonging. And may the search for belonging lead us to Christ, to each other, and to all sorts of surprises.

Lord have mercy on us!