Encounter in the air: tall probation officer meets America’s small, caffeinated mom

This week, I read an alarming story about a Christian woman in 1980s communist Romania who barely survived an assassination attempt by the government. Thanks to President Reagan, she escaped the regime and moved to the United States. She is now a lawyer who defends Christians and human rights.

She sounded a stern warning about the growing persecution and rise of socialism here in our beloved America, and she offered these words, “What I see in America is if we don’t speak up, our country—our free country—will be conquered by our fear.” Her encouragement for her fellow Americans was that we should be confident of this truth in the face of any and all threats from evil—that God is working behind the scenes, and that we must continue to walk by faith and not by sight.

As one, small, ordinary mother in America, I have taken her words to heart. And for me, in my quiet, country life, my faith and love express themselves in those divine appointments of which I spoke recently. What follows is one of countless such stories.

I’ve just boarded the plane in Atlanta. Behind me, the beautiful city of Boston, and my friends. It’s been a wonderful time of connection, and now I’m going home.

And here he comes. “Excuse me,” the tall, tall, very tall fellow says, and I hop out of my seat, scooching into the aisle to make way. I watch him fold long legs awkwardly into the tiny space, and I think to myself, “Thank God for my short legs.”

I’m exhausted, and I want to be invisible. No energy just now for conversation, so I take my Kindle and purposely focus on the text. Beside me, he pops in earbuds and begins watching something on his phone.

After sitting immobile for so long, I am restless. I squirm and try to settle in, tucking my jacket around my legs. In the wiggling, I accidentally scrape his jean-clad leg. Shoot fire. “I’m sorry,” I say.

“No problem,” he says, and his eyes do not lift from his phone.

Some minutes go by. Again with the wriggling and trying to settle. Again with the accidental scraping. Good grief. So I say it again. “I’m so sorry.” He says his thing again, and it’s quiet. But now–okay. Now I have to talk.

“Are you from nearby or going through?” That’s where I begin, and there we go. He tells me that he and his wife both work for the federal court in the county next to us.

“What do you do, exactly, for the federal court?” I’d really like to know, and he gives me an interesting answer. He’s a federal probation officer. While he was gone for the week, one of his wards died of an overdose. It was the fifth OD that got him. We talk about burnout, about how you stay sane in a job like this. Then I ask him a question. “Are your parents still alive?”

Yes, he says, they’re alive. “I don’t tell my mom everything. I don’t tell her that they (make me) wear a vest and strap a gun on me when I make my visits. It’s not so much because of the probationer, but because I don’t know who’s with ’im.” What he’s saying without saying it is, there is danger. He does not tell his mother.

“Well,” I say, looking into his face, “if one of my sons was doing that job, I’d be very proud of him.” I can tell that he hears me.

“Thank you. That means a lot.”

I tell him that I will ask God to protect him. He thanks me for that, too, and now we’re down to the bone.

“I was raised Catholic. I married a divorced woman with two children, and the church didn’t…” He trails away, but I hear what he’s saying. He’s put God out at arm’s length because of the church. “It’s not so much God himself as it is people.”

I know exactly what he’s saying, and I fill it in. “It’s the people who misrepresented him.”

“I could not have said it better.” That’s what he says, and that’s my cue.

“Don’t focus anymore on people. There came a time in my own life where I was so sick of having other people interpret God for me. I couldn’t take it anymore, so I cried out to God and told him, ‘I don’t need one more story of what you’ve done or who you’ve been for someone else. I want to know for myself who you are and what you think of me.’” I am laser focused, looking, once more, into his face.

“God took me seriously. He started showing me who he was and what he thought of me. Once you know him,” I say, and all the feeling in the world is in my voice. “Once you know him, you will love him.”

He thanks me again. The plane lands, and off we go, a 6-foot 4-inch man who’s wary of God following a 5-foot mother who’s His friend. We are, both of us, heading home.

********

These small encounters may seem too feeble and useless in the face of evil’s growing rise, but right now it is the portion I have to give. I offer it, always, in faith, knowing that the tiniest flame still pierces the dark, that love still does conquer fear.

May God bless you, your loved ones, and this country that we love.

Join America’s small, caffeinated mom every Saturday morning as she visits with James Golden, aka Bo Snerdley, on 77 WABC. Top off your mug and listen in.

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